Ultimate Guide to the .22 Calibre
At Viking Arms we're proud of our reputation for importing quality ammunition into the UK.
We're also committed to responsible gun ownership and making shooting sports and hunting accessible and understandable. That's why we've created this ultimate guide to the .22 calibre, you'll find all the information you need to know about the UK ammunition laws and the guns that use this ammunition and the bullets themselves.
Whether it's rimfire or centrefire, whether you're out for rabbits or deer, download our guide to learn more.
Download Our Ultimate Guide to the .22 Calibre
What cartridges fit into the .22 calibre range?
There’s a large number of cartridges that fall into this calibre, from the tiny .22 short rimfire all the way up to the impressive, high-performance .22-250, with many choices in between. This means that there will be one suitable for everything from rat control, up to stalking our smaller deer species in Scotland. There have been many unusual and ‘wildcat’ .22 centrefires over the years but today, .222, .223 and .22-250 are the most popular ones for UK shooters. The very powerful .220 Swift was popular but has fallen behind the others for noise, recoil and barrel wear reasons, while its opposite, the .22 Hornet, a modest little round, has faded too.
What’s the difference between centrefire and rimfire?
A rimfire cartridge has its primer compound poured into the base and can only be fired once, while a centrefire cartridge has a centrally positioned, separate primer that can be replaced as the case is reloaded. Rimfire rounds are typically much lower in power than centrefire cartridges and are used at shorter ranges.
Can I buy ammo online?
No.The law requires that you buy ammunition in a face-to-face transaction during which the retailer will enter the details of your purchase onto your firearm certificate (FAC).
What does rimfire ammunition mean?
Rimfire cartridges are typically small, inexpensive and at the low power end of the rifle cartridge spectrum. Because the liquid priming compound is poured into the simple case, manufacturing processes are fewer, and therefore costs are low relative to centrefire ammo. As the name suggests, the rifle’s firing pin strikes the rim of the cartridge, where the priming compound is found, to ignite the powder charge and drive the bullet down the barrel. In the UK we mostly use .17HMR 22LR and .22WMR rimfire cartridges but through history rimfires have been available in many calibres, including some very large and powerful ones.
.22 Long Rifle (LR)
Q. Where did the name Long Rifle come from?
A. .22 Long Rifle is by far the most popular .22 around the world for competition and hunting. It was developed by the J. Stevens Arms & Tools Co. (USA) in 1887 and was intended to be an improvement over the ballistic performance of earlier short .22 models.
Q. How do I get a licence for this calibre?
A. You can apply to your Police firearms department for .22lr on your firearms certificate for both target and hunting purposes.
Q. Why is a rifle in this calibre a good training choice for beginners?
A. With such modest ballistic performance, this cartridge produces negligible recoil and not too much noise, allowing a beginner to concentrate on learning correct technique without fear. It’s also quite inexpensive, making regular practice affordable, which is the key to improvement in shooter skills.
What are the different
Low Velocity (or subsonic) .22lr
Low velocity .22lr usually means below the speed of sound, which is around 1066fps at sea level, when measured at the muzzle. They’re often known as ‘sub sonics’ for that very reason and when used with a good moderator (silencer), they make for an impressively quiet hunting rifle, adding to the popularity.
Standard Velocity .22lr
Standard velocity .22lr rounds are generally in the 1200 to 1400 fps range and are not as popular as they used to be with hunters. Because they’re supersonic, fitting a moderator (silencer) will not stop the loud sonic crack, so your shots will be heard from quite some distance. For this reason, most people who accept the noise move up to high velocity .22lr for its increased performance. However, for action type competitions, especially through semi-automatic rifles, standard velocity rounds can be just the right thing.
High Velocity .22lr
High velocity cartridges are generally in the 1500 to 1650 fps range, offering a much flatter trajectory and increased striking energy on target. This offers clean kills even on less than perfect shots. However, the extra performance can come with a sharp increase in price.
Can you reload .22lr ammo?
There are kits available to reload .22LR ammo, but you will find nobody will do it as it's just not cost effective.
What is this calibre perfect for?
It’s the ideal calibre for short range target shooting, in what many people would think of as Olympic style competitions. It’s also extensively used by hunters and pest controllers for rabbit shooting, where its mild muzzle report and minimal recoil, allied to ideal ballistics, make it the number one choice.
What distance can a .22lr be shot at?
In competition, .22lr is typically shot at between 25 to 100 metres. Although it’s a hotly debated subject, most serious and experienced hunters will say that 75 yards is the maximum range that you can ethically shoot rabbits at with subsonic rounds, while the high velocity ones are effective towards 100 yards. The bullet has easily enough energy to kill at longer ranges but placing shots accurately becomes difficult beyond this distance.
Share your images, video and comments with us on social
What .22 ammunition can be shot out of my .22lr firearm?
You can shoot .22 short as well as .22lr. There are also cartridges that contain fine shot which can be effective if used at very short range against rats.
What is .22 short?
.22 short is not very popular today as .22lr has become the standard for most UK shooters. In essence, .22 short is much the same as .22lr but with reduced muzzle energy, offering about half the power of a modest .22lr. For this reason, it’s rarely considered by serious shooters except in the most unusual circumstances.
What is .22lr muzzle energy?Muzzle energy is a function of velocity and bullet weight. For example, the hugely popular 40 grain subsonic at around 1050fps will deliver around 100ft.lbs. while a high velocity round might drive a 32grain bullet at 1650 fps for 191 ft.lbs.
Is .22lr better than .22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire (WMR) or .17HMR?
It’s certainly the case that .22lr is the more popular, with the WMR finding little acceptance in the UK. It does have a lot more muzzle energy than .22lr with over 300 ft.lbs. being claimed by some manufacturers but the question is just what it’s for. It’s often seen as too much gun for rabbits, not enough for foxes and is illegal for deer. People looking to hunt those larger animals are well served by moving up to centrefire cartridges. The .17HMR however, has found great popularity here. The tiny 17 grain bullets moving at some 2500 fps make for a truly flat shooting round with genuine 150-yard rabbit potential. It’s also devastating on contact, delivering good, solid kills even with body shots. The downsides are lots of noise and an increase in price over .22lr, plus a very delicate barrel that’s prone to fouling and tricky to clean.
.22lr ballistics explained
Target loads are typically 40 grain bullets driven at around 1050fps and are designed for maximum accuracy over every other consideration. The bullet is solid, ideal for punching neat holes (however, flat head makes the neatest hole) in paper targets but unsuitable for hunting or pest control. Hunting rounds come in three velocity bands: subsonic, below 1066 fps, standard velocity, from 1100 to 1400 fps and high velocity above that figure. These feature hollow point bullets that expand on contact with our quarry to maximise energy transfer, ensuring clean, humane kills. With relatively low velocity, .22lr has a highly curved trajectory, dropping quickly as range increases. It’s for this reason and the wind’s noticeable unwanted effects, that long range precision isn’t possible with this cartridge.
How to make modifications to a .22lr rifle
The most popular hunting modification for the 22lr is adding a moderator (silencer) which many see as a vital accessory for the hunter or pest controller. Next, we see barrel shortening being used to compensate for the extra length the silencer adds. These rifles are often used from the cab of a 4X4, so short, handy guns make great sense. Unlike many cartridges, the .22lr doesn’t need a long barrel to make maximum velocity, so shortening it a little brings no loss in performance. High quality scopes are also popular, as .22lr is often used at night with a lamp, so a bright, clear image will make accurate shot placement far easier. Triggers and magazines are also upgrades shooters like to make to enhance the performance of their rifles.
What animals can legally and humanely be shot with .22lr?
The number one quarry animal is the rabbit, which is also enemy number one for many farmers. Crow and hare can also be shot with this calibre. The huge appetite of rabbits can cost farmers thousands of pounds in crop damage, so they’re pleased to see them shot and gone. In some parts of the country hares also live in numbers big enough to cause serious damage to crops, so again, controlling their numbers with a rifle is a great help to the farmer. Squirrels are also well dealt with by .22lr but only on the ground. It’s totally unacceptable to shoot them from the branches of a tree because the bullet will travel huge distances if you miss, endangering people and property for miles down range. Foxes can be taken with this calibre as long as you keep distances below 50-yards and take precise brain shots. Body shots are totally unreliable for anybody demanding clean kills. Finally, rats can be easily dispatched by a .22 but only with a soft soil backstop. Because of this, it cannot be used in and around farm buildings where rats are most often found, as damage to structures and the danger of ricochets prevents its use.
What bullet types and velocities are legal to shoot quarry in .22lr?
It’s legal to use both solid and hollow point bullets to shoot live quarry in the UK, but the latter is so much more effective that nobody uses the former. Both subsonic and high velocity cartridges are legal for hunting.
What is small game hunting?
In the UK small game hunting is mostly focused on rabbits and hares where numbers cause crop damage, with an increasing interest in grey squirrels. It’s all about fieldcraft and the skill needed to get close to the animals. With a maximum effective range of less than 100 yards, the hunter needs to read the ground, make good use of cover and be aware of the wind carrying his scent towards the game. More powerful cartridges might let you take the quarry at much greater ranges but the challenge of getting close is what this sport is all about.
Why is .22lr the most versatile small game hunting, and small pest control calibre?
There are many reasons that .22lr is so popular. To start, the rifles and ammunition are relatively inexpensive, allowing for lots of shooting fun. Next, with a silencer fitted they’re very quiet, so won’t annoy people living close to your shooting area. Also, with correct gun handling and safety procedures, they don’t need vast areas to shoot over. If you’re doing pest control on farmland, the quiet report won’t spook or upset livestock, so the farmer will be pleased that you haven’t caused disturbance while doing your job.
Types of .22 hunting ammunition:
.22lr bullets are made of lead, usually lubricated with wax, but some have copper plating, a feature which is most common on the high velocity options. Hunting bullets are typically of a hollow point design which is intended to expand on contact with the quarry animal, maximising terminal performance and delivering clean kills.
Shooting club rimfire disciplines explained:
The most common competitions are what you might think of as Olympic style ones where shots are taken from standing, kneeling and prone positions at paper targets. Distances are typically 25 or 50 metres, both indoors and out. These are very precise and serious competitions where huge discipline is supported by diligent, regular practice. Alternatively, there are action shooting competitions, where, as the name suggests, the action comes thick and fast. Shooters fire semi automatic guns at multiple targets that are arranged in all manner of challenging positions, so physical fitness and speed become factors.
Although it’s really a short range cartridge, there are extreme range competitions where this humble cartridge is fired out to 500-yards, but that’s a pretty rare event and if that’s not extreme enough for you it’s also the cartridge they use for skiing biathlon competitions in the frozen mountains too. Target shooting is all about precision, so the ammunition you use must be as accurate as possible. The typical match cartridge will have a 40 grain, solid bullet loaded to around 1050fps. Great care is taken in getting each component as near identical to the next which results in consistent firing characteristics. However, all the extra care and attention adds to the cost, so most manufacturers offer their top ‘match grade’ ammo alongside less precise practice ammo for training at a lower cost. One of the many benefits of shooting .22lr is that it’s surprisingly inexpensive, so getting plenty of range time, working on skills and techniques won’t break the bank.
Is .22lr a good rimfire target shooting calibre?
This is far and away the most popular target shooting calibre in the UK.
It can be shot by the old and young, girls and boys, able bodied and the disabled. Even the smallest clubs in urban areas can shoot .22lr because of its low power and minimal noise. Because of this, there are many competitions to enter, so you’re sure to find one that you like.
What is the .22 Short?
This tiny cartridge was developed in 1857 as a self-defence load for revolvers.
Over time, the more powerful .22lr has become a worldwide standard for both hunting and competition and the short has fallen out of favour. It can be quite hard to source and ironically, can be more expensive than its larger brother because it’s only made in small quantities. It has no real advantages to offer the shooter, apart from being very quiet and looks doomed to eventually disappear from gun shop shelves forever.
What does centrefire ammunition mean?
A centrefire cartridge case has a hole in its base where a replaceable primer is fitted. When struck by the rifle’s firing pin, the primer ignites the powder charge inside the case which expands extremely quickly, creating huge pressure that drives the bullet down the barrel.
What is the difference between .223 Rem and 5.56x45 NATO?
Although these two rounds are dimensionally identical, there is one important difference. The military 5.56x45 is loaded to higher pressure than the civilian .223 Rem. If your gun was not built strong enough to withstand the greater pressure, there could be dangerous problems. Check with the gun’s manufacturer to see if it is suitable for the higher pressures before shooting 5.56x45. 5.56 often has a heavier bullet requiring a fast twist rate not suited to some sporting rifles.
This popular cartridge is most commonly used as a foxing round, a role to which it is very well suited.
It has all the power and accuracy needed to cleanly dispatch them out to 300 yards and there is a good choice of ammo widely available, so you’ll be sure to find one that’s accurate in your rifle. It can also be used on Roe deer in Scotland as well as Chinese Water deer and Muntjac deer in England.
What bullet types and velocities are legal to shoot quarry in .223 Rem?
For deer stalking it meets the 50-grain bullet, 1000ft.lbs. minimum muzzle energy requirement for Roe Deer in Scotland only and Muntjac and Chinese Water Deer in England.
There’s also plenty of bullet construction types available that will dispatch these small deer cleanly. Look for lightweight, frangible bullets for foxes and heavier, more strongly built bullets for deer.
What are the different types of .223 Rem hunting ammunition?
Hunting ammo must utilise expanding bullets, not the full metal jacket ones used by the military.
These come in many types, but the most popular and effective ones are the soft point, the hollow point and in more recent times the ballistic tip. In the last kind a plastic point protrudes from the tip of the case delivering various benefits including resistance to damage in transport, improved efficiency through the air and the ability for the manufacturer to control expansion characteristics upon impact with the quarry animal.
What you need to know about .223 Rem reloading
Because of its massive popularity, there’s a huge amount of reloading equipment and knowledge widely available for this excellent cartridge.
Every bullet and case manufacturer offers products in .223 and there’s plenty of powder and primer options. For those with specialist needs such as long-range target shooters, very low drag (VLD) bullets can deliver performance unimaginable when this modest cartridge was launched.
What is the optimal twist rate for a .223 Rem rifle?
The most common bullet weights used in .223 Rem are between 40 and 55 grains for which most manufacturers choose a twist rate of 1 in 12” and that works well with most loads. If you want to shoot heavier bullets, you’ll need to research faster twist rates and some manufacturers are now offering 1 in 9” to help in that area which is great, as it will be much cheaper to get what you need from the factory rather than needing to re-barrel your rifle later.
This cartridge was developed as a very efficient target shooting round and was a huge success.
For many years it was one of the top performing target rounds in the world. Because of its superb accuracy and modest recoil, it soon became popular here for foxing too. It will dispatch them cleanly at 250 yards without all the noise and commotion of some of the more powerful foxing calibres.
What bullet types and velocities are legal to shoot quarry in .222 Rem?
It can be used on Roe deer in Scotland as well as Chinese Water deer and Muntjac deer in England as it meets the 50-grain bullet, 1000ft.lbs. minimum muzzle energy requirement. Look for lightweight, frangible bullets for foxes and heavier, more strongly built bullets for deer.
Types of .222 Rem hunting ammunition
Any hunting in the UK must be done with bullets designed to expand properly as they strike the quarry animal. These impart the maximum amount of energy into the vital organs and this is particularly important with the less powerful cartridges such as the .222. Many manufacturers state the quarry animals that each load has been developed for, so you can be sure that it will be suitable before you pull the trigger.
What you need to know about reloading .222 Rem.
This cartridge is rightly famed for superb accuracy and mild recoil and the handloader can take these welcome traits to the next level. It’s an easy cartridge to load and there’s plenty of high-quality components available, both for the target shooter and the hunter. There’s also endless load data for all the popular powder and primer combinations so you can have endless fun developing the perfect load for your rifle.
What is the optimal twist rate for a .222 Rem rifle?
The most common twist rates the manufacturers choose are 1 in 14” or 1 in 12”.
These easily cover the popular mid-weight bullets, but as ever, those looking to exploit the ballistic advantages of heavier bullets will need to look at faster twist rates to guarantee sufficient stability for top-class accuracy.
What does .22-250 calibre mean?
This superb cartridge was born a wildcat, meaning that an individual experimenter created it before the manufacturers saw its potential and brought it into mass production. The case was the .250-3000 Savage, necked down to .22, making quite a big case behind quite a small bullet, resulting in impressive velocities, exceeding 4000 fps with some loads.
What bullet types and velocities are legal to shoot quarry in
To shoot Roe deer in Scotland and Chinese Water deer and Muntjac deer in England, you must use bullets weighing at least 50-grains and have a muzzle energy exceeding 1000 ft.lbs. which this cartridge very easily surpasses.
- The bullets must be of the expanding type designed for hunting.
- It is vital that you select bullets specifically designed to cope with the extreme velocity this round develops.
What animals can legally and humanely be shot with .22-250 Rem?
The deer listed 👈, plus vermin species, most commonly foxes but some people like to shoot rabbits and hares at long range with it as well. It has to be accepted however, that the quarry will not be edible after taking a hit from this cartridge!
Types of .22-250 hunting ammunition:
There’s a good choice of hunting ammo available for .22-250 because it’s such a popular cartridge. As with the smaller .22 centrefires, look for light bullets that will break up instantly on impact for fox use and stronger, heavier bullets that are designed to correctly penetrate the more heavily built deer. Using the wrong type will be ineffective and inhumane.
What is the maximum hunting range of the .22-250?
In skilled hands and through a well-prepared rifle this cartridge is effective out to 400-yards and sometimes even further.
What you need to know about
This cartridge holds a lot of powder for a .22 and great care needs to be taken in working loads up slowly and carefully to avoid an over-pressure situation.
Because of its popularity, there’s plenty of load data available and it’s wise to follow the guidelines of starting with the lowest pressure set up and building up in small increments. Again, there is a huge choice of powder, primer and bullets that will allow you to build your ultimate cartridge.
What is the optimal twist rate for a .22-250 rem rifle?
Most manufacturers offer 1 in 14” as standard. However, as versatile as this is, those wishing to experiment with unusual bullet weights may well need to look to custom barrel makers who can offer them just the right twist rates to achieve their goals. Again, the needs of long and heavy bullets need to be properly addressed if their potential is to be realised. Your professional rifle smith is the person to ask for such important guidance.
What about the 5.7x28mm?
This unusual cartridge was developed as a highly advanced compact combat round for use in high-tech semi auto pistols and submachine guns. It was intended to outperform the ubiquitous 9mm and has recently received official NATO recognition.
Is .22-250 Rem a good target round?
No. Its extreme performance creates a lot of heat, so after only three or four shots the rifle’s zero would probably shift. It’s also infamous for burning out barrels quickly, certainly an undesirable trait in a target rifle. Finally, its high speed exceeds the maximum velocity allowed by some ranges, precluding its use there.
Is .222 Rem a good target round?
Yes, it’s an excellent target round but being quite old it has many more modern cartridges competing with it for your attention.
What bullet weights and types are good for .222 target shooting?
Both hollow point and full metal jacket types work well in this cartridge, usually in the 40 to 55 grain range.
Is .223 Rem a good target round?
Yes. It’s used in many types of shooting competitions and the availability of cheap military surplus 5.56 allows for inexpensive practice, if your rifle is proofed for this round. Recent developments in bullet design have increased its effective range, allowing it to compete in events normally dominated by larger cartridges. Delivering only mild recoil and being inexpensive to reload are features that appeal to many who shoot lots of rounds at any event.
What bullet weights and types are good for .223 target shooting?
Much like the .222, the .223 traditionally worked best with bullets in the 40 to 55 grain range but as mentioned above, the new frontier of development for this cartridge seems to revolve around heavier bullets of advanced design.
The information, including text, graphics, images and information expressed in this publication are general in nature. Viking Arms Ltd assumes no responsibility for the accuracy of the information contained on or available through this website or its suitability for any purpose and such information is subject to change without notice. You are encouraged to confirm any information obtained from or through this website with other sources. Information on this website may not constitute the most up to date legal or other information.
The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Viking Arms Ltd.
Head Office Address
Viking Arms Ltd, Summerbridge, Harrogate, North Yorkshire, HG3 4BW