High(er) Velocity .22 LR Ammunition

PC Compatible?

I often hear people talking about the need for a box of one of the “ultra-high-velocity” .22 rimfire rounds, just to help with those long-range shots. When the opportunity arises, I make a point of making a point to these ill-informed shooters: the only way to generate the muzzle velocity that they are looking for, involves reducing the bullet weight. Initial figures for velocity and energy might make exciting reading to the uninitiated, but basic physics tells us that the faster something starts off, proportionally the quicker it slows down. A further basic rule of ballistics tells us that the lighter and faster a bullet, the more inclined it is to wayward travel.

There are three major objectives in ammunition selection for the Sporting rifle shooter: Accuracy  –  Energy  –  Velocity. They should be considered in that order of priority too. Of course the ‘Holy Grail’ for any rifle shooter is Accuracy, but then too many opt for Velocity over Energy; and I maintain that it should most certainly be the other way round!

I suppose it is all very well telling shooters this, but wouldn’t it be a good idea to be able to back up words with facts. This, plus a few recent debates on the suitability of the .22 L/R for shooting anything larger than a rabbit, led me to get the Oehler 35P chronograph out of winter storage, obtain 50 rounds of each of three varieties of Winchester .22 Long Rifle ammunition, and set out for the range, determined to prove that the theory I abide by, bears at least some relationship to the truth.

Subsonic 40-grain     –     Laser High-Velocity 37-grain     –     Xpediter Ultra High-Velocity 34-grain

Max. Velocity

Minimum Velocity

Extreme Variation

Mean Velocity

Standard Deviation

Subsonic

1051

1018

33

1032

8

Laser

1421

1352

69

1384

16

Xpediter

1537

1441

96

1501

26

 

 

Chronograph analysis shows that the lighter, faster Xpediter rounds suffered from an Extreme spread in velocity readings of 96 feet-per-second, with a high Standard Deviation of 26. Put it another way, and we see that the velocity varied by 6.39% of its mean. Compare this to 4.99% for the Laser, and only 3.18% for the Subsonic. Net result: the slower the bullet, the more consistent it is.

Average Muzzle Velocity (fps)

Velocity @ 100yds
(fps)

Retained velocity
%

Subsonic

1032

873

85

Laser

1384

1034

75

Xpediter

1501

1047

70

 

 

Here we have proved that the Xpediter’s speed has dropped remarkably by the 100 yard mark. At the muzzle it was 8.45% faster than the Laser, and 45.45% faster than the Subsonic. At 100 yards, it was still ahead on speed, but only just at +1.26% on the Laser, whilst the gap to the Subsonic was 19.93%. So those who eschew a ‘standard’ High Velocity round in favour of the ‘faster’ Hyper Velocity types for their ‘long-range’ shooting, get a poke in the eye before we even start talking about the more important factor: energy.

Average Muzzle Energy (ft-lbs)

Energy @ 100 yds

(ft-lbs)

Retained Energy

%

Subsonic

95

68

72

Laser

157

88

56

Xpediter

170

83

49

 

 

Working out comparative energies in the same way as we did for velocities, at the muzzle the Xpediter has a very significant 78.95% advantage over the Subsonic, but a rather less effectual 8.28% over Laser. By the time you get out to the ‘long range’ zone at 100 yards, the difference to Subsonic has shrunk to 20.59% (i.e. it’s lost ¾ of its initial advantage), whilst the Laser has actually ‘overtaken’ the Expediter, 6.02% ahead!

Subsonic

Laser

Xpediter

Average 5-Shot Group @ 100 yds

3.25″

3.00″

4.25″

 

 

On the test day, what slight breeze there was blew from bench to target. Once again, the lighter, faster Xpediter – which was already giving the least accurate grouping of the three – would certainly be more prone to drifting around in anything approaching a crosswind. If there has been any significant wind, I certainly would not have been so confident of taking down-range readings with my precious chronograph! Accuracy is very much dependent on how the ammunition reacts in any one particular rifle – user error aside……

Now we come to the thorny subject of just how PC Compatible these three varieties of .22 LR ammunition really are. If you are anything like me, there will have been numerous occasions when you would have liked nothing better than to shoot your computer, but in this case PC refers to Pest Control.

Obviously the Subsonic has its own niche in the market; and subsonic rounds, so compatible with sound moderators, are far-and-away the best sellers in the U.K.. When the maximum sound is the “plop” of bullet striking bunny, this obviously has a lot going for it.

Those I know of who do not have any problems with noise often stick with subsonic. Some go for high velocity, but there are none who venture out with a magazine full of ultra/hyper velocity rounds  –  maybe they have succumbed to my propaganda! I know of no “serious” rifle shooters who go for Xpediter or its equivalents, but doubtless there are some.

And what do they shoot at? I conducted a ‘straw pole’ amongst a group of twenty experienced rifle shooters. They were all happy to use their .22 Long Rifle on rabbits at ‘around’ the 100 yard mark; although each admitted (not necessarily in front of the others) that accuracy could not always be guaranteed at this range. As far as foxes were concerned, one said he would never use a rimfire, two gave 40 yards as maximum range, fifteen gave 50 yards, one suggested 60, and one optimist(?) was happy with 75 yards! This weighs things pretty heavily in favour of 50 yards as a foxing maximum. Interestingly only three of the group stipulated high velocity rounds over subsonic. Not one of them mentioned ultra-/hyper- types. I recently heard of someone who had their semi-automatic zeroed in at 120 yards with ultra-high velocity rounds for “the humane shooting of foxes”  –  I think not!

No, the .22 Long Rifle is an ideal rabbiting round. On the odd occasion when you might come across ‘Charlie’ at ranges of up to 50 yards, and providing you can make a clean shot, it will do the trick. Beyond that, and you are not doing yourself – or your quarry – any favours. Upgrade to a centrefire, or spend more time perfecting your ‘squeaking’ technique!