The distance a .22 bullet will travel and still remain deadly might surprise you!
For purposes of this article, we will discuss the .22 rimfire family of cartridges.
How Far Does a .22 Bullet Really Travel?
Before answering the question how far a .22 bullet travels, we need to decide what kind of .22 we are talking about. Depending on the cartridge and the gun used, the bullet will travel anywhere from 100 yards or so to more than a mile. Centerfire rounds will travel much farther than a rimfire.
Each of these has different ballistics.
The .22 rimfire comes in supersonic, subsonic and something called CB caps, which are also subsonic, albeit in a different category to the usual subsonic rounds. The ammo is also grouped as CB caps, shorts, .22 Long, .22 Long Rifle and .22 Winchester Rimfire Magnum, more commonly called the .22 Mag.
Types of Ammo
The .22 rimfire ammo types perform differently depending on the gun used. The stats below are done from a rifle with a 16-inch barrel. Using a pistol will lower these numbers.
CB cap stands for Conical Breech Cap. The .22 CB cap is just a .22 bullet inserted into a brass with a primer. It has no gunpowder. The primer is enough to push the small bullet out of the barrel.
These rounds are designed for indoor shooting. A 29-grain bullet delivers about 32-foot pounds of energy at 710 feet per second. This is similar to mid-level airgun performance. That is lethal at close range.
1. .22 Short
The lowly .22 short is the first of the .22 rimfire family. It is very accurate and was used in Olympic shooting events for decades. It does not generate enough power to cycle most autoloaders.
Most of the short offerings are a 29-grain projectile. Velocity ranges from around 830 FPS to right around 1,100 FPS. The speed of sound is 1125 FPS, so some shorts can go supersonic for a short distance.
They deliver between 44 and 87 foot pounds of energy. That is entirely lethal with the right shot placement. The biggest animal I ever killed weighed 1,500 pounds and dropped on the spot with a .22 short between the eyes. It was a steer on the family farm which we butchered.
2. .22 Long
The .22 long, which has almost completely disappeared from the commercial market, is the second oldest in the .22 rimfire family. It uses the 29-grain projectile with more powder than a short in the case.
Velocity hovers around the 1,1100 FPS mark. It is lethal at 67-95 foot-pounds, depending on the manufacturer’s specs.
The .22 Long will not cycle most autoloaders, which is a big reason why it has fallen out of favor among the .22 crowd. The .22 short delivers nearly the same performance and you can fit more into a tube-fed rifle like a lever action.
3. .22 Long Rifle
The .22 Long Rifle is the most common bullet produced in the United States. It also carries the dubious distinction of being the professional assassin’s preferred round. It is quiet, penetrates well and it is cheap compared to other ammo.
Projectile weights range from 30 to 60 grains. A 60-grain projectile is heavier than the most common weight in a .223, which is 55 grains.
The .22 LR speeds range from subsonic to as fast as 1,700 FPS. Bullets can be solid lead, coated lead and hollow points. The .22 LR will cycle autoloaders.
4. .22 WMR or .22 Mag
The .22 Mag is actually the .22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire. It came out in 1959. Bullet weights range from 30-50 grains. Hollow points are common. Full metal jackets or solid copper projectiles are available but harder to find.
The .22 Mag is slightly bigger than its three smaller cousins. While the smaller rounds will fire in a .22 Mag gun, the reverse is not true. Some revolver makers produce a .22 and a .22 Mag cylinder for the same frame.
Velocity is all supersonic, with some rounds hitting more than 2,000 FPS. The energy for the rounds are nearly all above the 300 foot-pounds range.
The .22 Mag is certainly lethal and has taken even big game. It is not legal for big game in most US states.
.22 Mags will punch through level 3A bullet body armor. YouTube has plenty of videos demonstrating this. 3A body armor is rated to stop handgun ammo up to the .44 Mag, buckshot and some shotgun slugs.
Additional Factors Affecting a .22’s Travel Speed
Gun barrels must be considered when looking at any bullet’s range. The .22 is shot from handguns and rifles. Barrel length directly affects bullet velocity and distance the bullet travels.
Longer barrels, to a point, give the gunpowder more time to burn in the barrel. This creates more expanding gas, which pushes the bullet faster. If the barrel gets too long, dropping gas pressures and barrel friction slow the bullet.
The smallest handguns are the micro revolvers. Barrels can be an inch long. Rifles range from 16 to 24 inch barrels with 16″ and 18″ being the most common. Once you get past 20 inches, you will run into the velocity drop, depending on the cartridge you shoot.
The CB cap has the weakest performance in handguns because of the barrel length. That said, the .22 rimfire family is pretty weak overall in handguns.
A micro gun with a 1-inch barrel is hard-pressed to get even the hottest .22 Mag out to the 100-yard mark.
Ballistics by The Inch tested .22 rimfires. Depending on the ammo, the velocity difference between a 16-inch barrel and an 18-inch barrel was generally less than 50 FPS. In some cases, the longer barrel saw less velocity than the 16-inch barrel.
Going down to a 1-inch barrel, velocities dropped around 300 FPS on average. That is significant.
The distance a bullet travels depends on the bullet, the powder charge, the barrel length and the angle of the gun.
If you hold the gun parallel to the ground, you will get around 200-250 yards from a typical .22 round before it hits the ground.
When shooting on the ground, air resistance plays a big part in how far the bullet goes. To get the maximum distance, you need to hold the gun at a 50-degree angle over the ground.
You might think a 45-degree angle will give more distance. It does not because of how the air affects the bullet’s flight.
So, if you hold the gun at the proper angle, ammo makers say a typical .22 LR will go about 1 1/4 miles. Some hot .22 LR loads will reach a mile and a half. A .22 Mag will go about the same distance as a hot. 22 LR
If you hold the gun just right, here is a rough idea of the distance the bullet will go. Bullet type and shooting conditions will affect this.
- CB cap 500-900 yards
- .22 Short 1,000 yards
- .22 Long 1,000 yards
- .22 Long Rifle 1.25-1.5 miles
- .22 Mag about 2 miles
In this chart, I define lethal as being able to penetrate enough to create a terminal wound in a deer-sized target. Just because the wound is lethal does not mean the target will expire immediately.
For example: A now retired police chief from my community was shot years ago at close range in the abdomen with a .22 LR. He chased down his assailant, put him in cuffs and asked bystanders to call for help as he was shot. He estimates it was 45 minutes between being shot and arriving at the hospital.
A gut wound is 100% fatal if not treated. It will take a long time to die if the damage was caused by a .22 rimfire.
A major factor in the lethality is how much foot pounds of energy the bullet has. The bullet must have enough punch to penetrate deep enough to kill. The farther the bullet goes, the slower it moves. That means it has less force.
Thick skin, heavy clothing and even densely matted thick fur will affect the bullet’s performance. This chart assumes thin and barely covered skin, such as a squirrel has.
|CB cap||100 yards|
|.22 Short||150 yards|
|.22 Long||400-500 yards|
|.22 Long Rifle||500+ yards|
|. 22 Mag||500+ yards|
The .22, in all its iterations, is a round to be reckoned with. The Israeli Secret Service, the Mossad, turned the Beretta Model 70 in .22 LR into one of the most feared weapons in the Middle East.
Just because the round looks tiny does not mean it is a toy. Know what is behind the target you shoot at.
If you are shooting for distance, you can get a better gun and ammo. If you are hunting small game, plinking or just want to hone shooting skills, any of the .22 family is a great choice.