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No free man shall ever be de-barred the use of arms. The strongest reason for the people to retain their right to keep and bear arms is as a last resort to protect themselves against tyranny in government."

- Thomas Jefferson, of Virginia, Proposed Virginia Constitution, 1776

.22 Long Rifle

In terms of the cartridges sold the .22 LR (Long Rifle) cartridge ranks number one world-wide. Gun manufacturers produce various rifles, pistols, revolvers, and even some smoothbore shotguns in the .22 LR caliber. Virtually every gun manufacturer produces a  firearm model chambering .22 LR. The .22 Long Rifle and related cartridges use a heeled bullet, which means that the bullet is the same diameter as the case, and has a narrower "heel" portion that fits in the case.

.22 Long Rifle size reference.

.22 Long Rifle - Subsonic Hollowpoint (Left), Standard Velocity (Center), Hyper-Velocity "Stinger" Hollowpoint (Right).

The low cost, minimal recoil, and low noise make the .22 LR an ideal cartridge for recreational shooting, pest control, and it is often purchased in bulk. The standard box of .22 LR contains 50 rounds, and .22 LR is often sold by the brick, containing 10 boxes for 500 rounds, or the case containing 10 bricks for 5,000 rounds.

Shooters of the .22 LR enjoy a wide variety of ammunition, in terms of selection and price range. Bullet weights range from 30 to 60-grains (1.9 to 3.9 g), velocities from 350–1,750 feet per second (110–530 meters per second). "Promotional" loads for plinking can be found for under US$20.00 per brick ($0.04 per cartridge), while precision target rounds can cost US$80.00 to upwards of US$250.00 per brick. Currently, a standard box of 50 rounds goes for US$2–3. For comparison, a box of 9x19 mm Parabellum, another popular and relatively inexpensive round for semi-automatic handguns, costs closer to US$12–35 per box of 50.  Shooters can easily go through a hundred rounds or more on a single shooting range visit and savings add up quickly. For rifle shooting, the price difference is even more dramatic as powerful rifle cartridges like .308 Winchester and .30-06 Springfield approach and exceed US$1 per cartridge.

The low recoil and high speed of a .22 LR cartridge in pistols make it suitable for introductory firearms courses. When shooting the .22 LR errors in technique exposed due the lack of recoil when compared to a "defense-caliber" handgun.  This allows easier identification and correction of problems in the shooters technique before moving to more powerful handgun cartridges like 9 mm, .38 Special/.357 Magnum, or 45 ACP.

.22 Long Rifle next to the .45 ACP

.22 Long Rifle compared to the .45 ACP

Annual production of the .22 Long Rifle is estimated at 2–2.5 billion rounds.

.22 LR effectively shoots out to 150 yards (140 meters). Past 150 yards the ballistics of the round drop off dramatically. The relatively short effective range, low report, and light recoil make the .22 LR a favorite for use as a target practice cartridge. The accuracy of the cartridge is good, but not exceptional.   Various cartridges exist with the capability of accuracy equal to the .22 LR or better. In rifles firing high-velocity rounds, the transition of a bullet from supersonic to subsonic within 100 yards (91 m) can lead to small, but measurable inaccuracy. As the bullet slows, the shock wave caused by supersonic travel overtakes the bullet and can disrupt its flight path.  Subsonic .22 LR cartridges usually offer increased accuracy due to this fact.

The trajectory of the standard high-velocity .22 LR with a 40-grain (2.6 g) bullet has a 2.7-inch (69 mm) rise at 50 yards, and 10.8 inches (270 mm) at 150 yards, when zeroed for 100 yards (69 mm rise at 46 meters, and 274 mm at 137 meters, when zeroed for 91 meters). A .22 LR rifle needs to be zeroed for 75 yards (69 m) to avoid over-shooting small animals like squirrels at intermediate distances. The newest commercial rim-fire, the .17 Mach 2, is based on the .22 LR case, but is slightly stretched in length (case length is similar to the CCI Stinger) and necked down. The light, aerodynamic .17 caliber (4.5 mm) bullet gives the .17 Mach 2 a much higher velocity than the .22 LR, with similar energy and a flatter trajectory. The increased performance of the .17 Mach 2 comes at the expense of increased cost and noise.

As a hunting cartridge, the .22 LR find use mainly to kill small vermin such as rats and squirrels. The .22 LR also makes a highly effective cartridge for rabbit hunting at distances of less than 150 yards (140 m).  The .22 LR can effectively take ground hogs, marmots, and foxes closer than 80 yards (70 m). The .22 LR can successfully kill larger creatures such as coyotes, but range should be limited to no farther than 65 yards (59 m); head and chest shots are mandatory with the most powerful .22 cartridge the hunter can use accurately. Hunters should find which cartridges, out of the various high-velocity and hyper-velocity ones, shoot well for them by preliminary testing. For greater range or larger game, a more powerful cartridge should be used to ensure a clean kill. Examples include larger rim-fire rounds such as the .22 WMR, .17 HMR, or any center-fire cartridge.

A .22 LR bullet appears relatively underpowered when compared to larger cartridges, but dangerous nonetheless.  The .22 LR can easily kill or severely injure humans and large animals.  Users should therefore take great care to ensure no stray bullets fly beyond the intended target, where the bullet could hit someone or something else. Even after flying 400 yards (370 m) the .22 LR bullet still travels at approximately 500 feet (150 m) per second, which can inflict a very serious wound.  A standard .22 cartridge can have a ballistic range of up to a mile and a half (2400 m) if fired into the air.

There are a variety of different types of .22 LR loads. .22 LR loads are often divided into four distinct categories, based on nominal velocity:

    * Subsonic, which also includes "target" or "match" loads, at nominal speeds below 1100 fps (335 mps).
    * Standard-velocity: (Transonic) 1120–1135 fps (340–345 mps).
    * High-velocity: (Supersonic) 1200–1310 fps (365–400 mps).
    * Hyper-velocity, or Ultra-velocity: (Supersonic) over 1400 fps (425 mps).

Subsonic

Subsonic rounds have a muzzle velocity of 1080 fps (330 mps) or less. Subsonic rounds frequently come equipped with extra heavy bullets of 46–61-grains (2.9–3.9 grams) to improve the terminal ballistics of the slower projectile. Conversely, the lighter, subsonic  cartridges contain little more than primer and an extra-light bullet.

.22 Long Rifle Subsonic round

.22 Long Rifle-Subsonic no gunpowder, primer only.

Because the speed of sound in air at 68 °F (20 °C) is approximately 1126 feet (343.4 m) per second, the subsonic round's muzzle velocity is close to the speed of sound, or only very slightly below it, under many hunting conditions. However, under cold air conditions at 32 °F (0 °C), the speed of sound drops to 1088 fps (331.5 mps), essentially the same speed as a subsonic round. Hence, a "subsonic" round used in low temperatures would no longer actually be subsonic and subject to the same problems as supersonic bullets in terms of accuracy. To counteract this, some cartridge manufacturers have lowered the speed of their subsonic ammunition to 1030 feet (315 m) per second, or significantly less, while other manufacturers still sell subsonic ammunition with a velocity only slightly less than 1082 feet (330 m) per second.

Some subsonic rounds do not work well in most semi-automatic .22 LR firearms, often failing to cycle the action due to a lack of recoil energy. Other subsonic rounds use heavier bullets that achieve lower velocities and ensure that there is enough energy to cycle any common blowback action. An example of this is the Aguila .22 LR "Sniper" round, which has a 60-grain (3.9 g) bullet. However, this can cause other problems: the more massive bullet of the Aguila cartridge requires a tighter barrel twist (by the Greenhill formula) to ensure that the bullet remains stable in flight.

Standard Velocity

Standard velocity rounds have a slightly supersonic muzzle velocity of around 1125 fps (340 mps) and a "normal" bullet weight of 40-grains (2.5 grams). Standard velocity cartridges generate near, or slightly, supersonic velocities. These standard velocity rounds generally do not develop supersonic velocities in handguns due to the fact that the short barrel cannot take full advantage of the slower burning powder.  The bullet from a supersonic round often drops to subsonic speeds on its way to the target, which can degrade accuracy. The extra power and penetration of a supersonic round, however, more than makes up for the slight loss in accuracy in most applications.

High Velocity

Many .22 LR cartridges use bullets lighter than the standard 40-grains (2.5 grams), fired at even higher velocities. Hyper-velocity bullets usually weigh around 30-grains (1.9 grams) and possess a muzzle velocity of 1400–1800 fps (425–550 mps). The use of lighter bullets in these rounds makes the higher velocities possible.

The first hyper velocity .22 LR cartridge introduced to the market was the CCI Stinger.  The CCI Stinger provides a significant increase in velocity over standard .22 LR rounds. The Stinger uses a longer case, a stronger charge and copper plating on a lighter bullet. Stinger cartridges utilize a longer than normal .22LR cartridge, yet Stingers will fit in most Long Rifle chambered firearms. The powder is designed to burn more slowly and thus make the most use of the length of a rifle barrel. In the Stinger, a shorter plated hallow point bullet compensates for the longer case length. The thin copper layer on the bullet functions as a lubricant and reduces the friction between the high velocity bullet and the barrel, thus reducing barrel wear. It also has an oxidation-preventing effect on the lead bullet. Lead tends to oxidize if stored over long periods of time.  Oxidation of the bullet leads to an increase in the bullet diameter.  An increase in bullet diameter can led to both the inability to insert the cartridge in the chamber and/or a dangerous increase in chamber pressure level. The increase in pressure may lead to the case rupturing and potential danger to the shooter. Standard and subsonic cartridges tend to use a type of wax for the same purpose.

The CCI Velocitor "hypervelocity" round that utilizes a 40-grain (2.6 gram) projectile. This cartridge produces a muzzle velocity of 1435 fps (435 m). The “Velocitor” uses a conventional case size, as opposed to the longer case used by the Stinger. By using a proprietary hollow-point design to augment expansion and trauma when hunting, the “Velocitor” bullet maintains a full 40-grain (2.6 g) weight.

Shot Cartridges

Some manufacturers offer special .22 LR caliber shot cartridges, usually loaded with #12 shot. Called rat-shot for their use in very short-range pest control, these rounds utilize either a longer brass case that is crimped closed or a translucent plastic "bullet" that contains the shot and shatters upon firing. In .22 bore shotguns, the shot shells can be used for short-range skeet shooting and trap shooting at special, scaled-down, clay targets.

.22 Long Rifle rat shot cartridge.

.22 Long Rifle "Rat Shot" cartridge.

Full Metal Jacket

During World War II, a full metal jacketed version of the .22 LR was developed for the suppressed High Standard HDM pistol to counter concerns of the legality of using hollow-point .22 LR bullets in wartime.

Cartridge length

The .22 LR utilizes a straight-walled case. Depending upon the type of feed mechanism employed, a firearm chambered for .22 LR may safely chamber and fire the following shorter rim-fire cartridges:

    * .22 BB, in cap, short or long lengths
    * .22 CB, in cap, short or long lengths
    * .22 Short
    * .22 Long

.22 Long, .22 Long Rifle, .22 WMR

.22 Long, .22 Long Rifle, .22 WMR

The .22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire, also called .22 Magnum or .22 WMR, uses a different case, which significantly tapers and does not use a heeled bullet. Firing a .22 LR or derivative in a .22 WMR firearm will likely result in a potentially dangerous case rupture.

Today, shooters mainly use the .22 LR for hunting small pests, sport shooting, plinking, and cheap training. Several ISSF shooting events use the .22 LR:  the 50 m Rifle, 50 m Pistol, 25 m Pistol, 25 m Rapid Fire Pistol and 25 m Standard Pistol, Bullseye, plus divisions of metallic silhouette and pin shooting, most high school, collegiate, Boy Scouts of America, Air Training Corps, Australian Army Cadets and 4H shooting events, and many others. In Sweden the Home Guard Cadets use the .22 LR for training in basic firearms.

The tiny case of the .22 LR and the subsonic velocities (when using subsonic ammunition) make it well suited for use with a firearm suppressor (also known as silencers or sound moderators. Local government agencies sometimes use suppressed .22 LR weapons for animal control, since dangerous animals or pests can be dispatched in populated areas without causing undue alarm. 

Intelligence agencies and military special forces have used suppressed .22 LR pistols for assassinations and for eliminating guard dogs or sentries. Francis Gary Powers was issued a suppressed High Standard for the flight in which he was shot down. Suppressed Ruger MK II pistols are in current use by the US Navy SEALs.

The .22 LR has also seen limited usage by police and military snipers. Its main advantage in this role is its low noise, but it is usually limited to urban operations because of its short range.

Muzzle velocity (nominal):

    * 40-gr (2.6 g) lead: 1082 fps (330 mps) .22 LR Subsonic
    * 36-gr (2.33 g) copper plated lead: 1328 fps (405 mps) .22 LR High Velocity

Type                                     Rimfire cartridge
Place of origin                  United States

Production History

Designer                              J. Stevens Arm & Tool Company

Specifications

Case type                             Rimmed, Straight
Bullet diameter                .223 in (5.7 mm)
Neck diameter                  .225 in (5.7 mm)
Base diameter                   .275 in (7.0 mm)
Rim diameter                    .275 in (7.0 mm)
Rim thickness                    .040 in (1.0 mm)
Case length                         .590 in (15.0 mm)
Overall length                     .985 in (25.0 mm)
Primer type                         Rimfire

.22 Long Rifle dimensiondiagram

.22 Long Rifle Dimensions Diagram

Ballistic Performance

Bullet weight/type                          Velocity(MV)                Energy(ME)
40 gr (2.6 g) Solid                                       1,080 fps (330 mps)             104 ft·lbf (141 J)
38 gr (2.5 g) Copper-plated HP             1,260 fps (380 mps)             134 ft·lbf (182 J)
31 gr (2.0 g) Copper-plated HP             1,430 fps (440 mps)             141 ft·lbf (191 J)

Note: actual velocities are dependent on many factors, such as barrel length of a given firearm and manufacturer of a given batch of ammunition, and will vary widely in practice. The above velocities are typical.

According to the official C.I.P. guidelines, the .22 LR case can handle up to 205 MPa (30,000 psi) copper crusher (measuring method crusher conformal) pressure. In C.I.P. regulated countries, every rifle cartridge combo has to be proofed at 125% of this maximum C.I.P. pressure to certify for sale to consumers.

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I recently ordered a couple of new guns from my local gun shop. It may be a while until they come in, from what I am told. I ordered a 3 inch Ruger SP101 in the new .327 Federal Magnum caliber and a Ruger Hawkeye African in the .375 Ruger caliber. The seller tells me that the SP 101 in that make up is just now trickling out of the factory and that distributers are having a hard time stocking them for retailers, so I may be waiting a while...click for more.

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