The Sleeper Cartridge


by Paco Kelly

photography by Paco Kelly

August 19th, 2010




It may be a sleeper, but it is alive and well. It is the 22 magnum rimfire cartridge. The industry has been trying to bring out all kinds of rimfire ammo that would take it's place. But as far as I'm concerned, all they have done is make the replacement types more expensive... and they just don't make the grade.

One of the problems I see is the 22 magnum was never developed for plinking. It is a small game round from a rifle. A bit of a problem comes when they are fired from some handguns with some brands... they won't expand... We'll get to a solution for that further down...

I read so often that the 22 magnum rimfire is disappearing, or it is not popular any more. And that the hyper velocity 22 rimfire long rifle ammo is replacing it. In writing my book on RIMFIRES... all about 22rimfires....22 rimfire Magnums... and the 17 rimfires... we tested 22 mag rimfire ammo from 8 companies. WINCHESTER, FEDERAL, CCI, PMC, REMINGTON, SELLIER & BELLOT, ARMSCOR and RWS, and each of these companies puts out more than one style of magnum rimfire ammo. We tested 12 different offerings from these companies... firing over 2000 rounds in testing from handguns and rifles for the book. So the simple question is... if seven companies are producing 22 Magnum RF ammo in a number of different styles... how does that make the 22 magnum rimfire unpopular and disappearing from the market place?

The other argument is the 22 magnum rimfire is too expensive. Really? Have you checked the price of Hyper velocity long rifle rimfire ammo lately? When buying 22 magnum ammo in bulk the prices for 50 round boxes ran from $7.99 to $14 a box. And the expensive $13 and $14 a box ammo was like the specialized 22 LR specialized ammo... light bullet weight and hyper velocity... Like Federal's 30 grain H. P. mag rimfire... it clocked 2399 from my 22 magnum Clone Henry rifle (20 inch barrel). Armscor was on sale in bulk and come to a penny under 8 dollars a box. And it broke 2000 fps from the Henry. 

And on top that Winchester and CCI put out the WRF... Winchester Rim Fire cartridge. Designed in the late 1890s it is about a 10th of an inch shorter than the standard mag rimfire and runs about 1300 to 1400 fps... and it is less expensive that the standard mag rimfire ammo. And it too is very popular... because it is loaded with 45 grain bullets... And a 45 grain bullet at 1400 fps 196 foot pounds of muzzle energy. Most high velocity and hyper velocity 22 LR rimfires that get into that velocity level are dropped from 40 grains to 30 to 38 grains according to the brand used. The 38 grain runs 165 M. E. and the the 30, 32, 33, 36 grain offerings run from 135 through 156 ME.... But and it is a big but... not only does the WRF ammo give substantially more energy... it is a 45 grain bullet. It's ballistics down range are very much better, carrying more energy over a longer range with deeper penetration on small game.

And then there is the Winchester Dynapoint mag RF. It is a 45 grain bullet in a full length mag case but its velocity runs around 1550 fps... and 250 pounds of muzzle energy. And Federal offers a 50 grain 22 Mag RF at 1655 fps and over 300 pounds of muzzle energy. And these four, the two WRF brands run around $7 a box in bulk, and the Dynapoint and the Federal run less that the special hyper velocity 22 LR rimfire ammo from most companies. I search the mail order companies, to find really decent prices. Cheaper than Dirt, Brownells, Midway, and others.... 

Even the long rifle and the magnum hyper velocity brands, when matched up, the 22 LR comes out second place by a long way down... For example one of the highest velocity LR 30 grainers is Aguila's Super Maximum H. P. and it is a very fine offering. I use a lot of them... for what they were designed to do at 1700 plus fps... eliminate pests... to 100 yards or so... And then there is the Federal Magnum RF 30 grain offering at just under 2400 fps from the Henry. At one hundred yards being very careful with them not shoot out our skyscreens, the Aguila was doing less than 1300 fps and the Federal was just over 2000 fps. Which one would you like to use to shoot something at 150 yards, with an expectation that it would be a humane kill? 

As I said in the beginning, some 22 mag rimfire ammo, especially the full jacket round nose type... and the heavy jacketed H. P. s will not expand in small game fired from a handgun... We tried all kinds of Acu'rzr tool designs in the hopes of reshaping the noses so they would expand. But the 22 mag rimfire is an inside the case bullet, unlike the standard 22 LR rimfire which is an outside the case bullet. That means when you try to impact with pressure a 22 mag RF bullet... it doesn't reform, it drives down into the case.

So we developed a tool that we call the ATS MagRF. It removes the tip of the bullet making a soft flat nose and makes the bullet at the case mouth perfectly round... And then they expand from reasonable length barreled handguns....4 and 5/8ths and longer....

So after all is said and done the 22 rf long rifle is a wonderful round in all it's configurations... But it is the 22 magnum that is a true small game round. I rate small game from hardy Arizona jack rabbits that run up to seven or eight pounds of leather and bailing wire, to coyotes with the right Mag rimfire ammo...

Obsolete, disappearing, unpopular.... not hardly!


Paco Kelly


Ballistics Chart - Velocity listed in Feet per Second (FPS)

Ammo AMT AutoMag 6" AMT AutoMag 4.5" Ruger Single-Six 4.625" Henry Repeating Arms 20" Winchester 9422M 20"
W/W Varmint 1560 1490 1443 2170 2121
W/W 40-gr HP 1310 1260 1225 1990 1977
CCI MAXI-V 1668 1599 1556 2415 2355
CCI MAXI-TNT 1598 1533 1499 2280 2240
Federal 30-gr (NEW) 1631 1570 1545 2310 2291
Federal 50-gr HP 1110 1000 980 1569 1588
RWS 40-gr HP 1710 1650 1603 2424 2398


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The 22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire, or 22 Magnum, remains one of Paco's favorite cartridges.