The .22 LR And Its .22 Rimfire Cousins

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In its second century of use, the .22 LR proved to have the staying power many of its close relatives lacked.

What Were Some Of The Early .22 Rimfire Cartridges:

  • .22 Short (1857)
  • .22 Long (1871)
  • .22 Extra Long (1880)
  • .22 Long Rifle (1887)
  • .22 WRF (1890)
  • .22 Remington Special (1890?)
  • .22 Winchester Automatic (1903)
  • .22 Remington Automatic (1914)
  • .22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire (1959)

Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson developed the first successful .22 round in 1857, after trying to adopt Flobert’s cartridge to the petulant Hunt-Jennings lever-action rifle that would sire the Henry. Smith & Wesson’s rimfire, essentially the .22 Short, was made then much as it is now. A thin sheet-metal disc was drawn into a tube with a closed end, a rim “bumped” onto that end and the fold filled with fulminate of mercury. The fulminate exploded when hammer or striker crushed the rim against the barrel. Smith & Wesson fueled their .22 cartridge with 4 grains of black powder and chambered a revolver for it.

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The .22 Long Rifle came in 1887, after the Short and Long. New subsonic hollowpoints are accurate and lethal.

Flobert’s round became the BB (Bullet Breech) Cap, its 16-grain bullet at 750 fps ideal for indoor target fun. The CB (Conical Bullet) Cap, circa 1888, was a BB Cap with a pinch of blackpowder and the Short’s 29-grain bullet. The .22 Long Rifle preceded the CB Cap by a year. Introduced by the J. Stevens Arms & Tool Company, it comprised 5 grains of blackpowder behind a 40-grain bullet. The Long Rifle post-dated the .22 Long, which arrived in 1871, with the Short’s bullet on a case later adopted by the LR.

In the late 1880s, these rimfires evolved to use semi-smokeless powder. Smokeless loads came on its heels. Remington announced “Kleanbore” priming for the .22 Short in 1927, years after the Germans developed “Rostfrei” non-corrosive priming. A high-speed LR load emerged at Remington in 1930. From 1880 to around 1935, a few companies loaded the .22 Extra Long, first with 6 grains of blackpowder in a hull a tad longer than the LR’s. Its 40-grain bullet loafed out the muzzle at 1,050 fps.

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The .22 WMR arrived in 1959, and expanded options in bullets improve both accuracy and terminal performance.

Other early rimfires with about the same pep include the .22 Remington Automatic, developed in 1914 for that firm’s Model 16 self-loading rifle and dropped in 1928. Like the .22 Winchester Automatic, made until 1932 for Winchesters’ 1903 auto, it fired a 45-grain, inside-lubricated bullet .222-inch in diameter. Cases would not enter S, L or LR chambers. Friskier by half was the .22 WRF. It sent inside-lubricated 45-grain missiles at 1,450 fps, and interchanged with the .22 Remington Special that followed.

By far the most popular, useful and efficient .22 rimfire cartridge is the Long Rifle. Hunters know high-speed loads have twice the punch of the Short, and 60 percent more than the Long. But at 100 yards, the 40-grain LR bullets land 3½ inches below a 75-yard zero, courtesy a miserable .115 ballistic coefficient. Subsonic solids in .22 LR Match ammo have dominated rimfire bullseye games since I began competing decades ago. New subsonic hollow-points give small-game hunters match accuracy and a mild report for close shooting in settled environs.

In 1959, the .22 LR got a big brother. The .22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire sent 40-grain bullets at an advertised 2,000 fps. That claim proved optimistic, and 40s are now listed nearer 1,900. But frisky loads with 30-grain bullets clock 2,250! Pointed polymer tips have flattened the arcs and tightened groups for shooters sweet on the .22 WMR — and I’m one of them!

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the July 2018 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.


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