Twenty 22 Rimfire Loads Go Head to Head at the Range

We test the 22 Long Rifle, with a couple of shorter loads thrown in. We find versatile and effective loads, inexpensive loads, and a few we could not do without for small-game hunting and varminting.

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The most popular and most produced cartridge in America is the 22 Long Rifle. This is an old design, using not only rimfire construction but also a heel-based bullet. For this reason, many of us do not recommend the 22 LR ever be considered for personal defense. It isn’t all about limited wound potential. The 22 rimfire firing system isn’t as reliable as a centerfire system. Also, the heel-based bullet sometimes is damaged when feeding in a semi-auto firearm. It isn’t unusual for a brick of 500 cartridges to contain several cartridges that misfire and do not ignite, even with a hard primer hit. Others will have the bullet bent in the cartridge case, which complicates feeding. On the other hand, during a test of self-loading pistols a few months ago, we fired 1600 22 Long Rifle cartridges from several makers without a single malfunction or failure to fire.

For this test we were looking at some of the better choices for hunting with the 22 round. The 22 rimfire is a great small-game round that offers excellent accuracy in the right handgun. While there have been plenty of tests of accuracy and velocity with this round, we set out to test penetration and expansion. We used our standard 6-inch-wide water jugs. We tested first for accuracy and then for penetration, along with standard metrics of accuracy, expanded diameter, and retained weight.

The primary firearm used was the Smith & Wesson Model 17, also known as the K-22, with a 6-inch barrel. This revolver is proven to be accurate. Since self-loaders demand high-velocity loads, the revolver eliminated any concern with function and allowed us to test 22 Short, CB Cap, and Quiet type loads without concern.

We also tested a number of select 22 loads with the Ruger Standard Model .22. The range results were interesting. In the end we isolated a number of very versatile loads for specific chores and other loads that do a number of things well. We rated the cartridges based on what they were designed to do. There is a great deal of difference in performance between the CCI Quiet load, as an example, and the CCI Stinger, but each rates an A because they perform as designed in a niche role.

The best hunting load, we believe, is the Federal Small Game Match load. A viable choice for all-round hunting use is the CCI Mini Mag. While we place a premium on accuracy, all of the loads tested were accurate enough for small-game hunting. We tested the loads at 15 yards because we were using iron-sighted handguns.

22 Rimfire Load Performance Data

Gun: S&W M17 (K-22) w/ 6-in. barrel Average velocity (fps) Muzzle energy (ft.-lbs.) IPSC Power Factor Average accuracy (in.) Expanded width (in.) Retained weight (gr./%) Penetration in water (in.)
29 CCI CB Long 516 17 15 2 0.22 29/100% 8
29 Remington Short 691 31 20 1.25 0.22 29/100% 10
32 CCI Stinger 1032 76 33 1.45 0.32 30/94% 10
36 CCI Mini Mag HP 1090 95 39 1.5 0.33 36/100% 14
37 Winchester Super-X HP 996 81 37 1.6 0.22 36/97% 14
38 Federal HP 937 74 36 1.6 0.25 38/100% 14
38 Fiocchi PHP 1022 88 39 1.25 0.29 40/105% 12
40 Aguila Super Extra Plated RN 965 83 39 1.85 0.22 40/100% 13
40 Blazer RN 949 80 38 1.8 0.22 40/100% 14
40 CCI Quiet HP Segmented 965 43 28 1.5 frag 36/90% 5
40 CCI Mini Mag Segmented 990 87 40 1.3 frag 32/80% 9
40 CCI Velociter 1097 107 44 1.3 0.25 40/100% 14
40 CCI Standard Velocity 890 70 36 1.2 0.22 40/100% 12
40 Federal Small Game Match HP 1030 94 41 1.25 0.3 40/100% 15
40 Fiocchi RN 993 88 40 1.2 0.22 40/100% 14
40 Remington 22 LR HP 1011 91 40 1.25 0.32 40/100% 13
40 Remington Thunderbolt LR 980 85 39 1.75 0.22 40/100% 14
40 Winchester M22 1025 93 41 1.45 0.22 40/100% 16
40 Wolf Match 852 64 34 1.1 0.22 40/100% 13
45 CCI Suppressor HP 858 74 39 1.4 0.3 44/98% 10
Notes: Average Velocity and standard deviation readings were obtained by firing four five-shot strings over a Competition Electronics Pro Chrono. Ambient temperature: 86 degrees. Elevation: 815 feet above sea level. l The accuracy figures are the average of two five-shot groups. For accuracy, we fired the test gun from a benchrest at a 15-yard target. l To calculate IPSC power factor, multiply bullet weight in grains by the velocity in fps, then divide by 1000. l The retained-weight column shows the recovered bullet weight as a percentage of the actual bullet weight.

Overall, the 22 rimfire loads gave good results. We could get by with a single inexpensive practice load and a hunting load, but it is good to have the versatility of fast-opening loads intended for short-range pest control and heavier loads intended for deeper penetration. Here’s how each load performed individually.

CCI Long CB 29-Grain LRN

GUN TEST GRADE: B

We bought this lead roundnose round for $7.99 per 100 rounds at TargetSportsUSA.com. The 22 Long CB is basically a 22 Long case with a 22 Short bullet. Rated at 710 fps from a rifle, the load clocked 516 fps from the handgun. Accuracy was fair at 15 yards. Penetration in water was 8 inches. This is a useful load, but for hunting we find the 22 Quiet a better choice.

Remington 22 Short 29-Grain Golden Bullet Plated Round Nose

GUN TEST GRADE: B

We bought this item from OutdoorLimited.com for $39.90/500. It is the only 22 Short tested. This load is zippier than the CB Cap at 691 fps. Due to this greater speed, the 22 Short load was more accurate than the CB Cap. This is a top squirrel load for many shooters, although the 22 Short is sometimes more difficult to come by. For a limited-signature load, we prefer the quiet load and for hunting, the 40-grain High Velocity loads are superior. Penetration is 10 inches.

Remington Thunderbolt 22 LR 40-grain LRN

GUN TEST GRADE: A

We bought this for $29.99/500 at BassProShops.com. This is a bulk load that is offered at a fair price. Velocity was lower than some high-velocity 40-grain bullets. Accuracy was middle of the road. The Thunderbolt is a viable load, especially when found at sale prices, reliable and certainly strong enough for use as a small-game round. At 980 fps, it performed well. Penetration was 14 inches.

CCI Blazer 40-Grain LRN

GUN TEST GRADE: A

We purchased this 22 LR round for $2.08/50 from SportsmansGuide.com. This 40-grain solid averaged 949 fps. The rater supplying this load had four boxes that had water contact and had ridden behind the seat of his truck for months. Each and every one cracked off and fired. Accuracy is middle of the road, and velocity is good, but not exceptional. We think this load and the Remington Thunderbolt are practically identical. Penetration is 14 inches. Look for it on sale.

Aguila Super Extra 40-Grain Plated RN

GUN TEST GRADE: A-

This cost $25.49/500 at SportsmansGuide.com. This load averaged 943 to 965 fps. So, we found nothing super about it; the Aguila is actually slower than the other roundnose promotional loads. It is accurate enough in the middle of the road. Its lower velocity resulted in an inch less of penetration, which should not matter for most uses.

Fiocchi 40-Grain CPRN 22FHVCRN

GUN TEST GRADE: A

This copper-plated roundnose bullet ran $4.90/50 at LuckyGunner.com. The Fiocchi jolts a 40-grain bullet at 993 fps, faster than some and slower than others. The overwhelming advantage of this copper-plated bullet is accuracy. This was among the most accurate 22 loads tested and among the most accurate we have ever tested. Just the same, the minute-of-squirrel accuracy needed for hunting doesn’t justify the expense of the Fiocchi load. Some other loads were nearly as accurate for less money. Just the same, it is a brilliantly accurate choice if you have to have it.

Fiocchi 38-Grain CPHP 22HVCHP

GUN TEST GRADE: A

This hollowpoint cost $3.99/50 at MidwayUSA.com. We didn’t quite understand why this HP load is less expensive than the CPRN load. Doesn’t matter, order this load. The Fiocchi 38-grain HP exhibited among the finest accuracy potential of any loading tested. Velocity is high as well, at 1015 to 1020 fps, with a standard deviation around 5 fps. This is a load well worth its price for small-game hunting. Practice with cheap stuff and sight the gun in for these loads. The Fiocchi load penetrates 12 to 14 inches on average. Expansion was usually .29 to .30 inch, but one of the bullets of the five tested failed to expand at all, something we saw with other 22 loads as well.

CCI Quiet-22 Segmented Hollow Point 970

GUN TEST GRADE: A

This ran $5.50/100 at SportsmansGuide.com. CCI advertises that no hearing protection is needed when using this load. At 695 fps, that is correct. This load offers excellent accuracy. The 40-grain hollow point penetrates 4 to 6 inches of water and separates into small shards. The predicted effect on small game would be good. This is a specialty load well worth its price. However, be certain to limit its use to pests. It would not do for larger animals, such as coyotes.

CCI Mini-Mag 40-Grain Segmented Hollow Point

GUN TEST GRADE: A

We bought this hollow point for $7.99/100 from TargetSportsUSA.com. This bullet is designed to break into three pieces and create three separate wound channels. It did so in our testing. At 990 fps, the Mini-Mag Segmented penetrates 8 to 10 inches, giving it an edge in penetration and energy over the Quiet load. It will get the 22 Long Rifle into the fox and coyote class with good shot placement at ranges inside of 50 yards. Accuracy is fine.

CCI Mini-Mag 36-Grain Copper Plated HP

GUN TEST GRADE: A

We bought this hollow point for $5.99/100 from TargetSportsUSA.com. We had a direct comparison in price with the 22 LR Mini-Mag Segmented. The slightly lighter Mini-Mag is faster and less expensive. This loading exhibited a low standard deviation at 1084 to 1095 fps. The Mini-Mag penetrated 14 inches of water. Four of the five bullets tested for expansion averaged 0.33 to 0.34 inch with one at a lower 0.27-inch diameter. The combination of expansion and penetration make this a good choice for larger game.

Federal Hunter Match 40-Grain HP 720

GUN TEST GRADE: A

At $39.99/500 from TargetSportsUSA.com, this load achieves 1030 fps from the Smith & Wesson revolver’s 6-inch barrel. The combination of energy, expansion (see image below), and penetration makes this a good choice. We liked the performance of this load. The nickel-plated cases should make for reliable function and non-stick extraction in any firearm, particularly self-loading handguns. Penetration was deep for the 22 at 15 inches, and the bullet reliably expanded to .27 to .29 caliber. Federal’s advertising claims this rimfire load was developed for use in long-range hunting with the rimfire. We think that the design and performance are excellent.

CCI Suppressor 45-Grain Subsonic HP 957

GUN TEST GRADE: A

Running $4.55/50 from SportmansGuide.com, this load is intended for use in suppressed handguns and rifles. It is heavier than most at 45 grains and averages 842 to 876 fps. While the standard deviation was not as low as some other CCI loads, accuracy was good. The Suppressor averaged 10 inches in penetration and expanded from .29 to .32 inches. For small game, this is a viable number.

CCI Velociter 40-Grain Copper-Plated HP

GUN TEST GRADE: B

Priced at $6.99/50 at TargetSportsUSA.com, the 40-grain Velociter averaged 1087 fps. Energy is the highest of any load tested. This load is fast enough to deliver 14 inches of penetration, a respectable number. Expansion was modest but consistent at .25 inch. This isn’t the ideal small-game load, and it would be at its best from a rifle. For those who insist on using a 22 LR for personal defense, this would qualify, based on penetration.

Wolf Match 40-Grain LRN

GUN TEST GRADE: B

Running $47.99/500 from AmmunitionStore.com, this Match ammunition is expensive. But performance is good. The load averaged 798 to 805 fps. Standard deviation in velocity was very low. Accuracy was excellent, as good as we are able to hold. This ammunition isn’t any more accurate than the CCI Standard Velocity in practical terms, but clearly this is an accurate round. So, if you are making head shots on small game at longish handgun range, this load may give you an edge. As a hunting load, it was rated down a grade based on the price for a basic roundnose bullet.

CCI Standard Velocity 40-grain LRN

GUN TEST GRADE: A

Priced at $24.99/500 from TargetsportsUSA.com, this load is affordable and very accurate. Along with the Wolf Match ammunition, this is among the most accurate loads tested, with the Federal Match Hunting load and the two Fiocchi loads vying for top accuracy as well. At 890 fps, the Standard Velocity load is mild in report, although it certainly isn’t in the class with the quiet load. There is no comparison in wound ballistics with the more expensive Federal Match load. If accuracy is the sole criterion, the CCI Standard Velocity makes head shots on small game a sure bet for those who practice.

Winchester M22 40-grain Black Copper Plated Round Nose

GUN TEST GRADE: A

Very reasonably priced at $53.19/1000 rounds from SportsmansGuide.com, this is an affordable high-velocity number. At 1025 fps, the smack on the steel reaction targets we used testing the Ruger Standard Model was evident. This load is intended to provide the proper powder burn and feed in modern 22-caliber AR-15 type rifles. The powder burn is clean and the unplated lead bullet proved accurate.

Winchester Super X 37-Grain HP

GUN TEST GRADE: B

Running $7.12/100 from SportmansGuide.com, the Winchester 37-grain load averaged 988 to 1000 fps. This is a loading that has been around some time, and it has developed a good reputation for function and accuracy, which this test bore out. The Winchester 37-grain HP exhibited good accuracy. Penetration is deep at 14 inches, which is pretty much standard for high-velocity non-expanding bullets. And the Winchester 37-grain bullet did not expand. There was some nose deformation, but none of the bullets got any wider. Like many other 22 LR loads, this one would be at its best in a rifle.

Federal American Eagle 38-Grain Copper-Plated HP AE22

GUN TEST GRADE: B (BEST BUY)

This loading, $20.89/525 from SportsmansGuide.com, earns Best Buy recognition. It is affordable, actually less money than the CCI Blazer, and it offers the advantage of a hollow-point bullet. There is really no reason to purchase a roundnose style when the HP is less expensive. This is a reliable plinking round with good, if not outstanding, accuracy. Velocity is lower than most loads of the type at an average of 937 fps. The consensus among raters is to stock up on this load for all-round practice and use a harder-hitting load when necessary. The Federal 38-grain HP penetrated 14 to 16 inches, depending on whether the nose expanded, which it did less than half the time.

CCI Stinger 32-Grain CPHP

GUN TEST GRADE: A

This round cost $4.95/50 at TargetSportsUSA.com. The Stinger averaged 1125 to 1138 fps. Penetration was a consistent 9 to 10 inches. The Stinger is accurate enough for most uses, but not as accurate as most of the 36- to 40-grain bullets. At 32 grains, energy is considerably less than the heavy bullets. Every Stinger bullet expanded, averaging .34 inch. This is a good small-game and pest-popper load. The Stinger would not make the cut for personal defense, if any 22 load could, but the limited penetration rules it out. The Stinger is a good choice for close-range work.

Remington Golden Bullet 40-Grain HP

GUN TEST GRADE: A

This affordable item was $69.99/1400 rounds at TargetSportsUSA.com and it offered an average of 1011 fps in velocity and 13 inches of penetration. The Remington Golden Bullet was once the gold standard for reliability in self-loading pistols. The Golden Bullet performed well, with expansion of .31 to .33 inch.

Written and photographed by Gun Tests Staff, using evaluations from Gun Tests team testers.

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