Hello and welcome to another edition of The Rimfire Report! This ongoing series is about the rimfire firearm world and its many different types of guns, sports, history, and ammunition types. Last week we brought in TFB writer and gunsmith extraordinaire Sam S to talk about fixing his Dad’s old Marlin Model 60 – probably one of the most ubiquitous semi-auto rimfire rifles alongside the Ruger 10/22. My recent experiences with the new Ruger Super Wrangler have brought my mind back to rimfire ammunition comparisons. When it comes to rimfire cartridges, the .22 Long Rifle (22LR) and .22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire (22WMR) are two of the most popular choices among hunters, plinkers, and target shooters. Both cartridges have unique strengths and weaknesses, and choosing between them largely depends on your intended use. But is there any specific reason to use one over the other? Today, we will be comparing 22LR and 22WMR, discussing their pros and cons, use cases, and which one might be the best choice for your shooting needs.
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The Rimfire Report: Comparing 22LR and 22WMR
The .22 Long Rifle cartridge is one of the oldest and most widely used cartridges in the world. It’s cheap, readily available, and can be and has been used for a variety of purposes. The 22LR has low recoil, making it easy to shoot, and it’s relatively quiet, which is great for plinking and small game hunting. It’s also versatile, with a wide range of bullet weights and velocities available.
However, the 22LR does have its downsides. It’s not a particularly powerful cartridge, which means it’s not suitable for larger game species hunting. It also has limited range and accuracy, making it unsuitable for long-range target shooting. Worst of all, a lot of bulk 22LR ammunition, which is usually what people buy to make practicing, training, and having fun more economical, is often not of the best quality and doesn’t always run reliably through every gun in your inventory.
While quality ammunition does exist, it’s always going to be way more expensive and is also as a byproduct, not nearly as widely available as some of the cheap bulk options. However, I think if your goal is to be purely economical about shooting with rimfire, perhaps a few malfunctions here and there can just be written off as additional training.
22LR’s bigger, stronger, and faster cousin – 22WMR
The .22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire, also known as the 22WMR or simply the 22 Magnum, is a more powerful and versatile cartridge than the 22LR. The 22WMR has a flatter trajectory and more power than the 22LR, making it better suited for hunting small to medium game such as coyotes, raccoons, and larger hares at longer ranges. It’s also more accurate than the 22LR on a regular basis which makes it a great choice for target shooting.
Pretty much every option currently on the market is a solid choice in terms of accuracy, consistency, and stated performance on the box – 22WMR is made in much lower quantities than 22LR and therefore I think it gets a bit more attention in the QC department. However, my current “go-to” ammunition for reviews are CCI’s Maxi-Mag 40gr loads – these have a good blend of cost, accuracy, velocity, and terminal performance when tested in ballistic gelatin. That being said, overall there are a lot fewer options when it comes to 22WMR, virtually no subsonic, and a very limited range of grain weights when compared directly to the litany of options you have with 22LR.
22WMR obviously suffers majorly for being more expensive than the 22LR, and secondarily also not as widely available during regular buying seasons. It also has more recoil and noise, which can be a concern for some shooters, especially those who are new to shooting or who have extreme recoil sensitivity. If none of those things are preventative factors for you, then centerfire cartridges will once again leapfrog 22WMR in terms of performance, even when it comes to comparing it directly to some pistol cartridges like 9mm.
Use Cases for Each Cartridge
The 22LR is ideal for plinking, target shooting, and small game hunting. It’s a great choice for beginners, as it’s easy to shoot and relatively cheap. The 22LR is also a popular choice for teaching children how to shoot, as it’s not too powerful and has low recoil. There are tons of firearms that now cater to this growing market including scaled-down models of popular firearms like the Mosin-Nagant, AR-15, AK-47, and even dedicated single-shot child-sized trainer rifles like the Savage Rascal.
The 22WMR is better suited for hunting small to medium game at longer ranges. It’s also a great choice for target shooting, especially if you’re looking for a cartridge that can reach longer distances than the 22LR. The 22WMR is a good choice for those who are experienced shooters and who are looking for a more powerful and versatile cartridge than the 22LR, especially if varmint hunting, pest control, or longer-range precision rimfire shooting are your goals.
To be boringly centrist about this, I actually love both cartridges specifically for what they both do best. 22LR has been with me all my life and has always been a cheap source of fun, and now a cheap source of live-fire training as my shooting practices have changed. Meanwhile, 22WMR is a powerful hunting contender for a lot of small game around here in the pacific northwest, specifically coyotes that are considered “unregulated predators” and often can kill small livestock. Simply put, both cartridges offer their own strengths but if I had to put my foot down and pick one, 22WMR would be it if price and firearm availability weren’t an issue.
Both the 22LR and 22WMR are excellent cartridges with their own unique strengths and weaknesses. Ultimately, the best cartridge for you depends on your intended use. If you’re looking for a cheap and easy-to-use cartridge for plinking and small game hunting, the 22LR is a great choice. If you’re looking for a more powerful and versatile cartridge for hunting small to medium game at longer ranges, or for target shooting, the 22WMR is the way to go. Whichever cartridge you choose, let me know which and why! As always thanks for stopping by to read The Rimfire Report, we’ll see you all again next week!
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