What about the .22 Magnum Ammo?

by Greg Ellifritz

.22 Magnum ammo
Ammo .22 Winchester Magnum Hornady Critical Defense, 45 Grain FTX Bullet 50 Round Box
Buckeye Firearms Foundation
Buckeye Firearms Foundation

Ohio –-(Ammoland.com)- After last week’s article about using the .22 for self defense, I was deluged with queries about my self defense recommendations concerning the .22 Magnum cartridge.

For those of you unfamiliar with the cartridge, HERE is a blog post from Cheaper Than Dirt about the round’s history and capabilities.

I’m quite fond of the .22 magnum round. The first handgun I ever owned as a kid was a Smith and Wesson Model 51 .22 Magnum. It’s a 1970’s era J-frame with a 3 1/2″ barrel and adjustable sights. I shot that gun a lot, even though the price tag for a box of ammo in the early 1980’s was $3.99…rivaling .38 reloads!

I still have that gun (now worth over $1000) and I also have a Smith and Wesson Model 351 PD…its updated little brother. The 351 is a 2″ Scandium J-frame that holds seven rounds. It’s a handy gun to tuck in the waistband and I often have it clipped inside my gym shorts (with a clipdraw) when I do yard work outside.

I’ve never been able to explain it, but the .22 Magnum has always performed better than it really should. I have a friend who used a .22 magnum rifle for urban deer control when his city received a nuisance permit to cull its deer herd. He told me that he shot almost 40 deer with that round (all in the head or neck). None of them took a step. Every one collapsed in a heap. I haven’t had that kind of luck with a 12 gauge slug!

The famed Rex Applegate also opined that the .22 magnum would make an ideal hideout handgun. He pressured Smith and Wesson to make a J-frame snub in that caliber, stating that he would prefer the performance of the .22 magnum over the .38 spl out of a snubnose revolver. Unfortunately the 351 wasn’t developed until after Applegate’s death.

In my stopping power study, I wasn’t able to come up with many shootings with the .22 Magnum. I have 9 shootings with that caliber in my database. Each of those incidents had only one round fired and five resulted in an immediate incapacitation when hit. That 55% immediate incapacitation rate rivals the 9mm and the .38 spl. I caution you that the data isn’t really comparable because the number of shootings with the .38 and 9mm is much higher than with the .22 magnum. The round still seems to offer decent performance.

If you want more quantifiable information on the cartridge, BBTI published a chart of the velocities of the various .22 Magnum rounds when fired through different barrel lengths. Richard Mann did some ballistic gelatin testing for American Rifleman Magazine and reported some good findings as well. In his tests, the 45 grain Hornady Critical Defense round expanded to .36 caliber and penetrated 15″ of gelatin. That’s as good or better than most .38 spl defensive loads out of the snub revolver!

The .22 mag has essentially no recoil, but has similar performance as compared to its .38 cousin. It does, however, hold two more rounds. I can see why Rex Applegate liked the idea!

If your are going to carry the .22 magnum, I would stay away from the KelTec semi auto PM-30. It’s a really neat idea, but I haven’t found one that will work reliably for defensive use. Stick to the Smith and Wesson revolvers or the Ruger LCR. The LCR is the cheaper option and actually has a better trigger. In my experience the S&W triggers are horrible in this caliber. I’ve tried to replace the mainspring and the rebound spring with lighter aftermarket versions. They greatly improved the trigger pull, but negatively affected reliability. It seems that you can’t really monkey with factory specs in the S&W revolver and still have a reliable gun. I’ve tried every combination of spring weights possible and none of the combinations worked well enough for defensive carry. I’m back to the factory springs for carry purposes.

The NAA mini revolvers are another option. They are tiny and very handy to carry, but most people don’t shoot them well. The shorter barrel also negatively affects bullet performance. If you can shoot the gun fast and accurately, I wouldn’t discourage you from carrying it, but I don’t know many people who can honestly do that. I have one at the PD, and after a few trials, I determined that I would rather carry a knife than the mini-revolver. Buyer beware with those little things.

If you have a reliable gun and load it with either the Speer Gold Dot or Hornady Critical Defense rounds, you will have a lightweight, limited recoiling gun that offers low end .38 spl. performance while providing a couple extra rounds in the cylinder. That’s a tough combination to beat!

Greg Ellifritz is the full time firearms and defensive tactics training officer for a central Ohio police department. He holds instructor or master instructor certifications in more than 75 different weapon systems, defensive tactics programs and police specialty areas. Greg has a master’s degree in Public Policy and Management and is an instructor for both the Ohio Peace Officer’s Training Academy and the Tactical Defense Institute.

For more information or to contact Greg, visit his training site at Active Response Training.

Buckeye Firearms Association is a grassroots political action committee dedicated to defending and advancing the right of Ohio citizens to own and use firearms for all legal activities. Visit: www.buckeyefirearms.org

  • 17 thoughts on “What about the .22 Magnum Ammo?

    1. I have a friend who carries a derringer type pistol and it is a .22 mag. He says it is pretty powerful and is formidable in destructive power.

    2. 22 mag is a really good rd,powerful rd.But for concealed carry,noway.In Texas if you’re caught shooting deer with a 22 you will go to jail and have your weapons confiscated.

    3. I’ve always been amazed that so many folks look at the 22WMR as just a loud 22LR. It’s one very powerful little cartridge. In a rifle, it extends varmit range out to 150 yds. In a handgun, at PD ranges, it packs quite a wallop. Not a 45ACP. but I often carry a SA 6 when around town or on a stroll in the boonies. And that Hornandy PD round is the cats meow.

    4. Howdy:

      A NYC Transit cop I knew 40 years ago carried a High Standard 22 mag as his back up gun and used it on a few occasions against felons. He reported holes the size of 38 specials and the bad guys went down.

      Compare the 22 mag with the 5.7 FN: Except for not having the steel core the ballistics i.e. bullet weight, velocity, foot pounds of force are nearly identical. So why is the 5.7 hyped up and the 22 mag denegrated as a self defense round?

    5. My only problem with the twenty two magnum is the cost , they are very expensive little rounds , and as a center fire they can’t be reloaded , which is what I do with expensive ammo .

    6. I was 16 when Colt introduced their Frontier Scout in .22 Mag. I went to a hardware store downtown and bought one. Just .22 Mag, no extra .22 lr cylinder in those days. Still have it. Used it for grouse when hunting deer. Great little revolver.

    7. Talk all you want. That little fast bullet, in the real world will not do what a heavier bullet will do. In an engine there is no substitute for cubic inches. In a bullet there is no substitute for size and weight.

    8. Look at this Youtube video:


      It shows the .22 Magnum penetrating farther than a .380 in ballistics gel. The kinetic energy transferred by the larger .380 is undeniable however.

      I’d trust the .22 Mag to save my ass but I’d just rather carry my Smith and Wesson.

    9. I agree with what the article says about the round, but I totally disagree with what he says about the PMR30 and the NAA revolver.

      I have, and carry, a PMR30 and have put about 2,000 rounds through it with no issues. It is very reliable. As for the NAA, if you have the “widow maker) with the handle that folds out, it can be a very easy revolver to shoot. If you have it with the standard handle, it is a bit more difficult to shoot.

    10. Although I have & carry larger CC firearms, I’m not a cop. Real world CC sometimes doesn’t lend itself to a full size or even a compact gun. I have confidence in my NAA 22 mag as a primary weapon sometimes. If,God forbid I’m in a gunfight I know I made a mistake. But in a pinch, it is most defiantly better then a knife & I always have it. Period. We gotta be real on this issue. Bigger guns are a pain but are more effective, no doubt. Depends on where I’m going & risk assessment. Peace

    11. I read and read on it on internet. I saw the 15 inches penetration and expansion was with a 22 mag. rifle and not any kind of pistol or revolver. I have been shooting a 22 mag combo 22 LR with 6 1/2 inch barrel at the range for a month now. I am 69 years old started shooting at age five with a Red Rider avid shooter reloaded for life. I was consider a professional rifleman in the marines 4 yrs., also a schooled ballistics, and physics. The powder burn in the revolver with 22 mags is very inefficient as compared to the 22 LR in the same sized barrel. The 22 mag 45 hornadys key holes on my target cardboard backing at 25 feet worse at 50 feet, On the pics on here (internet) it never expands from pistols and revolvers, but rotates 180 and goes on back asswards. The 40 grain Gold dot never expands at pistol speeds and rotates as the 180 grain 45 Horn. same same… I think perhaps the 22 LR would be better out of a non vented barrel of a 22 LR automatic. I see in my revolver only about 100 fps difference between the 22 mag and 22 LR and that the 22 mag will not allow the bullets to expand as in a rifle. All ya got to work with in the 22 mag pistol is about 1000-1100 FPS. Might as well use 22 LR lead that will expand at that speed. I will get a 22 LR buck mark and continue testing my theory. I am hoping to see 950 -1000 fps and expansion with the Browning LR with CCI Velocitor, Then i will try the CCI 22 LR SGB load hoping for around 900 fps from the BM pistol. Might try stingers next. a simple lead bullet in 22 mag would work i bet. But how would they get a premium price for that? The industry is marketerring all the more all the time. They are ruining the sport with greed.

    12. To any and everyone the bashes high velocity, light 20 caliber rounds… talk to anyone that has taken a 5.56 to the vitals. Oh wait… you can’t. I’ll gladly take turns with anybody shooting back and forth at each other with my 22mag againot their xxwhateverxx. But since mine is smaller I get to shoot first

    13. I often carry my Ruger lcr .22 WMR with gold dots and I am very confident with the round. I would not feel underpinned with a couple speedloaders and a couple of extra speed strips in the pocket. I could physically carry more ammo if I really wanted to. Super light recoil, very accurate, light trigger pull, and a very easy to carry package.

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