Saturday, May 5, 2012

A Word About .22 LR For Mission Critical Applications


Okay, more than a word.  I was out target shooting earlier this afternoon.  (It's amazing what I have time to do when I only have a full-time job to go.)  I took the Ruger 10/22 that I used the laser bore sighter on to get the scope pointing to where the bullet should be going--and it's amazing how much better it does for plinking.

I also took the little Walther PPK copy to shoot as well--and the first three rounds were completely dead.  Even pulling the trigger a couple of more times--absolutely nothing.  The fourth round worked fine, and the other two magazines worked fine.  Remember that rimfire ammunition, like .22 LR, is not as well sealed as centerfire ammo.  When you clean and oil a gun, some of the oil from the chamber and barrel are going to work their way into the rounds that are closest--in this case, the chambered round and the next two down the magazine.

Once I was using the non-damaged rounds, this little American Arms pistol worked like a champ.  I think I paid $124 for it back when I was a dealer.  It is awesomely accurate for a gun this tiny, relatively quiet, and without any significant recoil.  I can afford to shoot through a box of ammo daily, if need be, and even though .22 LR is a "stupid" choice, I suspect that few rational criminals would choose to continue an attack if they were looking down the barrel of it.

The .22 LR is a very tempting cartridge.  It is not a toy (although many people see them as almost in that category).  It is amazing how often this "useless" cartridge is successfully used for self-defense (and murder--very popular with Mafia hitmen, because it can be silenced with improvised devices).  The poor sealing of the cartridge means that relying on it means replacing the cartridges in a carry gun frequently, and verifying on a regular basis that the ammunition is still ready to fire.

Why would anyone carry a .22 LR handgun for self-defense?  Perhaps that is all you can afford.  Or perhaps someone finds the recoil for a 9mm intimidating.  You can even talk yourself into believing that you will be so much more accurate with a .22 pistol that it will make up for its unreliability as a stopping cartridge.  Another rationalization is that the ammo is so cheap that you can afford to fire a thousand rounds a month, and be really good with your gun.  There are even people who live in places where a concealed carry permit is simply not available, except to the politically connected, and figure that if they get arrested, they would rather not have an expensive gun confiscated.

There are, unfortunately, a lot of tempting reasons.  But if you do so, fire the ammunition at least once a month to make sure that you cycle through the cartridges in your gun, and that they work reliably.


  1. I'm not sure I understand this.

    A centerfire primer is a separate piece that must be seated in an opening in the base of the round. I'd easy for solvents to work their way into the primer.

    But an .22LR's primer is in a channel formed of the cartridge brass itself. There is no junction for the solvents to seep through.

    Unless it's coming in around the bullet?

  2. I don't know the path, but everything I have read over the years says that rimfire is less sealed than centerfire ammo. I have never had water or oil damage a centerfire cartridge. I have on many occasions had .22 LR damaged by water exposure or presence in a freshly oiled gun.

  3. As to the center fire ammo: I have deliberately soaked (as in completely covered) center fire ammo of several makes in a couple different kinds of gun oil for over a week. I also soaked it in Kroil, which is a lightweight oil used specifically to penetrate tiny crevices.

    None of the center fire rounds failed to fire. One of the ammo brands was the aluminum case Blazer 9mm, which as a (then!) inexpensive practice ammo I figured did not get any special sealant around the primer or case mouth. Everything went bang.

    As to .22....hmmm, maybe another experiment is in order.

  4. Its the bullet/case neck seal that is so poor in a .22 rimfire.

  5. Would putting a thin layer of wax around the seal solve the problem? Or just make chambering more difficult?

  6. Perhaps wiping the interior of the gun a lot drier before using it would help. I can't imagine leaving a gun so full of oil that there would be enough to soak into cartridges INSIDE the magazine. It should be a thin film, not a pool.

    That being said, try a different brand of .22. Some have better rings of primer than others.

  7. That's an interesting question, Clayton. I suspect it would help but not solve the problem.

    Did you know that for decades, Swiss 7.5x55mm ammo had a wax seal around the case mouth? The Swiss ammo manufacturer RUAG used a three part stab crimp that needed a bit of help to waterproof. Sometime in the '80's they went to a full circle crimp and abandoned the wax seal. Swiss target shooters were so convinced of the other benefits of the wax on accuracy, that they actually bought kits to put a dab of wax on 7.5x55mm rounds for target shooting.

  8. A solution probably better than wax would be nail polish/varnish/shellac applied lightly to the case-bullet junction.


  9. Many .22rf cartridges that are supposed to have the priming material completely around the cartridge rim fail to fire. Turning the cartridge 180 degrees will usually get them to fire.

    The other aspect is that the gun oil or grease may have become thick enough to limit the force of the firing pin movement initially until you refired it a few times.

    I would rather think that it was one of these items rather that oil or water corrupting the shell powder.