The .22 rimfire dates back long before many realize.
The story is quite an interesting tale of technology through the ages.
Sit back and read how the grand .22 rimfire cartridge has become America’s tiny sweetheart.
Many readers can attest they would be lost without the .22 Long Rifle cartridge or various rimfire kin. It was the cartridge they fed the first gun they ever shot. It was the cartridge that bagged that first squirrel or rabbit. It is also the cartridge that filled many days of target range trips and plinking walks with enjoyable trigger time.
The history of how the .22 Long Rifle came about is an interesting trip way back into history. It’s first ancestor was the so called “Bulleted Breech Cap” patented by a Frenchman named M. Flobert made way back in 1849. It was a necked down copper musket cap that then had a .22 caliber lead round ball seated in the mouth of the cap. It was originally designed for indoor shooting at various ranges commonly found during that time period. It currently is known as the “BB Cap” and is still made in a very limited supply.
A better version of the BB Cap was the CB Cap. It features a conical bullet instead of the round ball. The .22 Short was a vast improvement over both of them though. Daniel B. Wesson gets the credit of the .22 Short’s birth back in 1853. With the introduction in 1857 of the Smith & Wesson Model #1 Revolver the tiny seven shot revolver would spew out 29 grain projectiles in a hurry. While not a powerhouse not too many people of the time wanted to be caught at the wrong end of that little mad hornet.
Frank Wesson is mostly credited with an elongated case version of the .22 Short with a 30 grain projectile. Called the .22 Long cartridge it contained around 5 grains of black powder. The short only could hold 4 grains. It was an improvement over the .22 Short but still far from perfect.
Joshua Stevens along with W.M. Thomas of the Union Metallic Cartridge Co. (U.M.C.) came up with the original .22 Long Rifle cartridge back in 1888. It was for a single shot target rifle and then single shot pistols such as the popular Stevens Model 35 Tip Up Pistol.
The original cartridges did not have crimped in projectiles. S&W realized when they chambered a revolver for the cartridge that one was needed to keep the projectiles in the cylinder from migrating out of the cartridges. The .22 Long Rifle cartridge came of age into what we witness it as today when we gaze upon them.
Well, in reality all was not well with the .22 Long rifle cartridge. Sure it was fun to shoot and great on small game but the black powder charge had issues. When Winchester and Remington attempted to chamber early autoloading rifles for the black powder charged .22 Long Rifle cartridge fouling stopped them cold. Now obsolete versions of a larger diameter cartridge to make sure only the new smokeless cartridges could be fired in the autoloading rifles proved fruitless. It was doomed to failure.
What about the .22 Extra Long cartridge? It held a full 6 grains of black powder back in 1880. It was in fact made before the .22 Long Rifle cartridge and it was too big to fit in most autoloading rifles of the day. It too was just a step that never made it farther.
The .22 Winchester Rimfire (.22 WRF) was the somewhat father of the later .22 Winchester Magnum cartridge. Starting out in 1890 it had an inside lubricated 45 grain blunt nosed projectile seated and crimped inside the case. It too fell to the term obsolete though some great rifles remain out there for the not so bad cartridge. Limited runs on occasion of the .22 WRF cartridges are still made for those surviving shooters.
What about all of the other rimfire cartridges lost along the way? Well there was the Stevens cartridges in .25, .32, .38 among other calibers, all rimfire. There was the doomed 5mm. I could go on and on but until recent times only the .22 caliber cartridges seem to hold on.
Now with the introduction of the .22 Winchester Magnum cartridge (.22 WMR) in 1959 the shooter had the option of a much hotter .22 cartridge. Clocking at around 1,910 FPS with a jacketed hollow point it was death to small and medium game in a small but longer package. My favorite are the polymer tipped variety that anchor groundhogs with ease.
Cleaner priming and the disuse of black powder in favor of smokeless powder has brought the .22 rimfire cartridges to the modern day. Some .22 shooters barely clean them anymore due to light fouling. I have been told I overclean everything but better be safe than sorry.
In the past years .17 caliber cartridges made from necking down both the .22 Magnum and .22 Long Rifle cartridges. They are hot little numbers with a tiny pointed .17 caliber projectile. Still the parent cartridges remain largely more popular than the new offspring.
The .22 Long Rifle cartridge is by far the most purchased and fired cartridge on this continent. Bulk packed ammo is great practice for the shooter and far cheaper than any other cartridge. It’s popularity has caused shortages over the past years and currently. The .22 Long Rifle cartridge in a cavernous hollow point design is a sure anchor on small game. The below Winchester Power Points have been a favorite of mine personally for years just for that reason.
When CCI came out with their Stinger cartridges they stretched the case itself and added a lighter bullet to achieve higher speeds. How about 1,640 FPS.? They then bought out the Quik-Shok fragmenting line of cartridges and essentially combined both together making one heck of a groundhog and pest cartridge. I have spent many days wandering forgotten areas and orchards in search of groundhogs while loaded up with these cartridges. Every groundhog targeted went down without a fuss at all.
Speed and high tech projectiles have been the trend as of lately. Big game and varmint cartridge technology is now being examined for even the little .22 Long Rifle cartridge.
What about the slow pokes of the rimfire world? Well for quite pest control and target shooting will never go obsolete the .22 CB cartridge is alive and well. CCI makes the quiet little shooter in both .22 Short and .22 Long cases for easier loading. Clocking at 720 FPS from a rifle barrel they are quieter than many air rifles on the market. CCI one upped themselves and made a .22 Long Rifle cartridge name the QUIET-22 cartridge. It now sports either a solid 40 grain lead projectile or a segmented one for pests. It still moves at 710 FPS for stealthy shooting.
There is even a QUIET-22 for semi-automatic weapons. The 45 grain projectile gives enough push to work most actions though I have yet to get my hands on a box to try. There are even less powered cartridges such as the Aguila Colibri and Super Colibri cartridges. They are extremely quiet but may get stuck in longer rifle barrels due to the extremely slow speeds.
Even the .22 Short, the original whispering cartridge from a rifle barrel, is still made by a limited amount of manufacturers. It continues to hold onto life mainly with trappers, hunters and pest shooters.
For target shooters, outdoorsmen and survivalists the .22 rimfire cartridge just gets better and better. It fills many roles and the ammunition is small and light for carry. It indeed has become a work of functional art.
So what does the future hold for the .22 rimfire cartridge family? It appears to be very bright and will be exciting to see how technology changes how our favorite rimfire flavors will do into the future.
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