What is there left unwritten about the venerable
.22? Like the other legendary cartridges, the .45, and .38, the 30-30,
and the 30-06, it seems as if there have been more words written than cartridges
loaded. This remarkable little round has been loaded longer than any other,
and no end is in sight. It is the hit man's choice for "assassination
style" killings, as well as the favorite cartridge of youths, shooting
galleries, and neophyte shooters. This round has been to the Olympics,
in some of the most accurate and expensive firearms ever made; it has also
been chambered in any number of cheap firearms of poor quality. There
are .22 adapters, and conversion kits for a variety of rifles and
pistols, which are thus made capable of using this round. Though "versatile"
is not a word that could easily be applied to a cartridge which can not
be reloaded, the .22 could certainly be said to be chambered in a well rounded
series of guns.
This is our one remaining rimfire cartridge, or rather
line of cartridges. Though we are generally referring to the .22 L.R.
(Long Rifle) cartridge when we talk about a .22, there are some others.
Currently, there are a number of different loads being turned out for
the .22 L.R., There are also some loads being produced in .22 short, .22
long, and BB cap. There are even mini shot shells chambered for the .22.
The .22 long is essentially a .22 long rifle with a lighter bullet, fired
at the same velocity. The .22 short is, as the name implies, shorter than
the standard Long Rifle round. BB caps, are specialty rounds for shooting
galleries, and very young shooters. Though the .22 is commonly chambered
in all sorts of firearms, it is generally taken to be a rifle round, and
is loaded to gain maximum efficiency out of a 16" (short rifle) barrel.
More information on the specific rounds can be found in my cartridges section.
Click on a family member for more information, or refer to the
There are a number of .22 firearms in my collection,
in a wide variety of sizes and styles. The family photo above shows them
all, at least up to the date of this writing, with the exception of the
AR-7, which normally resides on my boat. My favorites are probably the Buckmark,
and the 10/22, the two most conventional guns of the lot. The most
unique and interesting is surely the Calico, with it's hundred round magazine.
Also unique, is the little American Arms Mini Revolver. Then there is the
AR-7, which breaks down, and stows in it's own stock. My venerable Contender
has a .22 barrel, and it is a very accurate gun indeed. There are a number
of adapters available, in case the extensive selection of models available
are not enough. There are adapters for the Colt Government series, the Browning
Hi-Power (P-35), the AR-15/M-16, Uzi, HK, and many other models. This is
a tribute to the economy, ease of use, and wide availability of the round.
The uppermost rifle is the renowned Ruger 10/22 semi
auto. This has a standard 10 round rotary magazine, though I also have
a number of 30 round magazines which curve forward like the old M-1 Carbine
banana clip mags. Below the 10/22 is the Henry .22 lever action, which
loads through a traditional tubular magazine, and is a copy of the Winchester
2294. Next down the line is the Calico .22. This is a blow back semi auto
with a 100 round magazine. It is of all alloy construction, except for
the glass filled polymer magazine, and furniture, and the steel bolt. Beneath
the Calico is a .22 single shot bolt action rifle. This has no markings
that I can find, and is pretty representative of an entire class of youth
training rifles found at summer camps, and shooting galleries. The purist
may cringe at the sight of one of my AR-15 rifles included in the group.
These rifles are generally chambered for the much more powerful .223 assault
rifle cartridge. This is not a look a like rifle, but is a genuine AR-15.
Beneath the barrel can be seen the adapter which allows this rifle to fire
the .22 L.R. The adapter replaces the bolt, and the special magazine visible
just under the adapter, replaces the stock magazine. The pistols are shown
in close up, and described below.
Here is a photo of the pistol segment of my .22 collection. The top
pistol is a Dan Wesson, built on the same frame as their .357. The diminutive
little toy beneath it's barrel is the NAA mini revolver. The larger automatic
is the Browning Buckmark, while the little one at the bottom is the Berreta
M-21. These guns are also visible in the larger photo at the top. There
is also a .22 adapter which will permit my Para-Ordnance .45 to fire the
.22 L.R. Kits of this type have been made for the standard Colt Government
model for years. It consists of a new slide, and barrel, along with a different
set of springs, and a special magazine. There are also conversion kits
for the Uzi, the Browning P-35, nd the H&K series of firearms, among
So what is the big deal about the .22? The main attraction
seems to be the economy, and ease of use. The .22 is also a good gun for
the new shooter, the non firearms enthusiast who feels the need to be
armed, or the person who does not care for the recoil of the larger calibers.
There is also the fact that .22 ammunition can cost less than $1 a box.
A firearm chambered for the .22, can be a very effective
introductory, or training weapon. In some cases, there are .22 versions
of larger caliber weapons, with the same weight and size as the arms they
are meant to mimic. One of the first of these arms was the Colt Ace. This
was a .22 version of the standard 1911 pistol. This gun was introduced
in the early twenties, and used the same frame as the standard pistol. There
was a "Carbine Williams" style floating chamber used to generate enough
force to work the action. Ruger presently makes a .22 pistol to compliment
their 9mm, and .45 models. All three pistols have the same pointing characteristics,
weight, shape, feel, and point of aim. Walther makes a .22 version of
the PPK, as well as the P-38. The Browning Buckmark has the same grip
angle, and pointing characteristics as the Colt 1911, and there is no
end to the number of .22 revolvers, built on the same frames as their
more powerful brothers, by Colt, S&W, ruger, Dan Wesson, and others.
As the standard frame was used in the Colt Ace, with
a different barrel, and slide assembly, it was not long before upper assemblies
were introduced so that the 1911 owner could fire the .22 in his pistol.
Presently there are .22 uppers for most of the more popular military pistols.
I have personally seen them for the Browning Hi-Power (p-35), the Beretta
M92/M96, Colt style autos (including the para Ord), the Uzi, and the CZ.
There was the wonderful HK4 pistol, in the seventies, which had separate
barrel assemblies, and magazines for .22, .25, .32, and .380. These upper
assemblies are easily installed by the average gun owner, with no more
effort than field stripping for cleaning.
There were also inserts introduced, from a number
of companies, to allow the .22 to be fired in a single, or double barrel
shotgun. These inserts had short, rifled .22 barrels which fit up the barrel
of the shotgun. There was no practical way to extend this to the rifle,
since the rifled barrel might be damaged by inserting a rifled sleeve.
Considering the design problems involved, the need for a .22 adapter did
not seem to be worth the trouble, particularly for wealthy nations, or
for nations which already had .22 training rifles. In the times before
today's modular military weapons, it was actually less expensive to build
a separate arm similar in weight and style to the service arm. This changed
in the sixties with the AR-15, and the M-16. These rifles made the small
bore respectable for combat, and also had barrels which were usable with
the .22 L.R. A number of other small bore assault rifles were introduced
by various nations, and companies, including a version of the AK-47, which
fired a slightly different variant of the .22 centerfire than it's western
counterparts. Each of these weapons soon had a .22 insert, either produced
by the company that produced the weapon itself, or by an aftermarket company.
In every case, the device replaces the bolt, or the bolt carrier. There
is also a special .22 magazine to fit into a magazine well designed for
the larger assault rifle cartridges. These turn the more powerful centerfire
weapon into an unlocked blowback .22 rimfire.
Military use of the .22
Civilians are not the only ones who have come to
appreciate the .22 as a training cartridge. It's virtues have not been
lost on the police or the military. Most military organizations have some
sort of .22 training rifle. The United States had used .22 rifles to train
recruits up until W.W.II, and even used a .22 adapter for artillery training
during war games. The old Soviet Union used .22 rifles in familiarizing
the members of it's youth brigades, destined to become part of the military.
The Cuban, and Chinese, along with many European forces, do the same. Many
of these firearms are bolt action, or single shot models, similar to the
types used in boy's camps, when and where it is not thought politically
incorrect to do so. The military has used, and in some cases still
does use, the .22 rimfire. This is primarily for training, and firearms familiarization.
Military use of the .22, in the United states, predates
the Colt Ace, and even predates the First World War. Unofficially, reservists,
and aspiring military men, had used the .22 to practice their marksmanship
since the 1870's or thereabouts. The Army was not unaware of this, and
certainly appreciated the skills of these recruits, and reservists, but
it was not until the turn of the century that anything official was done
about it. The first .22 rifle officially adopted by the U.S. Army, was a
rebarreled modification of the dreadful, Krag-Jorgeson. I will not go into
detail about the failures of the Krag, and the deficiencies of the 30-40
cartridge it fired. I need only state that the rifle was only kept in service
for 11 years, during which, no fewer than four separate model changes were
made, in an attempt to make a suitable weapon of it. Just after 1900, a
number of Krags were rebarreled as .22 practice rifles, by gunsmith, Harry
Pope. These barrels were bored, and rifled at an angle so that, though the
bore was centered at the muzzle, it was above the center at the breach.
This permitted the standard Krag centerfire, firing pin, to strike the rims
of the .22 cartridges, and set them off. The Army officially produced a
number of 1898 model Krags with .22 barrels using this same system, a couple
of years latter.
There were some failed attempts at similarly modifying
the Springfield 1903 rifle, which replaced the Krags. The angle bored barrels
were a dismal failure in the 1903's. There was another attempt, the Hoffer-Thompson,
which used special cartridge holders into which .22 rounds were loaded.
The holders would be loaded into the standard magazine, of a modified
rifle. These rifles were regular Springfield 1903 models, but they were
specifically chambered for the cartridge holders, and had the barrels
bored for a .22 rather than a .30 caliber bullet. The problem with all
such firearms is that, in every case, they were less accurate, less dependable,
and much less powerful than the regular service arms they were based upon,
while at the same time, being more expensive. Compared to the commercial
.22 rifles being sold, they were far more expensive, while being inferior
in every way. Because of this, many standard, commercial .22 rifles were
bought, and used for military training between the wars, and after
the end of WWII.
In 1922, about the same time Colt introduced it's
Ace, the Army finally got it right. The Model 1922 Springfield rifle was
as near perfect as could be asked for. It was accurate and pleasant to
shoot, it had a smooth action, and it was sturdy and reliable. It also
perfectly mimicked the size, weight, look, and handling qualities if the
1903 service weapon. There were several improved versions of the rifle
produced, until the Second World War made the production of .22 rifles
an impractical use of production materials and facilities. The U.S. military
never produced another .22 rimfire, after the end of the Second World War.
A number of commercial rifles, in .22 rimfire, were acquired, but even
this ended after the adoption of the M-16. The M-16 adapts very easily
to the firing of .22 rimfires. No barrel sleeve is needed, since the M-16
already fires .22 projectiles, though quite different from the rimfire
versions. A number of devices were made by several different companies,
though even these were little used. Along with a change in weapons, there
was a shift in emphasis. Marksmanship, though still highly regarded in
an infantryman, is no longer considered to ba a vital component of the
In what almost seems like a return to the methods
of over a hundred years ago, the .22 is once again being used for cadet
training, in ROTC, informally in the guard, and for civilian practice.
In the meantime, military marksmanship is no longer being stressed as it
once was, and the infantryman resorts to "suppressive fire" which in practice,
differs little from the old "volley fire" of the 18th and 19th century.
In those days, marksmanship was not stressed, because the weapons of the
time were not sufficiently accurate, or long ranged to be the primary weapon
of the battlefield. Canon, and cavalry were considered to be the strategic
, and decisive weapons of the day. The only useful purpose of firearms,
in the hands of the infantry, was to lay down a sufficient weight of fire
to disrupt enemy moral, and organization, before making the main attack
with the bayonet. Advances in firearms, including the rifled barrel, the
repeating action, and the conical bullet, changed that. For a little over
a century, the marksman stood (or at any rate laid prone) supreme on the
battlefield, until advances in artillery and aircraft, once again, put his
rifle back down to a secondary role.
The only offensive use of the .22 rimfire, in a military
roll, is in the silenced pistol. These pistols, beginning with the splendid
Wellrod, of the Second World War, can be remarkably quiet. The Wellrod
was a single shot pistol, with a silencer integrated into the barrel. The
Wellrods were primarily for special operations, and tended to be used for
assassination, or for sentry removal. In Viet Nam, a number of silenced
Ruger .22 automatics, and High Standard .22 automatics were issued. Like
the Wellrod, these pistols had integral silencers. These pistols were not
regarded as assassination tools, though there may well have been cases
of them being put to this use. They were mainly issued to "tunnel rats".
The tunnel rats were remarkably brave men, who would crawl down into the
underground labyrinths which the Viet Cong used as bases. The close quarters,
and confined conditions of these encounters, generally meant that these
were one man missions. In such a situation, a pistol shot would seriously
damage a man's ears, unless hearing protection was worn. In the dark tunnels,
a man with his ears plugged, courted death, since hearing was as important
as vision in such circumstances, if not more so. There were also silenced
.45 autos used, but the .22 was the preferred choice for this type of mission.
Being a rimfire round, the. 22 can not really be
properly reloaded. These are made of soft brass, with a primer compound
spun into a hollow rim, rather than a proper primer. This requires them
to be limited to rather low pressures, as the brass needs to be thin enough
for the firing pin to crush. This is not to say there is no versatility
to the loads available. There are high velocity, and hyper velocity rounds,
which are suitable for the hunting of small game, and are quite lethal to
human beings, provided proper bullet placement is achieved. There are also
low powered gallery rounds, such as the BB cap, and the .22 short, which
are so quiet, and low powered that they are suitable rounds for indoor practice
at home. There are also special "asonic" versions of the .22 Long Rifle,
which are, as the name implies, very quiet indeed. The cartridges section
has a page on the .22 rimfire. The truly amazing
thing about the .22 is the sheer range of the loads. The cb caps start off
at 34 foot pounds, and the long rifles go up to 170 foot pounds. The magnum
rounds go up to 324 foot pounds.
Accuracy with the. 22 short, in a standard barrel
chambered for the long rifle, leaves a bit to be desired. A better choice
would be the long, or the cb long. These are the same loads as the short
or the cb, but loaded in full length cases, so that they will feed better
in standard chambered guns. As a general rule, a short will perform with
about a third the group size of the long rifle, in the same firearm. A
gun which shoots a 3" group with the long rifle at 50 yards, is likely
to shoot a 3" group with the .22 short at 50 feet. At indoor ranges, this
could actually be an advantage in helping to simulate longer ranges. The
cb is very similar, ballisticly, to a high power air rifle.
The vast majority of .22 rimfires produced these
days are chambered for the long rifle cartridge. Beretta makes a small
automatic chambered for the .22 short, and NAA makes a version of it's
mini revolver similarly chambered. Other than these two examples, I can
think of no currently produced firearms chambered for this round. Revolvers,
and single shot rifles chambered for the long rifle, are also able to handle
the short, but this is not true of any magazine fed firearms, because of
the difference in case length. Around the time of the depression, and into
the forties, fifties, and sixties, the short was fairly popular because
of it's lower cost, and reduced noise. As .22 semi automatic pistols and
rifles began to eclipse the old revolvers, and single shot pistols, the
demand for shorts began to ebb. The .22 cb was the traditional standard
for the shooting gallery. It was low powered enough to present little danger
to bystanders, and required far less in the way of a backstop, than the
full powered rounds. Guns so chambered were little more powerful than
one of the better air rifles, but were, nonetheless, "real" guns.
Today, shorts are more expensive than the long rifle, and are not as easy
to find. The cb cap is also getting more expensive, and scarce, as shooting
I would confidently predict that 100 years from now,
whatever the military is using, and whatever else civilians are allowed
to have, there will still be firearms and ammunition available for the
.22 long rifle.