I am going to let you in a bit of a shameful secret. Sometimes I think I’m a bad gun owner because of this, but it is what it is.
I don’t own a 22LR firearm.
In all seriousness, I’ve long known that a 22 is conspicuously absent from my safe. It’s not that I’ve had something particularly egregious against the little 22. Everyone knows it’s a great starting point for learning marksmanship.
In truth, I just don’t think I had all that much interest in it. Until now, that is.
You see, before I started digging into this one, I primarily wanted to fill my collection with capability over quantity. By that, I mean that I wanted each weapon in my safe to bring something unique and useful in a fight.
I wanted to know that I could open the safe, hand a weapon to a member of my tribe in an emergency, and trust that it would work well. That kind of mindset is certainly good for prioritizing reliability and usefulness in a fight, but it comes with some hazards.
Another reason for my sudden interest in 22LR comes down to not having access to my bolt gun. My 308 precision rifle, Project Gungnir, has been at the gunsmith since early November 2019, and it’s only just now about ready to come home. In the meantime, I’ve been trying to write precision optic reviews without anything to mount it to.
Aside from that, I don’t have ready access to very long distances shooting ranges. All of this came together one day when I came to the same realization that many precision shooters have in the past: the 22LR is a great stand-in for the 308 when it comes to marksmanship training.
The Problem With “Capability First” Thinking
When I say that I only wanted useful firearms in the safe, that’s not to say that I don’t have anything that’s just for fun. If I’m being honest, I don’t really ever see taking my M1 Garand, 1911, or even my M1A out for anything but some laughs and showing off. But I also know they could be used for “serious” work in a pinch.
I never felt that way about a 22LR, unless the mission at hand was popping prairie dogs.
But the problem with this kind of “capability first” mindset is two-fold. First, it gets pretty darn expensive. That’s not just in the cost quality weapons and equipment, but even the ammunition to feed everything. Ammunition is probably the most important element there for this article.
You can do a lot of good quality training with dry practice, as many of my podcast guests have stated over and over again. But there are some things, like reading wind and working dope, that you simply can’t do without live fire. At more than a dollar per shot, it gets very expensive to put in that kind of practice with a 308.
To put dollars and cents to it, factory high quality .308 ammo runs about $1.20 per shot. While match level 22LR runs $0.13 per shot. You can do the math on that.
Secondly, the problem with my only dealing in full-size rifles is distance.
If you really want to push the 308, or any centerfire cartridge, to its limits then you need a shooting range that actually goes to those distances. In truth, I simply don’t have regular access 500, 800, or 1000+ yards without driving for very long distances.
But I definitely have access to shorter distances.
That’s when I decided to go back and re-evaluate my preconceptions.
The 22LR as a Stand-In for 308
Let’s not beat around the bush. I’m not saying that the 22LR is anywhere near as capable as a 30 cal or 6.5 CM or any other centerfire round when it comes to effects on the target. But when you crunch the numbers, it looks like a really good ballistic substitute for practicing at extended ranges.
I know most people shooting 22LR don’t really work beyond 25 or 50 yards. It gets a lot more challenging precisely because it’s a relatively inefficient bullet. But that also means it suffers a lot more drop and windage effects at greatly reduced ranges.
To illustrate, I crunched some numbers with JBM Ballistics and produced these two charts. The first is an Eley 40gr target load launched at 1050 FPS (just below supersonic) and zeroed for 25 yards. The second is a 168gr SMK launched at 2560 FPS and zeroed for 100 yards.
When you compare these two charts, skip over the inch drop values and look at the mils column. For the 22LR, shooting at 100 yards requires 2.4 mils of adjustment. That’s like shooting at around 375 yards for the 308.
By the numbers, shooting at 200 yards with the 22LR is analogous to nearly 800 yards with the 308, which is about as far as I would expect a 168gr SMK to work.
If you pay attention to the windage column, it presents about the same amount of challenge. I ran these windage numbers with a 10 mph wind, by the way.
So, in short, it takes as much “work” to train with the 22LR at shorter ranges as it does with a 308 at much longer distances. You can build many of the same fundamental skills, but do so at a dramatically cheaper cost and without access to very long distances.
Now this is where things start get interesting. It’s no secret that I’ve been very interested in getting started with PRS-style matches. Project Gungnir was supposed to be my entry into that world, but it’s delays set me back. The costs associated with PRS shooting are not secret, and my recent podcast guest Mike Keenan did nothing to dispel the idea.
I was surprised, though I shouldn’t have been, to find out that there’s a growing following of PRS-style matches done at shorter ranges and with 22LR rifles.
The concept stems from the NRL, another league known for precision rifle competition. They formalized 22LR matches under the NRL-22 banner to bring in a broader audience.
While NRL-22 itself is still not sponsoring matches in many areas, the idea of a match focused on precision shooting with 22LR rifles out to 300+ yards is catching on. More and more people are getting involved for precisely the same reasons that it’s attracting me.
In fact, I’m planning how to organize some postal matches around our community using the idea.
Getting Started with 22 Matches
NRL-22 has a “base” class of shooters. These rifles are factory only, save for mounting hardware and triggers, and the combined cost of the rifle and optic cannot exceed $1100. This is squarely targeted at new shooters just getting involved in the sport.
I’m not going that route.
So let’s talk about my plan. I’m going to build a 22LR bolt action rifle to serve as both a training rifle for my centerfire and 22LR precision competition rifle. The costs of going this route are not insignificant. In fact, I could easily buy another centerfire rifle in popular chambering for what I’m planning to spend.
But I also plan to shoot the piss out of this thing.
There are a lot of great options on the market right now, and more are coming in as manufacturers take note of the trend.
As for optics, I plan to start with what I already own. But I’ll discuss this more as I tell you about this project specifically in another post.
Alright, we’ve made it to the end. The world of rimfire shooting has mostly been something I’ve ignored before this point. But you know what, I should have.
While I’m never going to abandon the practical shooting roots of what I do here, I sincerely believe there is room to really practice and develop the fundamentals through utilizing rimfire rifle training.