The most common small caliber rifle besides the AR-15 in circulation is the humble .22 rifle. Plinkers, squirrel guns, whatever you want to call them, they are and have been with us for more than a century.
What I’d like to suggest is that the humble .22 LR rifle, especially in semi-auto though not necessarily exclusively, is overlooked somewhat as a defensive arm in the civilian context. Optimal? No…but viable? Maybe more so than one might think.
Millions Of .22 Rifles Are In Circulation…In All 50 States
The first semi-automatic firearm offered for sale on the civilian market on any kind of scale in the United States was the Winchester Model 1903, a rimfire semi-auto chambered in .22 Winchester Automatic, a .22 Long in different clothes.
After .22 Long Rifle became the dominant rimfire cartridge by the 1930s, rimfire semi-autos have been a mainstay on the civilian market since and have sold in large quantities.
More than 500,000 Browning SA-22 rifles are in circulation. Remington sold more than 1.5 million units of the Nylon 66, never mind the other .22 LR rifles made by that company.
Ruger has made over 7 million 10/22 rifles since they launched it in 1962. The Savage 64F has been in production for almost as long. Marlin has sold more than 11 million Model 60s, along with many more Model 70P and 740 rifles as well.
In other words, it is one of the most common and most popular firearm platforms available.
Aside from a few semi-automatic hunting rifles, such as the Browning BAR, it’s also the only semi-automatic rifle legal in all 50 states.
The .22 Rifle As A Fighting Rifle
Plinking rifles can be far more formidable than one might think. While .22 LR is only marginally capable (with the right gun and right load) of sufficiently penetrating deep enough in tissue to cause vital wounding in humans, .22 LR at rifle velocities absolutely is.
Light, handy rifles with minimal recoil are easier for anyone to shoot well, making them a viable choice for people with physical disabilities, minimal experience, and also as a pool weapon.
Effective range is limited compared to other carbines, but considering that more than 90 percent of the US population lives in the urban or suburban environment, that’s not realistically a downside.
Ammunition is plentiful and cheap, the guns are plentiful and affordable..there’s a lot of upsides if a person is interested. The hitch, however, is that there are very few “out-of-the-box solutions.”
Accessories, Testing, And Known Issues
The Achilles heel of .22 rifles has always been ammunition sensitivity combined with magazine reliability.
Those fed by box magazines, such as the Rossi/Mossberg and Savage rifles, have classically been known for having the worst magazines. The typical experience is to buy a few and figure out which ones run. Tube (Nylon 66, Marlin 60) and rotary magazine rifles have always been the most reliable.
While “break-in” for guns is usually a myth, any firearm has to be vetted before betting your life on it and with the ammunition you intend to rely on. Since .22 LR rifles are blow-back operated, an underpowered bulk pack can cause a lot more feeding issues than running Tula .223 in a 5.56mm rifle.
After vetting magazines and ammunition, the same accessories that you’d need to add to a shotgun or carbine still have to be sourced and attached, such as a light and a sling, and not all .22 rifles necessarily make it easy.
The basic 10/22, the archetypical plinking rifle, has no sling studs or accessory rails. It does come with a Weaver rail for mounting a scope or a red dot, but little else. You need to figure out how to get a light onto the gun and possibly a sling if inclined.
While not without those obvious complications, it’s also that this class of firearms has a lot of positives. As such, it’s not a stretch to say that they’re slept on as a viable option for a great many people.