The Ammunition Bubble: Substitute 12 Gauge For .22 Ammo?

By Dean Weingarten

Substitute 12 gauge for .22
Substitute 12 gauge for .22: The two boxes of ammunition cost about the same in today’s market.
Dean Weingarten
Dean Weingarten

Arizona – -( The price of 12 gauge hunting ammunition has dropped back to near pre- ammunition bubble levels.

Wal-mart had 100 rounds of birdshot loads priced at $19.97 a couple  of days ago.   That is 20 cents per round, or $5 per box of 25.

Before the Barack Obama ammunition bubble, the ordinary price was a little lower, perhaps $4.50, with sales just before dove season as low as $3.00.

.22 rimfire ammunition, particularly .22 long rifle (LR) ammunition prices are at an all time high.  This is a classic bubble, and it will end, but no one knows exactly when.

.22 LR is currently available for about 10 cents a round.  So, which is a better deal, .22 LR at 10 cents a cartridge, or 12 gauge at 20 cents?

Both cartridges have their unique uses, advantages, and disadvantages.    Next to .22 rimfire, 12 gauge may be the next most commonly chambered cartridge in the country.   Most gun owners own a shotgun of some kind.  Nearly every gun writer has noted that a shotgun is one of the most versatile and useful firearms ever made.  Most gun owners have a 12 gauge, because it is the most common and versatile of  the shotgun gauges.  Because of the economics of mass manufacture, it is also the cheapest shotgun ammunition.

For many people, it makes more sense to buy 12 gauge at 20 cents a round than .22 ammunition at 10 cents a round.   Many of the uses of the two firearms overlap.   The raw power of an ordinary 12 gauge load is equivalent to a dozen .22 LR cartridges.

Both are excellent choices for hunting small game.  In fact, the shotgun is the more reliable gun for putting meat on the table.   It is designed for taking birds on the fly and rabbits on the run.  It takes less skill on the part of the hunter to take game with a shotgun than it does with a .22 LR.   For hunting, one 12 gauge cartridge is likely as or more productive than two .22 LR cartridges.

Neither 12 gauge with bird shot or .22 LR are the first choice for self defense.   Both are commonly used, and used effectively, because any gun is better than no gun in a self defense scenario.   Here, again, the 12 gauge has the edge.  It has greater intimidation value, due to the size of the hole in the end of the barrel(s).  It has massive destructive power at close range, under five yards, where most self defense situations occur.    There are a number of ways that birdshot loads can be converted to expedient slug loads in an emergency.   They are effective to 25 yards and more, and make the birdshot loads into effective big game loads at short ranges.

That brings us to big game.  Neither 12 gauge birdshot loads or .22 LR are the optimum choice for hunting big game.   Still, as with self defense, both have been used extensively and successfully.   The wax and cut expedient loads for shotguns have been used to poach big game for decades.   The use has been prevalent enough to rate a legal ban on their use in hunting in some states.  The ban on these loads in Wisconsin lead me to discover what they were and how they worked 45 years ago.   I do not recommend them except for emergency use.

Even without the expedient slug loads, bird shot can down big game at ranges under 5 yards.  My father once harvested a deer with a shot from a shotgun and birdshot  at 4 yards distance.    The shot to the head was an instant and humane death.   I own a .22 LR that my father acquired during the depression.   It was often loaned to neighbors for subsistence deer hunting; a “village gun” system where the owner of the gun received a share of the meat.   My father said that it had been used to harvest over 200 deer.

While I do not advocate breaking the law, in a survival situation, eating takes priority over the hunting regulations.

In terms of barter, or as a store of value, 12 gauge and .22 LR both have excellent barter potential, both store for decades without noticeable degradation.

.22 LR prices will eventually return to reasonable levels.  The raw materials for one 12 gauge load could be used to make 10 or 12 .22 LR cartridges, indicating that it is not raw material prices that are driving the .22 LR bubble.

While the bubble is still expanding, people should consider the 12 gauge as a substitute for the .22 LR round.   Two .22 LR cartridges for a 12 gauge cartridge is a pretty good trade.


c2014 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included. Link to Gun Watch

About Dean Weingarten;

Dean Weingarten has been a peace officer, a military officer, was on the University of Wisconsin Pistol Team for four years, and was first certified to teach firearms safety in 1973. He taught the Arizona concealed carry course for fifteen years until the goal of constitutional carry was attained. He has degrees in meteorology and mining engineering, and recently retired from the Department of Defense after a 30 year career in Army Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation.

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Ron johnson

All you have to do is back track who owns the majority of the ammunition companies. The more middlemen you add to the stream the higher the retail price. ..22lr costs about 1/2 cents per round to make. So figure price basis from there!


The reason you cant find .22LR is because the unemployed and other folks with idle time found that they can sell what they buy for 3 times the amount. Add to that what I hear from folks that dont know; “You can get all the .22 you want online, the stores are empty, its only $59 for 500, what a buy!” When I tell them its only worth $25 they say “What?” Folks have to quit paying 3 times the worth before the bubble will end.


Just about every arms manufacturer now offers a .22lr model of the AR-15 platform for training.

That is one big reason for the .22lr shortages,
everyone enjoys using their .22’s.

Joe Shooter

.22 LR ammo has disappeared because of hoarders, scalpers, greedy distributors and complacent manufacturers. I recommend that everyone boycott all things .22LR including ammo, pistols, revolvers and rifles. Send a message to the manufacturers to stop introducing new .22LR firearms until the ammo supply is available at a reasonable price. Let the hoarders choke on their stockpiles. I own a 12 gauge and it’s fun to shoot. Forget .22LR until sanity is restored.


You can not find .22 Ammo on a regular basis. I would recommend advising people do not buy a .22 at all because you can’t find the ammo any more. A 12ga. makes a lot of sense. I am seeing a lot more ammo in the stores except for .22’s are still impossible to find unless you get very very lucky.


I have not bought 12 or 20 Ga. shells since 1983. I bought a Lee $30 re-loader back then are reloaded enough shells to last a life time. I have recently found a poor man’s way to reload .410 shells that knocks the price out of them. I bought bricks of .22 ammo back in the early 90’s and don’t waste ammo on paper. Just for hunting and self defense. I learned to hit what I shot at in kindergarten. Why would I need to keep shooting at paper and wasting ammo? What would the point be? Only drive up… Read more »