The .22 Ammunition Trials



Since the .22 long rifle cartridge is one of the old stand-bys of both small game hunting and plinking, and is also held by many (myself included) to be a more than adequate “survival round”, I thought it would be a good idea to actually test which loads might be best suited to differing field conditions and game size. While recognizing that the .22lr is by no means a legitimate hunting cartridge for anything but small game and varmints, it is also quite possible that a man with a .22 rifle in his hands while lost in the woods might need to take larger game than the cartridge was intended to deal with. This series of tests is meant to find a load, or loads, that would allow the .22lr rifle to handle the role of gathering game in less-than-ideal circumstances. This is not meant to be a treatise on poaching or “hunting” with the .22lr on game larger than is usual for the cartridge. Disclaimers aside, let’s get to the “meat” of the subject, shall we?

I tested 6 different loads for penetration (shooting my M6) and 9 loads for consistency of POA/POI from my scoped 10/22. The M6 has a barrel length of 18.25, while the 10/22 has a barrel length of 18.5, so the penetration would be almost identical for either rifle. And while I didn’t test all of the same loads for POA/POI consistency in the M6 that I shot in the 10/22, I have shot enough different loads in my M6 to know that almost all rounds shoot pretty close to each other; also, this is much less critical with the M6, as it has peep sights.

Loads tested for penetration were CCI Quik Shoks (a pre-fragmented, hyper velocity HP), CCI Stingers (a very hyper velocity HP which weighs only 32 gr), CCI Velocitors (another hyper velocity HP, although not quite as fast as the others, and with a 40 gr bullet), Remington Vipers (hyper velocity truncated cone solid, designed for penetration as opposed to expansion), Federal’s bulk pack HP’s (high velocity, 36 gr bullet), and as a control of sorts, the Remington Thunderbolt (40 gr round nose solid, standard velocity) about as “generic” a .22lr load as you can find.

All shooting, whether for penetration/expansion or accuracy was done at 15 yards, over a bench of sorts in my backyard. My “bench” consists of a table with a bag under the rifle’s forearm, and while I don’t have the most scientific of accoutrements or devices, at least all of the rounds were shot in the same manner, leading to uniformity. Also, the lack of high tech gizmos means that just about anyone can do these tests for him or herself to check my results, and there will be consistency among all the tests. That’s about all that really counts in an informal test such as this, anyway.

To test a round’s expansion as well as penetration, I used a number of 1 gallon milk jugs filled with water at ambient temperature; the number of jugs set in a row was dependent upon how much I expected that round to penetrate. For example, since I was fairly certain the Thunderbolts would be the most penetrative round, I used 6 jugs, setting one behind the other on a level surface. On the other hand, since I knew from past experience that the Quik Shok didn’t penetrate much at all, I used only 2 jugs for testing that particular round. The average, however, was 4 jugs, as this was proven to be about the standard level of penetration for most of the rounds tested. In cases where a round penetrated more than I had expected and the round wasn’t caught in the last jug, I re-tested after setting out one more jug than previously used for that round.

Accuracy and POA/POI testing was done by firing the 10/22 from a solid rest at an NRA target #A17, their official 50-foot small bore rifle target. I used the center target to check for zero with the round I had previously sighted the rifle for (Federal bulk pack HP’s), and then used the other targets to check accuracy and POA consistency for each of the other 8 rounds.

Rounds tested for POA/POI consistency were a total of 4 lots of the Federal HP’s (they were checked to see if differing lots could cause shifts in POI, but are otherwise treated as a single round tested), Remington subsonic HP’s, homemade SGB’s (small game bullets, made by filing the tip off of Remington Thunderbolts, to see if a wide flat nose would change POI), CCI Stingers, CCI CB Longs, CCI Velocitors, CCI Quik Shok, Remington Thunderbolts (unaltered, left with the roundnose solid bullet intact), and a Winchester bulk pack HP round that I can’t remember the name of; it had a wide hollow point cavity, in an almost truncated cone profile, not the standard roundnose HP profile of the Winchester Super-X’s.

As stated previously, the 10/22 had been sighted in for a single lot of Federal bulk pack HP’s, at 50 yards. Since the accuracy testing took place at 15 yards, all rounds fired were about 1 inch low, which is to be expected given the .22lr’s ballistics. This 1-inch discrepancy is adjusted for and figured into the individual round’s performance.

We’ll start with the results of the penetration and expansion tests, as the bullet’s performance on game is almost as important as its accuracy. The most accurate .22lr would be of little help in taking down larger game if it failed to penetrate to the vitals, or refused to expand adequately. Bullet performance and accuracy are a fine balance, and must be checked in one’s own rifle before trusting that load to perform. My tests are merely a starting point for others to build upon, using their own rifles.

The first load tested was CCI’s Quik Shok. I had had high hopes for this round prior to testing, as it had blown up single jugs quite handily during plinking sessions in the backyard. However, after testing I think this round is best relegated to use as a small game, thin-skinned varmint load. It blew up the first jug impressively, but that was about it; there were 2 small fragments found in the second jug in line, but they had made tiny entrance holes and had no chance of exiting. These rounds are made by cutting the hollow point cavity nearly all the way apart, and then having the 3 segments swaged back together. Upon entering an animal these “petals” quickly separate, theoretically making 3 separate wound tracks; 4 if the base of the bullet separates completely away from all petals. In reality the round is almost blown apart soon after entering the animal which would likely mean a nasty surface “crater” type of wound on anything larger than a sparrow. Still, if you’re in a Quentin Tarantino “Reservoir Dogs” kind of mood, this would be just the round to explode sparrows with.

Next up are the CCI Stingers. This is a fairly old round, and is one of the very first true “hyper velocity” .22lr hunting loads brought out. In fact, in order to get the extra velocity this round is capable of CCI had to actually lengthen the long rifle cartridge case just a bit in order to squeeze in enough powder. This necessitated the “downsizing” of the projectile, resulting in a slightly shorter hollow point round of a mere 32 grains, a full 4 grains lighter than most other .22lr HP loads. A number of people have used this round for hunting and pest eradication, so its place on the testing block was assured. The Stinger blew up the first jug most satisfactorily, and then stopped in the second. Examination of the recovered slug showed that it had actually separated in the second jug. There was a large mushroomed piece with the bullet’s shank intact, as well as a small “ring” of lead that was most likely the extreme outer edge of the mushroom that came off upon entry of the second jug. I estimate (since I lack a scale of any type) that the 2 pieces of bullet constitute approximately 40% of the original bullet’s mass and had expanded to about .32.

Next on the block was the CCI Velocitor, a round that just came out within the last 6 or 8 months. There has been lots of talk on the Internet about the Velocitor, and most of the “talk” has been either extolling the round’s virtues, or questioning just what this round is meant to do. For me this round is meant to get deep into a critter’s vitals and dump a lot of energy along the way. This round went through 2 jugs, blowing the first one up almost as well as the Quik Shok, and making the second jug open up like it was hit with a Stinger. It stopped in the third jug and bumped up to a perfect mushroom of .36. There was a nice long shank and most of the round was intact, leading me to believe it retained about 90% of its original mass. Excellent performance.

I next tested the Remington Viper truncated cone solid. This round, like the Velocitor, went through 2 jugs and stopped in the third, which was actually pretty disappointing given that this round is designed solely to penetrate, yet did no better than a hollow point round that expanded significantly; both rounds are traveling at about the same velocity. The recovered slug consisted mainly of the bullet’s shank, with a small amount of “mushrooming” having taken effect when the truncated cone caused a good bit of upset. The reaction of the jugs to this round’s entry was fairly dynamic, but nowhere near what the HP loads did. The recovered slug retained about 85% of its original weight.

I was really looking forward to testing the next round, the Federal bulk pack HP’s. These rounds have shot well (meaning more than adequate hunting accuracy) from every gun I’ve tried it in, rifle or pistol, regardless of action type. And given the price, it’s just a nice round to have on hand in large quantities. From past experience using this round for small game hunting (squirrels, rabbits and quail) as well as using it to put down domestic goats prior to butchering them, I knew that this round worked well on a wide range of game. The round’s performance on the milk jugs gave me an idea of just why this round worked so well on both large and small animals. It went through 3 jugs, stopping in the fourth. The first jug was ripped open all down the side from the entry “wound”, and the exit hole was about the size of a golf ball. And while the performance in the second and third jugs wasn’t quite as dramatic, all of the jugs were knocked over or thrown from the platform.

Examination of the recovered slug (a shank retaining approximately 75% of the original weight) showed how this one, bargain basement round could work so well over such a wide spectrum of game. The relatively shallow hollow point cavity expanded rapidly in the first and second jugs, and was shed somewhere in the third, allowing the still-heavy bullet shank to continue penetrating deeply into the third and fourth jugs.

What that means in terms of game is that with a small animal such as a squirrel or rabbit the round expands quickly, transferring significant shock to the animal; light bodied game such as quail, though, don‘t offer enough resistance to allow the round to expand, meaning less lost meat. On a larger animal this initial expansion will be followed by the expanded front portion breaking off and making its own wound path, while the shank drives deeper into the animal’s chest. While the Velocitor did more damage it didn’t penetrate as deeply. Of course, at a longer range where the Federal HP will be slowing down significantly, the Velocitor will still be cooking along at a good velocity. This will allow the Velocitor to behave the same way as the Federal HP, but at a greatly extended range. So for the purposes of foraging game such as deer or the small game normally taken with the .22lr (again, only in a true emergency, where life is at stake) the Federal would make an excellent overall, “general purpose” round, even on larger game, at ranges up to 50 yards; for extended shooting at deer or other large game over 50 yards, the Velocitor would shine. But I wouldn’t feel at all “undergunned” if all I had to shoot were the Federals.

The last round tested for penetration was the Remington Thunderbolt roundnose solid. As expected, this round just wouldn’t stop; it went through 5 jugs like a laser, leaving a hole just barely of its own diameter and stopping in the sixth jug. Upon examination of the recovered slug, there was no deformation at all. Indeed, the only way to tell that this round had been fired as opposed to pulled was the evidence of rifling marks on the bullet; it likely retained almost all of its original mass, but let’s call it 95%.

So now we know how well these rounds penetrated and expanded, and have at least an inkling of how they would most likely react in game. Now we need to decide just which round fires best in our particular gun. As a counterpoint to what I said at the start of this article, it doesn’t matter at all how great the round expands if you can’t hit the target with your chosen “super round”. I already knew exactly how the Federal’s shot in my 10/22 and M6, as this is the ammo I shoot most often in all of my .22’s. But I did wish to see if different lots of the same ammo would shoot differently. To this end I shot a total of 4 different lots of Federal HP’s in my 10/22, equipped with a Simmons 4x32 “Eight Point” scope. I used a set of Tasco “see-through” rings that eliminated the need for the Ruger scope mount that came with my rifle. I decided to use these rings for 2 reasons; first, it was the only set of rings that Wal-Mart had in stock that fit my rifle, and secondly I wanted to test the conventional “wisdom” that says good groups can’t be shot with rings this high. And while it doesn’t happen all the time, there have been occasions when shooting a scoped .22lr rifle with low rings that the target was so close the scope was almost useless, leaving the target just a big “blob” in the field of view. So having the iron sights immediately accessible seemed like a good idea.

Since I have so much faith in the Federal HP’s, and shot them most often, I decided that the first test of accuracy versus changes in POI/POA was to try 4 different lots of the Federals. In an even more surprising “non-test”, I had taken my rifle apart to repaint the stock shortly after cleaning it and re-zeroing. When I put the rifle back together I got a pleasant surprise in that I had managed to accidentally apply the same torque to the gun’s action screw as I had when it was taken apart. Normally I have to re-zero the rifle after taking the action out of the stock, but not this time; a good omen for further testing.

I fired 5 rounds of each ammo type tested, using a fresh mini-target each time. After making doubly sure that the rifle was still zeroed for the original lot I had sighted in with, I then tried the other 3 lots of Federal HP’s. Each of them shot to the exact same POA as the lot I zeroed with, and shot just as tight a group; about .75”.

(A word about “group size; I didn’t actually measure each and every group, but “eyeballed” them and then compared the groups to each other in overall size. So while the group sizes might not be exact, they are in relation to each other.)

Once the Federals were checked and given a passing grade, I moved on to the Remington subsonic HP’s. These are a great round to use on smaller game, especially if there are a lot of them and you don’t want to spook them, such as in a squirrel woods. These rounds actually shot a tighter group than the Federals (.5”) and shot to the same POA.

Next up were my homemade SGB’s. I don’t have the actual die normally used to make these, so instead I eyeballed the tips of the rounds and filed them down until they were nearly identical. I actually field down a greater amount of rounds than the 5 used in the test, so this allowed me to go through them and find 5 that were almost identical. Again, a lot of “shadetree” engineering went into a lot of aspects of this test. The SGB’s shot to the same POA as the Federals, and had the same overall size (.75”).

Now I started to test the ammunition that I had expected to give me the most problems; ammo that was either significantly faster or slower than the Federals. Since the Stingers were the fastest load tested, I started the next phase of testing with them.

Surprisingly, while the Stingers shot an inch higher than the other rounds, they shot a tighter, one hole, group as well (.5”).

Since the CB Longs were at the other end of the spectrum, speed-wise, I tested them next. Knowing that they would certainly shoot lower than the rounds so far tested (due to lower velocity) I used the top of the bottom reticle post (where it starts to thin down into a fine crosshair) as my aiming point; otherwise I would have to have used Kentucky Elevation to guesstimate where to hold over on the target. The CBL’s shot a slightly larger group than the Federals (1.0”), they shot to the same POA as all the other rounds tested.

Now came the “moment of truth”, the Velocitors. From the previous tests I had started to suspect that my 10/22 actually liked rounds with a bit more “oomph” than the Federals I normally used, and the Velocitors bore that out. Not only did they shoot to the same POA as the Federals, they shot the tightest group of the day as well (.5”), putting all 5 rounds into a single ragged hole. I was quite thoroughly impressed, and if it weren’t for the high cost of the Velocitors they would be the only round (besides a few CBL’s now and then) I ever shot in my 10/22.

Quik Shoks were sort of a mixed blessing, maintaining their so-so performance levels. While they shot to the same POA as all the rest, they also shot the second-largest group of all rounds tested ((1.5”). I honestly can’t see a real place for these rounds. Even if they shot better in someone else’s rifle (a possibility), their poor penetration and excessive expansion make them a poor round for any use I can think of, other than the pure joy of blowing stuff up. And they’re a little, no, a lot too expensive for plinking with.

The Remington Thunderbolts gave me a bit of “trouble” as they not only shot a larger group (1.25”, the third worst of the day) than the SGB’s (which started out as Thunderbolts before having the nose filed down), they also shot slightly left, although the elevation was right on. The exact same round, only with the nose filed down, shot almost twice as tight a group, and to the same POA, which is where the “trouble” came in. I can’t think of any reason for this other than the fact that the flatter bullet profile of the modified Thunderbolts allowed them to stabilize quicker after exiting the barrel, leading to the better group. I haven’t shot the SGB’s on paper at any range over the 15 yards tested here, so I have no idea if their extra stability (or even if that’s even the reason for their better performance) would continue to be effective at longer ranges. More testing is needed here.

The last round tested also turned in the most dismal results as far as accuracy was concerned. In fact, these rounds (even before testing began) showed so little promise for accuracy that I didn’t even bother testing them for expansion; after all, why test to see how well the round performs in a test medium, when it’s unlikely to be accurate enough to hunt with.

These oh-so-disappointing rounds were the un-named (actually, they have a name, I just can’t remember it; they came in a bulk pack of 550 rounds, and had a gray, black and red box. I hope that’s enough information for you all to avoid these rounds in the future). Anyway, not only did they not shoot to the same POA (slightly low and spread all over the place with a 2” group), the powder charge in these rounds was also very inconsistent. There was an audible difference to the round’s report, and this inconsistency is further proven out by the large and haphazard “group” this round shot.

So, there are my results. Certainly not an extensive list of rounds fired, as there are many more types of .22lr ammunition available than those I tested. And it wasn’t as “scientific” as other tests have been. But I do hope that this series of tests proves to be of some benefit, and might even make you decide to do such a test with your guns and favored ammo types, to see just how they really perform. After all, we owe it to the game we hunt to make sure that the rounds we are using are both effective and accurate, in order to humanely harvest them. And if one were to suddenly be thrust into a situation where it was either shoot a deer with your “little” .22lr or starve, it would behoove us all to know which rounds are the best for the task at hand.

If you have questions, criticisms, or things to add - email me please.


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