The shooting world is all agog over suppressors. Which is good. Even if you don’t own a suppressor, we all benefit from the R&D poured into subsonic ammunition made for them. Which leads me to subsonic .22 LR.
Yes, in the recent past, .22 LR of any kind was so difficult to find that insisting only on subsonic ammo was a fool’s quest. But the logjam has broken (the hoarders finally ran out of steam), and we can get rimfire ammo.
Subsonic .22 LR has another benefit aside from suppressors: You should be shooting it when introducing new shooters to our side. The fun side.
My insight into this came more than a decade ago, when my wife and I took a new shooter to the range. The new shooter had a background that made it just a bit edgy, sensitive and even emotionally hazardous for her to be there. But she was curious, and we were patient.
One thing she said when we finally got onto the range was, “I can’t shoot at the ones that look like people.”
There wasn’t an IPSC target or silhouette in sight, so my wife and I, almost in unison, said “OK. Which ones are those?”
She surveyed the range and said, “I don’t see any.” So, she had a merry time tipping over poppers, knocking over falling plates and shooting at whatever was there. On the next trip, she even shot the silhouettes.
AVERTING MUZZLE BLAST AVERSION
New shooters will balk at the oddest of things, but one that is particularly a problem is muzzle blast. You’d think recoil is the problem, but a sharp blast will be perceived as worse than a heavy recoil if the noise has more of a sharp crack to it.
So, a .22 LR that breaks the sound barrier with that sharp crack will often be perceived as being “too much” or have harder recoil than a subsonic round. Now, in the arithmetic world, it does. But a 40-grain bullet going 1,100 fps has a power factor of 44. At 950 fps, it has a PF of 38. Even to a tiny woman of 90 to 100 pounds, the Newtonian difference is inconsequential. But the crack? That makes the difference.
So, as an extra step to make sure your new shooter has the most fun time possible, use subsonics.
There is another bonus here. A cartridge designed to be subsonic and that never breaks the sound barrier is going to have less powder. Oh, again, it isn’t much, but the powder that would have boosted that bullet to 1,100 or 1,200 fps out of a rifle will have more noticeable muzzle blast out of a handgun than the one designed to only be subsonic.
Now, back in the old days, before suppressors, the only subsonic rounds you could count on were full-on target ammo. I’m as happy as the next guy to introduce new shooters to the sport, but doing it with Federal Gold Medal or Eley Tenex really puts a tear in one’s eye. In such an instance, they’d be shooting rimfire ammo that costs as much as full-power centerfire handgun ammo, shot for shot. Ouch!
In the new world of subsonic ammo, built for suppressors, we can now have the milder-report ammo at pretty much the same cost as vanilla-plain plinking ammo. Even if it costs more than the bulk ammo, it costs a lot closer to the plinking ammo than it does to the gilt-edged target ammo.
It is also going to be highly tested and reliable in pretty much any .22 LR firearm you can lay hands on. Some of the supervelocity .22 LR rounds can be very touchy about working well or shooting accurately in some firearms. When you find the combo that works, you’re golden. If not, you’ve got a bunch of ammo that becomes a headache.
The makers of subsonic ammo know it will leave the muzzle and pass through an expensive, difficult-to-replace item, and they’d better not be the cause of problems. So, they work hard to make it right (not that any ammo maker is a slacker, but they know subsonic is meant to go through suppressors).
HOOKED ON SUCCESS
The extra benefit of a lessened muzzle blast is that new shooters can learn more quickly how to shoot, and there’s nothing that makes something more fun than success. Once they start pinging the steel with a rimfire and get that immediate gratification, they will be hooked. Then, once they have enough shooting under their belt to not be put off, the smallest caliber that will knock over steel is called for. They’ll invariably hit with the first shot and be as happy as pigs in mud. Then, they’ll miss with the second and wonder what happened.
That’s when you get to be an instructor. Have them go back to the .22 LR subsonic and work on the basics. Teach them trigger control, sight alignment and follow-through, and then try the bigger one again.
When they hit consistently with the bigger one, they have made the journey from “I’ve never shot a gun” to “I can hit what I aim at.”
Now, break out the suppressor and have even more fun.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the June 2018 print issue of Gun World Magazine.