In praise of the .22 Long Rifle

What’s your favorite round?  We can argue endlessly about how effective the 9mm Luger round is, how much punishment the .40 S&W or .357 Sig deliver to your handgun, and how many hits to the pinky finger are required to knock someone over with a .45 ACP.  But who among us doesn’t feel affection for the unpretentious .22 Long Rifle?

The .22 caliber, like many other numbers between nothing and .50, has its own family of cartridges for handguns and rifles, and tinkerers and marketing departments will come up with new members that show up, make noise, and fade away or find some niche that needs filling, even if the need has to be stimulated first.  The .22 LR, though, stays with us because it does exactly what it should do.

The .22 goes back a long way—its rimfire grandpa arrived 1845 as a shooting gallery round, and the .22 Short got in just before the American Civil War to make Smith & Wesson a rival to Colt.  The .22 LR itself was born in 1887, a product of the Stevens Arms Co., the latter now owned by Savage Arms.  Other than tweaks to the velocity, the cartridge has stayed the same old-fashioned heeled-bullet round ever since.

That’s because the design is just right.  If you’re introducing a new person to the world of guns, a .22 LR handgun or rifle is a good way to get started.  It’s quieter—but still wear ear protection—and the recoil impulse is slight.  Even for shooters with lots of experience touching off magnum rounds, the Chihuahua sneeze of a .22 is a good break.  Focusing on the front sight and learning how to squeeze the trigger without disturbing your aim comes easier in the beginning (and later on) with a soft-shooting firearm.  How many of us, for example, have used our own .22s or borrowed one from the range when taking the shooting qualification for a carry license.  I took the test for my first permit with a Ruger Mk. III, for example.

Hunters have plenty of their own to say about the value of the .22 LR, but that’s not really a matter of debate.  The round as a choice for self-defense is where the heat shows up in the discussion.  Some tell us it’s not a good idea, while others note the small size that .22 LR handguns allow.  My own take on that question is to say that if you choose this round to protect yourself, spend enough time with it to know how to load rimmed cartridges so they’ll feed and how to deal with such cartridges when they don’t go off as expected, then practice, practice, practice getting bullets on target.

And that’s really the whole point of this article.  What’s the biggest value of the .22 LR?  It’s just plain fun.  That’s an aspect that too often gets forgotten when we talk firearms.  We defend our rights, debate stopping power, and wonder if the latest addition, subtraction, or modification will make a gun propel a bullet down the barrel and out toward a target in a better way.  But a big box of the old .22 and a bunch of tin cans or two-liter soda bottles make for good times on a sunny summer day in Arkansas—and wherever you are, too.

Fight the good fight and stay prepared for the bad things that can happen, but get to the range with a .22 and enjoy yourself.  And take others with you.  In the 2/10 of an inch family, the .22 LR is the member that welcomes us in, finds us a good spot to sit and chat, and makes us feel at home.