I’m going to share a story that recently caused me a lot of frustration. Since I jotted this in my field log, I have taken every opportunity to build up my supply of .22 rimfire ammo. Over the course of a few months I’ve found occasion (small) supply’s and bought when ever I could. Sometimes I had to go to a store multiple times buying the couple box limit until they ran out, but finally a few hundred dollars invested I have refilled the powder room….. but the whole episode put me right off my rimfires. But I asked myself seriously, do I really want to shoot my rimfires anymore?
While I mostly shoot Airguns, I’ll admit that I still get out with my firearms from time to time. I had a writing assignment come up to use rimfire rifles for a prairie dog shoot in North Dakota. This article was for a conventional hunting publication and the spin they wanted was for me to do a budget hunt. So with the objective of keeping my ammo cost as low as possible I had decided to take my .22 LR, .17 Mach II, and .17 HMR rifles. I’d let my stock of rimfire ammo drop very low, so before my planned departure I went to Cabelas to pick up ammo ……… and there was not a round of rimfire ammo to be found! I went to 10 gun and/or hunting stores over the next couple days and could not find a single vendor with any rimfire ammo in stock. And I was told that they didn’t know when any new shipments would arrive, but that when it did come in there would be limits on the amount an individual could purchase in a day (typically a couple 50 round boxes maximum)! Arguably the .22 rimfire is the most popular cartridge in the country, and (ironically) makes for the largest number of unshootable guns in the current ammo drought.
Long story short, I could not find any rimfire ammo so had to revise my plans; this trip became a budget priced airgun hunt! Truth be told, I have a strong bias towards airguns and this would have been my preference anyways, and it just so happened that I had a couple hundred tins of pellets in .22, .25, .303, and .357 in my gun room waiting to go! But if I’d needed more it could have been ordered in vast quantities, the only limit being my checkbook. In the past when comparing rimfire to airgun shooting I’d start off talking about the price of ammo, however these days I’d have to say that the major advantage is that you can actually buy ammunition for your airguns. I shoot about 500 to 1000 pellets a week providing I’m not doing testing or going on a hunting/shooting expedition, in which case the numbers can go through the roof, and would be in a tough spot if dependent on finding a brick of rimfire ammo now or in the foreseeable future. So let me take a look at how the rimfires currently stack against today’s quality airguns.
It is controversial to take on the venerable .22 rimfire, I mean it is the most popular round in America for a reason. There are a lot of great guns with a virtually unlimited variety of styles and capabilities, the price of most is pretty reasonable (though you can spend as much as you want to), they tend to be fairly accurate, and compared to other powder burners the ammunition is (used to be) inexpensive, the sound levels are relatively low, and it’s a great caliber and power level for shooting small game. But aside from the difficulty in finding rimfire ammunition these days (and the ridiculous prices now being forced on us), there are other compelling reasons for shooters and hunters to lay down their rimfire rifles once in a while (or maybe for good) and pick up an airgun.
Both the selection and availability of airguns has increased over the last few years. There is a broad range of air rifles currently available for competitive shooters, plinkers, and hunters. I’m going to keep this discussion focused on the application I am most involved with, hunting. I shoot airgun about 200 days of the year, about 125 days of which are hunting. This is where some of the advantages of airguns become manifest; I can practice in my basement or backyard because of the power and sound levels associated with these guns. I live in suburbia, and if I’m going squirrel hunting on Saturday can practice with the gun I intend to use throughout the week before or after a day in the office. One of the primary means of becoming a more effective hunter is to practice your shooting technique, and maintaining familiarity with your gun. There is nowhere to shoot close to where I live, and it’s a half hour drive to the nearest range, which besides the cost always seems busy when my schedule yields up a few open minutes to shoot. But the fact that airguns are quiet and ammunition inexpensive (and readily available) would be of little import if the guns didn’t perform as hunting tools, so let’s look at some comparisons with rimfires for this intended use.
Velocity of a typical .22 rimfire rifle using standard velocity ammunition is about 1140 fps velocity with a 40 grain roundnose bullet, or about 105 fpe of energy. A high velocity .22 rimfire round fired through a typical 20” barrel will propel a 40 grain bullet at 1250 fps, generating about 140 fpe. If you site the rifle in at 50 yards 1.4” high at 50 yards, it will not deviate more than 1.5” from the muzzle to out to 90 yards.
A .22 caliber pcp air rifle will generate about 1100 fps with an 18.13 grain JSB Exact round nose pellet, producing just under 50 fpe, and this is one of the more powerful .22 production pcp’s on the market. If you zero the gun at 50 yards, the POI will be approximately an inch high at 30 yards and 7.5” low at 90 yards.
So on the surface, many hunters using a .22 rimfire would look at these results and say “there is no way an airgun would be an effective replacement to my .22 LR”. And they would be wrong for several reasons; 1) the .22 rimfire and airgun both generate way more power than is needed to efficiently and cleanly kill small game and varmint, 2) while the trajectory is more pronounced with the airgun projectiles the inherent accuracy is no better and often not as good as that obtained with the air rifle, and 3) and the lower velocity and poorer coefficient of drag limits the range, meaning the airgun is viable in environments where a rimfire will carry too far. Add to this that the report is low, ammo available, and the guns can often be shot where firearms are prohibited, starts to justify the airgun as a valid hunting tool for many rimfire hunters.
When discussing the difference in power between an airgun and a rimfire, I’d point out that a rabbit or squirrel (actually just about any small game) only takes a few fpe to kill. Both the rimfire and any medium power airgun provide more than enough energy to cleanly put them down. The excess power in the rimfire will allow the hunter a bit more latitude for less than optimal shot placement, but not much, and it is worth noting that our goal should be to place good shots rather than giving us the latitude to make sloppy ones. The higher velocity, heavier projectile, and better BC of a rimfire bullet does result in a flatter shooting projectile at longer range. But it can be argued that once the trajectory for a specific airgun and pellet has been mastered, the achievable accuracy at 90 yards is very similar. And at 50 yards, where most small game is taken, my experience has actually been better with my airguns…… I shoot them more accurately.
I was out on a prairie dog shoot earlier in the year, and took my Ruger 10/22 and Daystate Huntsman Classic along. I did a direct comparison of the two guns shooting each during one hour sessions, and found that my shoot/hit ratio on the inside 50 yard range was about 90%, and on the longer shots was actually significantly better with the Daystate, 80% and 65% respectively. There was no wind blow during this outing, but the next day when I repeated the experiment the wind was gusting at about 20 mph, and while my long range shooting went to hell in a hand basket with both guns, the Ruger outperformed on that day. The point is that an airgun can hold its own, and often outperform the .22 rimfire in the field.
The place where airgun have an undeniable advantage over rimfires is that they are much quieter, especially if they are configured to utilize a shrouded barrel. This allows the guns to be practiced with and hunted with in far more places than can be done with the rimfire, especially if you live in the city or the suburbs!
I am not suggesting that all hunters should swap their rimfire rifles for airguns, I’m an airgun fanatic but I still own and shoot my rimfires occasionally. But there are many compelling reasons to add an airgun to your hunting battery, and I can say without reservation that my airguns let me practice more which makes me a better marksman, and spend more time in the field hunting which makes me a better hunter! Now, when considered in face of the current ammo availability situation, the idea of airgun hunting will become even more attractive. When I finally started finding ammo again, there was almost always a low volume limit (typically a couple 50 round boxes) and I was paying between $4.50 and $8.00 per 50 round box! If I had of spent that much at AOA, I’d have enough pellets to last for years! I think that as more hunters using rimfires switch over to airguns in the short term to circumvent the ammo shortage, they will be less inclined to hurry back once/if the ammo situation improves!