May 20, 2021
.22 Long Rifle Rimfire Cartridge
By: Robert Dunn
I learned to shoot using the .22 Long Rifle rimfire cartridge and it is still one of my favorite and most used rounds. The rimfire’s low felt recoil and quiet report make it a good cartridge for beginning and youth shooters. It is a great small game hunting cartridge as well as being a good round for economical tactical training. While growing up, shooting up a few boxes of .22 rimfire ammo was good cheap fun.
Over the last several years, I have gained a new appreciation for the .22 LR as the prices skyrocketed, and the availability virtually dried up in the marketplace. Luckily, I had several bricks to last through the shortage. I’m glad to see my favorite cartridges back on store shelves and the prices becoming a bit more affordable.
All the .22 rifles I grew up with would chamber and fire the .22 Short, .22 Long and .22 Long Rifle cartridges from the same gun. The predecessors of these .22 caliber rimfire cartridges are the BB Cap and CB Cap rimfire cartridges (Bullet Breech and Conical Ball respectively).
The BB Cap was invented in France sometime in the 1840s for use with indoor target rifles in shooting galleries and close-range pest control. Louis Nicolas Flobert made “Parlor Guns” that would fire the modified percussion caps he developed in 1845.
The BB and CB caps do not use gun powder, they only use the priming compound in the rim to propel the projectile. The 6mm Flobert BB caps are still popular in Europe for close range pest control and are still being manufactured by RWS Ammunition in Germany.
Just as Flobert modified a percussion cap by adding a rim, Smith & Wesson developed a .22 rimfire cartridge by modifying the BB Cap design. Smith & Wesson added gunpowder (black powder) to the cartridge, which was ignited by the priming compound in the rim of the cartridge when struck by the firing pin. This propelled the projectile at a significantly higher velocity than that of BB and CB Caps. After Smith & Wesson struck a deal with inventor Rollin White to use his bored-through revolver cylinder patent, they were able to manufacture their newly designed .22 rimfire revolver and cartridge in 1857.
This .22 rimfire cartridge invented by Smith & Wesson is the cartridge we know as the .22 Short and it is the oldest self-contained cartridge still being manufactured. The first of these .22 rimfire cartridges used copper shell casings rather than the brass cases many manufacturers use today. Eley’s Tenex ammunition still uses a copper alloy case for their high-quality ammunition.
The .22 Long rimfire cartridge came along in 1871 and its case was longer than that of the .22 Short. The .22 Long used a 29 grain bullet and was designed for use in revolvers, but was soon used in rifles as well. Sometime in the early 1880s, the .22 Extra Long cartridge was developed.
In 1887, Stevens Arms and Tool Company developed the .22 Long Rifle rimfire cartridge by utilizing a 40 grain bullet taken from the .22 Extra Long cartridge and the .22 Long’s case. All these rimfire cartridges use a heeled bullet, meaning that the bullet diameter is the same as the case’s diameter and the bottom of the bullet has a smaller diameter “heel” which fits into the case. The case mouth is crimped to the heel/ stem of the bullet. This allows the case and the bullet to be flush where they contact one another.
Though the .22 Short is good for close range pest control and some companies still load the .22 Long, the .22 Long Rifle cartridge reaches the highest velocity and is much more popular worldwide. The .22 Extra Long was not a bad cartridge, but being longer than the .22 Long Rifle, thus not chambering in .22 LR guns, the Extra Long fell out of favor in the 1930s.
Here in the United States, we use a lot of .22 LR. We use it for pest control, hunting, plinking, teaching new or young shooters, competition, indoor self defense and tactical training, as there are .22 conversion kits for many popular firearms (1911, AR-15, Glock, etc.). The .22 LR round is also used in the Olympics, 4H shooting programs, and the Boy Scouts of America use it for training as well. I guarantee many farm animals have been humanely harvested by using .22 Long Rifle cartridges since the late 19th Century.
There are many variations of the .22 Long Rifle cartridge; standard-velocity (1,100 fps), sub-sonic (travels slower than the speed of sound, below 1,100 fps), high-velocity (1,300 fps), hyper-velocity (over 1,400 fps), shot cartridges (for birds, rats, snakes, etc.), tracer and full metal jacket ammo for the military. If you want to shoot a fun and quiet gun, try a .22 LR firearm equipped with a suppressor!
Many folks don’t think of the .22 LR as a good round for self defense, but make no bones about it, a .22 caliber hollow point bouncing around in your body will be unpleasant. The ability to shoot confidently with well placed shots is more likely for those people who do not train much with their larger caliber guns.
When I was a kid there was always talk about “hitmen” using suppressed pistols chambered in .22 LR. I can’t answer to whether they used them or not, but it would make sense that it would do the job, as they are easily suppressed and very quiet when sub-sonic cartridges are used. Also, the guns are light weight and easily concealable, and the properly placed bullets would be lethal. I guarantee that if you score a headshot on any two-legged critter with CCI’s Velocitor ammo, it’s going down.
The .22 Long Rifle cartridge has had many positive improvements since the days of it being a black powder round. Modern propellants and priming compounds are more powerful, reliable, and yield much higher velocities than earlier produced cartridges. Priming compounds used to be made of mercury fulminate and, as we know, mercury is hyper-toxic and not particularly good for our health! Other non-mercury based chemical compounds like lead azide, lead styphnate, and tetrazene are currently being used as priming compounds. The procedure for manufacturing rimfire ammunition has become a safer process.
Modern cartridges use special brass as well as copper alloys for their cases and CCI is even manufacturing lead free bullets made of copper particles and polymer (to comply with California’s lead-free laws). Manufacturing the .22 rimfire cartridge is comparatively a much more complicated process than that of a standard centerfire cartridge. Though it isn’t the easiest process in the world, there are reloading kits available for the .22 LR cartridge, as well as priming compound. It’s actually a relaxing thing to do on a Sunday afternoon!
The .22 LR cartridge will remain one of the bestselling cartridges worldwide as long as there are guns to fire them. If I could only have one gun for the rest of my life, it would be chambered for the flexible .22 Long Rifle rimfire cartridge. In a survival situation, I could hunt for many types and sizes of creatures without tearing the meat up too badly. I could adequately defend myself with .22 rimfires and I could carry a lot of cartridges, as they are small and not very heavy. I have great memories of shooting .22s with my Dad and brothers. The smell of the first few shots of a .22 brings me right back to those lazy days.