.22LR: Truth & Myth
It’s easy for the prepper survivalist to get lost in the endless confusion, attempting to discern between wants and needs. Is it a small knife or big blade? Do you carry a handgun or a rifle? However, it is even more important to determine the difference between what is a trend…and what will actually work in the field. In most cases, the right answer is: it depends on the situation.
The .22 Long Rifle rim-fire cartridge has had an excellent run, and built a legendary reputation, since its inception in 1887. The cartridge itself has been enveloped in tales of unfathomable deeds in the backwoods, taking everything from grizzlies (usually shot in the eye) and field mice (usually shot from the hip). Though, these are stories often repeated by old frontiersmen and armchair online forum dwellers alike. Anecdotal ‘evidence’ might suggest that the .22LR is the ‘do-all’ round, but is this actually true? Is it the perfect survivalist cartridge, providing enough kill power on small game while limiting damage to the meat, yet delivering just enough punishment in a ‘tactical situation’?
It is important to explore what the round can do, and more importantly, what it cannot do. All too often, we envision our own survival situations, handling our trusty Ruger 10/22, dispatching small game by the bundles and carrying home a sack of deceased critters as the sun begins to set, right on time for dinner. We even imagine ourselves bagging a whitetail, because we got a ‘lucky shot between the eyes’. If this is truth, then the .22LR should be the only rifle for the survivalist, but my gut tells me, this is probably not a reasonable expectation of the old cartridge – and you might want to pack other ways of procuring meat sources.
The Two-Fold Achilles Heel of the .22 Long Rifle
I’ve often heard it said, “If you poke enough holes in something, it’ll go down.” Usually, this is said by avid .22LR advocates, defending their ancient heritage or new purchase. While this statement does carry some obvious truth, many experienced outdoorsmen, and especially those who study ballistics might disagree on grounds of practicality.
One of the most crucial aspects of a round’s utility has to do with the hydrostatic shock factor. ‘Hydrostatic shock’ is defined as…
The observation that a penetrating projectile can produce remote wounding and incapacitating effects in living targets, in addition to local effects in tissue caused by direct impact, through a hydraulic effect in liquid-filled tissues.
Referencing an article written by Dave Henderson, it takes a velocity of at least 2,000fps in order to deliver the death-dealing power necessary for an incapacitating strike on the shooter’s target. Essentially, you want the round to hit the target (four-legged critter or two-legged crazy) and make them cease whatever activity they were previously doing, whether grazing, climbing, or pointing a weapon in your direction.
The hottest of hunting .22LR loads are cruising along at 1,280fps at the muzzle. If the shooter wants to reach out to 100 yards, that velocity drops to 1,015fps, about half of what’s needed to achieve the same hydrostatic shock factor that most center-fire hunting rounds can deliver. Simply put, there’s just not enough ‘punch’ to bag that whitetail with a .22LR, likely causing either an agonizing drawn out death by hours of bleeding, or months of injury and subsequent starvation to the noble beast (hence, the legality issue in almost every state).
Also, a slower round is going to have accuracy issues. Of course, we’ve heard of Bob Munden-types lobbing a .22LR, 400 yards into a bowling pin – but let’s face it, 99% of us aren’t that good from a bench, much less in the field. Even with those 1,280fps zingers, you’ve still got a drop of 3.5” at 100 yards, and that’s without having to compensate for wind. With only 37 grains, moving at that velocity, a slight breeze would ruin the shot.
Either way, the survivalist does not harvest the deer, coyote, or raccoon, wastes a round, and in certain scenarios, risked identifying his or her position from the report of the shot.
Also, one more fatal flaw commonly associated with the .22LR has to do with it’s questionable reliability. Indeed, no backwoodsman would ever consider a Savage bolt-action or a Ruger 10/22 as an unreliable rifle. These rifles have offered astounding performance for decades; however, reliability is also heavily dependent on the quality of the rounds being fed. Unfortunately, rim-fire cartridges are disproportionately handicapped in this respect, compared to their center-fire counterparts. Primers, insufficient pressure, and quality control are usually the culprits.
If you’re shooting a rim-fire cartridge and the bad guy in your sights is shooting a center-fire cartridge, pray you didn’t get a rough batch from the factory.
Why You Still Need a .22LR
Nevertheless, while the .22LR might have its drawbacks, it’s important for us to remind ourselves that we are mistaken if we attempt to identify a ‘do-all’ round. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, especially in terms of firearms. All cartridges have their strengths and weaknesses, and the .22LR is no exception.
And, the .22LR does have strengths…lots and lots of strengths.
Talk to any .22LR owner and they will laugh at you after telling them how much you spent on ammunition for your centerfire. This is perhaps one of the most obvious strengths of the old cartridge. Being able to spend less than $20 on a 500-round ‘brick’ of ammo is what has .22LR lovers shooting, while everyone else on the firing line has shot their budget and gone home.
Of course, from the survivalist’s perspective, being able to carry 1,000 rounds of any kind of ammo is a lovely proposition. A fifth of that in .308 is still tediously heavy but in .22LR, carrying that amount of ammunition is a breeze. The .22LR is a tiny round without much brass, lead, or powder.
Do you remember how I said that the .22LR is inferior to most hunting cartridges because of it’s low velocity? The interesting part is the fact that the .22LR is superior to other hunting cartridges…because of its low velocity. Without the presence of hydrostatic shock, meat does not get obliterated upon penetration. Thus, you can take rabbit all day long, preserving the meet with a .22LR, whereas a .223 would leave nothing but a mangled attempt at acquiring a meal.
Simply put, the .22LR is the best selling ammunition on the globe for good reason. Brad Zozak, from TruthAboutGuns, calls the Ruger 10/22, “the single most popular firearm of all time.” In a SHTF scenario, you might not be able to replace the stock on your Springfield M1A – but check any abandoned farmhouse, and you’ll most likely find replacement parts for your 10/22 (and probably .22LR rounds to go with it).
The Purpose of the .22LR
Overall, the .22LR should not be expected to perform the functions of other, better-suited rifles. At the same time, one should also not expect a .30-06 to effectively take and preserve the meat off small game – arguably the type of game you’d want to harvest in the first place.
However, the survivalist that hopes to sling a Ruger 10/22, trek through the woods, and be sustained on that alone is unfortunately mistaken. It takes the ability to hunt big game to survive (both for the nutritional value and also for the other resources that can be procured from the beast), meaning that a centerfire-hunting rifle is absolutely crucial over the long haul.
If the survivalist hopes to remain true to the craft (and not kick the bucket in the backwoods), it takes more than just the possession of a .22LR rifle. It takes the ability to trap and forage for wild edibles in order to live in somewhat of a comfortable state of self-reliance. One needs to intelligently pack for survival scenarios. From carrying knives to packing a fire starter, everything needs to be picked thoughtfully. The legendary frontiersmen of the 19th and 20th centuries relied more on their survival kits than they did on their rifles, and for good reason.
The .22LR is a fantastic survival cartridge, but it shouldn’t be your only option for filling your game bag and your gut. Stay safe, keep your guns ready, knives sharp, and never forget to memorize the basics of preparedness.
About the Author – Usman is a writer, outdoor enthusiast, technology lover, and knife collector.