With the exception of managing recoil and judging wind, there’s really not much you can’t do with a .22 LR as a training tool. As a result, I usually wind up shooting more with the lowly rimfire than I do with centerfire guns–be they rifle or handgun–as you can get a ton of valuable practice for around 10 percent of the ammo cost.
A side benefit of shooting .22s is that the tendency to anticipate recoil or flinch due to muzzle blast is eliminated as, well, there isn’t any muzzle blast or recoil. The very qualities that make the .22 an ideal training tool also make it difficult to design a gun around, as the lack of velocity, gas volume and pressure it produces gives very little fuel for a semi-auto to run on. A major consideration when choosing a .22 as a trainer then is reliability, as clearing stoppages detracts from training time.
Many people, myself included, started working with Ruger’s venerable 10/22 as a trainer and it has a number of good things going for it. It’s ubiquitous, inexpensive, well-served with aftermarket parts if you want to customize it and most important, has cheap hi-cap magazines. These, together with Butler Creek’s loading device, mean that you can spend a lot of time shooting and less time stuffing fiddly little rounds into mags. Team this with a reliable handgun such as the Browning Buckmark and you have a setup that will serve not only for training, but for Steel Challenge or Ruger Rimfire matches also.
If you want to maximize the .22’s utility, then a setup that closely mimics your “real guns” is the next step. One option is to use a .22 conversion kit that drops into your existing AR-15, but they can be finicky and usually accuracy isn’t anything to write home about, as the .22 LR bullet is generally happiest when shot through a 1:16 twist barrel. There are other problems with lead fouling, particularly if running a compensator, but the drop-in conversions do have the benefit of being affordable and they allow you to use your existing optics package without having to transfer it to another gun.
Another choice for rifle training might be to consider one of the AR .22 clones, such as the Smith & Wesson M&P15-22 or the Umarex-made Colt version. While duplicating the controls and look of the AR-15, these are generally much lighter than the real thing, and in some cases you’re stuck with the manufacturer’s choice of furniture.
I’ve been a big proponent of the Nordic .22 conversion upper for several years now since buying one of the very first models. So far, I haven’t come across anything to beat it when it comes to reliability or accuracy. It’s a dedicated .22 LR system, designed from the ground up with a 1:16 twist barrel and a bolt that isn’t compromised by having to fit within the profile of the 5.56 upper.
Although it looks like a typical centerfire upper receiver, the internal machining is completely different, optimized around the rimfire cartridge and its relatively dirty blowback operating system. I’ve regularly run through an entire brick of ammo without one gun-related stoppage, pausing only to squirt a little CLP on the moving parts. Nordic offer three barrel options, so getting a setup to duplicate the balance of your 5.56 upper is a relatively simple affair, and by using your existing AR lower receiver, ergonomics and trigger pull are maintained. As with any semi-auto, magazines are a critical component of the system, and there are several options currently available that will work in a standard AR lower, the best of the bunch being from Black Dog or CMMG.
Pistol conversions can be more finicky, and can be separated into two camps: the generally reliable and everything else. Tactical Solutions makes a quality 1911 conversion that has options for both single-stack and wide-body frames. One nice feature of the TacSol kit is that it comes with high quality rail- or rib-mounted iron sights that can be easily removed for use with optics, or a red dot can be bolted up to the rail just as easily. Unlike a purpose-built .22 pistol, the conversion unit’s magazines match the profile of the full size gun, so mag change drills can be incorporated into a range session without having to switch gears between the two platforms.
Rimfire training bridges the gap between dry-fire practice and trigger time on your competition or carry gun. No matter what system you use to actually fire the .22 round, you can be building skills and eliminating bad habits while making your ammo budget go a little further. Besides, they’re fun and for that reason alone, a good .22 should be part of your arsenal.