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.
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.