rimfire 22LR 22 LR rifle
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Back in high school, I was a big kid: 6-4, 230 pounds. I ran slowly; my fielding ability was below-average. But I could flat out hit a baseball. I could see which way the ball’s seams spun before it got halfway to home plate.

I knew early if it was a curve, slider or fastball. I had quick hands and good reflexes. When I felt the ball leap off the bat’s sweet spot—with an impact so pure that I never even felt it—I felt joy. Pure, simple, unadulterated joy.

Today, I doubt I could even foul off an 80mph fastball out of a pitching machine. But I can still find the same kind of joy. Only now, it comes out of the muzzle of a bolt-action .22 rifle, not off the barrel of an aluminum Easton bat.

I love shooting a .22 bolt gun at small targets on my backyard range. When I connect with a difficult shot, I get the same feeling in my chest that I used to get when I hit a deep fly, or a frozen rope during batting practice. My hands feel every bit as quick and dangerous as I flick the rifle bolt, as they used to feel when I flicked the bat back and forth in the on-deck circle.

22LR 22 LR rimfire ammuntion bullets

Sometimes when I put a 40-grain lead projectile dead center on an old golf ball, I get to watch it sail off into the woods, just like I used to watch a batting-practice homer sail over the fence in left-center.

It’s easy to get so involved with the self-defense aspects of shooting, with the tactical side, or the on-going political battles, that I forget the simple joy of plinking. Lost in discussions about stopping power and ballistic coefficients, the Heller Decision and open carry, wind drift tables and cover garments, we can quickly forget the wonderful fun of shooting stuff with a .22.

Besides playing baseball while I was in high school, I also shot for a 4-H rifle team. We took shooting so seriously that we altered our diets, gave up processed sugar and caffeine. We worked and practiced, and won a couple of 4-H state championships.

In college, I shot as a member of the Pershing Rifles air rifle team, and took that very seriously. Today, I coach a college air rifle team, and teach concealed carry, and find myself being very serious about shooting much of time.

But no matter how serious I get about shooting, I eventually, I find myself on my backyard range, setting spent shotgun shells and plastic milk jug lids and .38 Special casings on top of a pair of railroad ties.

A few times, I’ve actually propped up an ax and placed clay pigeons on either side of its head, trying to split the bullet on the blade and break the clays. I know, I know: it’s “high velocity splatter” that breaks the targets, not actual “split” bullets. But still, hitting that shot, especially two or three times in a row, is about as much fun as I’ve had with my clothes on.

Ruger American Rimfire
Ruger American Rimfire (Courtesy Ruger)

One of the reasons that I have always preferred a bolt gun for plinking is because the physical sensation of working the bolt sparked my imagination. When I was a boy, I pretended to be a World War I sharpshooter, with a 1903 Springfield, holding off an enemy platoon across no-man’s land. Or I was a big-game hunter in Africa toting a .375 H&H, or maybe I was a SWAT sniper taking the almost impossible shot to rescue a hostage.

Of course, I’m too old for those childish pretend games any more, right? What middle aged man would do something as silly as pretend he’s Private Daniel Jackson in the spire of a bombed-out French church? No sane adult would recite part of Psalm 144 while putting crosshairs on a little chunk of charcoal briquet that looks like it has Waffen SS insignia on its edges. How ridiculous.

I do confess that sometimes I put a pair of empty 12 gauge shells so close that they almost touch each other, and then place a yellow 20 gauge shell that barely shows in the gap between the other two shells. Then I try to rescue the two 12 gauge shells from the evil 20 gauge hostage taker with one precise shot from 30 yards away.

The first time I played this game, I was ten, and in the side yard of my childhood home. It still feels just as satisfying to see the yellow shotshell go flying and leave the other two shells standing perfectly still as it did 30 years ago.

There are always the practical arguments in favor of shooting .22s. It’s economical. You’ll shoot more. It’s a great way to practice shooting fundamentals without developing a flinch.

Savage Arms MKII FV-SR
Savage MKII FV-SR (Woody for TTAG)

Then there are all the .22 conversion kits out there for AR’s and 1911’s, and stock kits for the Ruger 10/22 that make it look and feel like a tactical carbine. You can practice your serious shooting easier, so on and so on, ad nauseam.

But every so often, I think every single gun owner and shooter should take one afternoon, and say to heck with all that deadly serious stuff. Grab a .22 bolt action, and a $17 box of bulk ammo, gather up a bunch of small items for targets, and go somewhere it’s legal and OK to shoot, and shoot, and shoot.

And take somebody who’s not a shooter with you, and let them find out just how much fun, how joyful a day at the range can really be.

Be safe and pick up your trash. But have fun. Be a kid again. Live the joy of .22.


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  1. I maintain many of the same things. The way I reckon how serious a gun owner is about shooting is to look at the quality and number of their .22’s. People who own bolt-action, match or target .22’s are often very serious shootists.

    • In a way, I was a fan of the shortage of .22 a years ago. Why? Because it taught a lost generation to savor the .22 shot and work on marksmanship rather than mag dumps and hip shots.

      Back in the day, a 50 round box of .22s would last an hour. And we were better for it.

    • I’m kinda partial to my old Ranger pump action with the tang mounted push up peep sight. It’s so old there’s no serial number on it but it is one sweet shooter.

  2. I was never allowed a gun as a child, used friends 22’s to shoot rats at town dump. The workers allowed us as long as we shot in opposite direction of where they were working. Cops would stop us on the way to the dump, all carrying guns except me, and warn us not to shoot street lights. Those were the days. Didn’t by myself a gun until 10 years ago, I was divorced and 55 then, and my kids had moved out.

      • Thank you. Always been a 2A guy, member of NRA 30 years before I bought my first gun. Just because I didn’t own a gun didn’t mean I wouldn’t fight for your right to have yours. I think there may be a lot of potential gun owners out there, but their current situation doesn’t allow for it.

  3. .22 pistols are fun too. My cousin and I used to line up Necco candy wafers in a groove he’d ripped in a 2×4. We’d back off about 20 yards, and I’d start at one end with my Buckmark and he’d work from the other end with his Ruger Mark 2. The first guy who got to the middle and then into the other guys “territory” won. I usually lost.

  4. I used to walk little objects around with my nylon 66, couldn’t miss with that 22auto. Until I broke the stock! No more to be had…Thanks for the lifetime guarantee, Remington.

    • Try doing that with white foam cups. They make great targets. Shoot them at the edge touching the ground and they go airborne! With practice one can judge which way they will go (other than downwind, OFC), and either try to get them in a bucket (.22 basketball) or just track them in the air and shoot them airborne. For that, either have a really high backstop, or else be in the middle-of-nowhere, Montana.

  5. Very well written. The stock photo of the Remington 510 Targetmaster brought back childhood memories of the one my dad gave me when I was about 12 or 14, which I have my son at about the same age. I tried tracking it down (he says he gave it to a friend to clean years ago but the friend told me my son sold it to Jake in high school for $25), but to no avail. I put a note in the buttstock hole with my dad’s name, my name and my son’s name.

    Let me know if you have it.

      • I also have a 512T that belonged to my Dad. He used to say “You can shoot freckles of a gnat’s ass with it.” And to this day it shoots as good as ever. Don’t know if I could surgically remove said “gnat’s freckles”, but I can put 2 rounds touching at 100yds. And this is with a Lyman peep sight, not optics. Grandpa wasn’t a gunner, but I did inherit his 1912 Gibson model A jr. mandolin. And it is just as much fun as the 22.

      • My grandpa gave me a 512 that I still have. It was my first gun. I can nail golf balls at 50 yards with iron sights without a problem. Haven’t shot it in a couple years, but this article reminded me that I should.

    • Funny, I picked up a Remington 510 target master on trade a couple years ago. It has a name and the year 1942 carved in the bottom of the grip, it also has a little piece of paper with the same name and a different date under the butt stock plate. I have left it alone as I like the history, it’s a fun rifle, but I would certainly pass it back to the original owner.

  6. Just did a search on the internet. I can get a nice looking .22 rifle with a scope and sling for under $400. The downside is the barrel length increases the bullet velocity, and if used in the home, over-penetration might be a problem. Gotta look to see if .22LR can penetrate sheet rock and siding if it misses the target in a DGU.

      • “I wouldn’t use a .22 for home defense,”

        Yeah. I hear you. Problem is fixed income and fixed budget for gun things. Guess I am not a real “gun guy”, more into the politics of the Second Amendment.

        • Eh, not knocking you on it, I understand the financial issue. I’ve been there myself. At that time though Soviet surplus was still a thing so buying guns and ammo was still easy even when I was broke as hell. Might I suggest though, right now there’s some decent cheap options in handguns and shotguns. Quite a few in the 200-500 range.

        • ?Might I suggest though, right now there’s some decent cheap options in handguns and shotguns. Quite a few in the 200-500 range.”

          Trying to avoid a hard decision. Budget is $500 annually. Range fees run $240/yr. Ammo, targets, and trinkets push me so close. May have to go less frequently to the range next year, and move up to .380/9mm. Even secondary market prices, with ammo (much more expensive than .22) make things dicey. Hate to buy a new caliber, then only get to shoot it a few times before the budget runs out. As it happens (military tradition, and income realities), there is a “use it or lose it” budget sequestration.; no roll over. Wondering if driving a school bus would bring in enough to support the gun power habit?

        • “A part-time job can pay for many fun guns…”

          True, but there goes all the free time earned over a life of toil and trouble. Have considered part-time work, but most scenarios just put me in a higher tax bracket. I remember the first “raise” I received in the military. Just enough that the increased taxes resulted in lower take-home pay.

        • If you have time and no money might I suggest learning to reload. I make my 9mm for about 10 cent a round.

        • “If you have time and no money might I suggest learning to reload. I make my 9mm for about 10 cent a round.”

          Thanks for the recommendation. Looked at reloading. Even asked the homeowner nazis about that. They told me the gunpowder would violate the covenants, and they can fine me. Plus, buying the “makings” would require less range time and sliding into next year for more budget.

          You know….just now thought about it. Don’t know if homeowner’s insurance would permit reloading. Not sure if it would be wise to ask.

        • Sam I am I don’t know who the homeowner Nazi you are talking about are but as far as the insurance company not only does mine know I reload they also have told me my presses and equipment are insured. I have Usaa. If the homeowner nazis claim that gunpowder is an explosive then they are wrong. Black powder is explosive smokeless powder simply burns

        • The “homeowner nazis” are the property management group (HOA). The covenants declare that maintaining dangerous equipment or materials (other than home tools and/or lawn care items) violate the rules. HOA gets to determine what “dangerous” means. Here, HOA covenants have force of law, and HOA can enforce and fine (but not arrest).

          Good to know about USAA.

        • Dang hoa’s. When I was looking for a home to buy a few months ago one of my main demands was no hoa. On the other hand unless they do walk through or something they will never know. Good luck.

    • Sam I Am,

      Given your budget constraints and requirement that missed shots NOT zing through sheet rock and siding, I recommend Pardner Pump youth-size 20-gauge shotgun for home defense.

      I purchased a brand new one on sale for $180 and a LimbSaver recoil pad for it for $30. (The recoil pad results in an adult-sized length-of-pull with fantastic recoil mitigation.) And you can buy a box of shot shells (quantity 25 shells per box) for about $7 for inexpensive bird shot and upwards of $13 for BB size shot.

      Speaking of shot shells, if you go with something like BB size or smaller shot, it is very unlikely to zing through your sheet rock and siding and retain any significant velocity/lethality to people on the street or in the next home. Of course at close range even bird shot will still put significant hurt on any human attacker.

      • “I purchased a brand new one on sale for $180 and a LimbSaver recoil pad for it for $30. (The recoil pad results in an adult-sized length-of-pull with fantastic recoil mitigation.) And you can buy a box of shot shells (quantity 25 shells per box) for about $7 for inexpensive bird shot and upwards of $13 for BB size shot.”

        Definitely worth looking into. The range allows up to 12guage shotgun slugs.

    • Fyi I bought a really nice .22 at of places wally world it’s a semi automatic good iron sights was on sale for $89.99 box magazine regular $98.99 Cheaper Than Dirt still got them on sale. About penetration .22 shorts and x the nose. If you get a semi automatic might have to hand feed it. Also they make .22 rat or bird shot tear hell out of a home invaders face. Again this cartridge won’t cycle in my cheapy but even one at a time I get respect from the local possums. Good luck.

      • “Also they make .22 rat or bird shot tear hell out of a home invaders face.”

        Reading that rat/bird shot can’t get no respect as a defense round. But got to thinking, maybe I should take an oblique angle on things: pink rifle. Who the blazes wants to be in a cell with Bubba and have to admit they got shot with powder from a pink gun?

  7. Right on. I’m an incurable plinker, always have been.

    I love lever-action rifles for the very same reasons. The tactile sensation of working the lever and feeling the action work just can’t be beat, and every time I do it I feel just a tiny bit of that Old West badassness.

    Reactive targets are the best. Anything that can hold even a little bit of water makes the end result so much more fun. Put some water into the shotgun shells, and the hostage rescue gets a lot more dramatic.

    One of my favorite challenges is to set up a water bottle at about 30 yards (used to be longer but my eyesight sucks now) and shoot the cap off it — you have to hit it just right to shatter the cap without knocking the bottle over — and then hit it right at the bottom and turn it into a leaping fountain.

    Plinking can be a demanding, skill-building exercise if you use it that way. And it makes the whole process *fun.* That’s why everything I do is plinking.

  8. I grew up hunting with my dad’s 22 rifle. I now own it.
    Shot thousands of rounds, became a fairly good shot. I could shoot better with a friends 22 bolt action single shot. We didn’t do much if any target shooting.

    Back in those days we cleaned and ate what we shot, rabbits, squirrels, doves, raccoons, fish and a few other less “acceptable” game animals. Learned a great deal about stalking, cover and concealment.

    Not easy to find good places to hunt, too many people post their property or want to charge a fee for hunting their property.

  9. Lotta flashbacks reading this.
    I used to use those little plastic green army men at about 50 feet. Very challenging!

      • Me too.

        Occasionally, the plastic green army men would break from the impact of the BB. We learned to heat the plastic over a candle to the very edge of its melting point and then fuse the broken parts back together. We eventually got good enough at it that we could heat up plastic army men that were not broken and change their shape to something more exciting.

        (There was one particular plastic army man who was holding an M-16 in one hand pointed at the ground and he was using his other hand to wave men forward. We would heat and bend his arm so that he was aiming his M-16 forward shooting with one hand Rambo-style. And we would bend his other hand forward so that he was karate chopping anyone in front of him that he failed to take out shooting his M-16 one-handed.)

  10. Mr. Hill, that was an outstanding article. All the .22 rifles I own are bolt actions. Recently inherited a Winchester single shot from my dad. Model number escapes me. This will be my first Thanksgiving without him. I think I’ll take it squirrel hunting Thursday morning.

  11. As a .22 rifle bolt action novelty event club I’m in puts sets of 5 used 12ga shells at 60 yards on silhouette range. First person to knock all five off a 3 by 2 rail wins. Any position allowed.

    I won once off the shoulder as I had first target down while people were still going prone.

  12. I can understand the sentiment.

    First firearm I ever shot was a CZ 452 at a Boy Scout camp at 11 years old. Absolutely loved shooting it, though it ended up taking me another 11 years before I eventually got a CZ 455 to fill that spot in my collection.

    If all I wanted to do is go to the range and have some fun, that 455 always gets put in the range case, though sometimes it has to share room with a Ruger 10/22 and Standard Pistol as well.

    • +1 for CZ 455. +1 more if a Mannlicher stock! +1 more if extra 22WinMag barrel.

      I’m off this week, great article, so I’ll be off to the guntry club with my 455 and 10/22.

  13. I remember buying .22 l.r. ammo for 50 cents a box and shorts for .35 cts a box to shoot out of my Savage Springfield single shot rifle. I later bought a Mossberg bolt action rifle with a 3 way 7 shot clip that shot shorts, longs and long rifles with an adjustable tab on the mouth of the clip.

  14. My first firearm was a J C Higgins single shot bolt action 22 I got for Christmas in the early 60s when I was around 13 years old. It cost my Dad $10.88. I had to buy my own ammo so I would walk along the highway and pick up returnable bottles. I got two cents each for them and the store sold me 22 shorts for a penny each. I traded it to my brother when I got married and didn’t get another for many years. When I bought another 22, it was a Marlin 25MN that was bolt action with a 7 shot magazine. Still wanting something other than a magnum, I have bought a lever action Henry, and three different semi-automatics. I also have two 22 SA revolvers, one double action revolver and two 22 semiautomatics (one is a 1911-22). I go through a brick every two or three weeks.

    • Grew up shooting my grandpa’s Marlin 60. Saw one at my FFL in better shape for under $200. My firearm budget was already spent or else there likely would have been two rifles going with me.

  15. Recently rediscovered the joy of shooting .22 when my suppressors came in this month. Was caught unprepared when they came in and in my spur of the moment search bought the first threaded .22 I could find. $200 cash later my 10/22 and Ruger Mark 2 had a Savage Mark 2 FV-SR brother. “Used” but never fired. $100 for a Nikon Prostaff Rimfire 3-9 and $23 for UTG rings (actually amazing rings to my surprise).

    A bolt action .22 is stupid fun. After it’s first 3-shot group of 6” the thing will now group 10 shots in an area the size of a nickel at 50 yards with CCI Stingers, Subs, and Mini-mag.

    Next step is to throw a carbon-fiber barrel on the 10/22 and pickup one of the Ruger Mark 4 Tactical pistols with rails. Figure a mini red-dot, weapon light, and Mask HD will make it one hell of a nighttime pest control gun

  16. Seriously fun!

    I have great memories of being 12 – 14 and tromping around with my cousins in central Oregon on camping trips and blasting things with the bolt .22s our grandfather gave us.

    Used to be able to pick the head off a dandelion at 75 yards pretty easily.

    Still have that Remington 512-X and Tasco scope, but there’s something wrong with the tube feed mechanism and it jams often now. Need to tear it down and fix that.

  17. That’s my rifle in the lead pic! Well, not mine, but one exactly (or pretty much) like it. Mine is a Remington 510X (single shot, no SN) that I inherited from my grandfather. I shot it a bunch when I was a kid, and I trained my children on it when they got big enough to hold it up.

    My daughter did pretty good with the old 510, but my son (20 months younger) had trouble holding it steady. So in 2006 I bought a CZ 452 Scout for them, and after that it was dead cans everywhere!


  18. Many years ago, I made the honor roll in 6th grade and dad bought me a .22 rifle like he promised. A Savage single shot bolt action with a tube magazine. I plinked away shooting pop cans and the occasional glass bottle down by the creek. The magazine held 15 to 20 cartridges. I would take my time with the first five, but after that it was Rifleman time and I was Lucas McCain. I could fire, eject, chamber and fire as fast as humanly possible. Didn’t hit a damn thing of course but lots of fun. Two years later, I met a cute girl down by the bridge who wanted me to teach her how to shoot. That was the beginning of many other lessons. That gun was the vehicle for learning responsible fun and maturing. Isn’t that the best thing a young boy should learn about plinking? Wish I still had it but I loaned it to my older brother because his JC Higgens single shot had no magazine and he had to make a trip to NYC (long story). Stolen out of his car, of course. I have other .22s now but what I wouldn’t give to get that one back. Thanks for listening to my ramblings. I wonder if there are still cute girls down by the bridge? Think I’ll go take a walk.

    • Responsible fun! I was about 8 years old and allowed to carry that .22 all about. I had been briefed on the safety rules and had no doubt that the rifle would be taken upon any breach. Grandad held all the ammo anyway. Gotta make those shots count when you only have a couple.

  19. I used to watch the guys shoot .22 plinkers. I never understood why they would be so pointless.

    They all turned out gay, of course…just like all the closeted homos here, reminiscing about their early ‘experiences’ with such homosexuality.

  20. I can really appreciate what you are saying here. Saturday, I got out my CZ 452 and went down to my club range and spent an hour off hand shooting at 50ft. NRA targets. It took a few 5 round mags to get there , but soon I was putting all 5 rounds in those quarter sized black circles. It was a very satisfying shooting experience.

  21. Haven’t shot a bolt action .22 in about 25 years. I did get a Marlin 795 and love taking new shooters to the range. Cheap ammo, relatively easy to hit the bullseye area, smiles for days…

  22. Started with single shot Remington bolt and later a Ithica M49 Rolling block in .22 SHORT/LONG/LONG RIFLE. Grew up, made money and went to semiautomatics like most folks. There was (is) an abundance of vermin Idaho ground squirls (not bushy tail tree type) we called whistle pigs. They are horrendous diggers which cripple live stock and kill young stuck calfs. WPs are also cannibalistic: you shoot one and others near by will attack and start eating the wounded and dead!

    I, like many did the Marlin 60 or Ruger 10/22 thing. Problem is if you don’t dicipline yourself you start slinging rounds and what you miss once you can rush and miss several more times. Bulk Federal 550 pack was an outrageous $9 (lol) There was also a accuracy over distance problem with stock guns (before the 10/22 became an erector set). I could do my part by the guns didn’t group well (minute of critter) at 100yds.

    Waiting for a haircut in a real barbershop and thumbing thru gun magazines from the last ten years, I found a recent mag with a review of the Marlin 880SQ (research it). Got buzzed and drove to Bi-Mart where they had a dusty one on the rack: nobody had wanted a $175 bolt action .22LR HB with black plastic stock. Sales Lady said the had it awhile and would knock $15 Off: SOLD!

    Punched the bore, lubed then mounted a very looong antique Weaver 10X. The whistle pig lightning rod of death was born! Sight in @ 75yd (sub 1 inch) then bought 2 case of the same ammo lot#. Once I got accustomed to the various hold over/under at various ranges: It was guaranteed death, destruction and red mist out to 125 yds. I probably put a brick through it every 3 hours.

    Fellow shooter’s could shoot more but I would kill more. It would always end up that they did the close work and I the far stuff which is much more rewarding of for skills and gear.

    Whistle pig tip: When things get slow and the won’t com out, set a cheap digital watch to alarm/beep place it in the area and back up. Beeps are like pig chirps and they will think it all clear and start coming out and standing like tent pegs looking around! Clean them out and wait again, rinse repeat. Lol

  23. I really enjoy shooting my .22 caliber guns! It allows for fast trigger action while remaining very accurate. It doesn’t do alot of damage but so much more fun to shoot in my opinion, especially with my dual action pistol!

  24. “Of course, I’m too old for those childish pretend games any more, right?”

    Wrong. I love shooting the caps off bottles, pretending i’m Special Forces taking out terrorists.


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