The development of the .22 rimfire cartridge: Part 4

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

A history of airguns

This report covers:

  • .22 Magnum
  • Revolvers first
  • Longer range
  • Accuracy
  • Cost
  • Advances
  • .22 hyper velocity rounds
  • Specialty rounds
  • Summary

Today we will look at the .22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire (WMR). round. An argument can be made for it advancing the rimfire cartridge in significant ways. Then I will address the hyper velocity rounds in the Long Rifle class. And finally I’ll give a quick nod to some specialty rounds. Let’s begin.

.22 Magnum

This cartridge was launched in 1959 by the Winchester corporation. It received a lot of immediate attention from the gun press, as well as from little boys like me. I wasn’t able to buy firearms in 1959, so it would be a couple decades before I actually shot a .22 Magnum, but all the gun journals were loaded with stories from guys who could and did shoot it. So, I read and dreamed.

22 Mag and 22 Long Rifle
The .22 Long Rifle (left) is dwarfed by the .22 Magnum.

The original cartridge was a lengthened .22 WRF case, but the metal was strengthened to take higher pressures. The first bullet was a 40-grain full metal jacket, soon followed by a 40-grain jacketed soft point. Velocity from a 24-inch rifle barrel was 2,000 f.p.s. Compare that to the 1,250 f.p.s. that high speed .22 Long Rifles rounds were getting at the time and you can see what an advance it was.

Like the WRF, the WMR round was not loaded with a heeled bullet, so the bore diameter was 0.224-inches instead of 0.2225-0.223-inches for the Long Rifle. That made converting an existing .22 Long Rifle firearm impossible. The bore would have been too tight, leading to excessive pressures. It also made “convertible” guns that shot both cartridges, like the Ruger Single Six revolver, less than accurate with one or both rounds.

Revolvers first

Oddly, Winchester was not the first to produce a firearm for their new cartridge. They waited until 1960 to bring out their model 61 slide-action repeater, and by then both Ruger and S&W had revolvers for it, plus Savage was chambering their model 24 combination gun for it.

Longer range

Not only was the cartridge more powerful, it also extended the useful hunting range of the .22 rimfire round by at least 25 yards, and more realistically, 50 yards. It was between the .22 Long Rifle and the .22 Hornet centerfire cartridges.

Accuracy

Accuracy at first was nothing to shout about. One-inch groups at 100 yards were impossible with the .22 Mag. Slowly over the years this did improve and today the .22 Mag. will keep pace with the .22 Long Rifle at 100 yards. And of course it has a much farther useful range. And the convertible gun thing that shot both .22 Long Rifle and .22 Magnum seems to have been resolved, as well. Like anything new, development takes time.

Cost

The .22 Mag round costs roughly twice what the Long Rifle costs, or even a little bit more. If anything, the cost of ammo has kept the cartridge from the overwhelming success of the smaller Long Rifle round. So people don’t buy a .22 Magnum to plink with. Unless they just shoot it once a year they probably use it for hunting.

I was once writing a feature article for Shotgun News about a new .22 Magnum semiautomatic and my editor walked me over to the CCI booth at the NRA show to tell them to send me some ammo. They sent two 500-round bricks! I still have some of that ammo many years later. Without that kind of support it would be hard for me to justify shooting this round.

Advances

The .22 Magnum didn’t stand still, either. Not only was the initial 40-grain ammo upgraded over the years, other loadings were added to the lineup — everything from a 30-grain polymer-tipped spitzer bullet that goes 2,250 f.p.s. to a 45 grain jacketed hollowpoint that is subsonic. Shades of the .22 WRF! There is even a shotshell. But the advances aren’t as broad as they are for the .22 Long Rifle round, and that is because the demand for .22 Magnum is just a fraction of the market for the smaller cartridge.

.22 hyper velocity rounds

One thing that kept the lid on the .22 Magnum round was the introduction of .22 Long Rifle rounds that delivered much higher velocity. First to market in 1967 was the .22 Stinger from CCI. Offering a 32-grain bullet that leaves the muzzle at 1,640 f.p.s. and is safe to fire in all modern .22 rifles that are in good condition, the Stinger featured a teardrop cavity in its nose that ensured devastating expansion in small game. The Stinger case is longer than the Long Rifle case 0.71 to 0.595-inches, but the shorter bullet compensates for the length.

Other hyper velocity .22 rounds have bullets that are even lighter (28 grains) and travel even faster — up to 1,800 f.p.s. If it’s speed you’re after, these rounds are a less expensive way to get it. However, be aware that there may be an unwanted consequence. Hyper velocity rounds may not be as accurate in a given rifle as standard and high velocity rounds. And, they are next to useless in handguns, because the powder they are loaded with needs a longer barrel to burn completely. All you get is a large muzzle blast of powder burning outside the barrel.

Specialty rounds

Besides everything I have covered there are several specialty rounds on .22 rimfire ammunition. One is the shot cartridge that’s loaded with a pinch of number 12 shot, or what was once called dust shot. The range is very limited because of the light weight of the balls. I had zero luck with them against carpenter bees.

Then there are a number of match rounds that cost considerably more than any other .22 rimfire ammo. You pay for the additional care that goes into managing the production of these rounds, and the cost can be 5 times higher.

Summary

That’s about it for .22 rimfire ammo. This 4-part series has taken us from the invention of percussion powder in 1805 up to today’s production that numbers in the billions of rounds each year. The .22 rimfire cartridge is the most significant cartridge ever produced, and it’s influence continues to expand even today — 161 years after Smith & Wesson introduced the .22 Short to the world.

Several reader have asked me to write another series that includes the .17 rimfire rounds. It won’t be as long, but it will certainly be interesting.

67 thoughts on “The development of the .22 rimfire cartridge: Part 4

  1. B.B.,

    As soon as I read “number 12 shot” I thought snake shell! Then a second later I read, “I had zero luck with them against carpenter bees.” Well, I guess if a .22’s worth of it won’t tackle carpenter bees, a snake would barely cough. i can’t even imagine what size No.12 would be. Lead powder, perhaps? Maybe it would look like caviar.

    Michael


    • Michael
      I shot a 45 1911 pistol with some of this type shot, perhaps a bit larger, at a plastic cup on the ground just in front of me to test the pattern. It covered the entire cup and I believe there were some places about a half inch in area where nothing hit. The cup remained in tact, not much devastation.
      Perhaps a rifle would keep a tighter pattern.
      Here’s a pic of a 22LR with #12 Shot. About as thick as your thumb nail.


    • Michael,

      I have killed running rats at 2 paces with the snake shells in a pistol. I would not underestimate that little round. At close range that little round can be pretty rough on small critters.

      I have never tried those plastic rounds Bob M is talking about.


      • Ridgerunner,

        But the shot was lead or an alloy, I assume. How was it packed into the cartridge/shell?

        Were you using .22 LR with #12, or was it something packing more of a wallop? I have seen photos of .45ACP with lead shot.

        Michael


    • Michael/BB,
      As Ridge runner said, Don’t under estimate the shot shell! In the right gun, it has wonderful effects. I was never crazy about them out of my rifles. Then one day I tired them in an old worn old cheap revolver that the rifling was all but gone. It shot a much better pattern. So I bought a Steven’s Crack shot with the smooth bore. I could not believe the difference. Carpenter bees were no problem. Neither were snakes, mice and many other bug & critters. It held a nice tight pattern. Shooting coke cans at 6 to 10 yards was fun. I did have better luck with the “Crimped” shot shells vs the CCI plastic end ones. I found a guy that wanted my Stevens worse than me, so I sold it (here we go again, can’t believe I did that). I then bought a Steven’s bolt action smooth bore. It shot ok, but was no where as good as the crack shot. It seem to spread the shot out more so I lost a little range. The crack shot may have had a little tighter “choke”.

      Doc


      • I can only believe that the 22 mag shot shell out of a smooth bore would really be good. I’ve shot them out of a rifled barrel with not much luck. Marlin made a bolt action 22 mag “Garden” gun with a smooth bore. I always wanted one, but never got one. CCI is 31 grains of shot in LR and 52 grains of shot in Mag.

        Doc


  2. BB,

    First my experiences with the .22 WMR. My father bought me one when I was a young teen so I would quit using his 5mm Magnum. After missing several groundhogs and listening to him say it was my fault all summer, we were at the range and shot it from a bench rest. At 100 yards it produced a six inch ten shot group. We sold it.

    On to the .22 LR. My son-in-law bought a Henry carbine a few years ago. About three years ago we took it and six different high and hyper velocity rounds to try in it. Of what we had with us, it turned out the slowest one, CCI Mini-Mags, were the most accurate. They produced 1.25 inch ten shot groups at 50 yards.

    This past year we took three standard velocity rounds to the range. All of them produced 1 inch or better groups with the Aquila producing a .75 inch ten shot group at 50 yards.

    What good is 500+ FPE if you can’t hit what you are shooting at?



      • B.B.,

        I hope accuracy is still possible at high velocities. We U.S. taxpayers are in a race with the Chinese to develop electromagnetic railguns that will propel 23 pound projectiles at speeds in excess of Mach 7 with a range of over 100 miles. It looks like the weapon of the future for Destroyers and anti-aircraft.

        23 pounds at Mach 7 generates something like 175,000 foot-pounds of energy.

        Michael


  3. I’ve owned a 22 mag for almost 20 years killed countless squirrels some so far by the time I walked to find them it took me 10 minutes to find one . You quickly learn head shots only at one time federal made a 50 grain round for it not sure if it’s still around . BB what about a quick touch on the 5mm Remington I once thought the 22 mag was headed that way from lack of ammo harder to find than 22lr at times but I think it’s safe for now



    • Buckaroo,

      The 5mm Remington Magnum. It was an awesome little rifle and an awesome little round. What doomed it was Remington had a patent on the round. When Remington stopped manufacturing it, no one could make them until many years later. By that time several manufacturers were making the .22 WMR and the competition, the quality control and the accuracy improved. Now that the patent has expired, occasionally a manufacturer has done runs of the 5mm Remington Magnum, but with the advent of the .17 rimfires the demand has been so low the demand for them is about zip.

      Personally I would like to see it make a comeback, but that is not likely going to happen.


      • Well, this one will be a bit of a rambler. I have a 5mm bolt action with a 4X Weaver on it. I also invested big time in 8 Track Tapes and in the BETA vcr format so you see where I’m coming from 🙂

        I purchased a couple of boxes of Remington branded ammo when I both the rifle used at a gun shop in the early 70’s. I soon acquired my firstt M29 so the the 5mm went to the back of the gunrack (no safes way back then).

        They say the that Lord protects the ignorant and I have to believe it’s true as I had the bright idea to try shooting one of the jacketed 5mm bullets out of my old Sheridan Blue Streak… how you may ask..I used a kinetic bullet puller to pull down a RIMFIRE round..not my brightest moment gang. Well it came apart without incident but , of course the bullet got stuck int ehSheridan and had to be pounded out.

        By the time I used up the Remington ammo the cartridge was kaput, then some years later, I came across it being made by Aguila, the folks that also make those cute little mini shot shells. The gun shoots OK but it’s not something I reach for much anymore.

        BTW, after my audio and video fiascos I did learn, no 12 inch Laserdiscs or DAT Audio stuff for me!

        Kevin in CT


        • Kevin in CT,

          Hey, the best sounding home audio source component is still 1/4 inch tape at 15 ips, slightly better than the very best vinyl system — and less expensive. Even 7.5 ips is quite good.

          An old friend of mine owned a high-end audio and home theater store in the 1980s and 1990s. He carried Pioneer Laserdisc players and discs. When he saw the format was not going to make it, he put five or six new machines on shelves in his basement (a lifetime supply of players).

          As a dealer, he had every single title (it wasn’t many, under 1000 for certain) that had come out in the format. I’m sure they still look good, even compared to Blue Ray.

          Michael


          • Michael
            You are correct when you say 1/4 inch tape has better sound then todays audio formats like CDs, etc. My daughter is a musician, and we recorded Hank Williams’ Lonesome Me ,and Don Gibson’s Sea of Heartbreak when she was home for Christmas. Proof that great music lives on, no matter the genre. We first used Pro Tools on my iMac, and then recorded the same songs my TEAC A-3440 that I bought new in 1978-9. TEAC was the first to include the simul-sync function for 1/4 inch tape, making high quality home recording accessible to all. Previously, you had to shell out thousands for a 1/2 inch tape player, or book time in a studio. It has just two speeds, 71/2 inch per second, and the full 15 ips. Anyhow, we both agreed at 15 ips, the TEAC was able to capture a truer sound of vocals, or instruments. This makes it a pleasure to mix down to whatever format you want. About the only downside to the TEAC is the weight. I would guesstimate it weighing 75lbs, and probably more like 80+. Thats nowhere near as portable as a laptop containing audio programs like Garage Band, or Pro Tools.
            Just as an aside, it seems the lowly cassette tape is making a huge comeback with today’s young bands, as well as vinyl records in red, green, pink, etc. CD’s seem to be frowned upon.
            Ciao
            Titus


            • Titus Groan,

              Hank WIlliams would sound good on a wire recorder! ;^)

              Those Teacs were/are great. I had an Akai in the early 1980s and used Teacs and Studor Revox (SUPER nice) machines in a production studio when I was a disc jockey in the late 1970s.

              Vinyl is good if it’s good vinyl. But LP equipment is sooo expensive today for new good stuff. It IS really amazing, though, and would put my old Dual to shame. A nice table with an outboard motor, a high-end tonearm, cartridge, and stylus. Sweet, but crazy expensive.

              I had a Nakamichi cassette deck back in the day, but in retrospect, those were frankly an exercise in rabbit dropping polishing.

              Michael


  4. Great write up, B.B.!
    My wife bought me a Ruger Single Six back in 2000; it’s the stainless model with the 5-1/2″ barrel and it wears the .22 magnum cylinder permanently. The shot cartridges in that caliber far out-perform the .22 LR; I got snake killing patterns out to 25 feet with the .22 magnum. The gun also shoots great with Winchester 40 grain hollow points. Hence, this is my boat gun. At home, it’s loaded with Hornady 45 grain critical defense ammo (which it also shoots well). The ,22 magnum is great caliber! And I do plink with it; the gun is so cool that I don’t mind buying ammo for it. Also, every woman I have taught to shoot picked the Ruger Single Six .22 magnum as their favorite gun for “shootability.”
    This has been a very interesting series; thanks again, B.B. =)


  5. B.B.

    Interesting series, I am curious how they solved the problem?

    “And the convertible gun thing that shot both .22 Long Rifle and .22 Magnum seems to have been resolved, as well. Like anything new, development takes time”

    -Y


  6. Hey B.B.

    Really enjoyed this series and would welcome one on the 5mm, .17 and .25 rimfires.

    I always wanted a .22 magnum but never had the cash for one. From RR’s comments I guess that it is just as well. Similarly, I had an interest in the 5mm and .17 but never got one – curious what you can write about those cartridges.

    Used to trout fish in Adirondacks a lot. A friend there had a Ruger Six that we would plink with – loved that pistol but all the restrictions in Canada stop me from owning one. Still think about getting a Six, might take a look at the regulations again.

    On the .22 shot shell cartridges. A friends Mother was deathly afraid of the bats at their cottage. His Father tried the shot shells to get rid of them but because of the rifling the pattern was too wide and thin to be effective. Long story short, I ended up removing the rifling and polishing a “bell choke” in his semi-automatic. After the mod it could shoot a respectable pattern out to 20 feet. I hated to ruin a new rifle like that but it was that or they would have ended up selling the cottage. His Father insisted on giving me a semi-automatic as payment for my work and that is how I earned my Mossberg 352K rifle.

    Happy Monday all!!

    Hank


  7. From the piece: “First to market in 1967 was the .22 Stinger from CCI. Offering a 32-grain bullet that leaves the muzzle at 1,640 f.p.s”

    That’s really nice power.

    Also, regarding the Rimfire in general: The fact that ammo makers can’t keep up with demand is a testament to the platforms insane popularity. It must be the most-used gun in America by a huge margin; perhaps the most popular of all time.


  8. The .22 long rifle shot shells I remember as a kid had the crimped nose cartridges. They kind of looked like those nail gun cartridges. The plastic nose didn’t come till later on. And I did have some luck with them in barns out to 15 yards on mice. But that’s about it. Birds out at farther distances like 20 yards was useless.

    And the CCI stinger’s I remember as a kid had a metal pointed star pressed down inside the hollow point cavity. I wonder if they are still like that. Or if they are just segmented hollow points.

    Speaking of segmented. I just bought a couple bricks of the CCI 710 fps 40 grain hollow point segmented rounds. The break into 3 banana shaped wedges when they hit. Well it has to be something like wood or a animal for them to break apart. They still mushroom when hitting a spinner. And I thought they wouldn’t be as accurate as the the similar CCI’s in round nose but they are. I was hitting a 2 litre soda bottle yesterday with my Savage at a hundred yards. Then I went one step farther. Took the scope off. Basically for the reason it’s going on my Gauntlet when it gets here. But I was still able to hit the 2 liter soda bottle at a hundred yards once I learned how much holdover I needed with the open sights. Basically I could see the whole front post above the rear sight while placing the top of the rear sight at the 6 o’clock position on the bottle. Now that was fun I do have to say.


  9. B.B.,

    I still have a few CCI .22 Stingers. The last time I shot a couple, the still sounded like new. They have been kept at room temperature since the late 70’s. I will probably not shoot any more.

    I don’t want to make a habit of this, but I do want to show you my latest at 50 yards. This is with my .177 F4 using Crosman Copper Premier Magnum pellets. Temperature was mild, any breeze was very light. This was at 17:30. I hesitate to call this a group, but it is 24 shots right at 3 inches. The back stop is an old metal computer cover. Now I need to make sure I am sighted in at 20 yards and calculate my hold over, such as it is.




        • TT
          I guess your talking about the stingers? If so does yours have the metal star pressed in the hollow point or just a star shaped hollow point?

          The low velocity (710 fps 40 grain segmented hollow points) have just a round hole for the hollow point. I can’t see three points in the opening. But sure enough if I fire into a 2×4 at 50 yards they absalutly break into 3 of the wedges. And they will hold a inch at 50 yards.

          So that makes me wonder what size groups did you get with yours and what bullets exactly were they?




            • TT
              What I remember of the stingers when I was a kid was it was something new and wanted to try them. Well new to me according to BB they were out for 4 years already by time I got some. But as kids we plinked and hunted with air guns, .22 rimfire and shot guns. But thought with that star in them and how fast they shot should blow some stuff up when we shot them. And that mostly was blowing up dirt clods. But I distinctly remember I bought 2 box’s of 100 of the stingers. And I remember we did shoot them all up that same day. But as far as hunting goes I don’t think we ever tryed hunting with them. That was the only time I bought them. And if I remember right they was double the cost of regular rimfire cartridges. So that didn’t go over to good as a kid either.


              • GF

                I used standard velocity or match for squirrel. Yellow Jackets for groundhogs early in the year when they were still thin. Minimag hollowpoints for them later in the year when they had a thick layer of fat. Point of aim was also a consideration with both kinds of groundhog ammo.

                tt


      • Gunfun1,

        I will have to look at the stingers and see. I might not have ever noticed before.

        Yes, the F4 is a nitro piston break barrel, and inexpensive. I plan to obtain some better pellets than what I have. Of course, there is no guarantee since I won’t know how they shoot from this rifle until I try them. They will be the ones that have proven accurate in numerous rifles, though. Of course, I may need to improve my skills, regardless.

        ~ken




    • Doc,

      Talk about dreaming. When I was an adolescent in the ’60s, the local G.I. Surplus had a few Enfield Jungle Carbines for sale complete with the flared flash hider . The were all of about $40.00, which was as good a $4000.00 for me, totally out of reach. Besides, I would have had to have a qualified adult make the purchase.

      This bb long gun (probably not rifled) look like a winner, though.

      ~ken



      • Gunfun,
        Me too!. If it comes to the US, they’ll need to change that claim of being the most powerful bb shooter though. The Morph also does 600 fps. I’m not counting all the dual ammo pump rifles though. Just dedicated bb shooters…smooth bores.

        Doc



          • Our .177-BB CO2-powered Short Magazine Lee Enfield (SMLE) built under license from Lee Enfield (Guns) Limited will be on sale through a major distributor in the USA in the near future.
            We are currently finalising the production version and making sure that it meets the standards of fit, finish and reliability that customers have a right to expect.
            A sample of the production version will be sent to BB Pelletier for review in the very near future.
            Please do not hesitate to contact our company in England if you have any queries about our new SMLE airgun and our other Lee Enfield licensed products.
            Best wishes from England to Tom, everyone at Pyramidair and the many readers of Tom’s consistently incisive blog.
            From:
            Charlie Shepherd
            Sales Director for The Shooting Party
            in Shenstone, Staffordshire, England


  10. BB/anyone,

    [Off topic.] I had a 3-9x rimfire scope on my Crosman 2250 that had an oval rather than a circular eye piece, both now gone. I’d love to have another for my new Custom Shop 22xx but cannot find one anywhere. Can someone help me out here?

    Thanks!




        • Chris,

          It is cool to look through and for a sub 20 dollar scope it really does work well but I do prefer the larger scopes like centerpoint and hawk, much brighter image due to the larger objective lens.

          Do a search for Redfield Widefield and you will see that they actually had an oval lens system which looked really sweet, mine looks round till you look through it.

          Mike



      • B.B.

        I did not know about the Redfield Widefield scopes they look very nice and I found that this view is in fact called a tv reticle, well perhaps a TV from the 50’s 60’s , do you know why they fell out of favor?

        My searches to find a recent manufacture of this style have fallen flat, only round scopes seem to be available.

        Mike



  11. Thanks again to BB for a very well done piece.

    I have the stainless 5 1/2 inch single six with both cylinders. I use it to introduce my Canadian visitors to handguns. Because of obnoxious laws, many of them have never held a handgun, much less fired one, and purely from unfamiliarity have a certain degree of discomfort. In every single case, including many females, the discomfort transitioned quite quickly to a large grin.

    From here we move on to a Ruger Mark II target and the grin gets bigger. All have moved on to shoot centerfire with zeal, often with impressive results. The Taurus Judge is one of the absolute favorites, a sort of pinnacle for the new shooters. Its surprisingly comfortable in .45 long colt or .410, more so in fact than most semi-autos. All particularly enjoy reactive targets like full soda cans.

    Mine shoots LR very well but I’ve never done accuracy testing vs the Magnum. I’m inspired now to do it, with some chrony testing as well.

    UPS tried to deliver my HPA tank while we were away today, so I’m expecting it tomorrow. It’s been a long wait. The single six will have to wait.


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