The Ammunition Bubble: Substitute 12 gauge for .22?

These two boxes of ammunition cost about the same on today’s market

The price of 12 gauge hunting ammunition has dropped back to near pre-ammunition bubble levels. Walmart had 100 rounds of birdshot loads priced at $19.97 a couple  of days ago. That’s 20 cents per round or $5 per box of 25. Before the Barrack Obama ammo run, the ordinary price was a little lower, perhaps $4.50, with sales just before dove season as low as $3.00. On the other side of the coin, .22 rimfire ammunition, particularly .22 long rifle prices are at an all-time high. This is a classic bubble, and it will end, but no one knows exactly when . . .

Currently, .22 LR is available for about 10 cents a round. So, which is a better deal, .22 LR at 10 cents a cartridge, or 12 gauge at 20 cents? Both cartridges have their unique uses, advantages, and disadvantages. Next to .22 rimfire, 12 gauge may be the next most commonly chambered cartridge in the country. Most gun owners own a shotgun of some kind. Nearly every gun writer has noted that a shotgun is one of the most versatile and useful firearms ever made. Most gun owners have a 12 gauge, because it’s the most common and versatile of the shotgun gauges.  Because of the economies of mass production, it’s also the cheapest shotgun ammunition.

For many people, it makes more sense to buy 12 gauge at 20 cents a round than .22 ammunition at 10 cents a round. Lots of the uses of the two firearms overlap even though the raw power of an ordinary 12 gauge load is equivalent to a dozen .22 LR cartridges.

Both are excellent choices for hunting small game. In fact, the shotgun is the more reliable gun for putting meat on the table.   It’s designed for taking birds on the fly and rabbits on the run.  It takes less skill on the part of the hunter to take game with a shotgun than it does with a .22 LR.  For hunting, one 12 gauge cartridge is probably as or more productive than two .22 LR cartridges.

Neither 12 gauge (with bird shot) or .22 LR is the first choice for self defense. Still, both are commonly used, and used effectively because any gun is better than no gun in a self defense scenario. Here again, the 12 gauge has the edge. It has greater intimidation value due to the size of the hole in the end of the barrel(s). It has massive destructive power at close range, under five yards, where most self defense situations occur. And there are a number of ways that birdshot loads can be converted to expedient slug loads in an emergency.

That brings us to big game. Neither 12 gauge birdshot loads or .22 LR are the optimum choice for hunting large animals. Still, as with self defense, both have been used extensively and successfully. The wax and cut expedient loads for shotguns have been used to poach big game for decades. The use has been prevalent enough to rate a legal ban on their use in hunting in some states. The ban on these loads in Wisconsin led me to discover what they were and how they worked 45 years ago. I do not recommend them except for emergency use.

Even without the expedient slug loads, bird shot can down big game at ranges under five yards. My father once harvested a deer with a shot from a shotgun and birdshot at 4 yards distance. The shot to the head was an instant and humane death. I own a .22 LR that my father acquired during the depression. It was often loaned to neighbors for subsistence deer hunting; a “village gun” system where the owner of the gun received a share of the meat. My father said that it had been used to harvest over 200 deer.

While I don’t advocate breaking the law, in a survival situation, eating takes priority over the hunting regulations.

In terms of barter, or as a store of value, 12 gauge and .22 LR both have excellent barter potential, both store for decades without noticeable degradation.

.22 LR prices will eventually return to reasonable levels.  The raw materials it takes to make one 12 gauge loads could be used to make 10 or 12 .22 LR rounds, indicating that it’s not raw material costs that are driving .22 LR inflation. While the bubble is still expanding, people should consider the 12 gauge as a substitute for the .22 LR round where possible. Two .22 LR cartridges for a 12 gauge cartridge is a pretty good trade.

©2014 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.
Gun Watch


  1. avatar Gunr says:

    A hundred rounds of 22 long rifle is a hell of a lot easier on the shoulder, than 100 rounds of 12 Ga.

  2. avatar Nine says:

    Welp, time to get 590A1 I’ve had my eye on.

  3. avatar Jon in CO says:

    The only thing my household shot during the ammo shortage was 12guage. There was always some form of birdshot on the shelves here.

  4. avatar Ralph says:

    What the hell is 12 guage? If I shoot it, will I need a muzzle break, or is it less powerful than .9mm?

    1. avatar Anonymous says:

      12 GA? Are we talking about wire sizes? or metal thicknesses?

      1. avatar McFry says:

        Originally, they used certain size steel balls, every how many steel balls to make pound it took was what gauge the gun was, and the diameter of the ball determined the size of the barrel of the gun… so it took 12 steel balls the size round a 12 gauge to make a pound. Same with other gauges except a 4.10, which is actually a caliber as a rifle. 4.10’s were designed to be a rifle, but for reasons I forget, it didn’t work out, and they for some reason made them into shotguns…. and it caught on… I hope this helps you.

        1. avatar DBM says:

          People used to shoot .45 long colts through .410 shotguns. The concept eventually became a pistol.

        2. avatar Jay Williams says:

          They were joking. Nevertheless, I’m sure what you wrote will be helpful to some readers here.

        3. avatar Rich Grise says:

          For the record, it’s lead:

          but apparently cannon used steel.

  5. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

    As an upland bird hunter, I’m well stocked with 20 and 12.
    .22? I started stocking up in the summer of ’08.

    1. avatar Ralph says:

      I haven’t seen .22 at decent prices since 2008. Did you also buy Apple at 7?

      1. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

        I wish! They just had a 7 way split. Again.

  6. avatar DrVino says:

    I am finding 22LR of various flavors at my LGSs for about 8c/rd.
    All-time high? NO.

  7. The 100 rd value pack of 12 gauge was $28 the last time I checked (last week) at Walmart. I will have to take another look tomorrow and load up if the price did come down.

  8. avatar Rich Grise says:

    I once watched a neighbor shoot 2 squirrels and a rabbit with a .22. I was quite impressed with the shooting, especially the rabbit, which was on the run. (I was about 8 at the time).

    1. avatar I_Like_Pie says:

      That would be one heck of a shot. what’s the chances of them lining up like that so perfectly?


      1. avatar Jay Williams says:

        I was thinking the same thing. Funny.

  9. avatar Pascal says:

    I have substituted 22 cal and.177 cal pellet rifles for 22LR and found a Ruger Red Label to start shooting more clays.

    I can wait for 22LR to come back to sanity if it ever does.

  10. avatar Mike says:

    When was the last time you went plinking with a shotgun?

    1. avatar Steve Truffer says:

      2 weeks ago. Birds head grip and a 28 inch barrel makes for a fun “room-broom”.

      1. avatar A-Rod says:

        I have spent more time having fun busting clay pigeon with economical 12 gauge ammo than the rarity that is .22LR. I miss .22 ammo but come dove season my freezer is getting a lot of fowl.

    2. avatar Tom396 says:

      Only way to fly. .22LR is dead to me.

  11. avatar Bob says:

    First thing i thought was that someone needs to figure out plastic cased 22lr.

  12. avatar former water walker says:

    This isn’t really apples to oranges. 10 rounds of 00Herters buckshot at Cabelas for 4.79 right now. Or cheap Herters slugs are more useful than that very hard to get .22. NO inexpensive .22 at Cabelas today-everything else in abundance( well except .380 target ammo). Yeah I know you’re not plinking with a shotgun. The local Wal-Mart has been very spotty at best-never any cheap .22.

  13. avatar Philthegardner says:

    I’m not very “meaty” in the chest area and a shotgun butt rests squarely on bone when I place it in my shoulder pocket. Needless to say this results in some very colorful welts afterward. A generous recoil pad helps a little but it still hurts. So one day I just got the travelers neck pillow (the semi-round one) slipped it over my shoulder and placed the butt there. It looks completely lame and laughable but now I can go through a box of slugs without missing a beat. So yes, given the availability of 12ga vis-a-vis the rarity of 22lr, the shotguns are getting more plinking time with me

    1. avatar uncommon_sense says:

      F.Y.I. The inexpensive shotgun loads — especially target loads — produce way less recoil than slugs.

      1. avatar philthegardner says:

        Yes of course. I meant to say that with the pillow, i can go through a box without issue. Even if they were slugs. For my backyard plinking pleasure I normally use #9. It really rips apart the cans and paper targets like nobody’s business.

  14. avatar Ben says:

    I picked up a box of 325 rounds of .22LR at Gander Mountain last week for $19. Still high, but not as bad as I’ve seen elsewhere, where that same box will be priced between $30 and $50.

    I’m confident 22LR will go back down. And I can’t wait, I picked up a Ruger American Rimfire today. 😉

  15. avatar Anonymous says:

    22LR is fairly rare in Oklahoma. All the scalper’s have contacts/partner’s at all the local Walmarts where they are purchased the instantaneous moment they are offloaded the delivery truck. The scapers then list the 22LR on ARMSLIST, etc for 10/15c/rd. Gotta take advantage of the situation right?

    You’d think some companies would step up production for 22LR given our present situation.

    1. avatar T.G. says:

      Southeast OK has a lot of that going on. We’ve only got two big stores in an hour radius and they are picked clean 99.99% of the time. Not sure if its the scalpers or the friends of the employees who come up and buy it all as soon as its offloaded. 12GA though is my primary choice for range day. It’s the only thing i know will be on the shelves when i need it.

  16. avatar B says:

    .223 is like .25 a round. Haven’t bothered shooting 22lr in well over a year since my .223 can be easily replaced.

    1. avatar S.CROCK says:

      Where are you finding .225 for $0.25? I only see it from 35 to 55 cents.

      1. avatar nathanredbeard says:

        And ammoseek.

  17. avatar cogline says:

    I was never any good at quail hunting with a .22 like my grandfather.

  18. avatar Cameron B says:

    i like that with a 12 i can have birdshot, buck, and slug in the tube.

  19. avatar Ralphie says:

    That reminds of my buddy telling me back in the 90’s when he worked in the sporting goods department at kmart. He said the shelves were always over stocked with 22LR bricks and they couldn’t give that stuff away.

  20. avatar last marine out says:

    pellet 177 is cheat shooting for the kids until you can get 22 again , I have killed rats,birds etc with 177 air guns …

  21. avatar Gunr says:

    Got to thinking of something really stupid, and dangerous to do. I wonder if anybody has ever poured the shot out of a 12 ga, and placed several LIVE 22 cartridges in there. Of course you would need to also take out the wads so the 22’s would be resting on the powder and ignite.
    Maybe Matt would like to try this one???

    1. avatar Marcus Aurelius says:

      The shell filled with live .22 is at about the 10 minute mark. 9:45 ought to get you there.

  22. avatar S.CROCK says:

    The 12 gauge is the better deal. Shooting 25rds of 12ga 7½ is more fun and more satisfying than shooting 50rds of 22. You also don’t feel guilty after shooting 12ga. After shooting .22 if feel like I used up the last of a rare resource on earth.

    1. avatar A-Rod says:

      +1. Trap and Skeet is the way to go on a Saturday.

  23. avatar scooter says:

    $60 for 1000 rounds of M-22 at one LGS… Not bad.

    1. avatar Ted says:

      Eh, better than most recently, but two years ago I was buying 2000 rds of M-22 in a spiffy ammo can for $90.

      Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll ever return to those days again.

  24. avatar youzernayme says:

    Gunr, look up “demolition ranch” on YouTube. They do some…questionable…things with a Remington. The shot shell filled with rimfire was done on one episode.

  25. avatar justice06rr says:

    I would substitute 12ga for 22lr, but most indoor ranges in my area only allow slugs to be shot (not exactly fun, and also painful after a few rounds).

    22lr is slowly coming back in supply locally, and my LGS has bricks of Remington 525rd for $45 (about 8c/rd). 22lr can be shot in pistol or rifle ranges which is another advantage. Unfortunately not everyone can shoot outdoors in their own land, esp those that live in larger cities like me.

    Lets leave 12ga alone (and under the radar) for now. I think it is really the last most available and versatile cartridge out there.

  26. avatar Joseph D. Smith says:

    I think B is talking about steel cased Wolf .223.

  27. avatar Marcus Aurelius says:

    You’d think a load of buckshot would pop a simple bubble.

  28. avatar Jake_in_AK says:

    Man I wish 12ga was available up here. Neither 12ga, nor .22LR nor .223/5.56 have been readily available where I live for the better part of 14 months. It was spotty before that since 2010

  29. avatar Rick says:

    still no stores within 150 miles that have .22lr on the shelf.

  30. avatar LJM says:

    Back when I was reloading 12 ga and shooting competitively 13-14 years ago, I could reload shotgun shells for about .12 to .14 cents a shell. The main driver of reloading prices has and continues to be the price of lead. Hulls, primers, wads and powder costs have basically been consistently flat over the years. Well before the Great Drought of 2012-2013, shotgunners dealt with an enormous spike in shot shell prices around the years 2003-04ish. This coincided with a huge spike in raw materials, namely lead. Where one could get a 25 lb bag of shot for$12-13, you saw that almost triple and quadruple. To the point where reloading was basically useless. I long for the days when a flat of quality shells could be had for under $40. But inflation and continued demand won’t allow that.

  31. avatar JT says:

    $20 for 100 rounds.

    I can get Steel cased 9mm for the same price or cheaper and be able to shoot at something other than clay targets.

    1. avatar last marine out says:

      and not to forget ! reloading saves big, I always get more brass at the range than I shoot…most shooters give me the shot brass, so I am shooting cheaper now than ammo has ever been… get a Lee turret press and the Dies have a life time backup…you can load all pistol and also M1 carbine,7.62×39 Russian, and 223 Rem./556 NATO and use a turret plate for each type round and be set up for a quick change to reload another cal.

  32. avatar Floyd says:

    Went the 20 ga route myself. 300 rounds of #8 bird, a Lee Load-All and some reloading supplies. After the initial purchase, it’s become a whole lot easier to plink with my shotgun than with my .22lr (you can’t shoot ammo that you can’t find). And, as a bonus, I’ve been introduced to the world of trap shooting. Making lemonade from lemons 😉

    1. avatar last marine out says:

      I have the Lee load All too and it makes even shotgun shells cheaper, and again got lots other peoples shotgun hull, and it made trap shooting lots fun as it was my own ammo and cheaper,, and LEE presses are cheap and work great and VERY easy to learn and use. lots reloaders look down on LEE but he gives good load data too. But keeps reloading simple and he uses the Volume loads same as the factory does and they have also a factory crimp die that no one else has and this makes ammo that is better that factory too .. just think better ammo than factory made that is cheaper and you can use any bullets for any shot you want and custom loaded ammo.. But get the manuals and learn all the tips and safety rules first…

  33. avatar last marine out says:

    TIP for reloaders get the RCBS X-DIE ! why never trim your brass again , save money big and more reloads on the brass.. have fun reload and save BIG…………

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