Lethality of the 22 LR standard velocity round
I’ve been shooting the 22LR for many years and even bought a new bolt action 22 LR rifle (Savage Mark II BTVS) so I could train more cheaply for tactical precision rifle matches. As I started to train, I actually became impressed with what could be achieved with the 22LR in short and medium distances and wondered about the actual lethality of the round, so I decided to do some research in that area.
I mean, I know that the 22LR has been a good hunting round for small critters/varmints such as rabbits and squirrels but occasionally you hear it is used as well for killing deers, coyotes and bigger animals – heck, on the internet, you can even find a story about the elephant being killed with a 22LR on the internet, LOL!
During my research, I came upon several instances whereby the 22 LR has also been used by the military and law enforcement as well. There were several stories of Chechen snipers using the 22LR in urban setting or Israeli snipers using it in “crowd control”
I started talking to several many people through bulletin boards to find more information about the lethality of that round, specifically from a tactical viewpoint – I.E. How effective and lethal is it? Any information about its lethality should also of interest to the average target shooters or even plinkers, being that it is one of most available/cheap round. Having the correct information could make people more aware of the possible consequences of not treating the 22LR with respect - I think we’ve all heard “ It’s just a 22! It’s not that powerful, etc…”
To get back to the subject, talking to hunters on various message boards and filtering out the “I heard that or someone told me”, here are some of the typical feedback/information I received from people who actually did it:
Lots of varmint kills up to 150 yards (This distance came up the most).
Larger animals kills at shorter distance – Deer/Coyotes at 100 yards and some even 150 yards
Mention of a larger animal kill at 200 yards
Mention of actual rabbit kills at 175, 225 and 330 yards
Overall the distance of 100 to 150 yards came up in 50% of the responses.
To go back to the “tactical” aspect and the actual effectiveness/lethality of the round in military/law enforcement settings – no real information was actually available. There were lots of stories and hearsay of people getting shot with 22s and how effective it was (or wasn’t) but no ACTUAL and PROVEN information – the main feedback was that shot placement was the most important in a military/law enforcement setting but there were no answers as to what would happen if someone was shot with a 22LR at medium distance (200 to 300 yards). When would the round stop penetrating several layers of clothing/skin and become completely ineffective and useless from a tactical point of view.
Gathering all the information from hunters, target shooters, etc… I personally came up with the conclusion that the 22LR “may be” effective up to 200 yards and possibly penetrate several layers of clothing which are usually something like a “t-shirt, a shirt and a jacket” and frankly I would not have been surprised if it didn’t penetrate at all.
Actual information not being available, I decided to conduct a test myself to see how far would a 22LR round penetrate 3 layers of clothing and penetrate skin as well. I looked at several options such as using ballistic gel, wet newspaper, etc… but finally ended up with the cheapest option and, what I thought the somewhat most realistic as well: purchasing a frozen turkey, thaw it and wrap it in 3 layers of clothing. This would be a good test to see how far the 22LR would penetrate.
Here is an account of my “experiment” and Boy! Was I in for a surprise in many levels!!!!!!!
The test took place in the California desert at my usual shooting place for long distance shooting – far away from civilization and very safe. As it happens sometimes, nature has its own mind and does not always follow your plans. The weekend I chose and got ready for (including thawing the meat) ended up being quite windy.
How windy? Here is a look at my tent during the trip – yep, that’s the wind pushing the side of the tent nearly flat. Wind was an average of 25 MPH with gusts up to 30 MPH and lowest at 18MPH.
This was a nightmare for any rimfire shooter and frankly I was extremely close to just pack it up and go home after doing some shooting with my 308. I thought shooting the 22LR in these conditions (the wind was quite violent and shifting constantly between 18 and 30MPH) would be absolutely impossible.
The main goal of the trip was this research and I already purchased the turkey so I decided to at least “Try it” with much reservation as to being able to actually hit the target. Having participated in many tactical long distances matches over the years, I decided to follow my own hard learned lesson: “When in doubt, follow what the book says” or, simply, trust your ballistic information, instruments and basic field craft. Because I use the 22LR for training, I pretty much replicated my setup and had at hand all I needed such as ballistic data card for elevation and windage, wind meter and range finder.
The setup for the turkey was as follow: 3 layers of clothing wrapped around it and taped in the back (although care was given to not make the clothing too tight either) and a white paper on top so we could see the impacts at long distance.
The test was done at the maximum distance of 300 yards because honestly, I thought that penetration would probably not occur at that distance and because, above 300 yards, using my elevation knob and even mildots was pretty much useless.
A 400 yards shot is basically an 80 MOAs drop. Even shooting at 300 yards requires me to place my elevation for 200 yards (27.5 MOAs) and use 6.6 MILS (actually already off the mildots reticle so there is somewhat of a guess).
The clothing layers were composed of the following: One usual heavy cotton t-shirt, one heavy cotton shirt and a canvas raincoat.