If you’re like most shooters in North America, it’s likely that the first shot you took with a firearm was a 22 Long Rifle (22 LR).
The 22 Long Rifle (22 LR) is one of the most popular cartridges across North America and likely the world. Its low recoil and extremely low cost per round make it ideal for training new shooters or spending a whole afternoon at the range plinking without breaking the bank.
The 22 LR also works extremely well for hunting small game like rabbits and squirrels, but for larger animals like coyotes, varmint hunters needed something more powerful.
The 22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire (22 WMR or 22 Mag) was the rimfire cartridge that hunters needed to take on these larger pests at greater ranges than the 22 LR was capable of.
Although comparing these two rimfires is akin to comparing 30-30 vs 45-70 Government or David and Goliath, both the 22 LR and 22 Mag fill different needs for target shooters and hunters alike.
In this article, we will compare the 22LR vs 22 Mag so that you have a better idea of the capabilities of each, and which cartridge best suits your needs.
What is the difference between 22 LR and 22 WMR?
The difference between the 22LR and 22WMR is that the 22 WMR, or 22 Mag, has a larger case and has higher muzzle velocity and kinetic energy than the 22 Long Rifle even though the fire similar bullet weights.
Can You Shoot 22 Magnum in 22 Long Rifle?
You cannot fire a 22 Magnum (22 WMR) rimfire cartridge from a firearm chambered in .22LR. Furthermore, you should NOT fire a 22 LR from a 22 Mag chamber as it is dangerous and could damage the firearm and injure the shooter.
This question comes up quite a bit with new shooters and I wanted to answer it once and for all.
A 22 Magnum is too large to fit into a 22 LR chamber and therefore cannot be fired. A 22 LR can fit in a 22 WMR chamber, but it fits loosely as the 22 LR is thinner than the 22 WMR. If fired, a case rupture might occur, severely damaging the firearm and potentially the shooter.
The bottom line is that the 22 LR and 22 WMR are NOT interchangeable and should only be fired from handguns and rifles chambered in their respective cartridges.
When evaluating rimfire cartridges, it’s a good idea to analyze the cartridge specs to gain more knowledge of each.
Putting the two cartridges side-by-side really showcases the difference between these two rimfire rounds. The 22 Mag is considerably longer than the 22 LR, with an overall length of 1.35” for the 22 WMR and 1” for the .22LR.
Furthermore, the 22 WMR is slightly wider than the 22 LR, as the 22 Mag has a base diameter of 0.242” compared to 0.226” for .22LR.
The longer and wider case of the 22 WMR can pack in more powder, therefore increasing muzzle velocity and kinetic energy of the bullets that it fires.
Although both cartridges are considered 22-caliber, the 22 LR fires 0.223” diameter bullets while the 22 WMR fires a 0.224” bullet diameter.
Even though the 22 Magnum can pack in more powder than the 22LR, both cartridges fire similar bullet weights between 30 and 50 grains. The 40 and 45 grain offerings are some of the most popular for both cartridges.
Likewise, both rimfire cartridges have similar SAAMI standardized maximum pressures around 24,000 psi.
Both the 22 LR and 22 WMR have very little felt recoil, though the 22 LR has less.
Recoil is an important consideration when purchasing a new rifle as a round with heavy recoil will be more difficult to control and will slow your rate of follow up shots.
Recoil is affected primarily by muzzle velocity (FPS), powder charge, bullet weight, and rifle weight.
Very few shooters would suggest that 22 WMR has high recoil, as both rimfire cartridges register less than 1 ft-lb of free recoil.
With a 6-pound rifle, a 22 LR will have around 0.19 ft-lb of free recoil compared to 0.62 ft-lb for 22 WMR.
Although the 22 LR has about 3 times less recoil than the 22 WMR, the majority of shooters will not have any problem handling the 22 WMR.
Muzzle Velocity, Kinetic Energy, and Trajectory
The 22 Mag is the clear winner in terms of downrange performance, dominating over the 22 LR in terms of muzzle velocity, kinetic energy, and trajectory.
There are multiple bullet weights and manufacturers for each cartridge, however for this example we will compare the CCI Mini-Mag plated round nose for 22 LR and CCI Maxi-Mag jacketed hollow point (JHP) for 22 WMR, both firing a 40-grain bullet.
For its size, the 22 LR has a very respectable muzzle velocity of 1,235 fps, however it simply cannot keep up with the larger and higher velocity 22 Magnum at 1,875 fps.
There are some varieties of 22 LR ammo that push the limits of the cartridges muzzle velocity, like the CCI Stinger firing a 32-grain bullet at 1,640 fps. However, consider the Hornady 30-grain polymer tipped V-MAX loading for 22 WMR with a muzzle velocity of 2,200 fps.
The bottom line is that the smaller .22LR cartridge simply cannot keep up with the 22 WRM and its larger case capacity.
Like velocity, the larger 22 WMR Maxi-Mag can dish out over double the muzzle energy of the 22 LR Mini-Mag, 312 ft-lbs vs 135 foot-pounds, respectively. That amount of kinetic energy out of a rimfire round is rather impressive, which is why many varmint hunters favor the 22 WMR over the 22 LR for larger critters like coyotes and groundhogs.
When it comes to bullet drop, the high velocity of the 22 WMR gives it a flatter trajectory and a longer effective range than the 22 LR. Considering a 50 yard zero for both cartridges, the 22 LR will have around 6” of bullet drop at 100 yards compared to 2” for the 22 WMR.
When it comes to hunting, the 22 LR is at its best taking on small game like rabbits, squirrels, and raccoons while the 22 WMR is adept at taking larger varmints like coyotes and woodchucks or longer range targets like prairie dogs.
Both rounds are excellent options for pest control, as a rimfire cartridge offers shooters a low recoil option at taking on smaller game animals while preserving the meat, if you’re into eating what you kill.
Though many shooters will attest that they consistently take coyotes with their beloved 22 Long Rifle (and you most certainly can), it does not mean that it is the best option for these varmints. Most 22 LR ammo lacks the downrange kinetic energy to harvest larger game animals ethically and consistently. This is why many shooters prefer the 22 WMR for coyotes.
The improved trajectory of the 22 Magnum also favors longer range shots for animals like prairie dogs, as these shots are typically taken at 100 yards or more.
Although very powerful, the 22 WMR is typically not used for small game like squirrels, chipmunks, and rabbits. There’s nothing to say you can’t use a 22 Mag on these critters, but there won’t be much left of them either. For those varmint hunters who prefer to preserve the meat of their targets, the 22 LR makes the better choice for small game.
Ammo and Rifle Cost/Availability
The 22 Long Rifle cannot be beat in terms of rifle and ammo cost and availability.
Developed in the 1880’s by the Stevens Arms Company and distributed initially by Union Metallic Cartridge, the 22 Long Rifle has been the most popular rimfire cartridges in North America (if not the world) for over a century.
There are numerous variations of 22 LR ammo: from subsonic rounds to high velocity varmint hunting options to match-grade ammo. Virtually every rimfire ammo manufacturer like CCI, Remington, Winchester, Federal, Aquila, Norma, and Eley has some variety of 22 LR ammo on the market.
With its widespread popularity and low cost of manufacturing, 22 Long Rife is extremely affordable and is often available in large .22 LR bulk packages of 500 rounds or more. This makes it a great option for training new shooters, plinking, target shooting, and lightweight pest control.
Although released considerably later in the 1960’s, the 22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire represented a large step-up from the .22LR in terms of kinetic energy and muzzle velocity. Until the release of the 17 HMR, the 22 WMR was the undisputed high velocity rimfire cartridge which made it extremely popular with varmint hunters.
Though the 22 WMR may be superior in terms of ballistics, it simply cannot compete with the popularity of the 22 LR. This means that 22 Magnum ammo will typically be more expensive and harder to find than 22 LR.
In terms of cost, a brick of 500 rounds of 22 LR can be had for around $0.11/round compared to $0.35/round for 22 WMR (a 3x difference in cost).
Buying in bulk is always smart, make sure to check out our stock of bulk 22 ammo.
When it comes to firearms, the 22 LR has been chambered in numerous platforms to meet your shooting needs. Single-shot rifles are available and almost every rifle manufacturer has a bolt-action rifle chambered in the cartridge. Semi-auto rifles are also available, with the Ruger 10/22, Marlin Model 60, and Savage A22 being a few of the popular available options.
If you prefer an Old West feel, Rossi, Henry, and Browning have several lever action rifles available in 22 LR that are great for training, target shooting, and pest control.
For handguns there are a myriad of revolvers and semi-auto options for 22 LR. The Walther P22 and Ruger Mark IV are two classic 22 LR semi-auto options while Smith & Wesson, Ruger, and Taurus have multiple revolvers chambered in the rimfire round.
There are even conversion kits available to convert your AR-15 to 22 LR, which allows you to practice on your centerfire rifle for a fraction of the cost.
The 22 WMR, although a very popular rifle cartridge, has less options available for it in terms of handguns. One interesting revolver is the Ruger Single Six, which comes with two cylinders: one for 22 LR and the other for 22 Mag. This allows you to shoot both cartridges in the same firearm by simply swapping a cylinder. The Smith & Wesson Model 648 is another revolver chambered in 22 WMR if you prefer a medium K-frame revolver.
For semi-auto handguns there are only a few options: the Kel-Tec PMR-30 and Walther WMP are two polymer-framed designs, while the Rock Island XT22 offers shooters a 1911 platform chambered in 22 WMR.
Rimfire for Self-Defense/Home Defense?
The question if 22 LR and 22 WMR are capable enough cartridges for self-defense is a debate that has raged on for well over a century.
To add fuel to the fire, several ammo manufacturers now offer self-defense rimfire ammo options such as Federal Punch, Hornady Critical Defense, and Speer Gold Dot.
Although it’s unlikely we will solve the rimfire defense debate in this article, it is important to understand the pros and cons of using these cartridges for self-defense.
There are two major battlelines for the proponents of and detractors of using rimfire for self-defense:
- Pro-Rimfire: Shot placement is the most important aspect to ending a gunfight and all other ballistic data is irrelevant
- Anti-Rimfire: Rimfire cartridges lack the kinetic energy and muzzle velocity to penetrate deep enough to incapacitate an attacker. Furthermore, they create diminutive wound channels compared to larger calibers like the 45 ACP.
It should come as no surprise that it is a relatively simple task to become extremely accurate with a rimfire firearm. With next to no recoil, shooters can become extremely proficient with their rimfire handguns, and a simple Internet search can turn up multitudes of police reports of rimfire cartridges being used for self-defense or more nefarious reasons.
This crowd often touts shot placement over wound channel diameter, stating that a rimfire is “enough” to stop a threat and the danger of overpenetration is less.
These are valid points, as the 22 WMR has more kinetic energy than many 380 ACP loads and the rimfire cartridge has considerably less felt recoil. This leads many shooters to be more accurate with a rimfire handgun and putting shots on target is the key to ending a gunfight.
However, the anti-rimfire crowd will tell you that small diameter bullets rimfire cartridges fire do not create a wide enough wound channel nor penetrate deep enough to incapacitate a threat.
There’s a saying that many anti-rimfire advocates like to quote, “Bigger bullets make bigger holes.” They aren’t wrong either, as combat reports from Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan stated that almost 7 in 100 combat deaths could have been prevented with proper hemorrhage control.
Although you might not be a warfighter, blood loss is one way an attacker can become incapacitated, and a larger wound channel will accelerate this process.
Take for example the 9mm Luger, with a bullet diameter of 0.355” or the 45 ACP at 0.451”. Now compare that to 0.224” for 22-caliber, the 9mm creates a 50% larger wound channel while the 45 ACP is double the size. Throw in defensive hollow point ammo that can easily expand to double its original diameter and you can see why proponents of centerfire ammo prefer it for self-defense.
Furthermore, modern defensive ammo is tailored for optimal penetration through multiple layers of clothing that rimfire ammo might not be able to punch through effectively.
Despite all the ballistic advantages centerfire ammo has, the one indisputable benefit that cannot be ignored is reliability.
Rimfire ammo, particularly 22 LR, is notorious for having reliability issues due to inconsistent priming compound levels inside the rim of the cartridge. As it is a thoroughly mass-produced round, sometimes the priming compound is put in a little thinner than it should be. If the firing pin pinches the round in an area with less-than-optimal amounts of primer, it is possible that you’ll get a “click” when you expect a “bang”.
When you’re on the range or out plinking at the farm, a few dead rounds is not an issue. However, when your life is on the line, the last thing you need to worry about is if you’re ammo will fire or not.
Centerfire primers, on the other hand, are extremely reliable and misfires are exponentially less frequent with this type of priming system.
Therefore, we recommend centerfire ammo for self-defense. Yes, a rimfire round can protect your home and family if needed, but centerfire ammo offers you the deeper penetration, larger wound channels, and enhanced reliability needed to end any self-defense situation.
Final Shots: 22 LR vs 22 WMR
The 22 Long Rifle and the 22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire are two exceptional rimfire cartridges that are perfect for training young shooters, plinking, target shooting, and varmint hunting.
The 22 LR has been the most popular cartridge in North America for over a century and doesn’t show any signs of weakening. It is the cartridge most new shooters fire their first shots with as it has virtually no recoil and is extremely economical to shoot.
The 22 WMR is a definitive step up in power level compared to the 22 LR and excels at pest control. Designed to take on larger game and extend a shooters effective range, the 22 Magnum hits twice as hard as a 22 LR at only a minimal increase in recoil.
Although the 22 Mag has superior ballistics compared to the 22 LR, most shooters will opt for the Long Rifle as its low cost per round and ease of sourcing ammunition makes it extremely appealing to weekend plinkers or target shooters.
No matter which cartridge you choose, make sure you stock up on ammunition here at Ammo.com and I’ll see you on the range!
Continue reading 22 LR vs 22 Mag: Kings of the Rimfire Round Table on Ammo.com for comparative ballistic data!