Of all the factory-made ammo cartridges in the world today, the lowly .22 rimfire is by far the most popular and plentiful. It’s also the first self-contained metallic cartridge ever made! In the middle of the nineteenth century, the first manufactured cartridges were .22 rimfire BB Caps. “BB” is short for Breech-loading Bullets, and “Caps” were simply percussion caps, fitted with the small .22 bullet. The original cartridges didn’t even contain any gunpowder! The bullets were propelled only by the priming compound that was deposited in the hollow rim at the base of the cartridge case. Naturally, the load wasn’t very powerful at all, but it was ideal for shooting galleries, even indoor ones.
In 1857 Smith & Wesson made a neat little 303 British ammo revolver chambered for .22 Short cartridges, the oldest factory-loaded cartridges still in production today. In time, these cartridges became longer and more powerful, until they were made long enough to make sense for use in rifle barrels. Hence, the .22 “Long Rifle” cartridges came into existence in 1887.
Today the .22LR is available in bullet weights anywhere from about 20 to 45 grains, including shot loads. Every imaginable shape of bullet has been produced, from the simple round nose to bizarre, space-age looking projectiles. And just as the fast-food restaurant proudly proclaims, “Billions and billions have been served,” there is no way to even begin to calculate just how many .22 rimfire cartridges have been manufactured and shot throughout the years.
Because the .22 has been historically cheap and plentiful, as well as easy to shoot, it has been used-and misused-in an infinite set of circumstances. Opinions on the merits of the .22 vary accordingly. Some rate it second to a spit-wad, while others consider it suitable for inter-galactic warfare. It is neither. Though small, it can effectively kill, and has been used in survival and last-resort defense situations. Though lethal, it is most suitable for small game, targets, and recreational shooting.
Yes, I’m quite sure some lucky fellow somewhere took a hundred direct hits from a .22 LR at point-blank range and survived with nary a problem, while another fool instantly dispatched of twelve elephants a hundred yards away with only ten shots from his .22 pistol! Perhaps you’ve heard similar stories. We’re all better off to disregard such babble, and apply the proper cartridge to the appropriate circumstance, especially when shooting the .22 rimfire.
The current ammo shortage-especially in .22–may have a lot of folks worrying and wondering if they will ever be able to keep their favorite firearms fed. But I am certain that things will turn around soon. In fact, we’re starting to see some catching up out there on the supply side, little by little. So be patient; supplies of .22 ammo will once again be plentiful and inexpensive, hopefully sooner than later. And rest assured that when supplies do increase, we’ll have all the loads you’re looking for, for whatever application you need.
Note–This article is part of a series of brief overviews on some of our more popular cartridges. Our goal is not to promote or downgrade any particular load, much less settle any bets you might have with your shooting buddies. We simply want to offer some basic information to anyone who might be interested. If you find this article useful in selecting a certain cartridge for a specific purpose, great! But remember this-every cartridge and load has its limitations and boundaries, and we strongly urge you to respect them religiously. NEVER, EVER, push the limits of safety and common sense, nor use any type of ammunition in any way other than what it was designed for! No exceptions!