The not-so-lowly .22 rimfire is still ‘king of cartridges’
by Dave Workman
It is the most commonly-purchased cartridge in the world, and in the United States alone, millions of them are used annually by plinkers, competitors, farmers and small game hunters.
We are speaking, of course, of the .22-caliber rimfire, either in its most popular .22 Long Rifle configuration or the more powerful .22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire (.22 WMR). While the Long Rifle is certainly the cartridge I have used more, the magnum has proven itself to be a sizzler on rabbits, rodents and even grouse that deserve to be noggin-shot because they are behaving so stupidly as to sit still while someone approaches.
As the first of the fall hunting seasons approach in my native Washington stateseasons for grouse and rabbits open Sept. 1rest assured that among my other preparatory pursuits there will be range time spent with my Ruger 10/22 and Ruger semi-auto pistol, the latter acquired at a gun show for just such a purpose.
A few years ago, I did a round-up of .22 Long Rifle ammunition for one of the gun magazines, and it was perhaps one of the most enjoyable bits of “research” I ever did. Over the years, it would be impossible to estimate the number of .22 LR cartridges I have expended on game, tin cans, paper targets, bottle caps, kitchen matches, empty shotshells, and other targets of opportunity.
Still, I would say that the most remarkable shot with a rifle that I ever witnessed was made by my dad one morning so many years in my past that I cannot remember anything other than the day being mild with a blue sky, and my grandfather was along. They were grouse hunting and I was but 5 or 6 at the time, too young to carry a loaded gun, but old enough to act as gun-bearer of the Winchester Model 69A bolt-action rifle with the worn spot on the left side of the forend where it had rubbed on a handle bar when my dad was a younger fellow.
On this morning we had come to a gate at the end of an old gravel road on Muck Creek Hill, miles south and east of Tacoma on the Mountain Highway. As we were about to let ourselves through a closed gate, my dad grabbed the rifle, inserted the 5-round magazine, took a rest on a fence post andI swear this is trueshot a cottontail rabbit on the hop with a neck shot that was so clean, the critter bled out right there.
He was using iron sights, of course. The range was maybe 20 yards, and some might argue that this was simply luck. Yeah, well it was my dad on the trigger, and if luck had anything to do with the event, I’d have to say it was the rabbit’s bad luck to be spotted by my old man. I still own that rifle, and it still shoots dead on at 25 yards.
My profession has allowed me the opportunity to fire a lot of .22-caliber rifles from just about every major manufacturer in the country. I bought one of the test gunsthat Ruger 10/22and stuck a Bushnell scope on it, which turned out to be a good idea.
One of my better experiences came with a Marlin bolt-action in .22 WMR a few years ago. This was with the Model 982VS, a stainless beauty with a black injection-molded stock to which I added a scope. It had a 22-inch Micro Groove bull barrel with recessed crown, raised cheekpiece and came with 4- and 7-round magazines. That thing was a tack-driver and it broke my heart to send it back after the test, but in the final analysis, I really didn’t need another rimfire rifle.
If one picks the right ammunition in .22 LR, bullets will leave the muzzle at well over 1,000 feet-per-second (fps), and in the realm of such warp-speed demons as the 33-grainers, you will see speeds a lot hotter than that.
Meanwhile, the .22 WMR round is no slouch! Again, depending upon the bullet, one can anticipate muzzle velocities ranging to almost 2,000 fps with a very light projectile, while heavier bullets may cross a chronograph’s screens in the 1,600-1,700 fps realm.
If I recall correctly, I wrote that no rabbit was safe anywhere within range of that rifle.
The .22 WMR is really an offshoot of an earlier cartridge known as the .22 Winchester Rimfire (WRF), which my dad called the “.22 Special,” probably because it was virtually identical to the .22 Remington Special. I still have a bunch of those old cartridges lying around for a gun I never owned, and I have read that they were not quite as accurate as a standard .22 LR, but what does that mean, really? If somebody can whack a bunny out to 50-75 yards with a rimfire, just what the heck else does a cartridge have to prove?
The “downside” of the .22 WMR is that it is costlier and typically not as available as the .22 LR, which can be found just about anywhere ammunition is sold. Still, you are getting a lot of bang for the buck, compared to what one pays for a box of 20 centerfire cartridges; one can purchase a few hundred .22 LR cartridges for what one spends on a single box of .30-06 cartridges.
In my youth, I spent a fair amount of time hunting raccoons with an old gentleman who had hounds, and nothing was quite so rewardingor instructionalas shooting a ringtail out of a tree at 75 feet with a .22-caliber handgun. I did that on enough occasions to become fairly skilled with a rimfire pistol, a habit that probably saved me from spending all of my money on cars that didn’t run well because I spent it on ammunition that shot very well.
It is common in western states to allow the taking of grouse with rifles and pistols, and in this realm, the .22 LR excels. This is why I always have a rimfire along in the early grouse season, because one can never predict when a fool hen is going to offer an irresistible target. Keep in mind that it is illegal to shoot along or across a national forest road, but once you are off the road, and not shooting back towards it, you’re good to go, barring any local regulations to the contrary.
To practice hitting a grouse in the head or neck with a scoped .22-caliber rifle, set up some used plastic water bottles at 20-25 yards, take a rest and aim for the neck and the spout areas. Once you start hitting that spot consistently, you’re in business.
On a leisurely hike after a morning hunt, I might just strike out on a trail with nothing more than a .22 pistol or rifle along “just in case” I bump into dinner somewhere along the way. As noted in these pages many times in the past, a head shot with a .22 LR or WMR will save a lot of meat from shot pellet damage.
For therapeutic purposes, the .22 LR is the next best thing, in my opinion, to a lazy afternoon spent in a hammock in the shade of a tree. The .22 LR has been a key element in so many relaxing afternoons of my life that I’ve lost count. Teaching my sons to shoot, challenging my own skills and sharpening them, teaching my sons to shoot, putting small game in the pot…and did I mention “teaching my sons to shoot?” There is perhaps no one thing more rewarding than a big, proud smile with a couple of baby teeth missing on the face of a youngster after he’s put the hurt on plastic pop bottles and tin can lids under dad’s watchful eye.
For all of those times, the .22 is still the king.
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