The .22 LR is among the most versatile calibers, in part due to the wealth of different ammunition.
Is there anything the .22 LR can't do?
The first problem was a beautiful viper — this cottonmouth could have starred in an episode of Animal Planet — was determined to nest in my brush pile. It was dusk, and my German shorthaired pointer trotted right past it. All I could imagine is her striking out at Cooper or clamping down on my big toe. As I trotted back to the house in my flip-flops, I was thinking about the second problem: How was I going to shoot this snake without invoking the ire of my neighbors? A gunshot in my neighborhood either goes completely ignored, or Camp Lejeune deploys the Marines.
The solution was Aguila Super Colibri .22 Long Rifle cartridges. Ultra quiet — even without a suppressor — the Aguila round solved the neighbor issue and the 20-grain bullet with a 420 fps muzzle velocity and 8 fpe of muzzle energy was plenty to send that chic viper to the other side.
The Colibri cartridges won’t cycle in my Ruger 22/45, and that was the compromise for using a quiet round to dispatch a snake and not disrupt the neighbors. Three shots later, the snake was history. Problem solved.
An Abundance Of .22 Varieties
That’s the thing with the .22 LR: With so many different specialty loads, this cartridge solves problems while offering an embarrassment of choices. If I had screwed a can onto the muzzle of the 22/45, I could’ve used Aguila’s .22 LR Subsonic on the snake, which launches a 40-grain solid lead bullet at 1,025 fps and a muzzle energy of 93 fpe.
Federal American Eagle Suppressor ammo loads a 45-grain copper-plated round nose to 970 fps. I like this round because it’s clean burning and quiet. Winchester, Remington, Sellier & Bellot, and Norma also all produce excellent subsonic loads, and these rounds offer far more power than the Colibri round, but a suppressor is required to keep the noise down.
If noise were not the issue, I would’ve opted for my standby snake round, the CCI .22 LR Shotshell. This is loaded with No. 12 shot and creates a pattern the size of a paper plate at 8 feet out of my .22 LR pistols. Federal and Winchester use a crimped brass case in lieu of a shot capsule like CCI, and I have had good luck with these, though when the Federal and Winchester rounds are fired and blow out the crimp you need to be sure you manually cycle the bolt all the way rearward with a semi-automatic to ensure it ejects the empty case cleanly.
The Aguila Colibri round also makes a great choice when introducing a new shooter to firearms. The low report and minimal recoil can help acclimate a new shooter. Rounds such as the CCI .22 CB Short have a report like a .177-caliber pellet rifle and are darn accurate with the 29-grain bullet at short distances. Sure, this ammo makes your rimfire a single-shot firearm because they won’t cycle properly in semi-automatics, but at 710 fps, they’re fun for plinking tin cans. Once shooters become acclimated to the feel of the firearm, they can effortlessly move up the .22 rimfire food chain with more powerful cartridges.
What many rimfire shooters forget to explore are .22 Short and .22 Long ammo. Rounds like the .22 Short might seem obsolete, but Remington, Aguila and CCI are all still producing them. If you hunt squirrels, .22 Short ammo in 27- and 29-grain hollow-points offer good power for tree rodents and rabbits without the over penetration of a .22 LR round. Hunting squirrel with my son’s Henry lever-action loaded with .22 Shorts offers super fast follow-up shots with less muzzle blast. If any .22 rimfire is on the verge of extinction, it’s the .22 Long. As you might guess, it has power between the .22 Short and .22 LR. I typically shoot .22 LRs if there’s a need for more distance and more power.
Precision .22 Ammo
With target ammunition, there are numerous choices for small-bore handgun and rifle shooters — almost too many choices. From weekend bulls-eye shooters to Olympic athletes, .22 LR target ammo like that from Eley set the standard in consistency and performance. The nice thing about .22 LR ammo is that it doesn’t cost a lot, so you can purchase different loads and test the accuracy in your firearm.
You would think that the ubiquitous 40-grain .22 LR rounds that are burned up by the hundreds by plinkers in one session could not be enhanced. Not the case. Eley’s Tenex ammo uses a flat-nose projectile designed to cut through the air as it pulls the center of pressure forward to aerodynamically stabilize the projectile and increase accuracy at the target.
As manufacturers have tightened up manufacturing techniques, .22 ammo has evolved into precision ammo due to more uniform cases and better case material, as well as propellants that burn in a way to deliver consistent energy to each projectile.
RWS is another manufacturer that offers excellent target ammunition. I particularly like the RWS R-50 rounds loaded with a 40-grain lead round nose. It produces stellar accuracy out of my pal’s bolt-action Remington Model 37 Rangemaster. He has an original Unertl scope mounted on the classic rimfire rifle, and splitting playing cards with the rifle and R-50 ammo made me feel like a trick shooter.
When it comes to pistols, I was brought up shooting High Standards. If you know anything about High Standard pistols, you certainly know what I mean. As you probably guessed, I’m kind of a .22 LR pistol snob. I have a Texas-made High Standard Supermatic Citation 10X, which can do things those other rimfire pistols can only dream of.
For example, Remington Viper 36-grain truncated-nose bullets zip out the 10X at 1,060 fps. My best five-shot groups at 25 yards measured 0.28 inch. With 40-grain round-nose bullets in ammo like Aguila’s Super Extra, CCI’s Mini-Mag, and PMC’s Target, the groups ranged from 0.58 to 0.88 inch. If your pistol or rifle isn’t shooting minuscule groups and is designed to do so, buy an assortment of ammo until you find the brand and bullet weight it likes, then hoard as much of that ammo as possible.
Game Getting .22s
When it comes to hunting rounds, small game should worry. CCI Quik-Shok uses a 32-grain segmented hollow point. Loaded to a muzzle speed of 1,640 fps, when this round hits, it fragments, and that can be devastating on small game. In similar fashion, CCI recently released the ever-popular MiniMag in a segmented bullet as well.
Browning BPR ammo uses a 37-grain fragmenting hollow point. I like Winchester Super X 37-grain copper-plated hollow points and Federal Game-Shok with 38-grain plated hollow-point bullets. These have a muzzle velocity of 1,330 fps and 1,260 fps, respectively. They have a bit more of the velocity I need when I’m shooting across an open field at a woodchuck.
Delightful .22 Plinkers
And then there’s plinking. Sometimes the least expensive ammo is the best because you get to make more noise and holes for less money. I run cheap ammo when tin cans and rubber targets are on the agenda. Be forewarned, however, because some inexpensive ammo will gunk up your firearm fast. Buy more gun cleaner when purchasing cheap plinking ammo.
I’ll openly admit that I can’t resist the cost of some foreign-produced .22 LR ammo like Wolf’s. Sure it smells like Putin’s dirty socks when you shoot it, but with this type of ammo, I’m not looking for supreme accuracy. What this ammo is perfect for is plinking. It won’t break the bank to shoot all of this ammo. Of course, I also use a lot of American-made Federal, Winchester, Remington (really like Thunderbolt) and others.
Rimfire .22 ammo is some of the most versatile ammunition there is, with plenty of specialty loads designed for specific shooting situations. So don’t make the mistake of examining a bunch of similar-looking .22 cartridges and assuming they’re all the same on the inside.
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the February 2018 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.