The Case for .22LR as a Self-Defense Round
Kevin Crank 03.08.16
Stop. Just hold on to all of the rebuttals you’re thinking about after reading this headline and ask yourself the single most important question about armed self-protection: Are you actually carrying right now?
.22 long rifle is known for being cheap, fun, and comfortable. But the moment somebody tries to practice with it at the range and it’s in a “pocket pistol,” you hear “Get a real gun!”
This is just sad. Don’t discourage and berate new or less-able-bodied shooters simply because of the caliber of their gun.
Let’s say you’re one of those of us that have a smaller frame, less upper body strength, or painful joints. You’re comfortable with 22 LR and you’ve got plenty of it. What load can you use to protect yourself and feel confident that it will perform?
My answer is 36 grain CCI Mini-Mag. Why? The number one complaint against 22 is not really so much about the caliber but the type of primer. Rimfire ammunition is plagued with the built-in faulty system that is its namesake. The priming compound in the rim at the base can simply move out of place in the exact position it’s struck and click, nothing. Granted, this can happen to any load. But rimfires are notorious for failure-to-fire being slightly more frequent due to cheaply made bulk options on the market.
How do we fix that? Quality ammunition, not bulk. From what I’ve seen of CCI they have one of if not the most reliable brands of rimfire ammunition on the market.
Now on to the performance. There are testimonies all over the place about people defending themselves successfully and unsuccessfully. We don’t have the time to go through them all, so let’s hear from some folks that know a little bit about the Mini-Mag’s performance. From a pocket revolver to the good old Ruger 10/22.
This is ShootingTheBull410, and he has a fantastic series on self defense ammunition. I highly recommend the 380 Ammo Quest. Skip to 8:57 in the video for the 36 grain Mini-Mag. Here’s the highlight of this video. The border patrol believe that around 10″ of penetration is the minimum requirement to stop an attacker. Penetration is the only goal we are looking for in this pocket revolver because it wont push these loads fast enough to expand reliably. CCI Mini-Mag was consistently between 11.5″ and 12.5″ every time. Consistency and reliability are the name of the game here.
What if I wanted a bigger gun? Well then BrassFetcher has the answers you’re looking for. He posts slow motion ballistic gelatin testing and has a slightly different opinion on how 22LR should function. His testing here is with a Walther P22. I recommend watching the whole thing, but if you skip to 3:30 on the video you can see his charts. At 7:25 you’ll find the results of the Mini-Mag and hear his opinion. This video is lengthy so the main point is: barrel length changes performance drastically. Aguila 60 grain SSS, CCI Mini-Mag 36 grain HP, and Winchester Super-X Power-Point 40 grain were all given high marks for being able to cause adequate damage and penetration out of the 3.4″ barrel.
BrassFetcher recommends the Winchester Super-X Power-Point 40 grain in this format. I respect his judgment but chose to focus on the CCI Mini-Mag because it was a consistent load in all three barrel lengths.
Our last guest is TNoutdoors9. He also does ballistic testing but in a backyard setting, sprinkled with dry humor. This time with the good old 10/22. Expansion lowers the penetration potential for bullets but he was very surprised to see a fully expanded bullet 10.25″ deep in the gel block.
Normally, what I recommend at the lower end of recoil is 32 H&R Magnum, simply because I trust revolvers more than semi-automatics, and Buffalo Bore and Hornady have good loadings for it. However in favor of the 22 I would say this: get a revolver to mitigate the issues of rimfire ignition. You can pull the trigger again on a fresh round if it doesn’t go off the first time. Then get quality ammunition that performs in your barrel length. You’re looking for 10″ to 18″ of penetration in ballistic gelatin and if it expands, all the better. But take ShootingTheBull410’s words to heart. He looks for two things: consistency and reliability.
Okay, that said, I recommend .22LR as a backup. I am a small frame guy, but this would not be my first choice. If I could have it my way, I’d be using an 8 or 9 shot double action revolver chambered for something akin to 25 Hornet, but the market won’t let my dream fly. Until then, I’ll try to be happy with 32 H&R and its big brother, 327 Federal Magnum.