The Everlasting .22s

America’s first metallic cartridge was a .22 rimfire, and it was introduced more than 150 years ago. While that little .22 Short was first fired in Smith & Wesson’s tip-up revolver, it went on to broader use in many rifles. Because of its modest price, low noise and minimal recoil, those early.22 rimfire revolvers were very popular handguns. Some Civil War officers even carried them in pockets as defensive firearms. They must have been hugely optimistic, because a .22 doesn’t have a large enough bullet or velocity to be an ideal fighting load. This does not change the fact that the .22 rimfire handgun has long been a big part of a handgunner’s battery.

Along the way, there have been many other .22 cartridges, and most of them have been chambered for pistols or revolvers. One that hasn’t made its way into handguns is the .22 Winchester Auto, which is the initial and only round used in Winchester’s Model 1903 rifle. As a kid, I made a slick trade for one and painfully recall the anguish of having a neat little rifle for which there was no ammo. A very similar—but not interchangeable—cartridge is the .22 Remington Auto. Aside from a few oddities like the .22 Extra Long, most.22 rimfires are still in production. Both the .22 BB Cap and .22 CB Cap are efforts to reduce the range and power of the .22 for indoor practice and pest control. On the other side of things, there was an effort to get more power from the .22 with the .22 Winchester Rim Fire (.22 WRF). Initially made for the Winchester 1890 rifle, it was also used in some Colt revolvers. This was a step up the power scale from the .22 Long Rifle, and the WRF lasted until 1959 when the .22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire burst on the scene. Earlier .22 WRF ammunition will work in a .22 WMR arm, but not vice versa. The .22 WMR is the king of rimfire cartridges in the power sense. The latest news in the .22 WMR story is the development of short barrel loads for snubby revolvers.

We got the .22 Short in 1857, the .22 Long in (about) 1871 and the .22 Long Rifle in 1887. These three cartridges, along with the .22 WMR, constitute the greatest majority of American rimfire shooting. To be even more specific, most is done with the .22 LR and the .22 WMR. There is a bewildering array of ammo on the market for these two rounds, and while the WMR is more powerful, America’s most popular cartridge remains that nifty little .22 Long Rifle.

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3 Responses to The Everlasting .22s

BDBerzerker wrote:
August 27, 2012

The .22 is my favorite round for all around shooting fun. I have 2 pump actions, Winchester and a Rossi, a bolt action Marlin w/ 4x scope and a 10/22. All are tack-drivers. Like the Marlin with the tube feed magazine most. One hole groups all day. Can pick off black walnuts in the air with the 10/22. Also have a MK.III target. FUN,FUN,FUN!

Mack Missiletoe wrote:
August 16, 2012

I used to not like .22 rimfires that much but they have grown on me. My favorite is .22WMR with which I have a Marlin Bolt Action chambered for. I also like the Ruger Mark III in .22lr. You can buy affordable Marlin rifles for $100-200. You can pick up full size rimfire rifles with full size featurres like the Ruger 77/22 or 77/22 magum. And you can find many mods for guns such as the Ruger Mark II, III, and Ruger 10/22 that make them more suitable for target competition. Or pick up a nice Smith and Wesson Model 41 or custom target rifle. A .22WMR is nothing to sneeze at at about 1825 fps +. It is a modern rimfire hunting cartridge, much more modern than the .22lr, and it even looks pretty.

Walkin trails wrote:
August 16, 2012

For me, a .22 LR serves as a good training round. While I would not necessarily like to rely on one for self defense, the .22 has proven more effective in that role than many will admit. My concerns about a .22 for self defense is not their ballistics, but the fact that a RF round is more prone to misfires than a centerfire. Remember that the Israelis put them to good use in the hands of special operators protecting airline passengers in the 70s. In the hands of an expert, a .22 is a highly effective tool. That is the beauty of the round. Cost and recoil are so low that a dedicated student of the art can become an expert. And when the years of shooting large calibers have taken their toll in terms of arthritis, a .22 can still mean comfort.