The following is from a longtime friend and reader. While we were discussing the merits of 6.5 Creedmoor and its real-world results in competition, we also dove into a training pipeline for new shooters to get accustomed to not only the fundamentals of good marksmanship (steady position, correct aim, breath control and trigger squeeze) but also learning about DOPE (Data On Previous Engagement) without breaking the bank. Although humble and thus not usually thought of in the long range trainer role, the .22 is excellent for a number of reasons. Training with other calibers, even decent 5.56 can get expensive in a hurry as well as introduce other variables, like barrel wear. The .22 helps to create a baseline for new shooters and one that I think is incredibly useful.
And once you get good at understanding holdovers, graduating to something larger is a piece of cake while making you a better shooter in the process.
So, having suggested that .22 rimfire at distances out to 300 yards in the wind was a good trainer for long range shooting during a recent discussion, and having to go to one of the local ranges on a windy day (long and irrelevant backstory,) I decided that as long as I was making the trip I would take one of my .22 rifles along. My plan was to do some more experimenting with the .22 rimfire at longer ranges rather than burn up my expensive centerfire barrel.
The rifle is a Ruger 10-22, stock except for a Tapco AR-style aftermarket stock that I use to teach beginners; the adjustable buttstock is ideal for a training rifle, allowing children and adults alike to get a good fit. The trigger is heavy but crisp. I’ve got a Leupold 2-8x duplex reticle scope on it, and it is zeroed at 25 yards. The rifle is like thousands of other Ruger 10-22s and has never been accurized or ‘smithed AFAIK. Ammo was CCI standard velocity, which the factory says is 1070 FPS; from this rifle I chronoed average velocity around 1065; do not recall the SDs, but they weren’t anything special. All the shooting was on rests and bags from the bench; I was not working on position, but on my wind reading.
I started at 100 yards, and as the drop and drift charts I had run earlier suggested, I was hitting about 8″ low at 100 yards. At that point the wind was coming from the left rear, gusting and quartering toward the target. The data suggested that full value wind was 4 or 5 inches; if I waited for the gusts to pass, 1/3 value wind worked. If I let a shot go during a gust it would hit 1-2 inches right, so even at 100 yards, I had to read the wind and hold properly to get a decent group. I spent about an hour making relatively small groups at 100, about 2″ high and about 3-4″ wide at the beginning, and getting narrower as time went on.
After working the paper at 100 yards for some time, I decided to try the 200 yard steel. My data suggested about a 26 or 27 MOA high hold for 200 yards, and much to my surprise, I was able to hit the 6″ gong at 200 yards on my third shot, holding about 1/3 value left wind during lulls, or about 6″ left. After getting my holdover right, I was able to consistently hit the steel as long as I read the wind correctly. When I did not, the dust spurt mocked me. I was getting hits about 8 of 10 shots at 200.
Encouraged by my efforts at 200, I decided to try the 300 yard targets. At this point the wind had shifted a bit more to the rear, and steadied down. I was holding about a foot left wind, and after spending 3 shots to get the elevation holdover correct, was able to hit the 6″ steel at 300 yards 4 times out of 7 shots on my first magazine; the three misses were scattered around the steel, the result of misreading the wind or possibly ammo variation. After that, I averaged about 6 hits per 10 rounds, some of the misses the result of wind misreads.
A few points of note:
- An afternoon spent shooting subsonic .22 LR on a windy open 100 to 300 yard range will teach you a LOT about reading the wind at a very low price. I used about 100 or so rounds costing about $10 or so; you’d get about 10 shots of .308 Federal GMM for the same price. I didn’t have to find a thousand yard range, either.
- .22LR may not have much power, but being hit in the head with a 40 grain projectile at 800 FPS give or take would give a bad guy a real headache, and relatively cheap COTS rifles and ammo can fairly reliably do that out to 200 yards with practice. There is practical value in the .22LR entirely apart from its use as a training aid.
- My scope was a limitation. If you are going to get serious about practicing longer distance shooting with a .22 rifle, especially past 100 yards, it probably would be a good idea to get a scope with a good mil-dot or MOA reticle and target turrets so that one could dial elevations. It would probably be best to use the same or similar reticle as you’ve got mounted on your LR centerfire stick.
- I found that it was difficult to get a decent holdover point at 300 especially, as the hold point was over the top of the berm, about 13 feet over the target. Being able to dial elevation would be a huge improvement, and I’m planning on mounting a mil-dot scope just like the one I use on my LR stick on this .22. It may seem odd to spend well over twice the cost of the rifle on an optic for a .22, but when one considers the cost in either time or money of Really Good Ammo for any LR centerfire cartridge of whatever caliber, not to mention the cost of barrels, the payback is pretty short. Cant was an issue, too; if I failed to keep the reticle level, I’d miss, so a scope bubble is probably a good thing as well.
- For firing a few rounds a heavy but crisp trigger is no real issue, but when shooting for hours at a time, the heavy trigger is a handicap. I looked around online and decided to get the Ruger target trigger Ruger sells for the 10-22 and see how it works. My hope is that this will improve the shootability of this rifle at a relatively reasonable price; I expect that having a better trigger will help but we’ll see.
- Finding ammo your .22 likes is worth taking a bit of time. Bargain basement .22 is fine for close range training, say out to 25 yards, and the occasional misfires are good training too, but it is nice to *know* where misses at long range come from. That means finding chow *your* .22 likes. .22LR rifles are notorious for having strongly individual preferences; I used to sneer at the thought of spending extra money for better ammo, but after seeing the significant variation in performance going to a better grade of .22 can make, I’m sold on the idea of getting better ammo for anything farther away than 25 yards. It doesn’t have to be a lot of money, either. The CCI standard velocity ammo I used on this trip shoots very well in my rifle and is only slightly more expensive than Walmart blasting ammo.
- Keep a range notebook. I’ve been able to diagnose various problems by looking back through my range records over the years, and writing down what happened when the events of the day are fresh may pay off down the road. Memory fades; best to write down things like holds at distances, wind patterns at your range and in your AO, distances to landmarks, scope settings, etc., etc., etc.
Get to a range and get to it.