From the hill country of the Carolinas to the Ozarks, the .22 rifle has been the gun of choice since the first experiments with metal cased, rimfire cartridges in the years just before the Civil War.
Rural legends, (the country boy version of the urban legend) claim that more game has been taken with the lowly .22 than any other caliber.
In this case, the folklore is probably correct.
One memorable morning as I walked a section of the Oregon Trail near Split Rock landmark on the Sweetwater River of central Wyoming I noticed a round piece of dull brass near a clump of sagebrush.
I dug a large, rimfire cartridge out of the damp earth. It was a large shell casing, perhaps .50 or .58 caliber, a remnant of a shot fired by a hunter long ago in this still unsettled section of the American West.
Large caliber rimfire ammunition fell out of favor as the higher velocity, smokeless powder, ignited by high-energy primers entered the market. Only the .22 and its little cousin the .17 HMR remain common rimfire cartridges.
There are two schools of thought and not much empirical evidence to support either one when it comes to the effectiveness of hollow-point versus solid point .22 long rifle ammunition.
We’ll do our best to offer the opinion of disciples of both camps, and present their argument for you to determine what might be best for your use.
.22 hollow point
There is only a marginal difference between .22 hollow point ammunition and traditional solid point .22 long rifle cartridges.
The hollow point weighs slightly less, generally 38 grams, but can be as light as 26 grams in some exotic designs.
Devotees of the hollow point cartridge point out its expansive power when hitting small game. It is more lethal with a body shot on a squirrel or rabbit but doesn’t have the penetrating power of a traditional .22.
It doesn’t need to go as deep if the hollow point mushrooms as it is designed to do. A hollow point in any caliber does much more damage than a solid lead projectile. That’s why hollow-point ammunition is illegal according to the rules of war in the Geneva Convention. Few soldiers survived a body shot with hollow point ammunition.
Squirrels are especially adept at hiding behind branches, trunks, and heavy leaves when pursued in the heavily forested regions of America.
A body shot with a solid point .22 can leave the animal wounded and in pain. That’s never the issue with a hollow point body shot. If it squirrel or rabbit takes a hollow point round, it’s dead on impact.
Hollow points are lighter than solid .22 lead bullets since the only difference between the two is the material drilled out of the tip that creates a hollow point projectile.
Do-it-yourself hollow point kits are available to convert traditional 40-grain solid point .22 rounds into hollow points.
You get a clamp to hold the bullet in place, and a drill bit to ream out a bit of lead from the original shell.
When you’re finished you have a hollow point bullet.
The .22 long rifle is the most fired cartridge in America, there isn’t anything remotely close to the number of .22 rifles, and the millions of short, long, and long rifle cartridges fired from them.
The standard .22 long rifle is a 40-grain solid lead bullet. It might appear to be a steel-jacketed round, but it’s not, there is just a thin veneer of copper plate covering the solid lead round.
The solid .22 comes with a warning on every box of long rife ammunition, “Range Up to One Mile.”
It might seem a bit extreme, but that’s the truth, the lightweight round can travel a long distance before losing energy completely and falling to earth.
Stories abound of mysteriously broken windows well out of sound distance from any shot, and even of people hit by rounds fired from unknown distances and direction.
Solid point adherents claim it is more accurate in flight than a hollow point, but extensive ballistic tests haven’t proven this. There seems to be no difference in accuracy between a solid point and a hollow point .22.
There is one difference when firing at solid objects with .22 ammunition.
The solid point .22 will ricochet where the hollow point won’t. The mushrooming effect of the hollow point round absorbs the energy of the shot much more effectively, reducing any chance of a ricocheting round.
A solid point bullet can glance off a steel target, a rock, or even a hardwood tree with that characteristic “woo-wee” sound you hear on the soundtrack of all those old Clint Eastwood “Spaghetti Westerns.”
Are .22 hollow points better?
“Are .22 hollow points better for what?” would be a more accurate question.
Are they a more humane round? Yes, they are. The killing power of a mushrooming hollow point lead bullet is greater in any caliber, and especially in the lightweight 26 to 40 grain .22 round.
Are they more accurate than a solid head .22 round? No, they’re not. There isn’t any appreciable difference in accuracy between the two rounds.
Are they better for target practice? Probably not. They’re only equal in perfect shooting conditions with no wind blowing into, behind, or across a target.
The heavier the bullet, the better it performs against the wind. The 40-grain solid lead .22 round is only slightly heavier than the heaviest 38-grain hollow point, but it is heavier, thus it will be more accurate statistically than the lighter round.
Is a hollow point a better hunting round? It probably is since even a bad shot will take down small game.
As a home defense weapon, the hollow point isn’t as good since the 26 to 38-grain mushroom action of the tiny .22 round expands superficially against a human target.
The solid .22 round will penetrate much deeper, creates a wound channel that the intruder has to deal with quickly, and will dispatch them from your home.
So the conclusion is no conclusion at all if you’re using your .22 for hunting small game.