.22 LR: The Best Survival Ammunition?

.22 LR: The Best Survival Ammunition?
The author states that the .22 Long Rifle is the best cartridge for survival situations. What do you think? Be sure sure to leave a comment at the bottom of the article.
22 Long Rifle Ammunition
The author states that the .22 Long Rifle is the best cartridge for survival situations. What do you think? Be sure sure to leave a comment at the bottom of the article.

Let me make my case for the .22 Long Rifle (.22 LR) as the ultimate survival choice in terms of rifle cartridges. What does the .22LR have going for it that would make someone even consider it as a survival choice, let alone the best all-round?

.22 LR Weight

Not surprisingly, I was able to find a chart on the Internet that compared the weights of various pistol and rifle – rimfire and centerfire – cartridges in bulk. According to this chart, there are 133.3 Remington 36-grain hollow points in a pound.

Curious, I did a bit of checking on my own using my wife’s postal scale, and found it took 143 rounds – Federal 36-grain copper-plated hollow points – to equal 16 ounces. Digging a bit deeper, I found there to be in that same pound, ten rounds of 3-inch 12-gauge steel #1 shot, 21 rounds of 170-grain 30-30 Winchester, 23 of .243 Winchester in a 90-grain Power Core hollow point format, and 17 of 150-grain pointed soft point .30-06 Springfield.

My point? Though very much concerned with pinpoint accuracy, I am also a believer in the mantra: Peace (or Continued Existence) through Superior Firepower. That said, I would opt for 143 effective though admittedly circumstantially limited cartridges over 17 or 21 or 23 bigger, more powerful rounds.

The bottom line is the .22 LR offers the option to carry an absolutely ridiculous number of rounds easily; the others, not so much.

.22 LR Availability

Use ball ammunition with brass cases for your survival guns.
Click the image to continue reading about survival ammunition. Scott Wagner discusses the benefits of ball ammo.

Even in the most out-of-the-way Mom ‘n Pop grocery, there’s almost a 100 percent chance they’re going to have a box – or several boxes – of some sort of .22LR ammunition lying around.

It’s true, and I can’t argue the fact the same might be said of 12-gauge 2-3/4-inch shotshells, or .30-06 or 30-30 Winchester cartridges; however, we go back to the rounds-per-pound comparison above. Should you have to trade folding money for ammunition, the rimfires are going to be much less expensive, as in $22 per 400 rounds of .22 LR versus $22 per 20 rounds of .30-06.

Apples to oranges? Perhaps, but you get the point here, I’m sure. And going back to availability, if your particular situation involves the End of Days, aka Armageddon, and legal tender isn’t an issue, there’s a better chance you’re going to be able to successfully scrounge .22 LR ammunition anywhere around the country, and to a large extent abroad, than anything other type of ammunition – with the possible exception, before anyone speaks up, of 7.62×39, but now you’re back to 27 rounds per pound.

.22 LR Accuracy

Out to 100 yards, and for some, beyond that, the .22 LR can be a deadly accurate cartridge. And accuracy, of course, has a bearing on ammunition expenditure, a variable that might play a very important role, particularly in a long-term survival situation. Inside 100 yards, you should be able to hit what you are shooting at easily. For more on the .22 LR and accuracy, see the ammo test results to the left on this page.

.22 LR Audio Level

Should audio level, that is how noisy or quiet a firearm is, even be a consideration in terms of a whether or not a firearm is the perfect choice in a survival scenario? I think certainly.

A low-level report from a .22 LR which, again using the Internet, falls roughly between 118 and 134 decibels won’t (1) frighten game nearly as dramatically as might a substantially louder round. The .243 Winchester comes in at approximately 160 decibels.

And again returning to the Armageddon scenario, the softer-sounding .22 LR won’t attract unwanted human attention over great distances, thereby eliminating or decreasing the instances of unfriendly reconnaissance to the sound. As a final note, the .22 LR can be, should the world end, easily quieted using any number of commonly-found household items.

.22 LR Versatility

If it’s a meal you’re in need of, there’s really no cause to look further than a .22 LR. Whether it’s ground squirrel or groundhog rabbit or sitting duck, the .22 LR works. Animals as large as wild hogs or whitetails can be taken cleanly with a .22 LR and proper shot placement.

There are few, if any, reasonably sized life forms, edible or otherwise, that cannot be dispatched with either a 36- or 40-grain bullet launched from a rimfire case. Would I want to go toe-to-toe with a 350-pound black bear armed only with a .22 LR? Or would my first choice for moose be a rimfire? No, but here we’re discussing the acquisition of nourishment, first, and the preservation of life only when evasion and/or avoidance strategies have been tried and deemed unsuccessful.

The reality is, if you shoot a deer in a survival situation, you will need to preserve a lot of meat. If you shoot a rabbit or a squirrel, you eat your meal and move on with your 143 rounds of ammo.


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M.D. Johnson is a seasoned outdoor writer whose career spans over three decades. Starting in 1992, Johnson has contributed to renowned publications such as Field & Stream, Outdoor Life, and Ducks Unlimited. He began his career with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, coordinating hunter education programs. Together with his wife, Julia, a talented photographer, he has authored six acclaimed books on outdoor topics. The couple runs M & J Outdoor Communications, blending writing and photography to capture the essence of the outdoors. Residing in eastern Iowa, Johnson continues to share his passion for hunting, fishing, and outdoor adventures.


  1. I agree with all of the above. It may be puny in someones opinionbut if someone is shooting at you it doesn’t matter what size the bullet you don’t want to be hit.

  2. If the .22LR was as effective against big game and humans as it appears most respondants believe, why in the world did hunting and defensive arms move so far beyond the tiny rimfire in terms of energy, bullet weight, penetration, etc? The mantra of “accuracy trumps power” only goes so far. Even headshots are not a guaranteed kill/stop. The cartridge just doesn’t do that much damage.

    Don’t get me wrong, the .22 serves a useful place in a survival battery. It would be foolish not to have a reliable, accurate .22 available. But please don’t delude yourself into thinking it is even a marginally adequate replacement for a larger, more powerful centerfire when the targets are much bigger than a groundhog. Or desire your demise as much as you do theirs.

  3. A old moose hunting tip from Alaskan natives using a 22 rifle, shoot a moose in the belly and then leave the moose alone for a hour or more. The Moose will run a short distance, lay down and will die at that spot if left alone. The Natives claim the moose starts feeling sorry for itself and just gives up. And no I’ve never tried this but heard this story years ago from the wife of a native elder.

  4. I have used the 22LR as a primary weapon for survival for more then thirty years from North to South America. Between my father and I we have kill everything from Canadian black bears to 800 pound Amazon Tapirs with the common 22lr. Of course, being a good shot and knowing where to shoot a large animal to kill it makes all the difference. Since I moved back to the US several years ago, I found the alarming trend of people using virtual cannons to shoot regular animals like whitetail deer. I once saw a man wound (Yes, wound)an Axis deer with a Weatherby 300 Winmag. I agree totally with the author, that the 22lr is the best all around round for practicability and survival. In the hands of the right users, it can be a great tool. If you feel that it is not big enough, you can always upgrade to the .22 Magnum and get more kill power and range for not that much more weight.

  5. I am fan of the 22 caliber as well, not only in 22LR but also 22WMR. I carry a 22WMR NAA Black Widow as a warm weather back-up, nice and small with quite a punch for a tiny gun. I also shoot 22LR every time I go to the range to practice, roughly 125 rounds a visit. Generally warm up with my 22 Buckmark Practical or a S&W 617 revolver w/6″ barrel. The 22WMR is quite a bit costlier, but if you shop around you can find 50 packs around $7.50, not too bad considering some 22LR ammo is more expensive for 50. I generally buy Federal 525 packs, reasonably accurate and a failure rate under 1%, more than I can say for cheap Remington bulk pack ammo (failure of about 5%). I rarely if ever, have to fire Federal more than a second time, but have attempted to fire some Remington ammo 4x’s to no avail. In the same gun the same day. I know it’s not a Buckmark issue, as I have a Ruger MK III that has issues with the Remington ammo, as does the S&W 617, though not as often as the semi-autos. The revolver must strike the cartridge more effectively; that or Remington just makes a lot of duds. For low price ammo, I would recommend the Federal 525 packs.

  6. 22LR was the first caliber i have ever shot, i was 18.. or maybe 19. Was an old Rossi revolver my grandad gave me.. and i still like em both, revolver and caliber..

  7. I got my first 22 sears single shot when I was 10 years old. I later got a H&R 8 shot target pistol when I was 16 years old. I had to teach my younger brother to shoot.
    I use to shoot with 22s in scouting.
    I hunted rabbits & squirrels with it too.
    I never had to shoot a person yet. I hope I never have to but if I ever do I may use a 22LR to do it with. I will be 70 years old in December of 2012 & I can still shoot out to 100 yards with iron sites. I do have scopes on my Deer rifles. Win 30-30 model 1894 & a Marlin 30.06 both zerro in at 100 yards.

  8. Well, I grew up with a single shot marlin 22 bolt action with the red and green plastic inserts for the thumb safety. We were country people, and used a 22 short to kill beef and hogs. Open sights with a whittled match stick for elevation. Longest kill was a Canadian goose at 324 yards (he had sat down on Langley Pond while I was shooting fish).
    Have lived in Alaska for 35 years. Put most water fowl and spruce hens and ptarmigan in the freezer with a 22. Take a young moose every other year with the 22. and rabbits, and most predators (for hides). Most shots are at 50 yards or so. Haven’t shot fish up here, but would be very effecient if needed.
    I have a couple of .338’s, a 7×57, and a 12ga that I use regularly. But… I use a 22 for so much because it will do all that I need.

  9. I have been using a 22 since I was very young, and if it came down to carrying a firearm for survival it would be a 22. I have shot a lot of rabbits and other game with the 22. I still have the very first 22 rifle that I ever bought, and it still shoots as well today as it did back in the early 1960’s.
    It is a firearm that you can always count on to get the job down. I do agree with all the information that has been shared on the 22 shells, and their ability to do the job right.

  10. I retired after 42 years in law enforcement at the local, state and federal levels, and I also teach and have taught many wilderness survival courses to various audiences, and I agree wholeheartedly with the writer of this article. A pistol and/or a rifle chambered in .22 Long Rifle is one of the most useful survival tools a person could have. I have dispatched injured deer, elk, and other wildlife using a single-shot .22 and CB Shorts, using head shots from 10 feet away. I have taken my share of forest grouse (where legal) and other small game for “camp meat” on many occasions. Further, I have seen the results of a .22 LR on violent perps shot in the head with a victim protecting himself or herself, and the results were decisive. I have several rifles, pistols and revolvers in that chambering (along with others) and keep at least one handgun and one rifle in each of my backpacks for survival purposes. It is, without a doubt, my favorite cartridge and one I have used to teach my own “kids” and grandkids and Hunter Ed students since 1976.

  11. I think the 22cal is fantastic for just about all game to live on , I remember the 22 was used here in Michigan back up until the mid 60’s for deer hunting . So it goes to show it can bring down decent size game with proper shot placement and as we all know its not what caliber you use it is where you hit your target that counts , I recommend the 22 to anyone that is gun shy .

  12. I, too, wholeheartedly agree with all the points made. While I have centerfires in some major calibers (.30-06, .308 & .223), the .22s far outnumber everything else (in pistols, 3 semis, 2 revolvers; long guns, 3 bolt, 3 semiauto, 2 lever and 1 pump). Predictably, time on the range with .22s dwarfs any other calibers. Should survival ever become an issue, some “mouse” guns and a few pounds of ammo go into the “bugout” bag.

  13. Agreed on the .22LR. One can get them almost anywhere, and a lot of rounds at a small cost. I haven’t checked the statistics lately, but I believe that we’ll find that the .22LR is still at or near the top of the list for the ammo used in most criminal shootings. Even the bad guys recognize its utility and ubiquity.
    And what suffices for a criminal shooting is likely to suffice in a self defense situation. Not ideal but sufficient.
    For survival hunting (and detection avoidance) the small report of the .22LR can be further enhanced if one has purchased a suppressor. Having both a rifle and a pistol threaded to accept the same suppressor would be ideal for either low profile hunting or defense. That’s in the EOWAWKI situation. Not bad for bagging critters or on the range in the real world.

  14. As a retired Law Enforcement Officer I have seen people shot with .22’s. It is a great all around round for self defense. Am I nuts? Not hardly! I know a Detroit E.R. Doctor that told me once that he would much rather see someone shot with a large caliber handgun. The bullet is easy to find and the damage readily assessed. With a .22 in goes in one hole and who knows where it will end up or come out. I carried a .22 automatic for years with high velocity rounds. Nice and light and very dependable. You can get ammo almost anywhere including most farmers that keep them around the barn for obnoxious critters and such.

    • I think I would rather be shot with a bigger caliber than the 22 any day as you never know where that 22 is going to exit if it hits a bone .

  15. I agree. With a .22 and a moderate level of skill, one can very well provide meat for oneself and one’s family. I kept my original Armalite AR-7 all these years, and it still shoots well enough to head a rabbit or squirrel at 50′ or so, although the 10-22 I bought for my wife is probably a bit better, and carries a scope. And no, it is not difficult to get that close to either. Just don’t move fast. Yes, the cartridge is capable out to 100 yards, but I don’t recommend it at much more than 25, 50 max.

    • I have three 22 pistols, 2 autos 1 wheel which also has 22Mag cylinder. Then I go to my rifles: 2 autos, 2 pumps, 1 lever. I usually keep 4-5 bricks of 22 ammo around. I love to shoot, have a 25 yard target range in my basement. I have dispatched a number of skunks with super quiet Aquilla ammo: 20 grain lead, primer only, 725 fps. Of course I have other guns around the house too. 7×57 mauser, 308 Savage, 223 mini-14 and there’s at least 100 rounds for each. There’s also a 12 gauge with ammo.


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