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>> Wring Out That Rimfire! :: By Matt Zietlow on 2001-01-30
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Just how well does your rimfire handgun or rifle shoot? Do you really know? How much accuracy testing have you done under controlled conditions? How many types and brands of ammunition have you tried? Does it really make a difference in the field?

Sounds like "20 Questions", right? It shouldn't. Rimfires are notorious for being a bit picky about their diets. Most folks I run into on the range are pleasantly surprised when I convince them to run some of my extensive array of .22 ammo through their guns. Why? What I most often hear is, "Heck, I always buy brand X." or "Well, this stuff is the cheapest I could find." It may often be product loyalty as well, often dating back to some jam or misfire they had with another brand back in 1975 or something like that. My father was a perfect example of this. As a youth hunting squirrels and rabbits in rural Wisconsin, I rarely recall seeing anything other than Winchester Super-X ammunition in his worn leather ammo pouch. Solid points only, as hollow points would ruin too much meat if the mandatory head-shot wandered slightly off-course. He pretty much looked down on all other brands, often citing examples of the very things I just mentioned. The gun most-often used was an early Weatherby Mark XXII wearing an old Bushnell 4X scope. Was the Super-X ammo best for that gun? Maybe or maybe not, but it's all my father bought and used.

I started deviating from that line of thought while thinning out the local starling population with my well-worn but trusty Remington Model 12 pump. It was the "C" model, complete with 24" octagonal barrel and fairly decent open sights. Oh, I started out with dad's supply of Super-X solids, but after dispatching a few birds with some Remington HP's a friend carried, I was hooked. I don't know if they shot any more accurately than the Super-X's, but boy were the effects more spectacular! My 12 year-old eyes could manage some pretty fair shots on those small birds, and when the HP hit there was no doubt as to the outcome. In this case they rapidly became my preferred ammo based on visual performance alone.

But what about hunting at longer ranges or target shooting? I encounter this here in Nevada every spring as I pursue the local ground squirrel population. With many of the .22's currently in my stable, I will shoot at much longer ranges than I ever found hunting squirrels in the Wisconsin oak forests. For those of us constantly in search of that super-accurate load, this means testing a lot of .22 ammo in each gun. The reason for this is simple, and it really is no different than why so many of us reload our centerfire rifles and pistols. We try different brass, primers, powders, bullets, etc., all in search of the perfect load. You get the picture here. Each gun has a preferred load combination, and since we can't reload our own rimfire ammo, we must resort to trying every brand we can get our hands on to get our best chance at finding that particular gun's preferred ammunition.

To give you an example, I recently completed testing three different S&W Model 617 revolvers. Gun A was a 6" barrel model with a 10-shot cylinder; Gun B was also a 6" barrel model but with a 6-shot cylinder, and Gun C was an 8 3/8" barrel model, also with a 6-shot cylinder. All from the same manufacturer, but with very different preferences as to their ammo. All three guns were equipped with standard factory sights and were fired from a sandbag rest. Range was 25 yards. Each gun was fired with eleven different types of reasonably available .22 ammo, which included everything from $9.00 per brick Walmart promotional specials to $9.00 per individual box of Eley match ammo. Also, and before any groups were shot for size, 20 rounds of each type of ammo were fired through all three guns to insure their bores were "conditioned" for that particular type of ammo and it's respective bullet lubricant. This is something I've discovered worthwhile over the years to insure consistency and the best possible groups while changing rimfire ammo brands.

The results were pretty much as expected, in that all three revolvers had different preferences as to their most accurate load. Cost of the ammunition did not necessarily play a part either! The chart below summarizes the test results.

Ammunition Type Gun A Gun B Gun C
group size avg. group size avg. group size avg.
Eley Pistol Match 2.1" 1.2" 0.8"
CCI Green Tag 2.9" 1.4" 1.0"
CCI Standard Velocity 3.4" 2.1" 1.2"
CCI Mini-Mag 1.8" 1.3" 0.7"
Remington Target 2.8" 1.8" 1.1"
Remington Subsonic 4.1" 2.6" 1.5"
Winchester T-22 3.1" 3.0" 0.9"
Winchester Wildcat 2.6" 1.9" 1.2"
Winchester Super-X 1.9" 2.0" 0.9"
Federal Gold Medal 2.7" 1.7" 1.0"
Federal Promotional Bulk-Pack 1.2" 2.2" 1.2"
Overall accuracy average 2.6" 1.9" 1.0"

Note: All guns were fired with open sights and a sandbag rest, with a target range of 25 yards. Group size is the average of three five-shot groups.

You will notice that even though Gun A had the worst overall accuracy average, it's single best load grouped equally as well as the best load for Gun B, and only " greater than the best load for Gun C. During these trials, Gun A proved to be the most finicky as to which ammo it liked best, much more so than either of the other two guns. Gun C was quite accurate with almost anything, and Gun B fell somewhere in the middle. However, all had their preferences, and if only one or two brands of ammo had been tried, particularly with Gun A, it might have been written off as woefully inaccurate. I have seen this happen with both rifles and pistols, so it is imperative that you try as many types of ammo as is possible.

There are any number of possible testing scenarios that could be responsible for a given ammo preference. As discussed earlier, variances in brass, primer, powder, bullets, and lube all can play a part. In the rimfire competition circuit, there are those that weigh individual cartridges, measure rim thickness, and even pull selected bullets in an attempt to gain an accuracy edge. Others never touch the bullet for fear of marring the lubrication. Is this necessary in a sporter rifle or handgun? Probably not, as it takes a very accurate gun to take advantage of these types of individual issues. Collectively, though, all of these will add up to very different ammunition from brand to brand, and virtually every .22 rimfire I have ever shot had shown a marked preference for a given brand or style of ammo.

Take note as to what kinds of preferences your particular gun has. It may not always be a specific brand and type either. Sometimes almost anything from a particular manufacturer will shoot well. Other times a gun will like solids better than hollow-points, or maybe the standard 40-grain bullet weights better than the lighter, high velocity stuff. One thing is for sure, though - you will never know unless you try a few!

Hopefully all of this information demonstrates to you just how much potential for variability there is in both .22 rimfire guns and their ammunition. Perhaps it will spark enough interest to run your own accuracy trials this weekend. But hey, do we really need an excuse to shoot several hundred rounds out of our .22's? Heck no! There is probably no greater way to spend an afternoon than pulling the trigger on a .22 handgun or pistol, so go out and wring out that rimfire!

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