Kirsten Weiss (courtesy Kirsten Weiss)

In a society that often proclaims “bigger is better”—big trucks, big houses, big decks (on big houses)—it’s easy to think that size is important. When it comes to rifle marksmanship size does matter. Smaller is better. Why? Because it teaches you more. Think of beginning marksmanship as learning how to fly a plane . . .

As a new student, you don’t jump into a Gulfstream GS650. No. You start out in a dinky prop plane. And for good reason . . .

Cheaper to buy – At the beginning of your aviation eduction you don’t know if flying is your thing. Even if you do, even if you have a few spare million, you don’t know enough to spend your money wisely.

Cheaper to fly – More flying, more training. More training, better flying. Better flying, more fun. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Fits more places – You don’t need a huge runway to train properly, in some cases you can even use an open grassy field, creating more opportunity to train [see: above]

Less intimidating – Basic prop planes are smaller and less intimidating than a big jet, offering more psychological comfort for the student.

More educational –  With less power to muscle through the air a small plane is more sensitive to its environment and the pilot’s commands. Overlook a wind pattern or a weather system and the instruments will do the Charleston on your dash.

Now let’s apply that to learning marksmanship with a .22-caliber rifle . . .

Cheaper to buy – A high-quality .22 rifle is less expensive than its larger-calibered cousins

Cheaper to shoot – Even with the massive rush on .22 ammo and the subsequent surge in price you can still buy 50 rounds of .22 ammo for the same cost as a couple of rounds of, say, 7mm. Also, a quality olympic style .22 barrel will maintain its accuracy for at least 15,000 rounds.

Fits more places – You can shoot a .22-caliber rifle on much smaller ranges than you need to stretch the legs of a higher-powered rifle. You can shoot at indoor ranges or small patches of land (away from houses and people, with a proper backstop of course).

Less intimidating – Shooting a .22 generates less recoil than larger caliber rifles, which eliminates accuracy-killing flinching and makes the gun more shootable for longer.

More educational A .22-caliber rifle is a tough teacher. Overlook of a fundamental on a small target (e.g., a smooth trigger) and you’ll miss your mark. With less power and a lighter round, the .22 gives the marksmen the chance to learn “wind doping” (compensating for wind).

After you master the art of shooting the .22-caliber rifle you’ll have confidence with the solid foundation of marksmanship fundamentals. Then you can fluidly move up to larger caliber rifles. Or maybe not. Once you get used to the handling and feel of a precision .22 you might just find that good things come in small packages. So to speak.

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68 Responses to Kirsten Weiss: Size Does Matter

        • Oooh, I got me a 452 Super Luxe, with the 29″ barrel, and a GOLD trigger (much more accurate…), and a Norinco JW25 sort-of Mauser copy, so I can pretend being a Wehrmacht sniper at the range, shooting against my Enfield .22 peers. Sometimes the Norinco is more fun. Bolts save bullets. And they don’t pepper the guy on the right with cartridge cases. If I want to send multiple small projectiles downrange I’ll use my Maverick 88.

    • My first firearm was a Savage bolt action in .22 with a detachable magazine and a 4x scope. At 25 yards, I can put shots in a dime size target. Cans are a cinch at 100. And I’ve even hit 3′ tall steel consistently at 250 yards (with a pretty substantial holdover). Its what I used to introduce my kids to firearms. It also taught me about ammo choices, as it has a real clear preference for standard jacketed HPs or hotter, but hates lead bullets and “match” ammo.

  1. It’s no different than drag racing. You don’t just go drive a 8sec car. You start with a low 14 driver.

    Slower cars make the better bracket racers.

    • I’m glad you mentioned this Gtfoxy, that was one of the other examples I was thinking of! Thanks for the input

  2. Great for varmints too if the SHTF. Great teacher, the gun, and lord if she was teaching I don’t think I would learn a thing lol

  3. If I ever meet a woman that understands the wholesome joy of emptying a brick of .22LR, I’m proposing instantly.

  4. For people who want cheap shooting and a little bit more than the .22 LR, the .22 WMR could be the ticket: you shoot the same 40 grain bullet and muzzle velocity is over 1900 fps out of a rifle. Plus the ammo is still fairly cheap when you can find it — running around $10 for 100 rounds. The last bonus, they don’t seem to be any louder than standard .22 LR.

    Of course the higher velocity means shooter errors will not show up as much. And Kirsten’s whole point was that tiny errors tend to show up more pronounced with .22 LR. Your mileage may vary.

  5. I own one .22 rifle a Marlin 795. I enjoy plinking and shooting .22 rifles and pistols. I just finished a lower today so I can make a .22 AR. I want to train with a weapon that operates just like a 5.56 AR but is cheaper to shoot, if you can find the ammo. The only downside is the upper I want to buy is the same price as a 5.56 upper. I like CMMG’s design better than the plastic AR’s I’ve seen for sale. My next .22 will either be a revolver or Henry lever.

    • Get the Henry. If you can find more fun in a sub-$300 package than a Henry lever-action .22, I’d love to hear about it. As a bonus, it’ll shoot .22 shorts as well as .22LR, which I’ve actually been able to find in stores a few times during the Great Ammo Panic of 2013.

  6. My Ruger 10/22 was my day one purchase at walmart when I turned 18. I have put about 10k rounds down it, and the only thing that needed replaced was the extractor. I put a target hammer and replaced the bolt buffer with a plastic one. It has been my very favorite gun. Then I got a Savage in .17hmr, and fell in love all over again. My ruger holds a special place in my collection, but when a varmint needs dealing with, these days I reach for a .17hmr.

    • I have a Savage 93R17 BTV in .17 HMR and have literally quit my 10/22. Plus I can still find ammo in .17hmr at normal prices- 12.50 for 50 Hornady V-max

  7. You know an article on .22 rifles and what’s available/involved in upgrading/accurizing them would be cool. Actually, it could be a series…

  8. I follow Ms. Weiss’ line of thinking as well. My primary marksmanship rifles are an Anschuetz 1807 and a Winchester 52B. Aperture and globe sights. Match .22LR ammo.

    When you have found the ammo that agrees with your rifle, and you then miss by more than, oh, 1/4 of an inch at 50 yards in a calm wind, you know it is you. There’s no point in blaming the rifle or the ammo. There’s no alibi. There’s only your error. Modern .22LR match ammo (with Ely or similar match primers – ie, forget about the bulk Wally World ammo) is astoundingly consistent. The people at the top of the .22 accuracy game have pushed the ammo companies to create ammo so consistent that it is quite frankly astonishing to me, looking back on 35+ years of shooting .22’s.

    Shooting a .22 target rifle with match ammo teaches you very quickly how to call a shot and what a good shot “feels” like.

    The best way to become a good rifle shot is to get a good target .22 rifle.

    A 10/22 (or any other semi-auto) isn’t a “target” rifle until you’ve poured enough money into it that you could have bought a used, serious .22 target rifle without the work. Ditch the semi-auto rifles and go with a single shot, bolt action .22. As Ms. Weiss points out, .22LR barrels, properly cared for, last for 10’s of thousands of rounds.

    When you sit down and really account for all the costs of running a very accurate BR, F-class or other center-fire target rifle, and you amortize the barrel life (usually in the 1200 to 4000 round range, depending on the cartridge, overbore and how hot the reload is), reckon what it will cost to re-barrel your rifle, then add in the per-round cost of ammo… and then consider how much time you’re sinking into reloading when you could have been shooting, you quickly find out that your cost per round is pretty spendy. .22’s quickly look cheap, even if the match ammo is costing you $20 for 50 rounds.

    • Special place in my heart for the Winchester. I shot a 52d in high school.
      Actually lettered with that beautiful rifle.

      • They were beautiful pieces of workmanship by the time they got to the D and E’s. It is yet another case of “We used to make high quality firearms here in America… why can’t we do that again?”

  9. Well, I’m not the caliber of marksman that Kirsten is, but my experience is that shooting a .22 short or .22LR is pretty ineffective in teaching to shoot. Without any recoil, you don’t learn the importance of grip and trigger control. Pointing at a target is pretty darned easy. Hitting your target with a .22 is mostly effortless unless you’re like the two guys I saw at the Dallas Gun Club who had an amazing amount of equipment and cleaned their bore after every shot because they were trying to keep their .22 in the same hole in the paper. I applaud their intense effort, but I couldn’t be bothered with that.

    I find that at least a .380 is needed to practice with, or else you can’t appreciate the recoil, which tends to make you flinch and miss if you aren’t careful.

    • Hmmm. I must be doing something wrong, because every time I hand my Annie off to some strapping young man on a range who thinks it looks so easy to pull tight groups at 50 yards with a .22LR… they fail. Miserably. Even guys trained in the US Army how to shoot. Sometimes, I get very pissy about what my tax dollars are buying.

      Yet, when I train youngsters, including and especially little girls, how to shoot with a .22LR, I create a shooter who can shoot.

      So I propose an experiment:

      I’ll teach a class of, oh, a dozen people how to shoot with a .22 rifle at 50 yards.

      You teach a class of a dozen people how to shoot at 500 yards with a really trick .338 WinMag loaded with 300gr Sierra MatchKings.

      Get back to me when your guys can shoot 50 rounds without flinching.

      • Well stomach ache, you’ve put several variables into the equation. Also, I was referring to pistols.

        • OK, same deal. I’ll start my crew with .22’s, say, S&W Model 41’s.

          You start your crew with S&W model 29’s. Which, BTW, are very accurate pieces. Or a IMI Desert Eagle, which were (last I shot one) very accurate as well.

  10. I’m chuckling at the irony. 2 articles about size, in jest, I know.
    Ten when I got home 30 minutes ago, my projo order from Pat’s reloading was on the porch. 500 .50 bmg slugs. Wahoo!

  11. The cheap price, high quantity, and quietness is part of why I carry a .22 caliber pistol. Sure .45 is nice but who needs a thousand dollar hand gun that makes your ears bleed? .22 isn’t as powerful sure but given the same level of ability between the two calibers id still take .22 any day.

  12. One of my favorite things in the world is the smell of wolf match powder burning in the custom ruger I put together and watching five rounds falling in the same hole fifty yards away. Life doesn’t get much better than that…

  13. What’s wrong big decks on big houses? I make my living building big decks on big houses (when I’m not governing).

  14. I met a guy at the range that though ruger 10/22 was the only 22 semi auto rifle. I compare 10/22 dudes to apple fanboys now.

    • You imply that there’s a shooter out there that doesn’t own a 10/22 in the safe! Don’t judge all people by that one jackass- there ARE other semi-auto .22s (the AR-7 for starters), but how many have been continuously produced since the 60’s? Generations have grown up with it. It’s a classic.

      • Okay, I’ll bite. I don’t have a 10/22, I bought a Marlin 60 about 19 years ago and it has served me well. But the new 10/22 Takedown is on my shopping list.

        • I’m overexagerrating when I say EVERYONE has one, but it’s popular for a good reason. I learned to shoot with one.

        • We have a Marlin 60: great value in that little rifle. Also have a10/22 takedown, which is also nice. Had trouble with the 10/22 with a sling attached: it didn’t take much pressure to cause a significant widening of a shot group. (Discovered that at an Appleseed event.) Much more than I’ve seen in any other .22. Currently, for value in a semi-auto .22, we have a Marlin 795 on order.

      • I am a Marlin fanboy. I suppose that puts me in the Microsoft arena if I stick to computer comparisons.

        • Except more people actually use Microsoft than Apple; Apple just makes itself visible because the hipsters that run the media like them. But it’s a solid enough idea.

          For semi-autos, Marlin might be the Microsoft (but then lots of companies have semi-auto .22s, we’d need sales figures to see for sure). But for leverguns, Marlin is pretty much the Pepsi to Winchester’s Coke.

      • I have literally heard some people refer to any 22lr rifle as a 10/22 at Gander Mountain.

      • I have half a .22; a conversion slide assembly for a 1911 and only use it for introducing new shooters to the magazine-fed pistol because the thing doesn’t produce a proper bang, much less a boom… just an unsatisfying pop. My wife and I do, however have .38 lever actions for relatively cheap, quiet shooting without recoil but they will also chamber .357 which makes them useful for other things as well.

  15. As a small boy, before graduating to rimfires, I shot a rickety Daisy pump-action BB gun. My eyesight then was twice normal (20/40 or 40/20, I forget which, verified during a later flight physical). Anyway, I could see the BB from the time it left the muzzle all the way to the target, which included a fairly pronounced ballistic arc if the target was more than 20 feet away. This, I think, gave me an unconscious understanding of ballistics and “drop.” Not too many years later I was routinely knocking over running jackrabbits at up to 400 yards with a .22. I was using a classic Browning .22 Semi-Auto with iron sights, and corrected my shots from the dust kicked up. I usually connected by the third shot.

    So, I totally agree with the young miss; nothing beats random plinking, even with a BB gun, for building proficiency. Every shot is different. This is one of the problems I have with going to the range; you can get real good at making the same idealized set-up shots.

    Alas, the eyes have since gone south.

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