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Find Your Best .22 Rimfire Ammunition

Revised December 2018 -- Banacek

Back in a 2012 newsletter, I requested your input on your favourite rimfire .22 pistol or .22 rifle ammunition, and the rationale for your choices.

Naturally I received an avalanche of replies, not. Just one, from our member and good friend Tom S., who is an exceptionally fine shot and whose opinion I value. Thanks Tom.

Without further ado, here are some facts and other thoughts and opinions that may help you with a starting point for testing rimfire ammo in your firearms. In the final analysis, what works best for you is just that; experiment with your rifle or pistol and various ammunition until you get results that satisfy you. Then practice, practice, practice....

Ammunition For Rimfire Pistols

First some observations I made. The results would be more scientific if the firearms were mounted in a machine rest, but that's not in my budget, so take this all with a healthy grain of salt. As they say on the internet, YMMV [Your Mileage May Vary].

A Ruger Mark 2 bull barrel did okay (regular 96s and 97s and less frequent higher scores up to 100 -- on the standard slow fire target) with the bulk Federal Champion ammo (525 round Value Pack) and the bulk Winchester Target Dynapoint GT (500 round box, aka brick).

These two ammunitions share some similarities in being copper-plated and having a hollow-point bullet. They differ in that the Federal has a 36 grain bullet, declares it is high velocity, and tells you that means 1260 fps (feet per second). The Winchester Target Dynapoint GT has a 40 grain bullet and carefully tells you nothing about velocity -- shouldn't that be a labelling requirement? A bit of web research finds the velocity is actually 1155 fps.

I don't think there is a specific rule as to what constitutes high velocity versus regular/standard velocity. This particular Winchester Target Dynapoint GT stuff is kinda middle of the road.

Both function well in this Ruger Mark 2, which implies they probably might function okay in many Marks 1 or 3 or 4.

I did notice that the Federal Champion quickly builds up more fouling around the chamber and bolt face and extractor than the Winchester Target Dynapoint GT. The dirtier Federal ammo is not a problem but does require a cleaning after an evening's firing session to be sure the pistol cycles and feeds well the next day. Perhaps that's not a disadvantage, to need and prompt regular cleaning.

Price-wise the Federal was originally cheaper, but its price since has risen to the point that the Winchester Target GT soon got the economy nod. Depending on where, and when, you shop the results may be different in future. But both choices are still pretty economical for lots of practice.

Then I decided to try some CCI standard velocity 1070 fps 40 grain round nose plain lead. These cost a bit more and come in 50 round boxes, but boy could they sing in this Ruger Mark 2. Groups were about cut in half, and regular 99s and 100s were possible if I did my part. Definitely a better choice for target shooting and competition with this one particular pistol.

Then I tested an old Browning Challenger with skinny barrel, that was harder to hold on target than a heavy barrelled what'sit, but that had actually done about as well as the Ruger Mark 2 with the above Federal and Winchester ammo. The Browning's advantage is a much better trigger pull that compensates a bit for the weight disadvantage. The Browning also has an opening on both sides of the action above the magazine that probably contributes to fewer smokestacking jams. Yes YMMV.

Anyhow, I found myself with some Winchester Super X T22 Target ammo to use up. Comes in 50 round boxes, at least from the sources around here. It too has a plain lead round nose bullet and claims to be standard velocity without revealing what that means. Looks like a trend on Winchester boxes to hide actual velocity. Back to the internet and we find the velocity is 1085 fps.

The Browning Challenger managed an initial 100 with tight group, and then shot several more tight groups with the odd nine.

Wow, thought I, this should do really well with the CCI ammo that had improved the Ruger's scores. Not so, it yielded significantly larger groups and centered about 1 inch higher on the target.

And now from NOSA member Tom S.

"Steve, here's the deal with me and .22 ammo. I have a finicky Ruger Mk-2. It only works really well with CCI Mini Mags, although I haven't tried every .22 brand out there.

I also have a Lakefield semi auto .22 rifle. It works reasonably well with all hi velocity .22s I've tried, but again loves CCI Mini Mags.

In my opinion CCI makes the best .22s out there. I especially like the Mini Mags and Stingers. They rock!"

These CCI Mini Mags have a 40 grain round nose at 1235 fps and say they have a very clean burning powder. I'm going to try some on Tom's recommendation.

So there's another vote but for a different CCI type of ammunition. Tom has a very good point about the feeding issue. Some autoloading pistols and rifles do need a high velocity ammunition. And some target pistols were designed to operate with standard velocity ammunition that puts less wear and tear on the parts. There can be any number of issues that affect feeding and reliability but individual guns will have to overcome friction, and various strengths of internal springs, and perhaps oddities of design that favour one ammo over another. Some of the .22 rimfire conversion kits for centerfire pistols will only function with high velocity ammo.

Ammunition For Rimfire Rifles

While the CCI Mini Mags are deservedly a top choice for rimfire hunting rifles, now we're going to discuss ammunition intended to bring out the most consistency and precision for rimfire target shooting.

While target shooting informally at NOSA, I tested a new Savage Mark 2 bolt action rifle with heavy barrel and laminate stock, and added a 6-18X Redfield scope. Yes it's at the lower end of target rifles but it did very well with CCI standard velocity ammunition and I took advantage of the opportunity to get better with practice.

When I started shooting regularly with the Thunder Bay Benchrest Club, I did okay against those shooting CZ 452's. But at the same 50 yards other folks left me in the dust with their high end rimfire target rifles from Cooper and Anschutz.

It turned out that they mostly were using high end target ammunition from Lapua (later renamed to SK variants). So I tested the Savage with this precision stuff and it did shoot better.

Just a quick note about distance and .22 rimfire ammunition results: when shooting at 25 yards from one precision target rifle, most brands will shoot very tight groups; yes the best quality ammo may be tighter, but at such a short distance anything other than terrible quality ammo will do okay. But when we go to 50 or 100 yards, the consistency of muzzle velocity and component quality in the better ammos will lead to much tighter groups.

The Lapua ammunition is now marketed in Canada as SK Standard Plus (yellow lettering -- we call it SK yellow) and SK Rifle Match (red lettering -- we call it SK red). Both types have a thin film of very slippery lubricant. The yellow can vary by a couple of thousandths of an inch in rim thickness, while the more expensive red is more uniform. While many of us prefer the red based on performance experienced in our particular rifles, matches have been won by folks using yellow.

Later in 2018 we started experimenting with some new SK products which we bought in small quantities for testing. While some folks called these purple, the magenta lettered box contains SK Flatnose Match and the mauve lettered box Flatnose Basic, a practice variant. The Flatnose Match is close in price to the SK red; so that is where we concentrated our trials. Most folks found that red still performed better and returned to red as their regular ammo.

There was also some experimentation with .22 rimfire SK Biathlon Sport (blue lettering) and some, not all, folks found it performed equal to SK red in their particular rifles.

I finally had the chance to use an Anschutz, which has a tight bore and really fine adjustable trigger, and with an 8-24X scope for 50 yard competition. Some of the others there use 8-32X variables (even up to 50 power), or fixed 36X Sightrons. But the weekly winner can be someone with any of the above combinations.

And yes, there is still more shooter variability involved in winning than equipment issues.

In Conclusion

So do some experimenting. You will perhaps settle on several types of ammunition, each with a purpose:

Cheap, but good enough for meaningful practice.

Excellent, but more expensive, for target shooting competitions and bragging rights.

And more powerful if functioning is an issue.

And probably the high velocity that works best in your rifle when used for hunting.

...So many choices...

These were the results of our .22 rimfire ammo experiences, using ammo that is easily available today. Certainly you can find dozens of other ammo comparisons on the web -- some using ammo we'll never see in our local sources. Obviously folks elsewhere have access to much more variety than we find in Thunder Bay or Canada. But their comparative shooting results are likely only valid for the particular individual firearms used in their tests. Another brand of firearm, or model, or even the same model with different serial number, might yield quite different test results.

The aim of this NOSA ammunition article is to present a few reasonable possibilities; that way folks can start their experiments with stuff they can easily find hereabouts in Thunder Bay or order within Canada.

Results with your particular firearms might be quite different. But you will have lots of fun and practice at the same time, while doing your testing.

There is another article added to this website in the Member Ramblings section titled "Achieving Benchrest Rifle Precision and Accuracy" which goes into specific detail about how to achieve better shooting results with benchrest rifles, but is often useful information for shooting sporting and hunting rifles well.

back to Table Of Contents for Member Ramblings

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