When I was 7 years old, I shot my first .22 LR, and a year later, I was given my own .22 rifle. I suppose “given” isn’t exactly correct—my father kept the gun under lock and key and made sure I followed safety protocol whenever we headed to the range.
But in my mind, that was my rifle and mine alone, and although it was incredibly basic by some standards (a single-shot bolt-action with rough sights, a rather plain stock and a heavy trigger), that was the gun with which I learned how to operate a firearm safely and effectively. And, over time, I became fairly adept—let’s call it “minute-of-soda-can”—with that .22.
My story is hardly unique. But, like so many other shooters, I drifted away from the .22 LR to larger and more capable cartridges.
I find myself coming back to my .22 roots more and more often, however, and I’m learning to appreciate just how much I still have to learn from the .22. There are a lot of reasons to love this cartridge, and the mild .22 offers something for every shooter—even experienced cranks.
“… The .22 LR is limited with regard to its effectiveness as a hunting round, but there is no cartridge better suited for teaching new shooters how to safely handle firearms.”
A Very Brief History Of The .22 Long Rifle
Although the .22 LR is, in terms of sales, the most popular firearm cartridge in the world, very few shooters know how this cartridge evolved or the origin of its name.
In the late 1850s, Smith & Wesson developed an enclosed .22 round for its First Model revolver, and it became an immediate hit. About 15 years later, an extended version of the Smith & Wesson appeared, and the world suddenly had a short and long .22.
Not even the mild .22 was immune to the magnum craze, and, in the 1880s, the .22 Extra Long arrived on the scene. Finally, in 1887, the J. Stevens Arms and Tool Company got the recipe right: It took the case from the .22 Long, loaded it with the 40-grain bullet from the .22 Extra Long and created the cartridge we now know as the .22 Long Rifle. Cheap, accurate and quiet, the .22 Long Rifle soon found worldwide acceptance.
Even as many rimfire cartridges died away in the wake of modern centerfire rounds, the ubiquitous .22 Long Rifle thrived. Oh, it’s almost certainly been overshadowed a bit by a laundry list of other cartridges that have come to pass since the late 1880s, but a few years ago, the shooting world witnessed just how popular the .22 LR still is: When there was a national rush to purchase ammunition, the very first round to disappear from store shelves was the .22 Long Rifle, and when boxes of .22 ammo arrived at gun stores, there was a long list of people willing to pay inflated prices—just to have more rimfire ammo.
The .22 Lr As A Hunting Round
For small game at moderate ranges, the .22 is still a superb choice; and, with so many new rifles, optics and .22 loads, the modern Long Rifle is more capable than ever before. In many states, tree squirrel seasons start at the end of summer; and, in some areas, ground squirrel and woodchuck seasons are open year-round. So, there’s plenty of opportunity to spend time in the field swatting rodents of all shapes and sizes with these mild guns.
If you want to sharpen your hunting skills and provide plenty of meat for the pot, spend some time in the winter still-hunting cottontails with a rimfire rifle. And, when it comes to hunting furbearing species, the .22 is an ideal choice, which is why so many hunters carry these rifles when chasing raccoons with hounds and why the .22 has been the firearm-of-choice for trappers for over a century.
Although it’s hardly the ideal option, I know of at least one fur hunter who used a .22 with hot, 40-grain plated bullets to hunt fox at close range, because the report was so quiet, and there was absolutely no fur damage. Fox are certainly at the upper end of the .22’s capabilities, but that gentleman chose his shots carefully, knew his weapon well and never stretched the .22 beyond its limits.
The Ultimate Training Round
Yes, the .22 LR is limited in regard to its effectiveness as a hunting round, but there is no cartridge better suited for teaching new shooters how to safely handle firearms.
For starters, there are many .22s that are perfectly sized for even the smallest shooters; guns such as the Savage Rascal (see the article on this gun that begins on page 72 of this issue of Gun World). The primary issue most new shooters have is that they are trying to learn to fire a gun that overwhelms them, either in terms of recoil, muzzle blast and/ or gun weight. But a light .22 is manageable, and that allows novice shooters to focus on details such as sight alignment and trigger control.
The .22 is not just a round for new shooters, though, and every hunter needs to have a training rifle to help them concentrate on the finer points of proper shooting technique. I know that after a session on the range with a powerful magnum, I like to cool down with a few dozen rounds of .22. No matter how much we’d like to think we can all handle magnum recoil effectively, a session with a .22 helps shooters of all skill levels focus on the minute details that rob accuracy.
It’s much easier for me to diagnose my technique issues, as well as those of other shooters, with a .22 LR than with a larger, more-powerful round. Additionally, more .22 models are offered with threaded barrels so that you can add a suppressor and reduce noise levels even further. Cans are also a great upgrade if you’re doing pest control near urban or suburban areas.
Perhaps most importantly, .22 practice is affordable. Whereas it costs shooters roughly a dollar or more each time they fire a round of factory centerfire ammo, you can expect to spend roughly a nickel to a dime with each trigger pull of a .22. That means you can get in a lot of pre-season practice and build skills that will make you a better big-game hunter with more-powerful rounds.
Brad Fitzpatrick is a full-time freelance writer based in Ohio. His works have appeared in several print and online publications, and he is the author of two books: The Shooter’s Bible Guide to Concealed Carry and Handgun Buyer’s Guide 2015. He has hunted on four continents and was a collegiate trap and skeet shooter before becoming a writer.
Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in the June 2018 print issue of Gun World Magazine.