Category Archives: .22 Long Rifle

The Three Ps

Want to get a fight started? Go to a gathering of gun nuts and shout, nine mil or forty-five? Immediately afterward, get behind cover.

When I was entering the gun nut forest for the first time, the writings of Col. Cooper showed me the way. He favored the M1911 in .45 ACP. Even though I have committed heresy at times, I still hold a fondness for single-action self-loaders that pitch a half ounce of lead at the gentle speed of 850 ft/sec.

The question remains, though: What caliber is the best in a handgun? Oy vey, here we go. It’s an old debate. Back in the early years of the twentieth century, the Army was embarrassed by the poor performance of its .38 Long Colt revolvers in the Philippines and wanted something better. Two fellows by the names of Thompson and LaGarde were commissioned to come up with the answer–in other words, were told to find that .45 was best. A careful reading of their study, however, shows that the data support no particular caliber as being any good out of a handgun. (The .30 Luger performed better than many other rounds, ironically.)

More recently, we keep hearing that the .22 Long Rifle is the round that kills the most people in a given year. Or perhaps it’s the woebegotten .25. So what’s a gun-toting person to choose?

Here, submitted for your consideration, are my three desiderata of cartridge and gun:

1. Placement

If the gun’s too heavy to manipulate or the recoil is so much that I develop a flinch, the thing’s useless to my purpose. There’s no miss that’s good enough, no matter how much noise it makes or how deep a hole it makes in the scenery. Now it’s no good saying that standard calibers are too hard to manage. I’m telling you that I don’t carry a .500 S&W.
Dirty Harry’s round is the one on the left.

The key here is to find something that you can put on target in a hurry. And I’m not talking ten rounds through one hole. What good does that do? You need to be able to empty a magazine or cylinder into the area covered by a sheet of typing paper or a two liter bottle in short order and at whatever distance you expect to have to defend yourself. Also, the smaller the bullet, the better your aim has to be.

2. Penetration

The FBI standard is that the bullet has to penetrate twelve inches of tissue to be good enough. That really is the minimum, since people come in all sizes and don’t always cooperate by standing at the right angle when they’re trying to kill you. These
don’t penetrate as well as these
do. Generally speaking, for small calibers–.22 LR, .25 ACP, .32 ACP, .380 ACP, and 9mm Makarov–the bullets are too light or the powder charge is too low to get enough penetration out of hollow points, presuming they even expand at the typical velocities of those rounds. By contrast, .38 Special rounds on up are heavy enough to keep on going, so expanding bullets are better–the bullet does no good once it leaves the bad guy.

Whatever your choice of handgun, the round it spits has to get in deep enough to do what needs accomplishing.

3. Punch

As I said above, the good ole .22 LR and .25 ACP hit way above their class, but that’s probably because those are common guns. I might rely on a .22, but that’s only because I know what I can do with mine. The safer answer is to go with something that’s going to do a lot of work where it’s going. Yes, an icepick can be used as an effective weapon, but your chances of success with that are far higher if you start the fight first and have trained yourself to drive the shaft exactly where you want it every time. In other words, it’s not all that useful for us good guys who aren’t going about starting animosity. We have to react to someone else’s bad choices in life, rather than picking the time and place to act.

Here’s where the 9mm vs. .45 ACP argument really gets thick in the weeds. In days gone by when semiautomatics worked best with hardball, a 9mm wasn’t such a good choice. Just like the icepick, it was small and ran in a hurry straight on through whatever it hit. But we live in interesting times, as the Chinese would say. It’s true that while hollow points don’t always expand, there ain’t no such thing as a shrinking bullet, but expansion is highly likely with today’s ammunition. This means that .38 Special, .357 Sig, .357 Magnum, .40 S&W, 10mm, .44 Special, .44 Magnum, and .45 ACP hollow points are probably going to get big enough to discourage a bad guy. Of course, little bullets also do a lot, but as I said above, the smaller the round, the smaller you’d better be able to aim.

I’ve mentioned a number of rounds in this discussion. I’m not endorsing any of them. I carry several of them and have at my disposal several others. I gravitate toward .38 Special, 9mm, and .45 ACP, but that’s just because my guns that shoot those are the easiest to carry. My Colt Pocket Hammerless is elegant, and now and then I grab my Polish copy of the PPK, but those tend to stay locked away these days.

The takeaway message here is get something that’s easy to carry and feels good in a common caliber, and you will have nothing to feel ashamed or apologetic about, so long as you’re good with it. The caliber wars are endless, and the only certain conclusion from the data about shootings is that it’s bad to get shot. The only real confidence comes from having close air support and a company of Marines at the ready. Short of that, the handgun you can operate well is likely to be good enough in an emergency.

(By the way, there are a pun and a piece of firearms history buried in this article.)

Cheap Practice

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? First you buy a cheap violin and saw the hell out of it, right?

Thanks to rising commodities prices, nefarious government manipulation, increased demand, or whatnot, ammunition is expensive these days. That means that practicing shooting is harder on a budget. One answer is .22 Long Rifle, since a box of 550 still goes for under $20. But even the venerable rimfire has its limits. It’s not legal to discharge within cities, generally. My fellow home residents would likely object to me popping off rounds in-doors, anyway. What’s a cheap bastard to do?

Get a pellet gun.

Since I have a deep affection for the M1911, I bought a Crosman Stinger P311 for $15. In shape and controls, it’s a good copy of the real thing, but it uses a spring to shoot BBs, so it’s quiet and not particularly powerful–thus safe to use inside the house. (Always with eye covering, of course.) A bottle of 5,000 rounds set me back another $10 or so. For under $30, I can practice point shooting and getting the sights aligned on target quickly. Since I have to rack the slide for each shot, I also get a kind of malfunction drill. If you don’t go in for the 1911, there are plenty of other designs that have been copied–Sig Sauers and Berettas in particular. The only thing missing is recoil, but if you’ve developed a flinch, a pellet gun could be a good way to overcome it.

As with real guns, following the basic safety rules is a good idea with a pellet gun. Those pellets will punch a hole in cardboard and some other materials, and they can cause injury. But for all kinds of practice, including dry firing and drawing from concealment, the copy gives an additional layer of safety.

Cheap and safer practice–what’s not to love? Go forth, and enjoy.

It Starts (or Should Have Done) with a .22

I visit gun shows. Gun store owners groan about this, but I give them enough of my business that they have no reason to. The best practice is to go without any expectations (sounds Buddhist, no?). I never find what I’m looking for, or I find a desired weapon, but it’s price is far above reason or what I can afford. These days, for example, even Mosin Nagants run in the several hundred dollar range–thanks, Mr. President. (Under a hundred is a rational price for that rifle.) But when I plunk down my $5 for a few hours in heaven and just wander the streets of lead and blued steel, something I didn’t expect always pokes its muzzle crown above the others.

Last weekend (2 July 2011), I did my duty as a rebellious colonial and went to the convention center in Springdale to tempt myself into commerce. A friend had to tell me about it (thanks, Duke), since there weren’t the usual billboards up, and I really wasn’t planning to buy anything. There was the usual plethora of overpriced and overhyped whizzbangs (can anyone tell me what the purpose of a Taurus Judge is [and don’t say snakes, ’cause that ain’t it!]?) and reasonably priced, but out of my financial reach beauties. Someday, I’m going to have a flintlock rifle and a Mauser Broomhandle, but not today, alas. Still, as is the way of things, in my sweep through the aisles, a lonesome little belle waited coyly in a rack until I was close enough to see her batting her scope at me.

Oh, dear me, what was this thing of aesthetic pleasure? A Marlin 60W, semiautomatic, fourteen plus one shot (see end note for a tangent), .22 LR rifle with a Tasco 3-7 x 20 scope. $150, and she was mine.

There are two points here that must be explained. I tend to approach things in my own unique, individual, special (and bassackward) manner. My first rifle was an aforementioned Mosin Nagant, and I’ve been working upward from there. My reasoning was that I had no interest in hunting squirrels, so I ought to go for full power. The problem with this is that full power means full recoil, and that means flinch. To this date, I’m not much good at shooting for groups (the goal being to put many rounds through as small a circle as possible from a great distance away). I can hit a two liter soda bottle at a hundred yards when I have time to practice (as long as the bottle sits really still. . .). Well, perhaps I’m just hitting near it and scaring the poor thing into jumping.

I always excused this by saying that I can put a round into the kill zone of an evil Coke or an offensive Dr. Pepper, and that certainly would meet the requirements for minute of deer. But bad guy holding a hostage? Myeh, how likely is that? But none of this felt satisfying, since perfection is the goal, and we all must work ourselves as close to it as we can get.

The other point is that Tasco scopes may be derided as cheap. That I can dismiss easily. Cheap is good enough for me at my current level of expertise. I’ll go for Leupold when I’m good enough to use it. But more than that, a .22 Long Rifle weapon isn’t going to rattle the optics all that much. One characteristic that makes the expensive scopes cost so much is their ability to take abuse from powerful cartridges, but .22 rimfire is a different order of business.

Now that I’ve given the background, let’s talk about why I love this rifle. For one thing, the .22 Long Rifle cartridge has much to recommend it. A box of 550 costs around $15. Compared to fifty rounds of .303 British surplus that go for $30, you can see the advantage. The .22 is also the gentlest round in common use today. It’s quiet, and the recoil is a feathery plink, instead of a punch to the shoulder. This means that shooting it just involves basic technique–breathing, trigger squeeze, sights on target, hold. This is the rifle with which to learn how to be good.

After setting up at the range, I loaded the tubular magazine (no thumb-busting spring-loaded floor plate to push down) and took aim on a bench rest. The first rounds were off, as I expected from an unzeroed scope, so I sighted in and then settled in to see what could happen. Pop. . . pop. . . pop. . . pop. . . pop straight into a group that I could cover with a quarter at twenty-five and fifty yards. In rapid fire, the group opened up a little, but each round was still within an inch or two of my point of aim. Was it the .22 cartridge? The microgroove barrel (sixteen shallow grooves, instead of two to six or so deep ones)? I can’t credit myself for shooting that well.

So much for paper. My next targets were my favorite bottles. Now, as I said, I’m much better with those than with flat bulls eye sheets, but this sweet little Marlin let me shoot better than just the bottle. At fifty yards from offhand (unsupported, without a sling), I was hitting bottle caps!

That whole day, I was giddy. Townsend Whelen once said that only accurate rifles are interesting, and my Marlin 60 is mighty interesting. She was also cheap to buy and is cheap to feed. In that, she sounds like me. If you want to find us, check the local range first.

End Note:

The Marlin company originally made the 60 rifle with a seventeen round tubular magazine (seventeen in the tube and one in the chamber), but the pissant legislature in the People’s Republic of New Jersey decided that semiautomatic weapons that could hold more than fifteen rounds were assault weapons. Uh huh. The Mujahideen and your neighborhood crack dealer both carry .22 rimfire rifles when they want to bust a cap on a squirrel. So Marlin reduced the capacity to fourteen in the tube in the 1980s to comply with the new law.

If I had been a Marlin executive at the time, I’d have looked into just how many rifles we were selling in New Jersey (seriously, could the numbers have been above two digits?) and told the whole state to get down on its belly and beg for forgiveness, something like what Ronnie Barrett did to the People’s Republic of California. But I was just a teenager then, living with anti-gun parents.