Brass Fetcher Ballistic Testing

The 22 LR or 22 Long Rifle is perhaps the most familiar cartridge in the shooting world. It is popular because it is cheap to shoot, very low recoil and produces a low muzzle signature which makes it comfortable for new shooters to shoot. Because of the low energy produced by this cartridge, both rifles and handguns may be found chambered in 22 LR. This cartridge finds a wide variety of uses with shooters worldwide. Tasks easily accomplishable by this cartridge include target practice, small game hunting and pest control. Special Operations units and civilians in some countries utilize this cartridge for use in combination with a sound suppressor. Sound suppressors are well-suited to the use of 22 LR ammunition as the firers location can still be given away based solely on the configuration of the bullet and irregardless of the efficiency of the sound suppressor used.

As a general rule, the lower the aerodynamic efficiency of a bullet, the louder it will sound to those situated to the side of the bullets path of travel. The aerodynamic efficiency of a bullet is driven by its diameter, length, shape and velocity. The first area of concern is selecting a bullet that is subsonic when it leaves the muzzle. Supersonic bullets make a loud crack as they travel that is very similar in nature to an unsuppressed muzzle discharge. Where the 22 LR shines is in the ability to use full-power (for the cartridge) ammunition while still remaining subsonic. Subsonic loads exist for most handguns and rifle calibers but they are typically ‘reduced power’ loads and bullet stability is an issue.

Without the proper twist rate of rifling, bullet instability can result. The effect of this can be inaccuracy or at worst result in bullet impact with and damage to the suppressor. The 22 LR gives the shooter the choice of subsonic ammunition without any need for specialized sources of ammunition—a huge benefit in a survival situation. This ammunition is usually so-labeled which aides in identification.

Lots of people want to use 22 LR for self-defense and some of them email me looking for confirmation of their decision to do so. I do not recommend 22 LR cartridges for self-defense unless that is the only gun that you have access to. When shot from a handgun, the velocities are too low to allow for expansion and sufficiently deep penetration. Most bullets do not expand when shot from a 22 LR handgun and the ones that do, do not penetrate deeply enough. The 22 LR rifles are a different story—if this is the only long gun that you have, then it is an acceptable choice if you cannot find a larger rifle. Please recall that if you are in a position to fire a firearm at an attacker, they are usually in a position where they can fire a weapon at you. If you are going to expose yourself to danger, try to reduce that danger by hitting it as hard as you can, the first time that you pull the trigger.

If a 22 LR handgun (with 3.4” barrel) is what you have available, I recommend using JHP ammunition that exhibits very moderate expansion such as the Winchester 40gr Super-X Power-Point (X22LRPP.) Second in preference is the Aguila 60gr Sniper Subsonic round nose because of its exaggerated length over diameter ratio and its usually unstable travel out of the rifling twists found in most handgun barrels. This promotes tumbling early inside of the target and is acceptable as long as practical accuracy is maintained.

If a 22 LR rifle is what you have available, you have many more choices available to you in terms of ammunition with satisfactory terminal performance. One metric of success is to find ammunition that meets the FBI criteria, or more accurately, gets full ‘points’ for penetration depth in 10% ballistic gelatin by penetrating to 12.0” or deeper. Expansion of course is important too so the best course of action is to test your ammunition, out of your gun, in ballistic gelatin or ’wetpack’ and look for the bullets that exhibit only moderate expansion. Here is how to do so:

The video details the differences between the different ballistic mediums that are available to you. While of course there are significant differences between the results obtained from the same bullet in different mediums, I recommend that you test your ammunition from your gun in some valid medium. This is essential because different ammunition types perform differently in different barrel lengths. If you are going to trust your safety to a firearm, it would behoove you greatly to ensure that your gun and ammunition combination are going to do the greatest amount of damage to an attacker as possible and that they will do so reliably.

Reliability doesn’t matter much when you are shooting a clean firearm on the practice range. When it really matters is when it starts to rain or when the weather gets cold. When you are out on the hunt or when your trail is flooded and you must get through. Survival is not only an emotive word—it is a situation that could possibly demand more of you and your equipment than is conceivable today.

To get a feel for what to expect from your ammunition, we tested the Federal 36gr Champion PLHP in extreme cold conditions, ambient and MIL-STD water submergence tests. The metric being measured was muzzle velocity. Different manufacturers produce products with different capabilities so it is important to test your ammunition in your weapon in order to know for sure how reliable your firearm and ammunition combination are.

More Info


22LR Handgun Terminal Ballistics
Bare Gelatin Shots from 7 Different Ammo Types


22LR Rifle Terminal Ballistics
Bare Gelatin Shots from 7 Different Ammo Types


Extreme Weather Performance
Effect of Cold Weather, Water Submersion and Suppressed/Unsuppressed Muzzle Velocity Differences

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