From my email inbox: what’s the best .22 ammunition for a rifle?

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A recent email asked about the accuracy of .22 ammunition, and which I found was the best in my rifles. I couldn’t answer that question, and here’s why!
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I’m sometimes amazed at the coincidences of life. I’m currently testing ammunition in a rather unusual (but awfully neat) .22 rifle for an upcoming article in Gun Digest, and at the same time I get an email from Anthony asking about .22 ammunition for a rifle!

The question was simply stated: Anthony has a new Savage (one of their heavy-barrel varmint varieties) and wanted to know what ammunition I’d found to be most accurate. (Technically speaking, he wanted to know which ammunition delivered the greatest precision — the smallest groups — but everyone refers to that as being “accurate”.)

The problem is that I don’t know. I’ve shot perhaps 50 different varieties of .22 ammunition in my rifles, and I still can’t answer that question. The reason? Because every rifle is different!

Generally speaking all guns are somewhat ammunition sensitive, in that some varieties will group tighter than others in the same arm. With rimfires (and especially .22 rfles), however, the variability is greatly magnified. Some rimfires will shoot a particular load very well, while another gun (even from the same manufacturer) will shoot that same ammunition into patterns rather than nice groups.

For instance, I have a pair of Mossberg 44US target rifles. One of them shoots its best groups with Wolf Match Target but doesn’t like Aguila Rifle Match at all. The other gun is exactly the opposite. What’s more, the gun which likes the Wolf ammunition shoots cheap Winchester Dynapoint bulk ammo into groups which are surprisingly close to the Match Target, while the other rifle’s groups with that ammunition are five or six times the size.

I once acquired a Ruger 10/22 whose previous owner said would not shoot hollowpoints “worth a damn”. He was right: the Mini-Mag hollowpoints he’d used were all over the paper at 50 yards, but it loved Winchester Super-X hollowpoints. I can relate numerous other examples where a “bad” gun was miraculously salvaged simply by changing the ammunition in its magazine!

It’s not even predictable to bullet type, weight, or velocity; I’ve never been able to predict that a certain rifle will like all 37 grain hollowpoints running at 1300fps because it happened to like one example. The same bullet weight, style and velocity from another manufacturer is likely to be completely different. In fact, sometimes a rimfire’s preferences will surprise you: I have a Marlin Model 39 that shoots its best groups with CCI Small Game Bullet (SGB), a 40-grain flatnose bullet at about 1200fps. It’s second best groups (and they’re very close) comes from another CCI product, their incarnation of the Quik-Shok round: a 32-grain segmented bullet traveling at a whopping 1600fps. No other rifle I have will shoot that hyper-velocity round well, but this old Marlin sure does!

The same holds true for functioning. Autoloading rimfires (especially the pistols) are incredibly picky about what they’ll feed reliably. Overall cartridge length, bullet shape, and sometimes even the type of lubricant the bullet uses all seem to be factors. Some guns will choke constantly on the cheap bulk Remington Golden Bullets, for instance, while other guns will digest it without complaint. I have examples of both in my safe.

I’ve found this variability to be perhaps the biggest annoyance (and the most intriguing challenge) with rimfire rifles: you have to test every gun with a variety of ammunition to find out what it shoots well and what it doesn’t like. It takes time and burns ammunition, but I’ve found it’s the only way to gauge a rimfire’s performance.

So, the short answer to the question is “it depends”. In my experience every rimfire rifle is different, and even the same model from the same manufacturer will likely vary considerably from gun to gun. What works well in mine is more than likely not going to mean anything to him (or you). You need to get a bunch of different kinds of .22LR ammunition and try them under controlled conditions to find out which one is the best for YOUR gun.

Which brings me back to the gun I’m testing: the current rimfire shortage means that I don’t know exactly how well it shoots, because I can’t find enough ammunition to find out if what I’m feeding it is its best or its worst!

-=[ Grant ]=-

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About the Author:

Grant Cunningham is a renowned author and teacher in the fields of self defense, defensive shooting education and personal safety. He’s written several popular books on handguns and defensive shooting, including "The Book of the Revolver", "Shooter’s Guide To Handguns", "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals", "Defensive Pistol Fundamentals", and "Practice Strategies for Defensive Shooting" (Fall 2015.) Grant has also written articles on shooting, self defense, training and teaching for many magazines and shooting websites, including Concealed Carry Magazine, Gun Digest Magazine, the Association of Defensive Shooting Instructors ADSI) and the popular Personal Defense Network training website. He’s produced a DVD in the National Rifle Association’s Personal Firearm Defense series titled "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals" and teaches defensive shooting and personal safety courses all over the United States.
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