During the Obama era when ammunition prices skyrocketed, many shooters turned to the more affordable .22 LR to use for a day at the range. History has largely repeated itself as shooters have again flocked to the small caliber round as other bullets have been impossible to find, while prices have reached levels never seen before.
That isn’t to say that .22 LR has been easy to find either, and earlier this year it was as difficult to acquire as any other popular caliber. However, as manufacturers have ramped up production, .22 LR is once again far easier to find and likely will continue to fill the void for shooters.
History of the .22
The cartridge has long been popular with “training rifles” used by the military, while it has also long been seen as fun “plinking” ammo for target shooting – named for the short, sharp, metallic sound made when shooting old cans or glass bottles.
The .22 was first developed in the 1850s for the first Smith & Wesson revolver. It was soon determined that the round lacked the velocity of other calibers of the era. Instead, it transformed into a popular target round. Known for its low recoil and inherent accuracy, the .22 Short was even used for the Olympic 25 meter rapid fire pistol event until 2004, when it was replaced by air pistols.
However, when shooters today talk about plinking and the .22, it is generally the .22 Long Rifle (.22 LR) in which they are referring. It was developed by the Union Metallic Cartridge Company in 1885, and today there are countless firearms – from single-shot rifles to full-auto machine guns, revolvers and semi-automatic pistols – that are chambered in the caliber.
In fact, the rimfire cartridge is so popular that it is by far the most common ammunition in the world, used for hunting and target shooting. Because of its effectiveness at short ranges and that it has little recoil, .22 LR continues to make for an ideal training round for the military. Hunters love the cartridge for its use against small game and varmints, where the rounds provide a clean kill out to 150 yards. For others, the .22 LR remains popular because it is cheap to shoot.
While many other popular calibers, including 9mm, have risen in price during the great ammo shortage of 2021; .22 LR has increased but not nearly as significantly. It is now possible to find a box of 400 rounds (Browning HP 36 grains 1280 fps) for less than $140 – just about $0.03 a round according to a recent survey of offerings found on CheaperThanDirt.com. When compared to the 5.56 NATO or .223 cartridges for the AR-15, which can be well over a $1 per round, it is easy to see why some shooters are buying an AR chambered for .22 LR for target shooting instead.
The .22 LR is known for low bullet weight and kinetic energy, yet increasingly firearms chambered for the caliber are being adopted as home defense weapons for many of the same reasons. While these may not have the “stopping power” of a 9mm, the low recoil could be a plus for older or disable shooters. These factors have given rise to the popularity of the caliber, which is why nearly 140 years since being introduced, the .22 Long Rifle remains the most popular round for shooters worldwide.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.