Far from the most powerful, the .22 Long Rifle is arguably the most useful cartridge of all time.
It dates to 1857, when Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson came up with a rimfire round while working on a lever-action rifle. That primitive Volcanic rifle would evolve into the Henry, the foundation of Winchester’s 19th century dynasty.
Meanwhile, Smith and Wesson would turn to another firearms venture. Their rimfire cartridge endured 30 years of development. Its progeny, the .22 Long Rifle, arrived in 1887, courtesy the J. Stevens Arms & Tool Company. A black-powder cartridge with 5 grains driving a 40-grain bullet, it evolved later to take smokeless powder in a case with a crimp clutching the heeled bullet.
Remington claimed the first modern high-speed load in l930. Current .22 ammo includes friskier offerings, but they’re all sinfully pleasant to shoot. Feeding a .22 costs so much less than stoking a centerfire; you can almost keep Junior in college with the difference.
My love affair with .22 started on a fence rail, where I shot barn rats with a Remington 121 and .22 Shorts. Squinting into that J4 Weaver was like looking through dishwater.
I trained with iron sights on a Remington 40X .22 match rifle, then sold my soul for an Anschutz 1413 to join a University smallbore team. Eley Match ammunition nipped one hole at 50 meters. I won a state prone title, and then foolishly sold that rifle.
The scope, a Redfield 3200, sat next on a McMillan-barreled Remington 37. It snared a second state title. By the time targets got too fuzzy in iron-sight stages, hunting-weight .22s had filled a gun rack in my office.
Cooper, Kimber and Weatherby bolt guns joined the Marlin 39s, an autoloading T/C and a Remington 121 that’s as fetching as the rat rifle of my youth. A Ruger and a Savage in .22WMR, and a Cooper in .17 HMR offer more reach. The Cooper is obscenely accurate.
I should have kept the Browning BLR and Winchester 9422 that left for more responsible owners – and the 52 Winchester with 10x Fecker my wife used to thin ground squirrels near an Oregon farmstead.
I’m obliged to keep the Winchester 75 Sporter, an inheritance on Alice’s side. “It’s mine,” she says.
It’s fashionable in some circles to scoff at the .22 Long Rifle, as if it were OK for kids but not for real riflemen. Well, some real accomplished shooters have used .22s.
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About the Author: Wayne van Zwoll is a regular contributor to the Gun Digest annual, and author of the Gun Digest Book of Sporting optics. He is a nationally-recognized expert on rifles, optics and western hunting.
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