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On the Cheap: 22LR as an Awesome Long-Range Training Tool

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.

22LR Competition

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.

PRS is not a poor man's sport.

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.

Wrapping Up

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.

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Matt is the primary author and owner of The Everyday Marksman. He's a former military officer turned professional tech sector trainer. He's a lifelong learner, passionate outdoorsman, and steadfast supporter of firearms culture.

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Chris Nicklin
Chris Nicklin

the Scale effect for external ballistics for .22lr vs. .308win is about 4:1. So .308 dope is usable give or take at one quarter the distance for .22 An article for reference: I set up my Savage MkII FVSR for the exact same purpose you propose. My main concern was budgetary. I like that rifle well enough, but if I had a few dollars extra I would have gone with the CZ 455. That is the rig most used in the winners circle of .22 NRL matches. I’m traveling the same path with .22lr trainer for .308 practice. I’d… Read more »

Chris Nicklin
Chris Nicklin
Replying to  Matt

Well, keep up the work of the people! Since I also live in VA when you get a match organized odds are good I’ll be there. I could only find one other spot for such an event all the way out in Sussex.

I’ve done this exact process and I’ll be watching your progress closely to see if I can/could do something better.

ILya Koshkin

This is exactly what I have been doing since I only have a 200 yard range available to me during the lockdown. Before the lockdown, I was shooting subsonic 300Blackout to 500 yards or so a lot. That sucker drops like a rock at that distance, although wind drift is actually a little less than typical 308 loads.


Have you ever attended a Project Appleseed event?
Sounds like something that might be of benefit in accomplishing the goals you mentioned in this column entry.

Colorado Pete
Colorado Pete

“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.” Ouch! As an old-school old fart who took most of a lifetime to warm up to the AR platform, I take exception to the above! “Could” be used, in a pinch? In the late ’80’s Cooper wrote that in WW2 we gave our troops the best personal fighting tools in history. If I had to “go to war” – take the… Read more »

Colorado Pete
Colorado Pete
Replying to  Matt

If it is short-cycling (re-chambering the fired case), it is most likely a gas system issue – worn cylinder or piston allowing too much blow-by.

Colorado Pete
Colorado Pete
Replying to  Matt

Interesting. Does it lock back open when empty? Sounds like the op rod catch (which is more or less the center piece of the mechanism) is not being moved far enough in its rocking back and forth. And a weak op rod spring might keep the follower from pressing up on the cartridges enough to keep the top one tight against the clip lips, allowing it to become misaligned during recoil when the bolt opens, which might cause the misfeed.

Milo Mirate
Milo Mirate

Newb question: why not 9mm instead? Yes, it’s about 4 or 5 times the price (only being the cheapest centerfire cartridge rather than the cheapest cartridge ever). But the standard-pressure loads at that price, have a similar barely-supersonic muzzle velocity as .22LR and therefore should drop its trajectory about as fast. At the same time, those cheap loads still have almost three times the projectile mass as .22LR, which means – assuming you’re using a simple straight-blowback system – that it produces a much bigger fraction of a “real” cartridge’s recoil than .22LR does. For practice I would think this… Read more »

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