by Joe I
Lately, I’ve seen quite a bit of information on using the .22 rimfire as a primary self-defense weapon, an option when hunting large game, and even a primary offensive weapon.
This reasoning has surfaced in recent years due to several factors, including better bullets, higher velocity bullets, better quality rifles and pistols, and inexpensive weapons when compared to the larger calibers. It also reflects a large number of new gun owners who have never hunted, and have just started prepping.
As I thought about writing this article, I wanted to first look at the advantages of the .22 rimfire, and there are many.
- Recoil is almost non-existent. Anyone can shoot a .22, from a small child to an old codger. And most can shoot it accurately given only minimal training, and follow-up shots are quick.
- Ammunition is cheap. Just about everybody can afford to stock a substantial amount of .22 ammo.
- Ammunition is compact. Storing several thousand rounds of .22 rimfire takes up minimal space. And it is lightweight as well.
- Variety of ammo. One can get long rifle, longs, shorts, and even CB caps. Shotshells are also available.
- The new ammo is quite accurate. Within its capabilities, a good rifle will shoot very tight groups out to 50 or more yards.
- It will kill, as probably more people have been killed with a .22 than any other round. Of course, more people have been shot with one, too.
- Good guns are inexpensive. Quality guns are available at very attractive prices.
- There are a large number of configurations, from semi-auto to lever action to bolt-action, and single shot on some combination rifles.
- Low noise. The .22 is quiet compared to the larger calibers and is easy to suppress.
- They are fun. A day plinking with a .22 is a great day.
- Training with the .22 is invaluable, and the training is affordable.
I’m sure there are other advantages of the .22, but one need only look at the reasons I’ve given, and you can see why everyone should have several .22s in their survival battery. This is where I think we need to insert a level of caution on the .22 rimfire, as it’s easy to get enthusiastic about a gun that has all the good attributes mentioned. I’ve hunted with a .22 all my life, and it was my first rifle, as I’m sure it is for most.
I can’t even count the number of birds (I’m truly sorry I ever killed any birds I didn’t eat, but God forgive me I did when I was to young to know better), rabbits, squirrels, raccoons, skunks and other critters I’ve dispatched with a .22. I remember finally catching that raccoon in the corn about midnight one night that had destroyed a lot of our corn crop one year. Got him with my .22.
So, what are some of the disadvantages of the .22 rimfire?
- Centerfire cartridges are more reliable. There are more misfires with .22 rimfire, it’s just the nature of the beast. But, good cartridges have offset this somewhat in recent years.
- Knockdown power is the lowest of all the cartridges. It’s one thing to hit someone or something, it’s quite another to put them out of the fight immediately. Or take large game before it gets away. Surgical shots are required, such as shooting in the ear or eye. That will be much more difficult once the crap hits the fan as game becomes more wary and scarce. The muzzle energy of .22lr is about 135ft/lbs. through a 22-in barrel.
- Distance is the enemy of the .22, as velocity at 100 yds. is less than 80 ft/lbs in a 22-in rifle barrel. Carbines and pistols/revolvers have even less.
- Engaging at distances over 100 yds. puts the .22 owner at a grave disadvantage to most centerfire rifle cartridges. The .22 falls off rapidly after that and loses its punch.
- Shooting large game with a .22 is against the game laws in most states. However, that may or may not be a consideration in the future.
After reviewing the above, I decided to do a few range tests to confirm some of my points. I took my Ruger Mark II .22 pistol, backed up 7 yards, and fired 6 times into a target. I put 6 shots in a 2-3 in. circle in 5.3 seconds as timed by my best friend. I then took my Colt Combat Commander in .45acp and fired 6 shots into another identical target.
I put 6 shots in a 3-4 in. circle in 6.2 seconds. I just don’t see enough difference in time or accuracy of the .22lr to make it a primary self-defense pistol. I then set up a 100 yd. target and shot my 10-22 at that target 6 times. I hit all 6 within a 4-in group.
I then fired my AR-15 6 times, and I put all 6 rds inside a 2 in.circle. The AR-15 is more accurate at distance than the 10-22, and has way more energy at that distance. I didn’t conduct any game tests, as I’ve hunted all my life and I’ve seen too many deer shot with a .22 get away and die days later. Only an expert should hunt large game with a .22.
In my opinion, not having a number of .22s in your survival arsenal would be a mistake, but I think it would be a bigger mistake to rely on the .22 exclusively. It is under-powered for a number of important uses, it puts one at a tremendous disadvantage at distance, and it’s not a sudden killer of large game.
Although people and large animals have been killed by the .22, it’s just not consistent enough to be a compromise. I will say this in the .22s favor, if one is elderly, or has arthritis or other infirmities, there is nothing wrong with having the .22. It is way better than nothing, and if that is all you can afford, then it’s certainly better than not having any options at all.
Just remember that it was never intended to be the cartridge for a main battle rifle or kill large game. It has it’s greatest use as an inexpensive training aide, a small-game getter, pest control, and best of all, just sheer fun shooting the guns that use the diminutive cartridge.