The Calibers for Beginners series has been dedicated to delivering fast facts about some of today’s most common, controversial, and useful cartridges in a way that’s easy for new shooters to grasp. So far we’ve looked at a diverse group of cartridges to include the ever-popular 9x19mm, the slowly dying .40 S&W, and the love/hate relationship with the 6.5 Creedmoor (or Crudmore depending on your stance). What we haven’t looked at yet is arguably the uncontested king of beginner’s cartridges: the venerable .22LR.
The .22LR is probably the most popular cartridge in the world. It has been made in the trillions and it’s safe to say that virtually every American knows someone who owns a gun that fires it. It’s used worldwide for sport shooting including Olympic events, small bore matches, and pistol shoots. It’s also a very popular small game cartridge and is often the very first round a young hunter uses.
The universal popularity of .22LR is due to several factors that make it not only a great beginner’s cartridge, but a good cartridge for any shooter. Here’s a short list of why the .22LR is so universally popular:
• Cost effective The .22LR is, by comparison to centerfire cartridges, very cheap. A recent trip to my local Cabela’s revealed that it can be had by the bucket of 1,400 rounds or more for about $75-80. You can get in a tremendous amount of practice for very little expense with this cartridge.
• Widely availabile The .22LR can be found almost anywhere, from grocery stores to your jean pockets and under the cushions of your sofa. There are dozens of manufacturers that produce all kinds of variations of the ammo, from cheap plinking bulk stuff to high end match-grade.
• Low recoil Because most .22LR bullets weigh only about 40gr, are made of soft lead, and travel at about 1,000fps, recoil is very, very low. That makes shooting a .22LR rifle nothing but enjoyment and a new shooter can simply focus on marksmanship instead of worrying about recoil management.
• Low noise Yes, you should always wear hearing protection when shooting. Guns are loud — even a .22 — and your hearing is worth protecting. That said, the .22LR generates far less noise than virtually any centerfire, even in a handgun, so it isn’t a terrifying experience for a newbie. I’ve seen guys bring their ladies and kids to the range and have them shoot their magnum chambered rifles and it’s never been pretty.
• Great accuracy Most .22LR rifles and pistols out there are pretty darn accurate at their effective ranges. I’ve shot some rifles from the 1900’s and earlier and they shoot like they were made yesterday. Granted, there are some guns that aren’t great, but the majority of what’s available today at very reasonable prices is pretty darn good. That also helps learners with building their skills. A teen who gets his hands on a cheap, single-shot .22LR will probably be a better marksman in the long run than the kid who has a semi-auto and dumps mags.
The new shooter may be, at least at the gun store, treated to a series of facts about .22LR that aren’t so much facts as they are misguided fables. These are usually spun for the uninformed and you’ve probably heard them thrown around.
• A .22 isn’t powerful. I’ve heard this all over and some people try to treat a .22 as a toy. This is fatally wrong in many cases. A .22, like any gun, is a lethal weapon and can easily kill a human being. This isn’t meat to scare you, just to emphasize that a .22LR firearm must be treated with respect, like any other gun. This carries over to the next one.
• The .22LR kills more people per year than any other cartridge. Again, kinda false, kinda true. The prevalence of the .22 makes it so that it is commonly used in self-defense, but it isn’t always a first choice for many, just the one that’s available at that moment. I’ve also heard that it can’t go through t-shirts or puffy jackets, which is utterly false. There are barrier and penetration issues with all bullets, not just .22LR.
• The .22LR is no good for self-defense. I’ve heard all three of these from the same guy in the same conversation. It’s all hyperbolic nonsense. I’ll outline this simply for you here, dear beginner. The .22LR is a good round for self-defense. Does it have the velocity, muzzle energy, and recoil of a .357 Mag? Of course not. But a .22LR in the pocket beats a .357 at home. I believe that some of the best self-defense .22 guns are small revolvers, such as the Ruger LCR. An easy-recoiling 8-shot .22 that doesn’t have feeding or reliability issues is ideal for many shooters and the LCR is all of the above. I’d rather you have some gun than no gun at all.
• .22 can be used on deer and other larger game if you’re an expert/godmode hunter. This is wrong, both morally and ethically. There are people who advertise this as a way to seem tough or something, which nobody actually cares about in real life. These are the same people who play make-believe sniper on animals at long range, brag of stalk hunting with dull knives, and binge play Call of Duty to teach kids a ‘lesson’ in ‘respect’. They can be found at places like this if you need further reference. A .22LR should never, ever be used on deer-sized game. A .22 is best used on small game like rabbits, squirrels, and sometimes coyote at fairly close ranges. It’s not cool, admirable, or morally defensible to shoot deer-sized game with a .22LR at any range.
• .22 LR isn’t reliable. It’s true that a rimfire cartridge like the .22 is generally more prone to failure than a centerfire cartridge. This has to do with the priming compound that’s pressed into the rim, which isn’t the most reliable way to make powder go bang. I’ve noticed that I have more .22LR ‘duds’ than I do with centerfire cartridges, but even at that it’s usually not more than two or three rounds out of 1,000. In short, a .22 is plenty reliable.
Basically, every single large gun maker makes a number of .22LR guns. There are literally too many to list here, but I’ll highlight some of the best options available today.
• Ruger The 10/22 rifle is probably the most popular single .22 rifle ever made and for good reason. It’s available in a range of models and there’s a market for older collector versions as well. Ruger also makes guns like the Mark IV and 22/45 pistols (TTAG reviews coming soon), revolvers like the LCR and Bearcat, and many others.
• Smith & Wesson S&W makes some excellent .22LR guns, especially their revolvers. A great .22LR made for carry is their 43C, which is an extremely lightweight, 8-shot revolver that can slip into a pocket. This company has made dozens of .22LR guns over the years, far too many to list here.
• Remington This company has a long history of making good .22LR rifles. Some of the finest target rifles made, such as the 40X, come from Remington.
• Henry Repeating Arms If you’re not a sem-iauto person, Henry makes some of the coolest lever-action rifles available today. They are just about the perfect rifle for a new shooter, as they have good capacity, no mags to fumble, are supremely reliable, and very accurate.
There is so much to cover with the .22LR that there’s no way to cover it all here. In addition to being the ultimate beginner’s cartridge, the .22LR offers a great number of advantages to all shooters regardless of age or skill.
Pistol in the title photo is a Ruger Mark IV Target in stainless with a threaded muzzle (TTAG review to come). Chickens in title photo are Speckled Sussex, the chicken that all serious gun enthusiasts should have. (It’s a proven fact their eggs raise your scores.)