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The .22 Short, .22 Long and .22 Long Rifle

By Chuck Hawks

.22 LR
Illustration courtesy of CCI.

All .22 rimfires (except the WRF and WMR) are ancient black powder designs and use tapered heel bullets. If you examine a .22 S, L, or LR cartridge, you will see that the case and bullet are the same diameter. The part of the bullet inside of the case (the heel) is reduced in diameter to allow it to fit inside of the case. In all other modern cartridges the bullet shank is of constant diameter and the case is slightly larger than the bullet to allow the heel of the latter to fit inside. The modern design gives the bullet a longer bearing surface and forms a better gas seal on its trip down the barrel.

The rimfire principle was used to create the first successful self-contained metallic ammunition. Rimfire cases are constructed with the priming compound spun inside the rim of the case, which is crushed by the blow of the firing pin to ignite the main powder charge. This means that the rim of the case must be far weaker than the solid rim of later centerfire cartridges and is the primary factor limiting the pressure to which any rimfire cartridge can be loaded without erratic ignition or blown cases. As a practical matter, rimfire cases are not reloadable.

The standard .22 rimfire cartridges are the .22 BB, .22 CB, .22 Short, .22 Long and .22 Long Rifle (LR). Although the cases differ in length, all can be fired in a LR chamber. Rifles and pistols for all of these cartridges have an actual bore diameter of about .218 inch. The groove diameter (and the bullet diameter) is about .222 inch. The BB (round ball) and CB (30 grain conical ball) are shooting gallery ammunition, rarely encountered otherwise.

The recoil of all of these .22 rimfire cartridges is essentially negligible. This makes a .22 LR rifle or pistol the natural first gun for a beginning shooter. But, because of its broad application and the many fine firearms available in .22 LR, .22's are also widely used by the most experienced shooters.

.22 Short

The common .22 rimfire Short cartridge dates from the period of the American Civil War. It was first used in a S&W pocket pistol introduced in 1857 and it is the oldest cartridge still being loaded today. The .22 Short is used mainly as an inexpensive, quiet round for practice by the recreational shooter. It is also used in pocket pistols and mini-revolvers, as well as in international and Olympic rapid-fire pistol competition. The Short is available in target, standard velocity and high velocity versions. There is also a .22 short blank for use in starting pistols.

Bullets are lead (usually coated with grease or wax or copper plated), in round nose or hollow point styles. The standard velocity .22 short launches a 29 grain bullet at 1,045 fps with 70 ft. lbs. of energy from a 22" rifle barrel. As a hunting round, the high velocity hollow point Short is useful only for tiny pests like mice, rats and small birds. Stick with the Long Rifle cartridge for small game hunting.

.22 Long

The .22 Long was developed around 1871 to increase the power of the .22 Short by increasing the powder capacity. It is becoming obsolete; it is no longer manufactured by Federal, Remington, or Winchester. It uses the same case as the Long Rifle and the same 29 grain bullet as the .22 Short. This has proved to be a bad combination, inherently less accurate than either the Short or Long Rifle. I am convinced that the .22 Long has survived for as long as it has because young or uninformed shooters think that it must be a hot number, given its light .22 short bullet in front of what they presume to be a .22 LR powder charge. I know that my father believed this when he was a boy. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

The .22 Long comes in standard velocity and high velocity versions. The latter launches a 29 grain copper plated lead bullet at a velocity of 1,240 fps with 99 ft. lbs. of energy at the muzzle of a 22" barrel. This is 145 fps faster than the Short launches the same bullet, but 15 fps slower than the Long Rifle high velocity load fires its heavier 40 grain bullet.

There are better .22's than the Long for any purpose. Certainly, the more accurate and more powerful Long Rifle should always be chosen over the Long for small game hunting.

.22 Long Rifle

The .22 Long Rifle is an old cartridge developed by Peters Cartridge in 1887. It first appeared in Marlin and Stevens single shot rifles; the Marlin Model 1891 lever action, the predecessor of today's Model 39A, rifle was the first repeater chambered for the cartridge. It was quickly adopted by other rifle makers and also adapted to handguns. It is by far the most popular and useful of all the .22 rimfire cartridges.

The .22 LR is the world's best selling rifle and pistol cartridge. It is available in target, standard velocity, high velocity and hyper velocity loads, with either 40 grain solid lead or 32-40 grain lead hollow-point bullets. Practically every type of rifle and handgun is offered in .22 LR and there have even been smooth bore .22 LR shotguns chambered for the rather obscure .22 LR shot cartridge.

The .22 LR shot cartridge is loaded with a tiny amount of #12 shot. This shot cartridge has negligible killing power, except at very close range, when fired in a rifle barrel. I have read that it is used to collect mice, shrews, hummingbirds and other tiny species for museum specimens at short range (within 15 yards) when fired from smooth bore barrels. One correspondent informed me that he used smooth bore .22's and shot cartridges to shoot mice and pigeons inside a 16 foot diameter steel grain bin without damage to the bin. (Of course, my pet cat is also deadly within an eight foot radius of a mouse or pigeon.)

The target version of the Long Rifle cartridge is extremely accurate and is the basis for small bore competition from the local club level to the Olympic Games. Target bullets are usually coated with grease or wax and should be handled carefully to avoid contamination. Specialized rifle and pistol target loads are available. These 40 grain lead RN bullets are loaded to a velocity just below the speed of sound, to minimize velocity loss and thus wind drift.

The standard velocity .22 Long Rifle takes a wax coated 40 grain RN lead bullet to a muzzle velocity of 1,138 fps. The muzzle energy is 116 ft. lbs. in a standard 22" rifle test barrel. The 40 grain .22 LR bullet has a sectional density (SD) of .216. This is a widely used and economical practice load, excellent for plinking.

High velocity LR cartridges are loaded with copper plated bullets to reduce lead fouling. These come in 40 grain round nose or 36-40 grain hollow point (HP) styles. For small game hunting the expanding hollow point bullet is a more reliable stopper than the solid lead bullet, particularly when body shots are necessary.

The High Velocity cartridge with a 40 grain bullet has an advertised muzzle velocity (MV) of 1255 fps and muzzle energy (ME) of 140 ft. lbs. At 100 yards the numbers are 1017 fps and 92 ft. lbs. The mid-range trajectory of that load is 3.6" over 100 yards. These are Winchester Super-X figures developed in a 6" pistol barrel.

The LR High Velocity HP cartridge is the queen of small game hunting loads. The MV of Winchester's Super-X load with a 37 grain hollow point bullet is 1,280 fps from a 22" test barrel with ME of 135 ft. lbs. The figures at 100 yards are 1015 fps and 85 ft. lbs. The mid-range trajectory of this load is 3.5" over 100 yards.

Zero a scoped .22 rifle using this load to hit 1.4" high at 50 yards and the bullet will not deviate more than 1.5" above or below the line of sight from the muzzle out to about 90 yards. This usefully flat trajectory allows humane head shots on squirrels and rabbits at the ranges at which they are usually hunted. CCI Mini-Mag, Federal Classic, Remington Golden Bullet and Winchester Super-X are all excellent brands of .22 LR hollow point hunting ammunition.

The latest development in Long Rifle hunting ammunition is the hyper-velocity load. Typical of these are the CCI Stinger and Remington Yellow Jacket. Hyper-velocity .22's achieve higher speeds than previous high velocity ammunition at permissible pressure by using light, copper plated, hollow point bullets of about 30-33 grains in front of an increased charge of slightly slower burning powder. This allows a muzzle velocity of about 1,500 fps and a muzzle energy of about 165 ft. lbs. The light bullet sheds velocity and energy quickly, however. At 100 yards the energy has fallen to 85 ft. lbs., about the same as a high velocity HP bullet.

These hyper-velocity .22 LR cartridges are the best choice for a .22 pistol used for personal defence. From the muzzle of a handgun their velocity is about 1260 fps and their energy is about 115 ft. lbs. The Stinger and Yellow Jacket have achieved a one shot stop rate of about 33-34% according to Marshall and Sanow.

Whenever best accuracy is important, test any .22 LR firearm with a variety of ammunition to determine that particular gun's preferences. The accuracy of different loads can vary widely in the same gun. .22 Long Rifle high velocity and hyper velocity hollow point ammunition allows humane hunting of game up to about 7 pounds in weight at .22 ranges with solid hits in the heart/lung area.





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Copyright 2001, 2014 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.


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