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Art Lander’s Outdoors: The .22 long rifle, the leader in sales worldwide and first firearm experience for many


A leader in sales both nationally and worldwide, the .22 Long Rifle is arguably the most popular cartridge of all time.

For many rural Kentuckians or city folks who grew up in a family of hunters and shooters, their first experience with firearms was likely with this small rimfire cartridge.

The .22 Long Rifle is arguably the most popular cartridge of all time (Photo courtesy of Art Lander)

Rifles, semi-automatic pistols and revolvers are chambered for the inexpensive, accurate, easy shooting .22 Long Rifle. Its low recoil and relatively low noise level make the cartridge the top choice for introductory firearms courses at schools, camps and 4H, where gun safety and marksmanship are stressed.

The .22 Long Rifle is an ideal cartridge for recreational “plinking,” shooting metal cans or small plastic bottles filled with water. It adds challenge to small-game hunting, demanding a high level of marksmanship to bag squirrels and rabbits, and excels in pest control, dispatching a nuisance raccoon that invades the chicken coop, or the groundhog dining in the family garden.

The inherent accuracy of the .22 Long Rifle and the wide availability of “match grade” ammunition and high-quality target rifles, fuels small-bore competition at the high school college, international, and Olympic levels.

Origin of the .22 Long Rifle

.22 caliber rimfire cartridge (Photo courtesy of CCI Ammunition)

The first .22 caliber rimfire cartridge was the .22 BB Cap (Bulleted Breech Cap), invented by Louis-Nicolas Flobert in 1845.

The low-velocity cartridge was designed for indoor target shooting.

The case did not contain any powder, with the only propellant being a percussion cap. Next came the .22 Short, developed in 1857, followed by the .22 Long in 1871, which was initially loaded with black powder.

Stevens Arms, now a division of Savage Arms, founded by Joshua Stevens in 1864 in Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts, introduced the .22 Long Rifle cartridge in 1887.

Cartridge Construction and Performance

The .22 Long Rifle uses a heeled bullet, which means the bullet is the same diameter as the case and has a narrower “heel” base that fits in the case.

.22 Long Rifle cartridge in 1887 (Photo courtesy of Federal Ammunition)

Its case length is .613 inches, with a rim diameter of .278 inches, and when loaded, the cartridge has an overall length of one inch.

Ammunition available today includes Match grade, Standard velocity, High velocity and Hyer-velocity, with bullet weights of 30 to 60 grains, and muzzle velocities ranging from below 1,000 feet per second (subsonic) to 1,640 feet per second.

Rimfire bullets are generally either plain lead with a wax coating, for standard velocity loads, or plated with copper or gilding metal, for high velocity or hyper-velocity loads. The thin copper layer on plated bullet functions as a lubricant reducing friction between the bullet and the barrel, thus reducing barrel wear. Plating also prevents oxidation of the lead bullet.

Zero-in Rifles Chambered in the .22 Long Rifle

When zeroed in at 100 yards, the arc-trajectory of the high velocity .22 Long Rifle with a 40-grain bullet has a 2.7-inch rise at 50 yards and a 10.8-inch drop at 150 yards.

For that reason scoped rifles chambered for the .22 Long Rifle should be zeroed in at about 75 yards, to avoid shooting high at small targets at intermediate ranges.

Ricochets are common with the .22 LR so a safe background is recommended when target practicing.

The combination of solid, unjacketed bullets and relatively low velocities, allows the projectile to deflect, not penetrate or disintegrate, when hitting hard objects, or the surface of the water, at a glancing angle.

.22 Long Rifle Conversion Kits for Handguns

A .22 Long Rifle conversion kit (Photo courtesy of Advantage Arms, Inc.)

.22 Long Rifle conversion kits are available for some semi-automatic centerfire handguns.

The kits enable practice at a much-reduced cost and are ideal for introducing a new shooter to handguns.

A popular conversion kit, in high demand, is the Advantage Arms , Inc. kit for Glock handguns, which includes a slide, with .22 barrel and spring, 10-round magazine, loader and range bag.

The conversion kit makes it possible to shoot .22 Long Rifle ammunition through a 9mm, .40 S&W, or other caliber Glock handguns. The kits costs about $300, is available for Glock Generation 3, 4 and 5 handguns, models 17 through 39.

For more information, visit www.glockstore.com

Ammunition Availability

Ammunition is packaged in boxes of 50 or 100, a “brick” carton containing either 10 boxes of 50 rounds or loose cartridges totaling 500 rounds, buckets of 1,400 cartridges, or a “case” containing 10 bricks totaling 5,000 rounds.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation estimates that the annual production of the .22 Long Rifle is a large percentage of the more than 10 billion cartridges produced in the U.S. annually.

The .22 Long Rifle is a cartridge that was developed more than 130 years ago yet its popularity with hunters, target shooting competitors, and recreational “plinkers” has withstood the test of time.

This all-purpose, fun little rimfire will always loom large in our hunting and shooting memories.

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Art Lander Jr. is outdoors editor for KyForward. He is a native Kentuckian, a graduate of Western Kentucky University and a life-long hunter, angler, gardener and nature enthusiast. He has worked as a newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and author and is a former staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine, editor of the annual Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide and Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide, and co-writer of the Kentucky Afield Outdoors newspaper column.


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