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Is the .22 mag cartridge a viable SD round?

Discussion in 'Handguns: General Discussion' started by Big Bill, Oct 30, 2009.

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  1. Big Bill

    Big Bill Well-Known Member

    Is the .22 mag cartridge a viable Self Defense round? Read this and decide - opinions welcomed!

    The .22 WMR (.22 Magnum)

    By Chuck Hawks


    Illustration courtesy of CCI.

    Winchester introduced the .22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire (WMR) in the 1950's. It was the first new .22 rimfire cartridge in decades. Its long case contains a lot more powder than the Long Rifle, and the cartridge operates just about at the pressure limit for rimfire ammunition. Like the Long Rifle, the Magnum is chambered in a variety of rifles and revolvers. For the handgunner, one of the neatest of these is the single action "convertible" revolver that is supplied with two interchangable cylinders, one for .22 LR cartridges and one for .22 Mag. cartridges.

    Bullet diameter for the Magnum is .224", the same as for the .22 WRF and most centerfire .22's. Its case is slightly fatter than a Long Rifle case and, as loaded by Winchester-Western, the Magnum's original 40 grain bullet came with a real jacket, not just copper plating. Bullet styles include full metal jacket (non-expanding) and jacketed hollow-point (expanding) types. The SD of the 40 grain bullets is .114. As originally loaded a MV of 2000 fps was claimed from a 22" rifle barrel, and 1550 fps from a 6.5" handgun barrel.

    Available bullet weights have expanded to include 30 grain and 50 grain bullets (SD .142) in addition to the original 40 grain bullets. CCI, Federal, Remington, and Winchester all load .22 WMR ammunition. There is also a .22 WMR shot cartridge, loaded with #11 shot.

    The standard 40 grain bullet is now advertised to have a muzzle velocity of 1,910 fps in a 22" rifle barrel and carries 324 ft. lbs. of energy. From the 6.5" barrel of a revolver the velocity is 1400 fps with an energy of 174 ft. lbs.

    The .22 Magnum is a much more powerful cartridge than the .22 LR. At 100 yards its 40 grain bullet is still carrying 156 ft. lbs. of energy, more than the .22 LR develops at the muzzle (compared in 22" barrels). The flat shooting WMR can be zeroed to hit +0.6" at 100 yards when fired from a scoped rifle, and will give a point-blank range (+/- 1.5") of about 124 yards.

    The power of the Magnum, coupled with the violent expansion provided by its JHP bullet, makes it too much cartridge for shooting cottontail rabbits and squirrels at close range unless only head shot are taken. Body shots tend to literally blow these small animals apart.

    Used for self defence in a revolver, the .22 WMR has compiled a 42% one shot stop rate according to Marshall and Sanow. This is far superior to the .22 LR and .25 ACP, and makes the .22 WMR the best of the small bore handgun cartridges.

    Within its trajectory limitation of about 125 yards, the extra destructive power of the .22 Magnum's JHP bullet moves it into the varmint rifle cartridge class. Its low report makes it one of the best varmint cartridges for shooting on the small ranches and farms typical of semi-populated areas and in the country outside of small to medium sized towns.

    For years there were lever, pump, and bolt action rifles chambered for the .22 Magnum, but very few autoloaders. This is because the Magnum operates at pressures above those deemed safe for simple blowback actions (the type of action used for all autoloading .22 LR rifles). The rifle manufacturers seemed to have licked the problem in recent years, however, as there is now a selection of autoloading sporting rifles chambered for the .22 WMR. For the serious small game and varmint hunter there are a number of accurate, high grade .22 Magnum bolt action rifles.

  2. Big Bill

    Big Bill Well-Known Member

    The .22 Magnum As A Revolver Cartridge

    The .22 Magnum As A Revolver Cartridge
    American Handgunner, Nov, 2001 by Mike Cumpston

    Since its introduction in 1959 and in subsequent load development, the .22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire (WMR) has been seen primarily as a rifle cartridge. Nevertheless, with the early introduction of WMR chambered revolvers, a large percentage, if not the majority, of rounds fired emanate from handguns.

    Personal experience with the WMR centers around one of the early Ruger New Models with a 9.5" barrel. This was a replacement piece for an all-stainless model of the same description, which displayed exceptional accuracy from the WMR and Long Rifle cylinders and accounted for a considerable bag of small game and varmints.

    When the revolver was "gonified" in a house burglary, the stainless variation was out of print and in demand by collectors. The carbon steel model quickly demonstrated its capacity for taking a significant amount of the challenge out of the general run of sporting handgun activities. With the Long Rifle cylinder in place, it walked away from a Ft. Worth-area Hunter Pistol match with the blue ribbon, competing successfully with, premium target autos and revolvers.

    It also did quite well at rimfire competition at the then-new Heart of Texas Silhouette Association in Coolidge, Texas, coming in first in a match I don't remember. At least I have a nicely struck medal from Blackington's to remind me of something I have completely forgotten.

    With the magnum cylinder in place, the Ruger fits in nicely with my penchant for subsistence camping--an activity where the food supply is heavily dependent upon small game and semi-edible varmints gathered in the field. This activity was popularized by such notables as Earl Standley Garder back during the Cold War scare and I have never quite lost my enthusiasm for it.

    Original Load

    The original Winchester load, a 40 gr. JHP with lead exposed above the jacket, provides a real advantage over any Long Rifle load and will definitively shut down a jackrabbit at reason-able revolver ranges. I learned that the CCI Maxi-Mag HP also works well out of this long barreled revolver and from Contender single shots, but does not expand quite as readily at reduced velocities.

    During the last decade, there have been a few additions to the .22 WMR cartridge line-up and I have tried several of them as they became available. When Federal introduced the 50 gr. JHP loading, it got good reviews from rifle shooters. From my Ruger, velocities peaked at 1,147 fps affording no expansion and a pronounced tendency to tumble after impact.

    The CCI Maxi-Mag V ripped out of the buntline barrel at over 1,700 fps. Unfortunately, my best 25 yard groups measured 6.5 with the stinger-like bullets.

    Recently, Federal Cartridge has come Out with a load using a 30 gr. Sierra JHP rated for 2,100 fps from a rifle and Remington has introduced a 40 gr. JHP load that breaks 1,700 fps from rifles. I realized it was time to update my .22 Magnum data base by seeing what these loads might offer the rimfire handgunner.

    Reality Check

    I would also do a reality check on the old favorites from Winchester and CCI. To make the whole thing more interesting, I arranged for the loan of a Smith Model 17 with the more commonly encountered 6" barrel.

    The owner of this revolver is one of those "better shots" I mentioned earlier. He does all his competitive shooting in the Leppert mode and has converted this revolver to DA-only. This modification, while it suits the owner perfectly, put a strain on my ability to shoot small 25 yard groups.

    Five round groups from the Model 17 ran a consistent 2" to 2.5" while the same rounds from the Ruger provided accuracy hovering around the 1" mark.

    All of these loads provided consistent in-flight stability and produced nice round holes on target. All loads, with the exception of the CCI FMJ, demonstrated hollowpoint-type disruption of water-filled cans at 25 yards. Shot-to-shot velocity variation was somewhat more consistent in the long Ruger. This was particularly true with the hypervelocity Federal load.

    CCI Maxi-Mag 40 gr. FMJ: This load was selected as a "control" to determine whether the hollowpoints were actually providing a disruptive effect on water-filled containers. It did provide through-penetration of water-filled cans with none of the dramatics associated with bullet expansion or tumbling. The load is quite accurate and remains popular among silhouette shooters.

    Remington 40 gr. JHP: This relatively new load is a streamlined JHP with no exposed lead at the nose. While suitably accurate in the revolvers, it is probably more at home in rifles or the Contender. Upon striking water-filled cans, the bullet would begin to tumble. While no significant expansion took place, the effect on the target was spectacular.

    Federal 40 gr. JHP: At 1,744 fps from the Ruger and providing groups of just over 1", this load has a lot to offer. It expands explosively on water-filled cans. Like other rimfire magnums, it seems to thrive on the longer barrel lengths. The 6" Smith showed a high velocity spread, but still produced a group of just under 2".

    Last edited: Oct 30, 2009
  3. Kingofthehill

    Kingofthehill Well-Known Member

    Better than a Sharp Stick but my MINIMUM is .380. .40is my choice.

  4. HardShell

    HardShell Well-Known Member

    If I had to use .22 Mag for SD, no other choice, I would feel better using it in this...


    30-round flush-fitting magazine, lightweight, and mine has been very reliable with OEM mags. ;)

    Very interesting write-up, BTW.

    ETA: Sorry, should have said from the start for those unfamiliar -- Grendel R-31 Carbine (long out-of-production, uses the same 30-round mag as their P-30 pistol did and, yes, in .22WMRF).


    I'm editing/adding it here rather than replying again to avoid hijacking the thread, which was not my intention!!!
    Last edited: Oct 30, 2009
  5. thunder173

    thunder173 Well-Known Member

    Hardshell,...what is that ya got there?? in 22 WMR??
  6. Erik M

    Erik M Well-Known Member

    is it functional? yes, you could shoot an attacker with a 22mag.
    is it viable? thats been questioned here a thousand times. I do not go smaller than .380
  7. The Lone Haranguer

    The Lone Haranguer Well-Known Member

    In a snubnose revolver or mini-revolver like the NAA Black Widow, as a backup gun or for use when the dress/social situation precludes your carrying anything bigger, sure, why not? As a primary, all-around or only weapon? No thanks. Also, the author is overlooking the lesser ignition reliability of rimfire vs. centerfire priming.
  8. thunder173

    thunder173 Well-Known Member

    Thanx Hardshell
  9. SJ78

    SJ78 Well-Known Member

    I agree the one problem with this caliber is it's rimfire . Too much chance of it
    not firing . It's a shame because it's a decent defense round .
  10. ArchAngelCD

    ArchAngelCD Well-Known Member

    Big Bill,
    IMO any handgun is better than no gun at all. For the most part a .22, even in .22 Magnum is a weak example of a SD caliber. The fact that it's a rimfire adds to it's problems. If it's at all possible you should choose a heavier caliber as a primary SD weapon. Of course shot placement is important but under stress a bigger caliber makes a bigger hole. I sometimes carry a .32 Auto and many tell me that's even too light a caliber for SD. (but I think it's fine for what I'm using it for) I normally carry a J frame in .38 Special as a primary SD handgun.
  11. bhk

    bhk Well-Known Member

    Smith and Wesson 17 in .22 mag.? Maybe it was a model 48?
  12. Walkalong

    Walkalong Moderator

    I have carried a .22 Mag NAA revolver more over the years than anything else. Easy to take anywhere in any clothing. It is more powerful than many understand. That said, I would not take it to a gun fight, but if I knew when that was going to be, I could avoid it entirely. ;)

    My main carry weapons have been the NAA, a .32 Seecamp, and various 1911's in .45. I feel just as well armed with the .22 Mag as I do with a .32 ACP. (Not the .45 of course ;))
  13. YaNi

    YaNi Well-Known Member

    If you do decide to go with a .22Mag I would HIGHLY recommend firing 500 rounds through the gun before thinking about carrying it. My experience with .22 rimfire is that it isn't reliable enough to be a truly viable SD option. It will defiantly fulfill rule #1 of gunfighting, but a .32 pistol isn't much larger for pocket carry and will have better reliability (centerfire vs rimfire) and more punch through a heavier bullet.
  14. Walkalong

    Walkalong Moderator

    Have you shot anything with either one of them?
  15. BMF500

    BMF500 Well-Known Member

    I would like to refer to Roy Weatherby's philosphy here:

    From Weatherby's web site.
    "Contrary to then-popular thinking (heavy bullets pushed at slow speeds), Roy believed that lightweight bullets traveling at super high speeds provided the best combination for one-shot kills."
  16. azyogi

    azyogi Well-Known Member

    You'd think that the .22 WMR would be far inferior to the .32 ACP or the.380 but the muzzle energy doesn't reveil a clear cut superority. muzzle energy in foot pounds is; .380ACP 95grn [bullet] 190ft/lbs, the .32ACP 71grn 129ft/lbs and the.22WMR 40grn 181 ft/lbs. This just demostrates how hard it is to use pure numbers to relate to real world shootings, Sanow did just that and I believe the .22WMR came in at around 40% one shot stops. I'm packing to move so most of my referance books are packed but I don't remember either the .32 or .380 doing much better. As for 500 round test I'm at about 3,000 on my mini no missfires. Limp wrist a pocket auto and the stove pipe will make it in effect a single shot. Plus' and minus' abound, but the one time I needed it my .357 at 4IWB and the .22WMR on the belt buckle [seated in a car] that NAA seemed to simply teleport into the face of a carjacker. He didn't hang around to debate caliber with me, in fact left his knife behind. Given a choice of what gun to have in a gun fight, I choose the M1A1 Abrams [note I cheat] To dismiss the .22WMR as a SD round is short sighted IMO FWIW
  17. Snowdog

    Snowdog Well-Known Member

    I'm sure the .22WMR is viable as a defensive cartridge, though not anywhere near ideal. I would think it would do the job if it was leaned on for defense, though I wouldn't recommend purchasing one for that reason.

    From a rifle, it's about twice the cartridge than it is from a handgun; rifles are where the ballistics of the .22WMR really shine.

    Thanks for the interesting read, Bill.
  18. barnetmill

    barnetmill Well-Known Member

    comparing a .32 or .380 to a .22 magnum does not make sense. The .32 ACP and .380 ACp are produced in small pocket pistols intended for self defense. Most .22 mag are in larger guns that are intended for hunting/plinking with the exception of the freedom arms tiny revolver that is even smaller than the semiauto pocket pistols and is in a different class.

    If it was all I had I would not feel undergunned with a 6" barrel .22 mag. I would I feel better with my G33 glock, but you use what you have. Obviously if you are going out to buy a SD pistol, the .22 mag would not normally by first choice.
  19. evan price

    evan price Well-Known Member

    Obviously anything is better than nothing but a rimfire has too much chance of not firing when needed compared to a centerfire.
  20. dom1104

    dom1104 Well-Known Member

    also, with the 22lr or mag, do not mix up numbers from a rifle length barrel vs numbers from a 2 inch pistol.

    the difference is dramatic, when it comes to killing.
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