With ammunition prices sky-high and availability inconsistent at best, it is important to have a good working knowledge of the various types and quality of .22 ammunition on the market. The variety of .22 ammo (when available) is mind boggling. To keep this article simple and easy to follow, I will only discuss .22 Long Rifle, also known as .22LR, which is by far the most commonly used .22 ammunition on the market. Even among long rifle ammunition there are different bullet types and various grades of ammunition.
Grades of Ammunition
With our shortage of ammunition, an argument could be made that beggars cannot be choosers. Get what you can and be happy with it. After all, in a pinch, most types of .22 ammunition could be used for both informal target shooting or hunting small game. However, if you want to do some competitive shooting or serious small-game hunting, your shopping should be done in search of higher-end ammunition. This is called “match-grade” ammo. The quality of the higher end, slightly more expensive ammunition will give you more consistent accuracy and far fewer misfires.
When I am teaching someone new to shoot, I always begin with a .22 and I am not against using ammunition purchased by the big box or bucket in bulk. For beginners or informal plinking, match-grade ammo is not necessary. In this case, less expensive bulk ammunition serves well. Just be aware that often inexpensive, bulk ammo is a bit dirtier and requires more cleaning of your rifle or pistol to avoid jams and misfires. So, keep that in mind as you shoot!
The match grade or higher quality ammunition can, of course, be used for target shooting. In fact, I would encourage shooters to practice with some of the high-end stuff, if only to be sure your rifle or pistol fires it well. All veteran shooters know that each firearm seems to “like” a certain recipe of ammunition better than others (and sometimes it doesn’t like the most expensive kind, either). Sight-in with your hunting or match grade ammunition and fire a few magazines with it, and know you are proficient with it. Then know you can go to the competition line or the squirrel or varmint woods with confidence in your ammunition.
When it comes to .22 bullet types, there are many. At one end of the spectrum you will find lead round nose bullets. At the others you will find copper-coated hollowpoints; in between, you can find variations of those in a variety of bullet weights measured in grains. Most .22 ammunition weighs between 36 and 42 grains. 40 grains seems to be a standard for solid bullets (e.g., not hollowpoints). There are some subsonic rounds that weigh 20 grains and some heavy bullets that weigh as much as 60 grains.
Hollowpoints are used for hunting, and if you’re going to try to use a .22 for defense, that’s what you should have loaded in the gun. (Whether or not you should use a .22 for defense is another discussion entirely.) Hollowpoints will work very well on small game and are highly sought after and commonly available in both higher quality rounds and bulk rounds. I have regularly purchased buckets of hollow points by a major ammunition maker and used them as both practice and in hunting situations knowing I will get a few misfires in the process. The accuracy is very acceptable for me with shots taken on squirrels out to 100 yards at times with a scoped rifle.
However, if I were shooting competitively or trying to see what my rifle was capable of, I would look for a round nosed lead bullet in a box of 50. Such ammunition is carefully made with higher quality control standards in place. Talking to your gun shop owner about the most accurate ammunition they carry will get you headed in the right direction.
Keep in mind that lead bullets will require a bit more scrubbing of the bore of your gun than copper coated bullets. In general, the .22LR lends itself to extended reliability, but does require that you give your gun a good cleaning on a regular basis to get the best accuracy and function from it. Shoot safely and have fun!