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A lifelong fascination with the .22

January 17, 2009

If you have any doubt that the .22 caliber rimfire is the number one firearm you should have watched a Guns & Ammo special a week ago. The program claimed that one manufacturer, CCI, produced 4 million .22 rimfire cartridges per day, and CCI is just one of several manufacturers of .22 caliber ammunition. That is a lot of ammunition!

I had my first .22 rifle when I was 7 years old and that was a long time ago. Since then I have fired more than my share of .22s downrange at paper targets, tin cans, and different species of small game. Even so I doubt that and my shooting friends and I combined could put a dent in just one day's worth of manufacturing. When you add the output of CCI, Remington, Winchester, Ely and other manufacturers the yearly number of this small cartridge produced must begin to sound like the cost of a government bailout.

There are reasons for the popularity of the .22. First of all it is inexpensive compared to the cost of larger calibers. I doubt you can even beat the cost by reloading. Second, it is very accurate, dependable and just fun to shoot. Even with the higher cost of ammo these days you can buy a brick of .22s and take the family plinking for less than a trip to the movies.

There are so many rifles and pistols made for the .22 that there should be one to fit any budget. There also are a lot of used firearms available for reasonable prices. I traded for an old Marlin bolt action back in the 1960s and it still shoots 5 rounds into a small group at 50 feet or so. I have seen the same rifle at gun shows for as little as $40.

The small rifle is perfect for teaching a youngster or beginning adult to shoot. My first rifle was a heavy Savage with an octagon barrel, but today there are special rifles perfectly sized for smaller shooters.

While I have not used one, I think a New England Firearms Company's break action rifles would be ideal. As the novice progresses, some of them can be upgraded to larger calibers by adding a new barrel.

When it comes to hunting a single shot rifle teaches patience and shot placement. When you know you have just one chance, you tend to make it count. The single shot firearm is much safer than a repeater, especially a semi-auto. Once the gun is fired there is no doubt that it is empty until it is reloaded.

This said; one of the greatest .22 caliber rifles is the semi-auto, Ruger 10/22. This rifle is accurate and like all Ruger firearms is rugged and functions flawlessly round after round. My 10/22 is 35 years old and shoots as well as it did when I bought it for $47 at Woolworth's. Times sure have changed since the day you could buy a gun for that price, let alone at Woolworth's.

The 10/22 is so popular that you can customize it with equipment from several post manufacturer companies. You can add special barrels for improved accuracy, although the rifle shoots well right out of the box. There are all sorts of new stocks made especially for the Ruger, including some that make it resemble a military rifle. If you are one of those who prefer extra shots without reloading there are magazines available that hold an entire box of cartridges. Personally, I prefer to keep my rifles looking and shooting like sporting firearms. Besides, the original magazine holds 10 shots and if I need that many shots at game, I need more practice or new eyeglasses.

Twenty-twos can be bought in revolver or semi-auto versions for the handgun enthusiast. Marlin and Henry make some beautiful lever action rifles for those of us who still remember Chuck Connors as the Rifleman and Jimmy Stewart in the movie "Winchester 73". There is just something neat about a lever action rifle and a single action Colt, even if they are .22 caliber.

For hunting I use my .22 for nothing larger than squirrels and rabbits. I have taken groundhogs with a .22, but I feel it is much more humane to use a larger bullet, such as a .22 magnum or center fire. I want my game to stay put when I hit it and not crawl off.

Still, the .22 is plenty deadly with a well placed shot. During my days on the trapline I carried a .22 caliber Colt New Frontier. One shot to the head at close range was all it took to dispatch even a large raccoon. That is something to keep in mind when shooting your .22. Despite the small caliber this is not a toy and you need to use safe gun handling techniques at all times.

Just writing this has whetted my appetite to dig out my twenty-two and do a little shooting. I belong to a club with an indoor range so that will certainly be a way to cure my cabin fever.



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