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Harder to Justify my Rimfires!

Posted by on July 20, 2014

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?

With the right gun, the right ammo, and the making the right shot choices, my range with my airguns is no more limited than with a .22 rimfire.

With the right gun, the right ammo, and the making the right shot choices, my range with my airguns is no more limited than with a .22 rimfire.

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.

My .25 Verminator is more accurate than most of my rimfires, the ammo is a fraction of the price and readily available, and the gun is much quieter to boot!

My .25 Verminator is more accurate than most of my rimfires, the ammo is a fraction of the price and readily available, and the gun is much quieter to boot!

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.

This little Talon-P carbine has become my pack gun on  ultralight backpacking trips or out in my kayak.

This little Talon-P carbine has become my pack gun on ultralight backpacking trips or out in my kayak.

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.

And if you look at the .30 caliber airguns on the market these days, you'll appreciate the penetration and wound channel they produce.

And if you look at the .30 caliber airguns on the market these days, you’ll appreciate the penetration and wound channel they produce.

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!

14 Responses to Harder to Justify my Rimfires!

  1. Scott

    Jim, I feel the same as you do about rim fires. I have a ton of ammo but finding a place to shoot, even in wide open AZ, is becoming a pain. The noise and extra power of a 22 or 17 rim fire make shooting on dairy farms unacceptable. I still don’t understand the rim fire problems with unavailability. Also, like you said about the noise factor. I could get a suppresser I suppose but it is a hassle. So, it looks like air guns for me. Scott

    • Jim Chapman

      To right Scott…. plus your plenty deadly with the air rifles. BTW; I saw the segment from our dairy shoot that will be airing next episode of American Airgunner, got some good footage of you taking out those pest birds with you FX. Are you back in AZ yet?
      Jim

  2. grizz

    i have to admit that i no longer even own a rimfire. there is nothing that they can do that one of my airguns can’t so i sold them when ammo prices went through the roof. my powder guns start at 223 and go up from there. i prefer to hunt everything i can legally here in ny with air.

    • Jim Chapman

      I’m the same. I shoot every day (with my airguns) but was just thinking yesterday that it’s been almost a year since I opened my gun safe. I need to get the cleaning kit out and do some custodial work ….. just because I don’t use them much doesn’t mean I want them to rust! If I can use an airgun to hunt a species with, I will. And these days, if one venue won’t let me use air, I’ll look for another.
      Jim

  3. Mark Smith

    Reading this blog on rimfires, sounds a lot like what I have finally came around to. The last three years I never even shot a .22 RF. My .22 FX Royale is more accurate than most of my rimfires. & far more fun to shoot. I mostly hunt tree squirrels and it easily takes squirrels to 50 yards. I even killed one at 65 yards.

    Our squirrel season is just 8 days away, can hardly wait.

    Jim thanks for a wonderful site & the free down load to your book ” Practial Guide to Airgun Hunting” was real generous of you.

    BMS

    • Jim Chapman

      I’m getting excited about squirrel season, one of my favorite activities of the year. You’ve got yourself a great gun with the Royale, hope you have a great starter in8 days, let us know how you do. Glad you like the book.
      Regards,
      Jim

  4. Joe A.

    Very interesting read, even more relevant now in 2015. Seems like my favorite caliber, the 22 rim fire is still taking a beating both in availability and cost per round. I agree that Air guns will not match the ballistics of a rim fire but are perfectly good to use in many situations. I have been shooting Air guns for over 54 years and own a number of them. Until last year, I used springer’s ( RWS ), Pump up and single pump ( Crosman, Benjamin and Daisy ) and CO2 ( Crosman and Daisy ). Late last year I added 2 PCP’s to my collection in the form of a 22 and 177 caliber Air Force Condor ss. Their performance and power have redefined my understanding of performance in Air guns. I am so impressed that I will probably not be spending another dime towards powder burners in the near future unless some drastic changes to the availability and price occur, which is not likely to happen anytime soon. This brings us to the one disadvantage of a performance PCP over a 22 rim fire, the cost. In order to get close to the performance and power of even a common Rim fire like a Ruger 1022, you need a PCP. However even the lowest priced PCP today that will give you reasonable results is more expensive than a Rim fire. In fact, a couple of the Air guns you mentioned in the article start at over $1000 and some closer to $1500 or more. For around $25o to $300 I could buy a good shooting 22 Rim fire. You have to add almost $100 more to have the ( for PCP )Crosman. And that is not counting the cost of a good quality air pump or SCUBA tank and regulator set up too charge it with air. The advantage is the cost and availability of ammo, but it will take a lot of shooting to realize any savings. Another issue that I am starting to see is that the cost for quality air gun ammo is increasing rapidly. You can still find a bargain in the 177 and sometimes the 22 caliber, but go up to 25 caliber and it starts to look like you are buying powder ammo again. If you are a target shooter and occasional small pest control shooter, the smaller caliber air gun ammo is fine. But if you are a serious air gun hunter, 22 caliber is the minimum size with 25 being better. Think of the cost of 30 and 50 caliber ammo for air guns. You are paying the same price ( and sometimes more ) as black powder ammo, which in effect, it emulates.
    To summarize, I enjoy my air guns a lot and they are becoming my daily shooting guns more than my rim fires, but there are considerations to look at before jumping into the high performance PCP ones. I enjoyed your article even though I found it well after it was posted.
    Take Care.

    • Jim Chapman

      Hi Joe;
      Thanks for writing and you raise several good points. I will say that the economics of using an airgun over a firearm is not a primary driver, in the start up costs (if you go with a quality airgun) will be higher. But is all the other advantages, quiet, able to shoot indoors, availability of ammo,reduced legal obstacles to shooting, that are major points from my perspective. But from a hunters point of view it’s all about the challange. When I have to use a firearm these days, it lessens that challange and enjoyment. I watched a show the other night that had the host shooting a deer at 600 yards and they we’re high fiving and talking about the great “hunt”. In my perspective it was a great shot, but hardly a hunt. Give me an airgun and close range …. that’s a hunt!

      • Joe A.

        Hello again Jim-
        I can agree with all the points you went over. Although I do not hunt live game as much as I did when younger, I still enjoy the challenge of pushing the limits of Air gun performance and my own acquired skill. Don’t get me wrong, I really like my Rim fires. I own a number of them from Ruger , CZ, TC, Sig ( the 1911 22 clone) and S&W 22 revolvers. Before the 22 shortage in 2008 – 2009; I used to pick up a brick of bulk plinking ammo each time the wife and I went to Wally World, keeping 10 bricks on hand. This is in addition to the better Wolf and PMC score master ammo. After that shortage ended with the cost of 22 ammo doubling in cost, I saw the writing on the wall, I started grabbing ( and shooting up ) cases of 22 ammo per year. I was stocked up with 4 cases of CCI Blazer when the insanity started again at the end of 2012.
        As before I decided to break out my air guns again to satisfy my need for throwing projectiles at a distance and hitting tiny things. I reduced the range to my back yard and really started enjoying the freedom to be able to pick up pellets for a good price whenever I wanted. Now I take the 22’s out to the gun range about 2 times a month and shoot off about 50 to 100 rounds. The rest of the time is spent hitting small pieces of broken clay pigeons on the 60 yard pistol berm with my Air force Condor. It satisfies the itch and I do not feel bad about burning up 22 ammo that will cost a lot more now to replace.
        $60 a brick for what was inexpensive plinking ammo. It is insane.
        You take care.

        • Jim Chapman

          Hi Joe, I know, the price of .22 LR is crazy. It’s starting to cost as much as taking your centerfire out. I’ve got several rimfires and several thousand rounds, and any time I see a larger volume box for sale I but it, but its much better to use my airguns with a never ending supply of projectiles!
          Jim

  5. Ben

    Here we are over 2 years after this article was written and the rimfire availability and cost has only slightly improved, and depending on the results of the upcoming election, it could go back to being completely unavailable again.

    • Jim Chapman

      Who knows what the future will bring, but it makes sense for a small game hunter to have an airgun in their collection!

  6. Joe Aimetti

    Hello again Jim-
    Well here it is August of 2017 and although the 22 rim fire ammo availability has been somewhat better, my local Wal-Mart is still cleaned out most times. I can sometimes get a 100 round box of CCI Mini mags every month and a half or so. And the cost, while it has increased, are still reasonable to me for that quality ammo. However, the plinking quality, bulk stuff is still, IMHO, way overpriced. I noticed that when it looks like bricks are being sold, they are actually “downsized” bricks of 300 to 400 rounds rather than 500 like it used to be.
    So I am still sticking with my air pushers for now, and most likely for the long term. I still have enough 22 rim fire to last me a lwhile, but will still be conservative. Long live pellet guns.
    You take care.

    Joe Aimetti

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