by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier

This report addresses:

• The .22 rimfire ammunition supply problem in the U.S.
• One possible solution for an ammo supply
• A great substitution for .22 rimfire

22 bricks
Bricks of .22 rimfire ammo usually have 500 rounds, except the value packs that contain a little extra loose ammo.

The rest of the world may not be aware, but there’s an extreme shortage of .22 rimfire ammo in the United States at the present time. In my 66 years, the last two are the only time I could not walk into a gun store or even a discount store and buy a brick of .22 ammunition.

What’s a brick?
A brick is a carton of 500 rounds. It holds 10 boxes of 50 rounds and is called a brick for the general size, shape and weight of the box. There are also loosely packaged value packs that contain a few more than 500 rounds.

In 2012, a brick of inexpensive .22 ammo cost around $9 to $10, depending on the sale. The nominal price was about $20, but everybody knew that was too much to pay, so we all waited for the sales. Only when our backs were up against it did we bite the bullet (pun intended) and pay full price.

Today, the street price of a brick is $50, but that’s only when you can find one for sale. Many of the stores are now rationing sales with limits on the number of smaller boxes you can buy at one time. Buying whole bricks is pretty much a thing of the past.

I’ve purchased single bricks from Midway for $29 in the past year, but they limit your purchase to just one; and when they add the mandatory $27 HAZMAT fee and shipping, the price increases greatly. If they would sell entire cases of .22 (5,000 rounds), the fees and shipping would disappear in the volume. But that isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

Plenty of .22
There’s no shortage of .22 rimfire ammo in the U.S. The ammo plants are working 3 shifts each day to supply all they can. And the government is no longer buying everything they make. What we have is a run on ammo that cannot be satisfied in the near term. The so-called shortage is being caused by hoarding. This is the reason I reload. I can load .45 ACP rounds for much less than the current cost of .22 long rifle. But .22 is a lot of fun to shoot!

Strategies for getting bricks
You can watch the obituaries and attend the estate sales, but that’s where everybody goes. I would make friends with the supply sergeants! That’s what I did in the Army. Supply sergeants are in control of everything, so go right to the source!

In the civilian world, the supply sergeants are the clerks who work in the gun stores and sporting goods departments of the larger stores. Cozy up to them, and they may let you jump to the front of the line when ammo comes in. I’m not talking about stealing here — I’m talking about being first in line — even before the line forms! When you want something that’s hard to get, this is how it’s done.

But wait — there’s hope!
Actually, this report isn’t about .22 ammo at all. It’s about what can substitute for it. When I was at the Flag City Toys That Shoot airgun show last Saturday, a lot of people were talking about it.

If you just shoot to plink, an air rifle is just as good as a rimfire out at 75 yards. You can go out even farther, but I’m trying to stay conservative. Yes, a lot of air rifles are single-shots, but there are also a lot that are repeaters. And the cost, while higher than the cheap rimfire rifles, isn’t that bad. Especially, since the guns you get for that price will shoot rings around most rimfires out to 50 yards.

A couple years ago, I remember listening to some airgunners bemoan the fact that Crosman Premiers in the cardboard box cost more than $20. You get 625 pellets in that box if they’re .22s and 1,250 if they’re .177s. That was when budget bricks were still selling for $9-10. But those days are over and will never return. When this shortage is finally over, I predict the price of a budget brick will be somewhere around $29-$36, and the sales may lower that to $25 on occasion. That’s just a prediction, of course.

Can a pellet rifle equal a .22 long rifle?
The answer is both yes and no. The new Escape survival rifle from AirForce Airguns produces almost 98 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle when the heaviest .25-caliber Eun Jin pellet is used. That compares favorably to a standard speed or subsonic .22 long rifle cartridge. It’s not quite as powerful, but it’s very close. So, yes, a pellet rifle can equal a .22 rimfire.

But, when you drive that pellet that fast, you don’t get all the accuracy that rifle has to offer. You saw that when I tested the Escape. At max power, that large pellet gave me a 2.48-inch 5-shot group at 50 yards. But when I throttled the gun back and shot JSB Exact King pellets, 5 of them went into 0.715 inches at the same 50 yards.

The fill pressure for that smaller group was just under 2,000 psi, and the power was set at 6 — so the rifle was probably producing around 40 foot-pounds. Before you sneer with derision, because that’s less than half what the gun can do at its best, remember that 40 foot-pounds is still more than a lot of PCP rifles can get when they’re shooting full-out. And that’s my point. Understand what it is that you’re talking about. Yes, a pellet rifle can meet the power of a .22 long rifle, but no, it can’t do it with the same accuracy. Maybe someday in the future, but not today.

Do you really need all that power, or have you fallen into the trap of defining your minimum shooting experience based on what’s out there? Are you a guy who just has to hunt deer with a .30-06 because that’s what “everyone” does, or are you someone who thinks a .28-30-120 might just be the best deer cartridge ever for shots under 100 yards? Don’t ask me what a .28-30-120 is — look it up on the internet and gain some wisdom.

Do airguns replace rimfires?
No! And they never will. There will always be a place for a rimfire or two (or more) in my gun closet. But I’m not going to go out and shoot up all my ammo and then whine about it when I own a battery of fine pellet rifles.

I shoot from 100 to 1,000 shots each and every week of my life, with few exceptions. Most of those shots are with airguns. I do enjoy firearms and I frequently shoot them, and rimfires are among the most fun of all; but I don’t allow the current ammunition shortage to hinder my shooting one bit. I’m an airgunner!