Gun Digest

Greatest Cartridges: The Eminently Useful .22 Rimfire

Outside the recent ammo shortage, the .22 Rimfire might be one of the most ubiquitous rounds in the shooting world. A great majority of shooters sent a .22 bullet down range the first time they pulled the trigger.

The little rimfire round is one of the most useful cartridges ever developed. I have not been without at least one firearm so chambered in more than 69 years.

I presently have three rifles and one handgun, including a rifle that I've owned for about 65 years. It was my second rifle ever. My dad traded the first, a single shot Winchester Model 68, in on a Marlin Model 81-DL repeater when I felt that I had outgrown the single shot. My ammo bill went up appreciably with that acquisition.

I bought my ammo at Bill Williams's general store for the hefty price of one penny per round. A ten round purchase was about the most I could ever afford at one time.

My new Marlin was deadly accurate and I kept the local population of starlings, squirrels, cottontail rabbits, possums and ground hogs pretty much in check, so long as I could come up with a nickel or two for ammo. I usually reserved my meager supply of ammo for serious purposes, and used my Daisy BB gun for the more mundane shooting.

Ten cents doesn't sound like much today, but back then it was a lot of money and squandering it on less than necessary usage was deeply frowned by my dad. A product of the great depression, he wasted nothing. I had to account for each round of the precious rimfire ammo.

Over the years, I've owned a number of handguns chambered for the little rimfire. Alas I recently sold my next-to-last remaining handgun so chambered. It was a Smith & Wesson Model 18 Combat Masterpiece with target trigger and hammer. I've also owned and used several Colt Woodsman semi-autos, as well as a Colt Ace or three. I've had Ruger Single-Sixes, High Standard semi-autos, and both Harrington & Richardson and Iver Johnson revolvers.

I once had a S&W Model 34 Kit Gun chambered for the rimfire. I usually carried it with me when deer and antelope hunting, to administer the coup de gras if necessary, and whatever else I might need it for. I've long since lost track of all that have come and gone through my hands, but all have been handy and useful, as well as a lot of fun.

Perhaps the best use for the cartridge is as a training and practice round. Just about every kid learns to shoot with .22 RF chambered firearm. However, it does have some serious applications.

For example, during my college days, I was a ROTC cadet for all four years, and shot competitively on the collegiate rifle team. I thought I had died and gone to heaven when they issued me a new Winchester Model 52D rifle, all the ammunition I could shoot, and keys to the indoor rifle range. I shot that same Model 52 all four years on the team and really hated to have to turn it in upon graduation. I don't have any idea how many rounds I used during those collegiate years, but it was a bunch – many thousands to be sure.

In the hands of a good marksman who is careful with his shots, it is very effective on small game and varmints. One of our best squirrel hunters in my part of Appalachia was Lonnie Murphy. While most local squirrel hunters used shotguns, Lonnie used nothing but his trusty Winchester Model 61 pump. He also wasted no meat as he shot all his squirrels in the head! I had the pleasure of hunting with him a few times and he taught me a lot about hunting the delicious little rodents.

When I was growing up, there were three varieties of .22 RF ammo widely available. They were classified as shorts, longs, and long rifle. Most of the available rifles were chambered for all of the three varieties. A few, mostly so-called Gallery rifles, were chambered for the .22 short only. Every county fair and/or traveling carnival, had at least one shooting gallery equipped with rifles shooting .22 shorts only.

Many use the .22 Rimfire as a plinking load, but it also has many practical applications. For small varmints, there might not be a better or more economical round.

I'm sure that shorts and longs are still loaded in modest quantities, but they have largely disappeared and replaced by the vastly more popular long rifle variety. Though I've not been to a carnival in a very long time, I believe the shooting galleries have also gone the way of the dodo bird. There may still be a few around, but in today's phobia with political correctness, I doubt it.

I've been told, and I have read of Eskimo hunters in the Arctic shooting polar bears with the .22 RF. I don't think I'd want to participate in such a feat, but no doubt, it has happened. The only time that I was ever in an Eskimo hunting camp, the lone rifle in camp was a .223 chambered rifle held together with hose clamps. I didn't see them shoot it, but I'd guess that they would have to close the range to a few feet to hit anything with it. Perhaps that is the reason that they can get away with such small cartridges on large game.

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