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The .22 rimfire is probably the world's most available, yet underrated cartridge. This round is familiar to anyone with any knowledge of firearms, but is all too often considered only for plinking or training purposes. Despite the admitted low power, the .22 should be given careful consideration if one is planning to acquire one or more survival weapons. This paper will discuss the advantages of the .22 rimfire as a survival weapon.
The ammunition is inexpensive making the cost of practice low enough for the entire family to become skilled in the use of the weapon and familiar with firearms in general. The low recoil and noise level also makes it easier to train the entire family in the use of the weapon. This should be done regardless of the weapon which- is chosen.
A carton of 500 .22 long rifle rounds can be purchased on sale for less than the cost of a box of 50 centerfire pistol rounds. This carton will take up little more space and have a little more weight than the box of centerfire ammunition. The space and weight consideration could be important if mobility becomes a factor.
The most common cartridge types are short, long, long rifle, long rifle high velocity and magnum. Most of these will work in a bolt or lever action. However, the shorts and longs do not have enough power to operate the autoloading (semi-automatic) action in most rifles. True, shorts and longs can be inserted manually into the chamber but this is usually a slow, cumbersome process. (The magnum is not interchangeable with other size cartridges.)
The long rifles (regular and high velocity) are, by far, the most popular and thus readily available cartridge in the U.S.
Weapons chambered for this round are usually lighter and less expensive than are centerfire weapons.It is possible to obtain a high quality rifle, handgun, supply of ammunition and necessary cleaning supplies and accessories for less than $300. If you have priced firearms lately, you know what a bargain this represents.
The .22 is low powered and limited in range when compared to centerfire weapons. It is, however, capable of placing game on the table with well placed shots at reasonable ranges and with less damage to meat than with a larger bullet. No round can bring down any animal unless the shot hits the target and it is easier for most people to master the .22 than a larger caliber. Youngsters or persons of small stature may become crack shots with the .22 while not being able to master weapons with heavier recoil.
The low power of this cartridge offers one decided advantage. The sound produced by a .22 short in a long barreled rifle is extremely low and only slightly greater in autoloaders than bolt actions. Even the .22 long rifle, is much quieter than centerfire rounds. It is conceivable that the need might arise to fire the weapon without advertising your position. These weapons can be further silenced with either improvised devices or units which are currently available. Complete silencer units require Bureau of Tobacco, Alcohol and Firearms approval and payment of a license fee. Kits are available without registration or approval, but require approval before they can be legally assembled. Instructions are also available from several sources for improvised homemade silencers. These information packets are advertised from several sources in gun and Survivalist oriented publications. They are, of course, sold for "information only".
I see no need for commercial sound suppressors with the .22 rimfire. If it should prove necessary to reduce the sound level to less than that produced by the .22 short fired from a rifle, improvised devices can be made rather easily.
There are a number of makes and designs of .22 weapons from which to choose. Ruggedness, durability and simplicity of maintenance and repair should be prime considerations. Accuracy, weight and personal preferences of design should also be considered. The weapon should fit the shooter.
Once you have decided on the type of action and possibly even brand, you may have to choose between either tubular or clip fed magazines. The tube holds around 15 long rifle rounds as opposed to the 7 to 15 of the normal clip, but is slow to reload when empty or if the need to change types of ammunition arises. Extra clips are available either from the manufacturer of the weapon or from companies which specialize in manufacturing clips. Extra capacity clips are available for many makes of .22, but many of these have proven to be unreliable.
There are many fine .22 rifles to choose from and I do not intend to endorse any one brand over another, but my own preference is towards the autoloading action. I am willing to give up a little of the accuracy and durability of the bolt action, and live with the slightly higher noise level, in favor of more rapid second and subsequent shots.
One autoloading rifle is offered as asurvival rifle design. This is the AR-7 manufactured by Charter Arms. This design was originally developed as a survival rifle for the military and is easy to service or repair.Features are:
- A single screw holds the cover plate in place. This can be removed with a spent cartridge or a coin to give access to all internal parts. Internal parts can easily be replaced by the owner if this should prove necessary and most are simple enough that replacements could be fashioned with hand tools if necessary.
- The rifle is made of lightweight materials and disassembles into barrel, clip and receiver which fit into the plastic stock. The rifle will float if dropped into water thanks to the plastic stock. In the disassembled condition, the weapon fits easily under a car seat and in at least some states is perfectly legal to transport -in this fashion as a cased, disassembled weapon. The weapon can be removed from the case, reassembled and readied to fire in less than one minute with no tools.
- Accuracy is not as precise with this piece as with other rifles due to its design, but is adequate for most situations. As there is no forearm, it is advisable to modify the traditional shooting stance by gripping the magazine rather than the forearm. No provision is made for sling swivels, but is a simple matter to tie a cord around the barrel and stock for carrying.
- I have had the opportunity to fire the AR-7 with a legal, professionally fitted silencer. With any except high velocity ammunition, sound is greatly reduced. Accuracy through a scope sight does not seem to suffer greatly at close range. I had no way of measuring bullet velocity, but assume that it would be reduced somewhat by this device.
One note of caution... Autoloading weapons are more prone to jamming than other actions, especially the reliable bolt action. Most jams can be prevented by keeping the weapon clean and by loading the clip carefully. By trying different types and brands of ammunition until you find the one your individual weapon seems to handle best, and sticking with it, you can reduce this even more. You should learn to clear jams quickly if you are going to depend on the weapon in life threatening situations.
I would not recommend the handgun as a survival or defensive weapon- to anyone who is not already skilled in the use of the handgun. It takes considerably more practice to develop skill with a handgun than with a rifle and the handgun, even with the best of shooters, is not as accurate as a rifle beyond short ranges.
If you do choose to buy a handgun, I hope it would be as a back-up weapon to the rifle. I personally prefer the revolver to the autoloading pistol regardless of caliber. A discussion of the relative merits of each design would (and has) filled many pages. Suffice it to say that this is mainly a matter of personal preference best gained after several years of experience.
Although there are several brands of quality .22 handguns, both foreign and domestic, I am partial to the Harrington and Richardson (H&R) line of double action revolvers. I have more than 25 years of shooting experience with one or more of their revolvers and have yet to be disappointed by any of them. H&R manufactures several different designs of .22 revolvers as well as other weapons. Some of the .22 revolvers have interchangeable cylinders which enable them to fire either the inexpensive .22 ammunition or the more powerful .22 magnum round. All of these are of steel construction with a solid frame. They are strong and reliable and offer perhaps the best value for the money of any make on the market today. The H&R line of .22 revolvers include those with pull-pin cylinders and their top of the line model which is a top break action. All are double action and use basically the same internal action parts. The 2 ½ inch barrel models offer rounded butts while the longer ones have squared butts. The only complaint I have with this line is that complete disassembly instructions are not included with the weapons. Although it is not necessary, or even advisable, in most cases to completely disassemble a weapon for cleaning, I still prefer to do so occasionally. This flaw is easily overcome with the new aerosol cleaner and lubricant sprays which require only the removal of the grip panels to clean the action of the weapon.
The .22, along with the .25 ACP, has long been the choice for hideout guns. In autoloaders, the .25 has proven more popular because it is easier and less expensive to build a pistol which will function properly with this rimless cartridge than with the .22. In recent years, some small autoloaders in .22 long rifle chambering have become readily available. These include the Sterling, Erma and Jennings designs.
The question of stopping power comparisons of the .22 and the .25 cartridge is still being debated. With either round, stopping power is marginal requiring a brain or heart shot for a quick kill. Accuracy is required with either if it is to be effective as a defensive round. This is where the .22 is superior to the .25 because of the lower price of ammunition; one can practice more with the smaller .22 and develop the skill necessary.
You can have the best of both worlds by purchasing two Sterling autoloaders, one for each of the two chambers. You can get the necessary practice with the .22 and rely on the identical .25 as a defensive round. A less expensive alternative is to stay with the .22 and be sure to select ammunition to best suit the pistol and learn to clear the occasional jam quickly.
The mini revolvers, such as Freedom Arms and North American, offer the maximum concealability in a single action .22 revolver. I have not had the opportunity to compare the two makes together, but am most impressed with the Freedom Arms product. It is offered in both .22 long rifle and .22 magnum models with barrel lengths of between one and three inches available. A hammer block type system has recently been added to the Freedom Arms mini's, making it possible to carry a live round under the hammer. On the older models without-this feature I disagree with the factory suggestion of carrying the revolver fully loaded on half-cock. I recommend an empty chamber under the hammer, as with any single action revolver, only recommending it more strongly with a pocket model where the barrel is more likely to be pointed at me in case of accidental discharge. With the short barrel length, tiny grips and primitive sights (the rear sight is blocked from view when the weapon is cocked), this revolver will not outperform a target pistol for accuracy. On the other hand, it is far more difficult to carry a target pistol with the same degree of concealment as the mini revolver. With practice, it is not difficult to put all rounds into the X-zone of a silhouette at ten yards or to behead a poisonous snake before you get within his striking range.
Not classified as firearms, but definitely worth mention in a discussion of the .22 are the various conversion units which allow the .22 to be fired in weapons chambered for more expensive centerfire ammunition. This provides the opportunity to practice or hunt with less expensive ammunition in a larger weapon.
The simplest of these are the cartridge inserts. These are chambered for the .22 rimfire and are sized to match the cartridge they replace. These are available for all the .22 caliber centerfire chambers and in a few other calibers including units to permit firing .22 shot shells from regular shotguns, as well as rifled units for firing the .22 from larger calibers. These inserts may not work in an autoloader since they require part of the power to eject the cartridge and to chamber another round. Conversion units are also available to allow full function of the .22 rimfire in autoloading designs for centerfire rounds. The oldest design is the one for the Colt government model .45. This unit allows practice with the full size autoloader using the rimfire cartridge. Similar units are available for the AR-15 and similar autoloading rifles in .223 (NATO 5.56) center-fire calibers. They are not cheap, but if they work as well as the articles I have read about them, they would be worth the investment and would soon pay for themselves in the cost of ammunition. For further information on the .22/.223 conversion units contact Brocal Int'l, 1415 First National Plaza, Dayton, Ohio 45412 (513-222-6371).
The .22 caliber rimfire is outclassed for any single function a weapon might have to perform by other rounds, but no other round can offer the versatility of the .22. This versatility, along with the low cost, light weight and cartridge availability, makes the .22 definitely worthy of consideration as a survival weapon.
- The Complete .22, Vol. 2, Nr. 1, Hal Swiggett, ed. Harris Publications, Inc., 79 Madison Avenue, NY, NY 10016.
- Survival Guns by Mel Tappan.Considered by some to be "The Survivalist Gun Bible"...It is available from almost all survival/self-sufficiency book dealers in paperback for about $10.