Jeff Cooper suggested many years ago that the .22 rimfire had a role in riot control, as well as in marksmanship training and small game hunting. The Israelis for a number of years took Cooper’s advice and used suppressed .22 rimfire rifles to target the apparent ringleaders of Islamic mobs engaged in violent rioting. Apparently that option has now been denied to the Israeli military and police, at least for the most part, but the potential effectiveness of .22 rimfire, especially subsonic .22LR ammunition, in mitigating violent riots remains. A terrorist ringleader who has been shot in the lungs or intestines is likely to lose all interest in directing his ‘troops’ engaged in burning cars, police stations, homes, businesses or engaged in potentially lethal attacks on the law-abiding or on law enforcement. While at present it may be highly unlikely that current local, state, and Federal governments here in the US will authorize police use of .22s on looters and rioters, private citizens may find the .22 specifically to be useful in defense of self and others.
As mentioned in other posts on using the .22 for marksmanship training, (#1 here, #2 here, #3 here and #4 here) subsonic .22 LR rimfire can be accurate to and past 300 yards. When considering the practical use of the .22, keep in mind that there is not much power in such rounds; they can be lethal, but do not provide much stopping power. As Cooper suggested, they can be an effective tool when the goal is to wound but not necessarily kill. Not only can subsonic ammunition be accurate to surprisingly long distances, it is reasonably quiet; loads such as the 45 grain CCI Semi-auto Quiet are not loud, and CB Longs are quieter still. Recall also that .22 rimfire arms are notoriously picky about which loads will shoot the best, not just from brand to brand, but from lot to lot in the same brand, so it behooves the properly prepared to check to see what shoots the best in your chosen arm. What dedicated smallbore shooters did in the past was to buy several 5000 round cases, test them to find the best performing lot, then sell or trade the lots that did not shoot well in their rifle and try to find more of their favored lot. These days I count myself lucky to find a brick of .22, let alone a case, and I reserve the best brick I find and use the others sparingly for training and practice; .22 is so hard to obtain today and so expensive that cherry picking ammunition is a luxury I cannot afford.
My test procedure is to record the average muzzle velocity, standard deviation, and extreme spread for 4 each 5 shot groups, or a 20 shot sample, as well as measured group size at 50 yards on a no-wind morning, noting any flyers. If I see reduction in group sizes as I change to different ammunition, I will continue to shoot 5 shot groups until the sizes of the first and last groups are within ~10% of each other (or until I run out of ammo and/or patience!) This procedure ensures that I’m not getting data biased by conflicting ammo types. What I am looking for is overall reliable performance; a slightly larger group with no flyers is preferable to a knothole group with a flyer. Here are a few sample boxes of some of the ammunition I have tested-
I was pleasantly surprised to find that some lots of CCI standard velocity shot as well as Eley does, in my rifle. Yours will undoubtedly be different, perhaps a little, maybe a lot. Right now, my best lot of CCI standard velocity Target will shoot a 20 shot group inside 1/2″ at 50 yards; under an inch at 100 yards. It is slightly more consistent overall than the Eley Contact, but that sort of oddity is part of shooting .22LR, and I freely admit that I was lucky to find a good lot early on. I will also say that I have never gotten a bad lot of either CCI Target or Eley anything, and I also have not explored the really high end .22 ammo. My primary goal in shooting .22lr at distance is learning to read the wind, and a secondary goal is getting practice at ranging a target at distance; I am not interested in shooting one-hole groups at 50 feet. Once I get a good load, I have in the past tested it other ways, (POI/group/MV/SD/ES) from a fouled bore vs. cold clean bore, any change in stats during extended shooting, etc. In today’s environment this gets impractical, but it is worth keeping the above possibilities in mind, and shooting, chronographing, and making records of at least an occasional 5 shot group both before and after a match or practice session.
These loads are capable of reliably hitting 6” targets at distances of 300 yards using relatively modest equipment and a standard 1:16 twist. In the context of protecting one’s family, self and property against violent rioters bent on armed assault, looting and arson, they have a number of advantages. Being able to inflict disabling hits on multiple attackers quickly without flagging your position through noise or muzzle flash is a plus. For shorter distances, the CB cap (.22 short) or CB Long which feeds in most manual action .22s chambered for .22LR, are more quiet than standard velocity .22LR, and while their 20 to 25 grain projectile will not penetrate well, in the context of use in urban environments one can be sure that it will not overpenetrate.
Another common choice selected by those wanting more authority in subsonic loads is the .300 Whisper or its commercial equivalent, the .300 AAC Blackout; both supersonic and subsonic ammunition is manufactured, and reloading data is also available. I’ve never taken much interest in this round but I do know, thanks to a shooting buddy of mine who I’ve helped with load development and testing, that good handloads are capable of 2-3 MOA at 300 yards and the higher ballistic coefficients of heavy .30 caliber projectiles in subsonic loads mean both a flatter trajectory and less wind drift than .22 rimfire, a significant advantage.
The 300 Blackout does take research, experimentation with equipment and load development, especially with regard to proper projectile selection and seating depth to get accurate long range ammunition, especially for subsonic loads, and reliable cycling while keeping rounds subsonic can be a challenge; some folks run adjustable gas blocks and other mods to allow the use of both subsonic and supersonic loads, while others change uppers or BCGs. The presence or absence of a suppressor is a significant factor, too, as is barrel length. The supersonic loads from a 16″ barrel provide respectable power levels approaching the .30 Russian short and I’m told that they work on deer and similar medium game with proper projectiles and good shot placement. Bottom line, setting up a 300 Blackout takes time at the loading bench and the range, too, one reason I have not pursued it for my personal use.
These options are useful, but it does makes the shooter dependent on factory production, especially jacketed projectiles. I encourage you, O gentle Reader, to explore these options yourself as you are able. However, the disadvantage of using factory ammunition is that when times get uncertain, supplies of factory ammunition intended for defense are not to be had, as is currently being demonstrated. Every round of ammunition requires both powder and primer, but the 300 Blackout requires certain types of jacketed projectiles. Right now, the hot ticket for subsonic loads is the Hornady 190 grain Sub-X bullet, providing low drop and windage, accuracy and expansion, but they are bringing a big premium these days in the rare instances when they are available!
The cost and availability issues noted above combined with my discussions with Ol’ Remus some years back are what prompted this post. As we begin to experience the early stages of the collapse of these presently united States, I have been considering what other options for subsonic firearms are available to the prepared person interested in their long term use. I’ve concluded that there are other effective options besides .22 rimfire or .300 Blackout that reduce the need for factory projectiles and simplify ammunition production, and these options are presented here.
The cast bullet crowd have been crafting lead bullet loads for centerfire rifles designed to use smokeless powder and jacketed bullets since smokeless came on the scene in the late 19th century, with muzzle velocities in the 1600-2000 fps range, primarily to mitigate the high cost of factory projectiles. Until recently there hasn’t been much interest in subsonic loads for such rifles, but it is possible to craft subsonic loads in centerfire calibers using heavy for caliber projectiles and rifles with fast twist barrels. Older Lyman manuals had data not specifically aimed at subsonic loads, but at ‘reduced recoil’ loads; most of the components listed are long out of production. The common US .30 caliber bottleneck cartridges such as .308, .30-06, 300 Savage, 30-30, etc., can be loaded to subsonic velocities with either commercial or cast bullets in the 220 to 240 grain weight range but be prepared to spend a lot of time at the loading and test bench. I’ve also read about subsonic loads using 80 or 90 grain bullets in the 5.56 Nato round, but have never tried them.
While one can create subsonic loads for bottleneck rifle rounds, there are problems with this approach. These cases require more time to prep and load than loading a straight walled pistol case, and because of the large case volume and small powder charge, ammunition muzzle velocities can be subject to considerable variance, leading to a lack of longer range accuracy despite the higher ballistic coefficients and higher retained velocities available from these types and weights of projectiles. A shooter of limited means who has extensive reloading experience may well profit by developing a good cast bullet load for his centerfire rifle; cartridges with smaller cases are preferred- .35 Remington being one example. For those who have the desire and the means, given the issues noted above and especially because load data are scarce, there are superior options.
Some years back I had an email exchange with Old Remus, now sadly gone, regarding alternates to .22 rimfire in the context of a grid-down event; .22 LR cannot be reloaded, and when it’s gone, it’s gone until someone with the appropriate (expensive!) equipment makes more. I suggested that for plinking and small game that he consider using a carbine in a pistol cartridge such as the .38 special. Carbines or rifles chambered for center fire straight-walled pistol cartridges shooting cast lead bullets do a fine job on small game, or as marksmanship training rifles, a niche more traditionally filled by the ubiquitous .22.
Not only are pistol cartridges suited for plinking and training, but they can be effective for hunting; from a carbine, a pistol round will do what Hollywood thinks they do from a handgun. The more powerful rimmed pistol cartridges such as the ..357 magnum, .44 magnum and .45 Colt when loaded to maximum levels and fired from a long gun are all capable of reliably taking medium game at distances out to a hundred yards or so. When loaded lightly, these and rimless rounds such as the 9mm, 40 S&W, and .45 ACP can all be loaded with bullets suitable for subsonic velocities. Here are a few samples of the many different cast bullets available either commercially or by home casting:
Pistol bullets are not known for their high ballistic coefficient, but they’ll do, if you will do, and they can be cheaper than .22 rimfire to shoot (especially these days!) if you cast your own bullets. If you want to have subsonic rounds with even more thump, the venerable .45-70 and its straight-walled brethren are another option, although cases are expensive. When considering hunting in a post-collapse scenario, and when one considers that there are vanishingly few locations where one is out of earshot of other humans, who are the most dangerous predators walking the face of the Earth, keeping your shots quiet(er) is a distinct advantage, too.
When looking for an economical alternative that will provide a more sustainable supply of subsonic ammunition in an uncertain environment, pistol cartridges are easy to load, published data for subsonic rounds using both cast and factory projectiles is readily available, and there are a number of current and recent production weapons chambered in these calibers. Reloading these cartridges in progressive loaders using carbide dies is quick and easy, usually avoiding the need for lubing and trimming cases, as needed when loading bottlenecked cases, saving time as well as money, and heavy bullets suitable for subsonic use can be easily home cast. Most such loads require a small amount of powder compared to bottleneck rifle rounds, too, stretching whatever supplies may be available.
The recent run on guns and especially ammunition has driven ammunition prices higher than I have ever seen them before, especially such common self defense calibers such as .223 and 9mm; self defense pistol ammunition is not to be had, and even ball ammo is selling at large multiples compared to 6 to 12 months ago. 22 rimfire ammunition, and most especially special purpose subsonic ammunition is likewise unobtanium, and expensive when found. Reloading component prices have skyrocketed again, too; powder and primers are hard to find at any price and common self-defense caliber projectiles are rarely available. Someone who has the relatively simple equipment needed to produce cast bullets and reload straight walled pistol cases can produce projectiles and subsonic ammunition for little cash outlay once the equipment, which lasts for generations if properly cared for, has been purchased. Even bullet molds have seen big price jumps, but they are available, at least for now.
With powder at $40 a pound, and primers at $90 per thousand, (both market prices seen recently) a 50 round box of .357 magnum 180 grain subsonic ammo would cost about $7 to load, excluding case or projectile cost as compared to the $50 present market price. Cases not loaded to magnum pressures, such as these subsonic pistol loads use, will last for many firings, so the cost of cases is low. A bare bones casting setup, using a plug-in electric burner, a surplus cast iron or steel pot and a dipper, a two cavity mold, and a simple sizing die would be under $200 even at present prices, and scrap lead can be scrounged. It would take loading only a few 50 round boxes to cover these costs compared to the market cost of factory ammo today. This makes home casting an economically viable option for those wishing to keep their shooting skills polished, and would be worth undertaking simply for economic reasons. When considering the usefulness of subsonic ammunition specifically, in the context of the ongoing collapse of these presently united States, with the attendant civil unrest, cast projectiles can provide significant advantages. Loaded into a firearm with a long barrel, cartridges loaded with heavy-for-caliber cast bullets and light charges of fast burning powders would deliver subsonic projectiles with significantly more power than a .22 LR at distances out to 300 yards, with less drop and less windage than the .22.
Thus endeth Part 1- Part 2 will be posted tomorrow.
with regard to all who seek the Light,