January 04, 2011
By Layne Simpson
For pure hunting fun, don't overlook the rimfires.
By Layne Simpson
My passion while growing up on a farm was small-game hunting, and in those days I used the .22 Short almost exclusively. I did so mainly because a box of 50 of those shiny, little beauties sold for 46 cents at the local hardware store, while the same number of Long Rifles went for almost twice as much. In those days I probably shot more cottontails and gray squirrels in a season than most hunters today shoot in a lifetime, and not once do I recall needing more cartridge. At the time the "experts" had not gotten around to discovering that the .22 Short is worthless, so I quite innocently went about the business of keeping every family in our rural neighborhood supplied with all the wild meat their pots could possibly handle.
Rimfire cartridges (left to right), .22 CB, .22 Short, .22 Long Rifle, .22 Stinger, .17 HM2, .22 WRF, .22 WMR, .17 HMR, 5mm Remington Magnum.
As I grew older, I strayed away from hunting with the .22 Short, but after many years I rediscovered it with great joy by adding a Ruger 10/22 modified by Volquartsen Custom to handle it. Its chamber is of the correct length for the .22 Short, and the rotary magazine was modified to feed it perfectly. Not as many loadings are available today as back when I spent every minute of my spare time in the woods, but enough exist, should I decide to once again start leaving dead rabbits and squirrels hanging on the back porches of my neighbor's houses. The CCI high-velocity load is accurate enough for headshots out to 50 yards and rather quiet to boot. Quieter still and perfect for 25-yard shots on backyard pests that dare raid Phyllis's flower garden are the CB loads from Remington and CCI. Both are surprisingly accurate in the .22 Short chamber, and while neither has enough steam to cycle the action of the Ruger 10/22, a tug on its bolt handle ejects the old and chambers the new before the second of a pair of chipmunks can make its getaway.
.22 Long Rifle
The first rifle in .22 Long Rifle I hunted with during my youth was a Remington Model 512, and while it was accurate enough, I was never as fond of it as I was of a Marlin Model 39A Mountie that I later bought with money made during a summer job. Like many hunters and shooters who grew up in America, I got my first taste of the .22 rimfire at an early age and became hopelessly addicted to it. A lot of centerfire rifles have passed through my hands through the years, and while I have managed to hang onto a few of them, I have done a better job of resisting the temptation of parting with rimfire rifles. For this reason, that first Marlin Golden 39A and many others are still with me.
Some of my early rifles were not drilled and tapped at the factory for mounting a scope, so they remain original with open sights only, but the more modern rifles I hunt with wear scopes. Most of my woods-roaming rifles wear variables with magnifications up to 9X or 10X, but those on the rifles I use for varmint shooting are capable of zooming on up to 16X or higher. That many Xs is not actually needed for the limited range of the .22 Long Rifle cartridge, but I like to see the whites of their eyes, so to speak, before squeezing the trigger.
With a 17-grain bullet, the .17 HMR shoots about as flat as traditional factory loadings of the .22 Hornet and .218 Bee and is incredibly accurate in a good rifle.
My favorite .22 LR load for varminting is the CCI Stinger, but it is not always accurate in all rifles. Although not as fast, Remington's Yellow Jacket is sometimes more accurate and does a good enough job on flickertails and other small animals as far away as I care to shoot at them. The Winchester Xpediter is also a good varmint load. There are other choices, but between those three, one or the other will usually deliver satisfactory accuracy from about any rifle.
Various high-velocity hollowpoint loadings are the traditional favorites for small-game hunting, and since they are quite deadly on rabbits and squirrels with hits about anywhere in the forward one-third of their bodies, they are the logical choices for the typical rifle. Nowadays, I tend to mostly hunt with match-quality rifles accurate enough to consistently make head shots out to 50 yards or so, and for that, plain-vanilla, standard-velocity loads are often more accurate. CCI Green Tag is quite good, as are the subsonic loads from Remington and Winchester. Often more accurate and capable of shooting well inside half an inch at 50 yards is the match ammo loaded by Eley for Remington. As its price indicates, Remington's EPS load is usually the most accurate, but groups fired by a couple of my rifles with Club Xtra and Target Rifle are about as small.
The .17 HMR took off like a rocket, and as far as I know, it has yet to slow down. Why this is true is no big mystery. Loaded to a muzzle velocity of 2,550 fps with a 17-grain bullet, it shoots about as flat as traditional factory loadings of the .22 Hornet and .218 Bee and is incredibly accurate in a good rifle. Recoil is close to nonexistent, and as varmint cartridges go, its bark is quite soft. Since that tiny little bullet is easily blown off course, the .17 HMR is not a windy-day cartridge, but under calm conditions a good rifleman can spoil the day for prairie dogs and smaller varmints out to 200 very long paces. More distant hits are possible with this cartridge, but with the exception of smaller targets, such as flickertails and such, kills will not always be instant at much beyond 200 yards.
In addition to super-accurate and value-priced bolt-action rifles, the .17 HMR is also chambered in lever-actions such as this Henry.
As good as the .17 HMR is, it has stiff competition on both sides of the performance range. On one side is a better small-game cartridge called the .17 HM2. On the other side sits the .22 WMR, which is more effective on targets larger than prairie dogs. The .17 HMR presently outsells those two cartridges, but it had best not look back because friends in the ammunition business tell me the .22 WMR is beginning to nip closely at its heels in popularity.
I have shot a lot of small varmints with exceptionally accurate rifles in .17 HMR, and I cannot think of a single really negative thing to say about it. It is not the best choice available for every job, but then no cartridge is. An excellent option for the varmint shooter who does not reload his cartridges, it is exceptionally good at what it does best — reaching across the ba
ck 40 owned by a farmer who may cancel your invitation if the cartridge you are shooting makes too much noise.
The .17 HM2 is the pipsqueak of the rimfire bunch, and Layne considers it one of the best as this mild-mannered cartridge is powerful enough for small game, and amazingly accurate.
I can think of no cartridge that lived a shorter life than the .17 HM2, nor can I think of one that was deserving of a much longer life. Its quick death is a pity because I consider it to be unquestionably one of the best and most useful ideas in cartridges to come down the pike in many years. It shoots almost as flat and hits almost as hard as the .17 HMR and may be just slightly more accurate to boot. The ammunition is also quite a bit cheaper — if you can find it nowadays.
In the .17 HM2, we had a cartridge accurate enough and flat-shooting enough to consistently make head shots on squirrels and bunnies out to at least 125 yards, and all but a few of us ignored it to death. Why this is true is a complex question, one likely to go forever unanswered.
In the .17 HM2, we had a cartridge accurate enough and flat-shooting enough to consistently make head shots on squirrels and bunnies out to at least 125 yards.
5mm Remington Magnum
Years ago the Remington Model 581 and Model 582 in 5mm Magnum were the official turkey rifles at the Y.O. Ranch in Texas. One or the other rode in the pickup truck driven by every guide who worked there. Most hunters went to the Y.O. to bump off a whitetail deer or perhaps one of a variety of exotic animals, and since the rifles they brought along were usually a bit too much for shooting a turkey, they would borrow their guide's rifle in 5mm Magnum to harvest Thanksgiving dinner. I used the little cartridge to bag several nice gobblers at the Y.O. and found it to be quite deadly on a body shot out to 100 yards or so with not a single forkful of the eating part suffering any damage. Pushing a 38-grain Power-Lokt hollowpoint bullet along at 2,100 fps, it shot a wee bit flatter than the .22 WMR while delivering about 25 percent more punch at 100 long paces. After chambering around 60,000 rifles for it, Remington dropped the axe, eventually leaving those who had bought them up the creek with no ammunition.
Sometime back the ammunition firm of Aguila came to the rescue by resurrecting the 5mm Remington Magnum and offering it loaded with 30-grain bullets at an advertised velocity of 2,300 fps. Two hollowpoints of that weight in two styles are offered, one said to be just the ticket for game up to the size of a turkey gobbler, the other a bit softer for use on varmints such as prairie dogs and flickertails. At the time of this writing Midway USA was offering 5mm Magnum Aguila ammo on its website.
While I do not think the 5mm Magnum is all that much better than the .22 WMR, it is a fine little cartridge, one deserving of a better hand than dealt to it by Remington many years ago. As the grapevine has it, Taurus has in the works a rifle chambered for it, but only time will separate rumor from fact. In the meantime, only those who own Remington Model 581s and 582s or one of the few T/C Contenders chambered for it can enjoy being in the field with this cartridge.
A rifle such as the Winchester 94/22M in .22 WMR is deadly on body shots on turkey gobblers at reasonable distances.
Back when I lived in the great state of Kentucky, groundhogs were quite abundant, so it was not difficult to find a farmer who welcomed a helping hand in thinning out their population a bit. Some of the smaller farms I frequented were in rather heavily settled areas, calling for a varmint rifle with a soft voice. So I rounded up a Remington 40X rifle and used its single-shot action to build one of the most accurate rifles in .22 WMR I have ever owned. I eventually sold it and would not own a rifle of that caliber capable of equaling its accuracy until adding an autoloader built by Tom Volquartsen to my battery many years later.
There was a time when .22 WMR ammunition was available only from Winchester, and only with a 40-grain bullet, but it is now available in a variety of loadings from not only that company but by Remington, Federal, Hornady, and CCI as well. Winchester alone now offers six different loads, ranging from a 30-grain JHP at 2,250 fps to the 45-grain DynaPoint at 1,550 fps.
The .22 WMR is a very useful cartridge. The higher velocity of the .17 HMR makes it better for shooting the smaller varmints, such as prairie dogs, at long range, but due to its heavier bullet of larger diameter, the .22 WMR has a noticeable performance edge on bigger stuff, such as groundhog, fox, and coyote. As I have proven beyond doubt to myself, it is a much better turkey cartridge. There is also the option of shooting the CCI shot load in a rifle or revolver in .22 WMR, something we will never see in the .17 HMR. If I could have only one, I would choose the .22 WMR without hesitation, but since I don't have to choose, I enjoy owning rifles chambered for both. Both are great little cartridges, but the soft spot in this rifleman's heart will always be the .22 WMR.
The .22 Winchester Rimfire (WRF) was introduced in the Winchester Model 1890 slide-action rifle. Remington later offered the exact same cartridge but called it the .22 Remington Special. It was loaded with 45-grain hollowpoint and solid-nose lead bullets at muzzle velocities of 1,450 fps for the high-velocity version and 1,050 fps for standard velocity. The high-speed loading offered considerably more punch than the .22 Long Rifle, making it a favorite of professional trappers.
Production of the .22 WRF eventually ceased, but in 1959 Winchester introduced the .22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire (.22 WMR), the case of which is nothing more than a lengthened version of the old .22 WRF case. Since the new cartridge was loaded to higher chamber pressure, its case was made longer to prevent it from being chambered in rifles chambered for the .22 WRF. It is safe, however, to fire .22 WRF ammunition in rifles chambered for the .22 WMR, and doing so might be compared to firing a .22 Long cartridge in a .22 Long Rifle chamber.
In 1986 Winchester made a small production run of .22 WRF ammunition loaded with a 45-grain flatnose lead bullet at a velocity of 1,300 fps, and the fine old round was back in business. Since that time the company has made additional batches every few years or so, and CCI started loading it several years back. This is good news because it is a quick and easy way to conv
ert a varmint rifle in .22 WMR into a small-game rifle.