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

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

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 The rimfire primer system is obsolete, the round is not particularly powerful by today's standards, and it's actually a relatively complicated round to construct.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:

CZ 455 Varmint Evolution

Available in a wide variety of rimfire options -- including .22 LR, .22 Mag., .17 HMR and .17 Mach 2 -- CZ's radical-looking, switch-barrel bolt-action is a fine update to its more traditionally modeled 455 series. While the Model 455 Varmint Evolution may have received mixed reactions to its aesthetics, one thing is for sure: It shoots like a dream at 50 yards, making it an ideal varminting rimfire.

Ruger 10/22 Takedown

Touted as "America's No. 1 .22," Ruger reintroduced its famous 10/22 semi-auto as a takedown rifle earlier this year, and it was met with glowing reviews. The 10/22 Takedown is easy to disassemble and put back together, making it incredibly portable -- and it's super accurate too -- and with its two-piece, black stock and stainless steel barrel, it's certainly a treat for the eyes.

Ruger 22/45 Lite

With a gold-anodized aluminum finish, this futuristic-looking trail gun almost looks like something out of Star Wars. The Ruger 22/45 Lite features fully adjustable target-type sights, along with a threaded barrel that accepts suppressors (where legal, of course).

Ruger LCR-22

Introduced with the SR22P, Ruger's new Lightweight Compact Revolver chambered in .22 LR features an eight-round magazine, along with square-notch rear and fixed-blade front sights. With a barrel length of 1.875 inches, this lightweight, smallbore snubbie makes for an excellent carry option.

Smith & Wesson M&P15-22 MOE

Smith & Wesson made big news years ago when it introduced a .22-caliber version its M&P15 rifle, the M&P15-22. Now, the rimfire AR is available with Magpul MOE furniture. Our sister magazine, Petersen's RifleShooter, labeled this rifle its favorite tactical .22, and for good reason: It's lightweight, reliable and functions exactly the same as a standard 5.56-chambered AR.

Smith & Wesson M&P22

Available with 10- or 12-round magazines, the Smith & Wesson M&P22 is everything a shooter should expect from S&W's M&P centerfire series. With a magazine disconnect safety and an ambidextrous thumb safety, the M&P22 is an excellent learning tool for young or inexperienced shooters, and of course, it's a joy to shoot.

Taurus Tracker 992

Taurus calls its Tracker 992 double-action revolver "the most versatile Tracker ever," due to its easily removable cylinder, transforming it from a .22 LR to a .22 Mag. with just the push of a button. The Tracker 992 features a transfer bar mechanism, which prevents hammer striking unless the trigger is pulled completely to the rear, along with Taurus' signature rubber grip and the Taurus Security System.

ATI StG 44

American Tactical Imports provides a variety of German-built .22s designed to mirror the features of full-caliber guns. For 2012, they will be extending their inventory to include the ATI StG 44, a replica of the WWII-era German Sturmgewehr 44 combat rifle. This .22 semi-automatic rifle accepts a high-capacity magazine, arrives in a period shipping crate with appropriate military markings, and has been constructed to be as historically accurate as possible.

Ruger SR22P

Ruger is a long time industry leader in .22 plinking and hunting with their ever popular 10/22 semi-automatic rifles. In 2011, they listened to customer feedback and introduced the 22/45 pistol and 10/22 rifle with barrels threaded for sound suppressors, a factory 25-round magazine for the 10/22 rifle, the 10-shot Single-Ten single-action revolver and an eight-shot rimfire version of the popular SP101 double-action revolver. For 2012, look for the new polymer-framed SR22 semi-auto pistol and the LCR-22, an eight-shot rimfire understudy for the LCR .38 caliber concealed-carry revolvers.

Umarex USA .22LR UZI

Umarex USA will be importing .22LR semi-automatic pistols and rifles based on the famous UZI submachine gun. These rimfire guns are branded IWI, which is the original UZI maker, but they are manufactured by Carl Walther in Germany. The rifle, modeled after the UZI carbine, includes a folding stock and faux suppressor. The pistol, based on the Micro UZI, will accept the same 20-round magazines as the rifle. Umarex will also be shipping a replica of a Colt 1911 semi-auto designed to shoot .22.

Walther P22

Walther is releasing a new model of the popular P22 pistol. This version will include an integrated red laser sight.

Mossberg 464 SPX

If an AR-15 style tactical .22 rifle and a lever-action cowboy carbine had a love child, it would look just like the latest 464 SPX rifle from Mossberg. With an 18-inch barrel, matte black finish, and steel rifle sights, the 464's six position stock and tri-rail forend provide a unique blend of cutting-edge gun features and old-fashioned reliability.

What is your favorite .22? What is your favorite memory of shooting a .22?

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