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Why is .22LR the Most Popular Caliber in 2012?

by B. Gil Horman   |  March 1st, 2012 127

The first quarter of a new year is always exciting for shooting enthusiasts as the new guns are announced and shipped to dealers. Some years a particular, trend or theme will rise to the forefront of the industry’s media coverage. In 2010, the market enjoyed a surge in new pocket-sized .380 semi-auto pistols. For 2011, .380 pocket pistols were trumped by a blitz of 9mm pocket rockets and we celebrated the birth of the 1911. For 2012, a first look at the playing field revealed a variety of new guns to be released but not the headline-grabbing patterns of recent years. Upon closer examination, one particular caliber has plenty of new additions to get shooters out to the range: the .22 long rifle.

Why does the .22 have such a loyal following? Why does the selection of handguns and rifles chambered for this round continue to grow? When I started asking folks in the industry this question, they looked at me in a funny way. Why not ask the reason people prefer to eat on a daily basis or why they like to go shooting at all?

But this seemingly obvious question bears asking for good reasons. For all intents and purposes, the .22 long rifle should be obsolete. How many other black powder cartridges developed in 1887, with a family tree going back to 1845, have made the transition into the modern era? And of that handful of calibers, how many are stocked and sold by the thousands at local big-box and sporting goods stores? The rimfire primer system is obsolete, the round is not particularly powerful by today’s standards, and it’s actually a relatively complicated round to construct. So what’s all the excitement about?

Whatever weaknesses this cartridge may possess, they are almost universally overshadowed in light of the round’s positive characteristics. A few industry representatives from both sides of the .22 aisle, the gun makers and the ammunition manufacturers, shared with me their customers’ reasons for sending .22 rounds down range on a regular basis.

The single most quoted reason for the .22’s popularity? It’s cheap. Nothing speaks to the cost conscious shooter like the bottom line. Although all ammunition prices have gone up significantly in the last few years, you can still buy 500 rounds of bulk .22 cartridges for the same price as, or less than, a 50-round box of centerfire pistol or 20-round box of big-bore rifle rounds. This low per-round cost allows shooters to literally get more bangs for their buck, which translates to more actual trigger time.

A high customer demand allows manufacturers to keep the .22 ammunition supply plentiful and diverse. Few calibers offer as many bullet and power variations as this little rimfire. Another benefit of buying .22 is that many of these firearms cost less than their full-caliber counterparts. A wide variety rimfire rifles and handguns have price tags in the neighborhood of $300-$400, as compared to $600-$1,000 for guns chambered in centerfire calibers.

If reducing the cost of both the ammunition and the gun is not enough incentive, then consider the reduction in noise and recoil. This is a big part of the fun factor of .22. Shooters can enjoy all of the satisfaction of hitting the target without the shoulder, wrist, or back pain that comes with long sessions at the shooting range with large-caliber guns. Reduced recoil also makes the .22 ideal for training new and young shooters. The .22 produces enough energy to make it good for small game hunting. The bullets are capable of dispatching the game without too much damage to the meat.

Whatever your reasons for choosing to own a .22, this gun and ammunition combination is far from becoming an endangered species. In fact, with recent ammunition shortages and continuing high prices still in the collective shooting consciousness, it’s likely that .22s are going to be as popular this year as ever, if not more so. Here are a few of the new and unusual .22 products to keep an eye out for:

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