The 22 LR is one of the weakest cartridges you could use for hunting – and that’s a good thing. For a number of reasons, no less! But what loads make for the best 22LR hunting ammo? Read on and we’ll give you some suggestions as well as tell you why those specific products are a good choice.
Hunting with 22LR
The 22 LR avoids the problem of overkill. Suppose you plan on making delicious squirrel or rabbit stew, so you want to keep your quarry as intact as possible before it lands in the dinner pot. We don’t have to tell you what happens when a round like the 308 or 30-06 connects with a bunny, but we’ll say it anyway: total carnage; like a modern art piece by Rob Zombie. But a 22 LR’s decidedly weak bullet will keep delicate critters intact and delectable! That’s also a huge bonus if you’re hunting for fur and don’t want huge holes in your pelts.
The 22 LR’s ability to preserve a small quarry’s trophy is far from its only blessing as a hunting round. The 22 LR is the most affordable cartridge on the market, which makes hunting all day more palatable. Its recoil is virtually non-existent, which makes hunting all day more comfortable. The 22 LR boasts a subtle report that won’t upset the neighbors, and the lightweight rifles chambered for it are not a pain to carry around the woods. Finally, the 22 LR delivers admirable accuracy within its effective range of 150 yards. Braining a red squirrel at a few dozen yards is easy-peasy, even for a layman.
What Makes Good 22LR Hunting Ammo?
Determining whether a 22 LR cartridge is designed for hunting is also easy-peasy. Does its bullet have a hollow point nose cavity? If so, then it’s designed to deliver the terminal expansion that kills critters dead, fast. Bullets like the lead hollow point (LHP), copper-plated hollow point (CPHP) and segmented hollow point (SHP) are all poised to create wider wound channels than their original 0.223” diameter could account for.
To be very certain, a solid point bullet like a lead round nose (LRN) or a copper-plated round nose (CPRN) is perfectly able to down a small animal as well. A red squirrel taking a solid point 22 LR bullet to the chest is the equivalent of a grown man getting blindsided by a cannonball. Hollow point 22 LR bullets often strike their targets with insufficient velocity to commence terminal expansion anyway. Still, there’s no good reason to forego a hollow point bullet if it’s available.
However flawlessly your 22 LR hunting ammo is manufactured, you still want to honor its limitations. The general consensus is that 22 LR is appropriate for taking small game at close-to-medium range. In other words, you want to focus on rodents, crows, foxes, possums, raccoons, rabbits, nutrias, and other similarly-sized vermin at ranges up to around 60 yards.
You can stretch the 22 LR’s limitations if you wish, however. Plenty of good old boys would scoff at you for insisting that a 22 LR can’t make short work of a hog, javelina or a gator. The old timers even used the 22 LR to great effect while deer hunting in their youth. Your jurisdiction probably bans 22 LR for deer hunting, however, and we would never advise doing anything illegal. The only point we’re making is that we would never argue with someone who’s putting the 22 LR to good use for whatever kind of hunting they please.
One other thing to consider about your 22 LR hunting ammo is its muzzle velocity. A high-velocity cartridge will deliver a flatter trajectory and also strike its target with more deadly energy. In contrast, a subsonic load will produce a subtler report and also deliver better accuracy (assuming we’re comparing two hypothetical cartridges of equal quality). There’s no wrong answer, and we must again iterate that virtually any 22 LR cartridge is capable of anchoring a tiny beast.
Best 22LR Hunting Ammo
We’re going to give you some recommendations for the best 22LR hunting ammo you can get. If you can’t find any of these specific cartridges at the store, fear not. So long as your 22 long rifle hunting loads have similar qualities to our recommendations, then they ought to serve you just fine! (Note that muzzle velocities are recorded with rifle-length test barrels.)
Winchester Super-X 40gr CPHP 22 LR
Muzzle Velocity: 1,280 fps
Muzzle Energy: 105 ft lbs
Winchester Super-X is an old standard in squirrel rifles. This ammo is American-made (like all of our other recommendations) and its high-velocity CPHP follows up powerful kinetic energy on impact with terminal expansion.
CCI Velocitor 40gr CPHP 22 LR
Muzzle Velocity: 1,435 fps
Muzzle Energy: 183 ft lbs
CCI is another excellent manufacturer, and their hyper-velocity 22 LR follows a laser’s trajectory at close-to-medium range. But this round’s bullet will go subsonic before it hits 100 yards, and its long-distance accuracy suffers for it.
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Winchester Super-X 40gr LHP 22 LR
Muzzle Velocity: 870 fps
Muzzle Energy: 67 ft lbs
An LHP is just as effective as its copper-plated variant. This round goes low and slow, so it’s extremely quiet during ignition. We always advise wearing hearing protection, but many shooters would choose not to while firing ammo like this.
CCI Quiet-22 40gr SHP 22 LR
Muzzle Velocity: 710 fps
Muzzle Energy: 45 ft lbs
Another stealth load, this round makes up for its lower energy with an SHP projectile. It shatters apart into multiple lead fragments to create multiple wound channels – devastating terminal ballistics as far as one-pound critters are concerned.
Federal Game Shok 25gr #12 Shot
Muzzle Velocity: 1,000 fps
22 LR is available in shotshell form as well. This round is loaded with about 0.17 ounces of unusually tiny shot pellets. Compare that to a 12 Gauge upland game shell with 1-1/8 ounces of shot and a muzzle velocity of 1,250 fps, and you can appreciate why ammo like this is often called “rat shot.”
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