Rimfire Reminiscing

Researched and Written by Anthony Mitchell

With its low noise level and lack of recoil, the .22 rimfire cartridge is ideal for beginners. The low cost of ammunition means that meaningful practice can be had without breaking the bank. When we talk about the .22 calibre, we usually refer to the .22 Long Rifle cartridge, as this is the one most commonly encountered. The .22LR is not the only one available, and we will now take a look at some others.

Left to Right .22 Short. .22 Long, .22Long Rifle, .22 Magnum, .22 Shot Cartridge

.22 Short

The .22 Short is the oldest in the line-up, having been introduced by Smith and Wesson in 1857 in their First Model revolver. This revolver was intended for personal defence and was used by combatants on both sides during the American Civil War. The bullet weight was 29 grains, with black powder being used as a propellant.

As well as being used as a small game cartridge, the .22 Short was used in Olympic shooting competitions until recently.

Winchester .22 Short Cartridges. This packaging dates to the early 1900s

The Winchester .22 Short is currently listed as having a muzzle velocity of 1095 feet per sec.   During penetration tests at 15 feet, a .22 Short fired from a pistol with a 6-inch barrel penetrated 3 soft pine boards ⅞ inch thick.

.22 Long

The .22 Long was released around 1871 and used the same 29-grain bullet. The longer case held a heavier charge of black powder, giving a higher velocity. High-velocity smokeless loads had a muzzle velocity of over 1100 feet per sec. During penetration tests at 15 feet, a .22 Long fired from a pistol with a 6-inch barrel penetrated 4 soft pine boards ⅞ inch thick.

The .22 Long is commonly seen as an indoor target round. The Winchester .22 Long Z round had a muzzle velocity of 770 feet per sec.  

.22 Long Rifle

Released around 1887, the .22 Long Rifle used the same case as the .22 Long, but with a 40-grain bullet. As its name suggests, it was originally intended for rifles. Due to its length, a .22LR cartridge will not chamber in a firearm chambered for .22 Short or .22Long. However, .22 Short or .22 Long can be fired in a firearm chambered for .22LR.

These days, there is a wide range of loads available in .22LR, with a wide variety of bullet shapes and sizes.  Broadly speaking, they can be characterised as follows:

Standard Velocity

Using a 40-grain bullet, standard velocity ammunition usually has a muzzle velocity of 1100 feet per sec. or thereabouts. Sub-sonic is less than this. Target ammunition is usually standard velocity. Theoretically, standard velocity ammunition is more accurate, but this is not always the case.

Penetration tests carried out at 15 feet showed a 40-grain standard velocity bullet fired from a pistol with a 6-inch barrel penetrated 4 soft pine boards ⅞ inch thick.

High Velocity

High-velocity ammunition usually has a muzzle velocity upwards of 1200 feet per sec. Bullet weights tend to be 40 grains or less.

Penetration tests carried out at 15 feet showed the 40-grain high-velocity bullet fired from a 6-inch pistol barrel penetrated 6 soft pine boards ⅞ inch thick.

Hyper Velocity

In the late 1970s, CCI released the Stinger, with other manufacturers coming up with a similar concept slightly later. The bullet weight is dropped to around 30 grains or so, with a corresponding increase in muzzle velocity.

CCI quoted a muzzle velocity of 1680 feet per sec using a 32-grain bullet. Remington quoted 1500 feet per second with a 33-grain bullet. Muzzle energy is increased accordingly.

However, in the world of ballistics, there is no such thing as a free lunch. The ammunition cost is higher, and the light bullets tend to lose velocity more quickly. At 100 yards, the advantage over the normal high-velocity round is somewhat diminished.

.22 Shot Cartridges

Usually referred to as rat shot or snake shot, the cartridge is often seen with a crimped case mouth resembling a blank cartridge. They carry a small load of No. 11 or 12 shot pellets and are used for shooting small vermin at close range.

.22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire

Introduced by Winchester in 1959, the .22 Magnum is a longer and more powerful version of the .22 Winchester Rimfire cartridge.

The Winchester catalogue quotes a muzzle velocity of 1910 feet per second with a 40 grain jacketed bullet. This means that at 100 yards, the .22 Magnum has more energy than the .22LR has at the muzzle.

Safety Considerations

Ammunition manufacturers print a lot of information on their packaging, so it seems to be good practice to read it. There is usually a statement to the effect that the ammunition should only be used in modern firearms in good condition.

Because the .22 has been around for so long, some older guns may be proofed for black powder only, or not suitable for modern high-velocity ammunition.  Similarly, guns proofed for smokeless powder maybe around 100 years old or more. If you have any doubts, have the firearm checked by a gunsmith.

 Until next time, have a happy and safe shoot!

Note:  Velocity figures stated are from rifle length barrels


The Book of Pistols and Revolvers   W.H.B. Smith and Joseph E. Smith

Cartridges of the World 13th edition  Frank C. Barnes

Current Winchester Ammunition Catalogue

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