In spite of its diminutive size and low energy figures, the ubiquitous .22 Long Rifle has remained one of the most useful cartridges in existence since its introduction in the late nineteenth century. When employed at reasonable distances, the round is capable of taking all manner of small game and varmints without inflicting excessive meat or pelt damage.
Additionally, the round has been successfully used to kill large game animals. In fact, according to the 1996 John Krakauer novel, Into the Wild, ill fated outdoor adventurer Chris McCandless used a Remington semi-automatic rifle chambered in .22 LR to kill a moose prior to his death by starvation in the Alaskan Wilderness. While the .22 LR would not be any ethical hunter’s first (or even hundredth) choice as a moose round, it’s clear the little cartridge is capable of doing more than it’s meant to in a pinch.
With this in mind, I decided it would be an interesting (and fun) exercise to fire various and sometimes unusual .22 LR rounds into gel blocks and compare the results. Given the wide variety of .22 LR ammunition currently in production, I decided to tackle the project by testing a selection of ammo from three different categories: subsonic (under 1,126 f/s MV), standard velocity (1,126 to 1,300 f/s MV), and high velocity (over 1,300 f/s MV). Up first were the subsonic loads.
All shots were fired from my Savage Mark II (16-inch barrel, 1:16 twist rate) into blocks of ten percent gelatin from a distance of ten feet. A chronograph was placed just in front of the gel blocks in order to record impact velocity. Results are detailed below.
20-grain Aguila Super Colibri
The Super Colibri is one of several interesting .22 LR rounds offered by the Mexican munitions manufacturer Aguila. The round is completely free of powder, instead relying only on the pressure generated by the primer to propel its 20 grain projectile to muzzle velocities of 500 to 600 f/s. The Super Colibri and its even milder cousin, the Colibri endow the .22 LR with the ability to perform like an air rifle in terms of velocity and report. Such a light and quiet load makes the Colibri useful for target practice and the control of small garden pests in places where a firearm can be safely discharged but the noise of gunfire is frowned upon.
From the muzzle of my Savage, the Super Colibri impacted the gel block at a velocity of 607 f/s and penetrated to a depth of four inches. The maximum diameter of the damage cavity was approximately 5/8-inches and the projectile did not noticeably expand or shed weight. As long as ranges are kept reasonably close and shots placed well, the Super Colibri should be capable round for game up to the size of rabbits.
40 grain CCI Quiet-22
While the CCI Quiet wasn’t exactly silent, it was noticeably quieter than most standard velocity .22 LR rounds I’ve fired. The bullet impacted the gel block at a velocity of 752 f/s and penetrated to a depth of 8.5-inches. Maximum cavity diameter was approximately 3/4-inches and the bullet showed no visible signs of deformation. The round clearly penetrates enough to kill small game at reasonable ranges, but the lack of expansion means that shots should be chosen carefully.
I have personally witnessed small game animals hit in the heart/lung/liver area with non-expanding .22 LR rounds and run off. Some were recovered while others were not. I am of the opinion that the design of the CCI Quiet could be improved by the addition of a hollow point.
40-grain Winchester .22 Long Rifle Subsonic Hollow Point
The Winchester subsonic round moved considerably faster than the previous two competitors, impacting the block at a velocity of 1,026 f/s. The bullet broke into five fragments with the largest penetrating to a depth of 9.5-inches. As a consequence of the bullet’s expansion and ultimate fragmentation, the damage cavity in the gelatin was approximately 1-3/8-inches at its widest point. The largest recovered bullet fragment was .261-inches in diameter at its widest point and weighed 26.5 grains.
It is likely that at longer ranges, after the bullet sheds some velocity, the projectile will not fragment as dramatically, instead expanding into the classic mushroom shape.
38-grain Remington Subsonic Hollow Point
The Remington subsonic load was just barely subsonic – impacting the block at 1,104 f/s – and subjectively seemed to be the loudest round fired during the range session. Although it impacted at a greater velocity than the Winchester round, the Remington’s shallower hollow point allowed the bullet to expand into a mushroom shape rather than fragment. The bullet penetrated to a depth of 9-3/8-inches and the resulting cavity in the gel block was 1-7/8-inches in diameter at its widest point. The recovered projectile weighed 37-grains and was .344-inches in diameter.
60-grain Aguila Sniper Subsonic
The Sniper Sub Sonic (SSS) is another odd round from Aguila. Rather than sporting a .22 bullet of in the typical 30 grain to 40 grain weight range, the SSS pushes a 60 grain projectile at a velocity in the 800 to 900 f/s range. In order to make the round cycle and chamber in a standard 22 LR action, the case had to be shortened significantly, to the point where the projectile itself accounts for more than half of the overall cartridge length.
While the long, heavy, bullets could not be stabilized by the 1:16 twist rate of my Savage (they key-holed) I figured they might make an interesting cavity in the gel block. Indeed, the SSS bullet – which impacted the gel block at a velocity of 813 f/s – penetrated deeper and left a larger cavity than any of the other rounds fired during the range session. The bullet penetrated 11-inches of gel and tore a cavity that was 2-1/8-inches in diameter at its widest point. Since the bullet did not expand or deform in any noticeable way, I am assuming the comparatively large cavity was the result of the bullet tumbling, end over end, through the gel. It would be interesting to see how the Sniper Subsonic performs when fired from a rifle capable of stabilizing such a heavy bullet.
Related Article: The venerable .22 LR vs. gelatin part II: Standard and high velocity rounds (2796)