.22 Magnum Ammunition for Survival and Personal Defense

David reminds us of older, slower, rounds like the venerable .22 Magnum still have a place on our gun rack.

Winchester .22 Magnum Ammunition
Winchester .22 Magnum Ammunition

USA -(Ammoland.com)- In this day and age of high-velocity small bore rifle cartridges that have speeds advertised as almost capable of breaking the space-time continuum, older and slower rounds that while dependable are often shoved aside as being obsolete, and one of those is the venerable .22 Magnum .

.22 Magnum

Developed by in 1959 by Winchester, for their Model 61 pump rifle, the .22 Winchester Magnum, also called .22 WMR or Winchester Magnum Rimfire was a rimfire round that was designed for small game. Especially varmints like fox, raccoon, and even coyotes out to 100 yards, without doing a lot of damage to the hides.

The .22 WMR was very important thirty and forty years ago when fur prices were much higher, but now hunters don’t worry about the pelt damage as much, and in the last sixty years dozens of new rounds have been introduced that are much faster, but also much more destructive than the .22 Magnum. So what does the little rimfire round offer in this day and age?

While the .22 WMR Magnum might not be the fastest and most glamorous round out there it does make a very decent all-around survival and personal round in a rifle.

So why would someone want a .22 Magnum when you could instead choose something like a .223 or a round reasonably similar? One of the reasons to have a survival round is that you want to be able to shoot game with it and that includes small-game, and while you might get some bloodshot meat on a squirrel or a rabbit with the .22 Magnum, that cannot compare to the damage of a higher velocity .223.

The .22 Magnum Rifle for Survival and Personal Defense
The .22 Magnum round (center) for Survival and Personal Defense

I was once given a whitetail deer that had been struck by a car only enough to break its leg and had to be dispatched by a sheriff’s deputy with his .223 carbine. The deer had been shot in the head from about 15 yards away. Most of the skull on the left side past the eye and to the ear and nearly halfway across the top of its head was just gone.

That swore me off ever wanting to shoot a .223 at any small game animal that I intended to eat. I once shot a squirrel back when I was about nineteen years old with a .25-20 rifle. It was a clean shot right behind the shoulder, and afterward, there was no shoulder or much of anything else.

This is important because the .25-20 has less than half the muzzle energy of a .223 round. If you were to shoot a small animal you wanted to eat with a .223 or something like a .17 WSM, .204 Ruger or .22-250 you can bet there wouldn't be enough left of what that critter to make even a small pot of stew.

.22 WMR Ammunition for Personal Defense?

When it comes to personal defense, granted the .223 is hard to beat with its proven track record, the .22 Magnum is not as anemic as one would think. A 40-grain bullet from the little rimfire with a muzzle velocity of 1,900 fps has 325 ft. Lbs of muzzle energy.

While that doesn’t sound like a lot, it’s more than the .380, the .38 Special and is knocking on the door of the 9mm. The .22 Magnum is simply not the weakling you might think. There are a variety of rounds out there, everything from a 30 grain V-Max with a muzzle velocity of 2,200 fps to a slew of 40-grain bullets like the soft-jacketed point, jacketed hollow point, and full metal jacket, all averaging around 1,900 fps.

The .22 Magnum Rifle for Survival and Personal Defense
The .22 Magnum Rifle for Survival and Personal Defense

.22 Magnum Ammo Wins on Price

Another reason to pick a .22 Magnum is the cost of the ammunition. It might not be as cheap as it once was but I can still find a box of fifty rounds for about $15 or so. Ammo for the .22 Magnum takes up a heck of a lot less room than fifty rounds of even the smallest of centerfire rifle rounds, something convenient if you want to keep the gun in a truck or if you want to take it on a long hike.

Just about every gun maker offers a .22 Magnum, from semi-autos like the Savage A22, the Remington 597 Rifle and the CZ-512 Semi Auto Rifle to a number of bolt actions from Mossberg, Marlin, Ruger, and others. Then there are the lever action rifles like those from Henry and they also make a pump action .22 Magnum, something that brings back the good old days like when Winchester made their Model 61 pump.

I decided to take a pair of .22 Magnum rifles to the range, and they couldn’t be more different from one another. One was a Henry lever action with a 20 ½ “ octagon barrel that holds twelve rounds and has an MSRP of $550. The other is a Keystone Arms Crickett rifle (no laughing please) that is a single shot bolt action with a 16” barrel and has an MSRP of $179, quite the difference.

Great results shooting the Henry Repeating Arms Lever Action Rifle in 22 WMR.
Results shooting the Henry Repeating Arms Lever Action Rifle in 22 WMR.
Shooting the Keystone Arms Crickett rifle in .22 Magnum .
Shooting the Keystone Arms Crickett rifle in .22 Magnum .

One persistent and long-standing rumor about the .22 Magnum is that it is not very accurate compared to other rimfire rounds like the .22 Long Rifle and the .17 HMR and that has some truth to it. The rifles in .22 Magnum seem to be most sensitive when it comes to which ammunition and which it will shoot accurately.

I found that neither the Henry nor the Crickett liked the Hornady 30 grain V-Max bullets; in fact, the Henry seemed almost allergic to them. At 25 yards the groups were terrible, and the rounds were not only landing left, but they were also keyholing. The Crickett was slightly better, but just with a pretty broad group opening up.

David LaPell

On the other hand, both guns did well with CCI 40 grain JHP loads. At 25 yards the Henry put out a three shot group of only ¾” with the factory open sights, and the Crickett with the same ammo shot a one-inch group. Most of the .22 Magnum rifles I have shot over the years all seemed to shoot better with 40-grain bullets versus the lighter loads, but you need to test out which work best in your gun.

The .22 magnum round started life almost sixty years ago as a small game and varmint round for those who wanted to use it on furbearers when the prices for pelts brought you more than just the cost of a Happy Meal. That time might be passed but .22 Magnum ammunition can find a new life as a survival rifle and if need be for personal defense, something that few other rounds can do and do well.

About David LaPell:

David LaPell has been a Corrections Officer with the local Sheriff's Department for thirteen years. A collector of antique and vintage firearms for over twenty years and an avid hunter. David has been writing articles about firearms, hunting and western history for ten years. In addition to having a passion for vintage guns, he is also a fan of old trucks and has written articles on those as well.

  • 27 thoughts on “.22 Magnum Ammunition for Survival and Personal Defense

    1. I own an on the farm slaughter business and my go to rifle is a Ruger 77/22 chambered in.22 Mag. Shooting Winchester 40 grain jacketed hollow points. For distances up to 25 yards when killing beef this is what I use. I will admitt it is a little light on the larger bulls, but with proper shot placement it is very effective. I been around .22 mags my entire life and will never be without one. So long I can find ammo for them.

    2. Back in the early 50’s I purchased a New Marlin 22 Mag with a scope for, believe it or not $37.00. Anything from the muzzle to 100 yards was DOA. Best little rifle I own, and not for sale.

    3. after reading this article i went out and bought two 50 round boxes of 22 mag 50 grain.
      i was talking to a buddy of mine in PA, we talked about the 40 grain but i wanted to try this 50 grain out.
      i read about it and it has more stopping power so will see what happens?

    4. I bought a lot of Armscor when it was the only .22 WMR available, as I needed _something_ to feed my PMR-30. It sucked for accuracy. Four and five inch “groups” at 25 yards. Hell, I can’t even call them “groups”.

      CCI Maxi-Mag worked fairly well. I was hoping for one inch at 25 yards, but had to settle for 1.5″. Not horrible, but not great, either. I’ve recently bought some Federal Game-Shok ammo with a 50 grain bullet – the heaviest bullet I could find. I know some rates of twist work better with heavier bullets (as in 5.56 and 7.62×51), and I read of a couple of fellows who claimed tight groups with the 50 grainer. I haven’t tried it yet, but have hope that it will shrink my groups a little more. And heavier bullets almost always (other things being equal) penetrate better, so I’ll be very happy if it groups well.

    5. That is precisely why on something I was going to eat the only acceptable shot was a head shot . He would roll in his grave if he thought I would use a hollow point .

    6. Just a couple of days ago I found a couple of online ammo stores that had 50rd 40g JHP (Fiocchi) for $8.95 a box, no limits. That’s at least as good as what I was paying for the same thing five or six years ago. I’ve recently seen 100rd boxes of MiniMags go for more than that. To me at least, 22WMR isn’t too expensive to shoot anymore but it definitely was there for awhile. I think I shot maybe two boxes in the last 5 years? Something like that. Shame too since it’s got just that little bit more ass to it than a hot 22LR which, to me, makes it vastly more fun to shoot.

      I guess it was around 2009 or so that on a whim I picked up a Savage 93BTVS that had been traded in to my LGS with virtually no rounds through it. No scratches, no issues, and a couple of extra mags – for $100 less than the brand new one sitting right next to it on the rack. It just looked interesting and at that point, I didn’t have anything like a decent bolt gun. Got a cheap but functional little Simmons variable scope for it and set off to the range with a few boxes of Maxi Mag 40g JHP and a box of the 30g VMax. That little rifle changed my religion away from centerfire black semiauto things to the world of rimfire bolt guns that day. I still have my autos because… well, why wouldn’t I? They certainly have their place as we saw recently with that Texas church awfulness. But for actual plinking fun and real marksmanship skills practice, the oft-maligned 22WMR lets me drill dimes at 100yds all afternoon long without the fatigue of a higher powered auto. Also, there’s really not any critters in my part of the country that a 22 mag won’t splatter in one shot. I think the biggest things we commonly have around here are some raccoons and armadillos, a few turkeys, and the occasional feral cat. Technically, there are allegedly some black bears and maybe even a jaguar but I seriously doubt I’ll ever even see any of those, let alone need to shoot at one (but if I do, there’s always the AR, an old SKS, and a 12ga in the safe).

      I’d like to pick up the heavy target version of that new Savage in 17WSM though. 20-25g at 3500-4000-ish feet per second and sub minute at 200yds out of a rimfire? Sign me up! I still won’t be giving up my trusty old 22 mag no matter what 🙂

    7. Though it may be adequate as a small game round, how can you advocate it as a self defense round with a clear conscience. It is a rimfire round. At some point (sooner rather than later) you are going to encounter primers that do not ignite on the first try.
      For a self defense round, that lack of reliability is a game ender. No one wants to hear a click when their life is on the line.

      1. @Courson – A wise man once told me there are three thing to defensive shooting:

        Shot placement
        Shot placement
        Shot placement

        If you can take the eye out of a fly at 50 yards with a .22 mag round but can’t hit the broad side of a barn with a .44 mag then pick the .22 mag because you are dead with the .44 mag.

        Your argument on primers is not worth the post because ANY primer can fail.

        Engage brain then post!

        1. And yet, out of the tens (possibly hundreds) of thousands of rounds that I have fired over an entire career in the Marines and coupled with my recreational shooting, the only primers that I have had fail are rimfires. Generally 1-2%, across a variety of manufacturers. More often in some brands. That is the common trend among everyone I gave ever talked to about ammo and every article that I have read.

          You go on and on about shot placement, though I never mentioned it, then a single sentence that says that my argument fails because….reasons?

          Take your own advice and ‘Engage brain then post!’

          1. @Courson – haven’t shot much 7.62×39 have you. I’ll stack the .22 mag up against the 7.62×39 for primer failures anytime.

            The shot placement was meant wake you up that a slingshot can kill is the shot is in the right place. I would think a military man would know that, but I could be wrong!

            Is your brain working yet?

      2. I have done a bit of shooting over the last 47 years, and have had a number of FTF involving hard primers, mostly on military caliber ammo (7.62×51 and 5.56×45) along with a few commercial .45 ACP (Winchester brand).

        Any ammo can experience a primer failure. Quality .22 WMR ammo has never failed to go “bang” when I’ve pulled the trigger on it, in a small variety of guns, both hand and shoulder arms. I’ve never had any issues with even .22 LR – except for a couple of brands of box-store bulk .22 LR. Even then, it was only 1 or two rounds out of a box of 500 or (more common now) 325, and NOT every box.

        .22 WMR may not be anyone’s go-to caliber for self defense, but Oleg Volk – who knows a thing or two about guns and ammo – posted a photo a while back of a 1/4″ aluminum diamond plate. At the same distance, 9mm and .357 Mag both failed to penetrate, while the .22 WMR bored a nice clean hole, clean through.

        Any firearm requires quality ammo to provide reliability. Find what works well in your firearm, and practice your failure to fire drills. Or don’t they teach those in the Marine Corps anymore?

        1. BTW, failures to fire can often be traced to the firearm being used. The firing “pin” (blade, actually) in a Ruger 10/22 can get jammed up with carbon and unburned powder if the gun isn’t cleaned at least every once in a while. I’ve never had one do that to me (kept them clean), but you can easily see the start of the build-up if you shoot a couple of hundred rounds in one session. I’m not sure the blade would ever completely fail to move, but I _am_ sure it could be slowed down enough for a light strike on the primer.

    8. I have a Savage 93 in a left handed wood stock. It has a Leopold 2x7x28 scope. It hits well with 30 grain Hornady V-Max. I use the traditional 40 grain same as always. My Ruger Single-Six has been with me since 1980 still hard to beat with an extra 22 mag cylinder.

    9. I have a Henry and a Buffalo Scout both in .22 magnum. Love to shoot both, but the shortage and cost have slowed me up. Size and weight make it an great cartridge to carry a butt load of ammo with you!

    10. I like the 22 mag. I’ve given it up since the shortage. My old style Ruger single action was very accurate and at long distances. I took small critters at 100yds on several occasions. I’m shocked to see that bad a group out of a rifle.
      It suffers the same issue as 22lr as a “survival” round in long term storage and moisture proneness in the field.
      I’ve still got my eye on that 30rd pistol in 22 mag though

    11. I’ve been a fan of the 22 magnum since 1974 when I bought my Winchester 9422M LEVER for $110.00.
      I now have 22 mag.in HENRY Lever,Henry Pump and Remington 597 semi auto and Magnum Research 22 magnum semi auto.As well as my Ruger Revolver and Heritage 22 mag/22 or.
      It has been a great round.Ive used it to kill about every animal there is in TX.It got ha4d to find ammo while Obama was in office.I could shoot my 223 cheaper than my 22 mag. Until Trump got in.Now the 22 mag are $11.99 for 50 rounds.I was paying $20.00 for 50 ends. While Obama was President.

    12. One Copper I talked to said it was “a nasty little round”, a comment mirrored at the time by a gent from a horsehide holster manufacturer. I’m glad to see the PD rounds pop up, but for me the Hornady V-Max was my Volquartzen rifle’s ‘go to’ round as it gave me half inch groups @100.

    13. I have a Ruger Super Single Six with the 22 Mag and 22 LR clyinders and is stainless. I also have 5000 rounds of 22 Mag ammo and four times that in 22LR. That said It is a gun that I cannot remember when I fired it last. I can load my 9mm for five cents a round and have many thousands of those rounds and the ability to load many thousands more. Back before the mass availability of 223 ammo it had a place but not so much anymore. Its predecessor, the .22 WRF round, was just “magnumized” as was popular back in that era.

        1. No Winny, primer cost 2.9 cents, powder cost one cent, and my 9mm cast bullets cost one cent each. The brass is free for the picking. That comes up to five cents a round. Jelly, Bro?

          1. Wish I had a URL for the photo Oleg Volk posted of that 1/4″ thick aluminum plate. Seeing the 5 shallow divots left by 9 mm ammo along with 20 nice, clean holes all he way through the plate might change a man’s mind. As the FBI learned in Miami many years ago, penetration is the name of the game. If a bullet doesn’t penetrate enough to reach the good stuff – central nervous system, heart, major blood vessels – it won’t get the job done, which is at least stopping the bad guy, if not actually killing him in a timely fashion.

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