Friday, February 14, 2014

.22LR as a defensive round

I've had a few readers take issue with my article on Wednesday about defensive firearms on a budget, particularly my comments about training disabled shooters using table tennis balls or equivalent targets.  Some people seem to think that such results are impossible - in other words, they think I'm lying.  Others believe it's irresponsible to recommend the 'puny' .22LR as a defensive round.  I'd like to take a little time to address both perspectives.

Let's start with .22LR's viability for defensive use.  I completely agree that a defensive round should have adequate power to get the job done.  The trouble is, all handgun rounds are deficient in energy, not to mention the nebulous concept known as 'stopping power', when compared to almost any centerfire rifle or shotgun round.  The 'gold standards' of handgun cartridge effectiveness are widely perceived to be .45 ACP in pistols, or .357 Magnum in revolvers.  However, there have been many 'failures to stop' using both rounds.  They're far from infallible.  Furthermore, most modern defensive ammunition appears to offer very similar performance, irrespective of caliber or cartridge, when results are compared in uniform test media such as ballistic gelatin, as the image below shows.

The image is taken from this excellent discussion of the topic, which I highly recommend you read in full.  Given an effective round, defensive success appears to be far more dependent on shot placement - putting one's bullets where they'll do the most good (or harm, depending on one's perspective) - than on bullet diameter, weight or energy level.

The average muzzle energy of all six of the above rounds is 404.33 foot-pounds.  In comparison, a .22LR hollow-point round weighing 36 grains, fired at a muzzle velocity of 1020 feet per second from a 4" handgun barrel, offers muzzle energy of a mere 83.2 foot-pounds - about one-fifth that of a handgun round considered more suitable for defensive use.  That's pretty weak.  However, it will also generate very much less recoil than the better-performing rounds.  For example, the first round in the illustration above, a 124gr. 9mm. bullet fired from a Glock 19 pistol at a muzzle velocity of 1181 feet per second, produces free recoil energy of 7.69 foot-pounds.  (Most of the other rounds mentioned in the image will produce greater recoil energy than that from a typical handgun.)  The .22LR round described above, fired from a Ruger SR22 pistol, will produce free recoil energy of only 1.37 foot-pounds.

Ruger SR22 pistol

That recoil figure is why the .22LR is a game-changer for some people.  I've worked with disabled and handicapped individuals who have limited upper body strength and/or mobility, including their arms and hands.  They find it difficult or even impossible to control an average handgun in recoil.  However, the very low recoil impulse of a .22LR handgun is a different kettle of fish.  Basically, if they can pick up a tennis ball, they can cope with a .22's recoil.  Therefore, such individuals are much better served being able to shoot something in self-defense, even if it's generally considered less than optimum, rather than be left with nothing at all.

That brings us back to the training I provide to such individuals - the training some readers seem to think is 'impossible'.  It's not.  In fact, I'm going to challenge all of my readers to try this experiment for themselves.

First, I'm assuming that you're capable of keeping all your shots from a handgun inside a 6" circle at a range of 20-25 yards, firing slowly and deliberately.  If you're not yet at that level of competence, you should work on that before proceeding with this exercise.

Next, you'll need a BB pistol and ammunition, given the high cost and limited availability of .22LR ammo right now.  If you don't already have one, I suggest this one (that's the model I use, but there are many alternatives - do your own research and select one you like).  Buy also a pack of CO2 cartridges and a supply of BB's.  All three purchases together will cost you about $62, which will give you up to 2,400 shots for a total cost (including the pistol) of about 2½ cents per round.  If you want to go to 4,800 shots (which I frankly recommend), buy two packs of CO2 cartridges and two of BB's for a total investment of under $84 - well under 2 cents per round.  (If you'd prefer to use an Airsoft pistol rather than a BB, that's your call.  Personally, I find the BB more effective as a training tool.)

Once you've bought those things, you need to invest in some suitable targets.  60 cheap tennis balls will cost you a dollar apiece and are tough enough to last for a long time, but might be a bit heavy for BB pellets to roll them across uneven ground.  These 'small balls' are even cheaper and weigh less, but probably won't last as long.  I've used both options.  (I know one shooter who invested in a small ball pitching machine to help his training.)  As your skills improve, you'll need smaller targets.  I use these mini practice balls, and also bulk packs of ping-pong (table-tennis) balls - the latter don't hold up well to multiple bullet impacts, but they react very well when hit, making them a lot of fun.  You'll also need hearing protection and eye protection (VERY important, particularly the latter!).

Finally, find an open area of bare ground on which to place the balls, with a suitable backstop (an earthen berm, a solid wooden fence, etc.) to stop the BB's ricocheting off the ground and endangering others.  (A grassy surface isn't optimum, as the grass will slow down the balls, perhaps even prevent them from rolling at all under the very light impact of BB's.  However, if a grass surface is all that's available, consider laying down a tarpaulin or old carpet on top of it as a rolling surface.  It'll get torn up, so don't use anything you want to keep in good condition.)  As a commenter has noted, you can also use the interior of your garage provided you line the walls with old carpets, or cardboard boxes, or something else to absorb BB's that ricochet off the cement floor.  You don't want them bouncing off the walls and coming back at you!  (A great source for old carpets is a carpet seller/installer.  They rip out old carpets by the mile every week, recycling the best and throwing away the worst.  You can often get old carpet rolls from them free of charge, or for nominal sums.)

Start by laying out a few of the larger tennis balls or 'small balls' at random.  From a range of about 10 feet, try lining up your sights on each one and hitting it with a magazine full of BB's, moving it along the ground.  Don't try for speed at first, but concentrate on accuracy.  As you get better, start shifting your sights between balls with each shot.  Hit one ball, start it moving, swing to another ball, hit it and start it moving, then swing back to the first and hit it again.  Do this until you can make every shot count, then move back to first 15 feet, then 20 feet, then 25 feet.  Practice until you're competent at every distance, including putting balls at varying ranges from near to far and hitting them all.

When you've got this down pat, move to the smaller balls and repeat the process.  Practice until you can hit a stationary table-tennis-ball-sized target with every round at ranges up to 25 feet.  When you achieve that, you'll need to call upon a friend for help to get to the next level.  His job will be to stand next to you, or just behind you, and toss the balls ahead of you so that you have to hit them while they're moving.  When you've acquired that skill, he should start bouncing them off a plank or other obstacle to either side, so that they're moving across your front instead of away from you.  This makes them much harder to hit.  As you're able to hit more and more balls one after another, increase the speed and frequency at which they're thrown, making the shooter's task more difficult.  You can work up to a point where he's throwing several balls at once.

The object of the exercise is to reach a level of skill where you can hit 7 out of 10 randomly moving table-tennis balls within 5 seconds.  I find even disabled or handicapped students can reach this level of skill after about 3,000-4,000 rounds of practice.  The best can hit all 10 in that time.  (A few shooters, after much more practice, can even hit several balls firing from the hip, without using the sights.)  Once you can attain that standard using a BB pistol, it's not hard to do likewise with a .22LR handgun (assuming your backstop is adequate to prevent the bullets from ricocheting outside your range area and endangering others - I use a field with a hillside behind it to prevent that happening).

Now, consider this from a defensive shooting standpoint.  You're capable of hitting 7 out of 10 moving targets not much bigger than a human nose, using a .22LR handgun, at typical defensive ranges.  Using the same handgun, do you think you could put 7 out of 10 rounds into the inverted triangle formed by the human eyes and nose (a larger, easier target) at the same distance - even if your target is moving?  You bet you could!  I think we can take it for granted that any bad guy receiving a faceful of high-velocity hollowpoints (my standard recommendation for defensive use in .22LR is CCI Velocitor ammunition, with CCI Stinger as a second choice) is going to be discouraged. Three of my disabled students (so far) have already demonstrated that to their (and my) complete satisfaction.  They're still here, and uninjured.  Their assailants . . . not so much.

Under those conditions, for shooters with physical limitations but with that sort of training, you'd better believe the 'lowly' .22LR is a viable defensive round!


EDITED TO ADD:  A few years after writing this article, I did a follow-up piece examining how Israeli operators used .22LR weapons in combat - very successfully, too.  You'll find it here.


Inconsiderate Bastard said...

As Col. Jeff Cooper famously said, "the first rule of gunfighting is 'bring a gun'."

I've suggested to many of my students that a good quality .22LR semi-auto pistol, while not necessarily the best choice for a self defense tool, is not thw rost choice. The worst choice is no gun at all.

I like the idea of using BB guns for practice, and I'll point out that an empty garage, with old carpet hanging as a backstop, can work well as a training facility, at least until skill improvement requires more space.

As for .22LR ammunition availability, I'm convinced it won't improve substantially until more manufacturing capacity is added. The demand for .22 is just too great, and from here on always will be. It's just too useful a caliber.

Inconsiderate Bastard said...

not thw rost choice.

Sheesh. Fat fingers 1, keyboard manipulation and proofreading, both 0.

Should be "...not the worst choice..."

Sorry about that.

c w swanson said...

It'a all shot placement, and the .22 can do a lot of damage. Don't the Israelis use it in semi auto rifles for close work where they need to be a bit on the quiet side? By the way, I bought that Ruger pistol last year and it's really fun, and accurate enough if you practice just a little with it. I'd hate to have someone shooting at me with one in close quarters.

Glenn Mark Cassel said...

I read somewhere that when a bad guy starts leaking that critical bodily fluid........he is pretty much done..........or words to that effect.

Able said...

I agree that shot placement is paramount, but ...

.. if felt recoil and pistol weight are the main sticking points for some of those you are advising, wouldn't FNs 5.7 also be a viable option?

I know it'll start a (bigger is better and no calibre not beginning with a 4 is worth spit) 'discussion' but the pistol is light, recoil is almost non-existent and a number of ballistic gel tests have shown it to be quite as effective as larger calibres (eg. 230 gr hydroshock .45) and considerably better than any .22.

Admittedly cost is a completely different cooking utensil of pisceans.

Just a thought.

(no, I carry a P226 in 9, in case you were wondering)

Peter said...

@Able: I agree that a FN 5.7 would probably be somewhat more effective than a .22LR. However, there are three strikes against it:

1) It's a very expensive gun and round combination compared to .22LR, and on a disability income (as many of my students are), that's a non-starter.

2) One can't buy the most effective ammo for the 5.7 unless one's in law enforcement - its sale to "ordinary folks" like you and I is prohibited. Even the less effective ammo is hard to find in many locations.

3) The gun is considerably larger than many .22 pistols, making concealed carry more difficult (particularly in a wheelchair or other restricted circumstances).

Anonymous said...

I have a friend I'm teaching to shoot. She is Thai and has very small hands and wrists. She has no problem with a Ruger MK-II or Walther P22 but even a single stack 9 MM is a problem for her to maintain a good grip.

The other fact is people don't like to be shot, 22 or 45ACP, it makes no difference. Stopping an attack does not always need to mean DRT.


SiGraybeard said...

A couple of years ago, someone at the Buckeye Firearms Association did a review of all the defensive handgun usages he could find data on and concluded that .22LR was as effective as any handgun at stopping attacks.

The way I read it, when you're in a DGU situation, you're not fighting the Taliban or the Moro tribesman that people always talk about. Most people stop their attack when they realize they've been shot, and the percent of single shot incapacitation hits with a .22 exceeded the percentage with .45 and other big calibers. The .22 simply is easier to fire rapidly and put holes in the target.

Do I carry one? No, but I wouldn't feel terribly out of luck if I did.

As an alternative to the FN5.7, you might consider .22 Magnum. Cheaper ammo ($17/box last time I bought some) and cheaper weapons.

Mad Jack said...

FN 5.7 would be my pistol of choice if I could afford one, and if I could afford the ammo.

I own several .22 handguns, and I wouldn't hesitate to pick up my .22 automatic and defend myself. As you point out, there's no recoil to speak of and if you don't believe it's a viable self-defense caliber, stand there a second while I shoot you. Then tell me what you think.

The Raving Prophet said...

My main concern for .22LR in any defensive use has to do with the (sometimes) spotty priming in rimfire ammo. Better quality ammunition (as your stated preference for CCI Velocitor would be) can cover that, but it's something the user needs to be aware of. Don't just depend on any old bulk pack hollow point... use something that is known to be quality.

Will said...

If an auto, verify that the ammo picked will feed reliably. Accuracy is secondary for this application. .22lr guns tend to be picky about ammo choice, so make sure it goes bang every time, and feeds every round, or select another brand/type.

Anonymous said...

I routinely shoot thrown golf balls with a Ruger Mark I. Not impossible at all. Not even very hard, really. Most people have never tried it.

B5K said...

As Mad Jack stated, one shouldn't denigrate .22lr effectiveness simply because they think it's "too small". I get shit from people for carrying a KelTec P32 all the time. I simply tell them

"hey, I can put all 8 rounds from this on a 3x5 card at 15 yards while someone throws tennis balls and firecrackers at me, in less than 5 seconds. Let me shoot you with it, then you tell me
how ineffective it is."


Paul said...

Well, I have several 22's and if I need to pocket carry the PT-22 gets the nod. I have concealable guns chambered to 22, 380 and 9mm but I am most accurate with the 22.

I thought I had read once back in the 60's about a guy who took every big game animal on the north American continent with a 22.

Maybe I ought to look for that article.

STxRynn said...

Is there any chance to review the after action reports of the three instances you mention?

Peter said...

@STxRynn: Unfortunately not in a public forum, due to obvious reasons of privacy. If we ever get together over a beer . . .

Rich said...

Thank you. I owe you ... bigtime.

I've been looking for a way to (1) train affordably); (2) incorporate moving targets; and (3) get my partner any myself the substantial amount of "hands on" time we need.

You've answered all three needs in one blog post.

Even after 20 years of concealed carry, and 20 years of practice, I know I could benefit a LOT from your suggestions, and my partner, being a beginning shooter, needs them even more. She is enthusiastic, but far from instinctive at this point.

If you are ever going to be in northern New England - post it. We would be honored to treat you and Miss. D. to dinner.

Rich S.

Peter said...

@Rich: Thanks for the kind words. Glad I could help.

I'd like to know how a practice golf ball or ping-pong ball reacts to being hit with a high-velocity hollowpoint from a major-caliber pistol. I think it'll either be obliterated, or attain low earth orbit!


Rich said...

To preface this, I would love to try it! I've never seen it done with hollow points. I have seen it done with rifles.

A buddy of mine shot some golf balls with a .308 a few years ago, and, IIRC it was surprisingly unspectacular. We thought they were going to go off like rockets, but they stayed in the berm area. The entrance holes were practically invisible and, while I don't specifically recall the exit holes, I don't think there was much there either - some chipping of the plastic shell.

After reading your comment last night, I took a look on youtube, and found a video with a guy shooting a golf ball with a SKS. he got the same thing - a small hole and significant but unspectacular movement.

I suspect ping pong balls will also be unspectacular, simply because there's not enough substance there to have much energy imparted to it. I hope I'm wrong, though.

About 20 years ago, my then GF was a photographer. She wanted to do a photo essay that included, among other things, (cheap knockoff) Barbie dolls being shot. So, we loaded up the kitchen sink and took it all to the range. We were thoroughly disappointed. We didn't get any shattering at all. We just got small holes with slight lead smears (.22 and 9mm FMJ IIRC). In the end, we used a 12g with bird shot, which proved satisfactory, but only at close range. :)

Anonymous said...

Jeff once said, I think the .22 LR would be a fine defensive round as long as you can hit a postage stamp every time at ____ feet. I don't remember the exact distance that he stated but you get the point. Your teachings have inspired me to park the .45 for a while and improve marksmanship with your techniques.

Thank you,

cmblake6 said...

Shot placement is the biggest part.And the comment from Anonymous Rich above is the truth. Put it in the orbital socket, and you rock it.

Olaf said...

As a comment, I taught firearms safety for the state of Arizona, one of our demo's was shooting a potato with a .22, that simulates a large muscle being hit, it blows it to pieces, I agree that the .22 is a great defensive weapon. I like your training exercises, and the use of BB guns for training. Thanks for the information, I'm going to use BB guns for training of my family and friends...

andy said...

What`s your opinion on the 7.62x25mm Tokarev round as a defensive cartridge?

Peter said...

@Andy: It's usable. I'd prefer something with greater diameter, but the little Tokarev has quite a track record, particularly when several rounds are used.

Reg T said...

I'm surprised no one mentioned the Kel-Tec PMR-30. .22 Magnum provides excellent penetration (better than 9mm and .357 Magnum in some cases), and has almost as little recoil as .22 LR.

30 rounds in a pistol that weighs less than a pound, empty (I think it weighs 19 ounces with a full magazine), with better penetration than the .22LR, could be a great choice for those who are recoil sensitive. Just as the FBI is recommending 9mm for their agents and other law enforcement officers due to the lighter recoil and potential for better accuracy for agents who have difficulty controlling pistols with the larger calibers, a .22 Magnum could provide better accuracy for smaller, recoil sensitive shooters too.

Bibliotheca Servare said...

So if a person is not yet proficient at "keeping all [their] shots from a handgun inside a 6" circle at a range of 20-25 yards, firing slowly and deliberately." Would you recommend starting by just setting up a decent sized paper target with a six inch circle marked out on it, about 20-25 yards away? Or would it be better to start with a larger circle and work down? Asking for a friend, of course...*embarrassed coughing* The pellet rifle is a single shot, spring piston's a very nice air rifle (.177 pellets) -though getting the pellets to seat is kind of a pain in the neck with the tight rifling...but that's a separate issue- but I *ahem* my "friend" wasn't sure if having to change my...his...shooting position with every shot was sabotaging "his" efforts to develop accuracy. But part of me thinks it's a good skill to develop...but yet another part thinks it's an unnecessary added frustration... I'll stop now, heh. God bless! :-)

Peter said...

@Bibliotheca Servare: If you haven't had any basic training at all, I highly recommend something like the NRA's Basic Handgun or Basic Rifle course (depending on what you plan to shoot). There should be one offered near you: look up NRA courses at the NRA's Web site, or check with shooting ranges close to you.

If you can't get to such a course, consider the training videos available on YouTube. Many are junk, but others are pretty good. For example, try these:

There are lots of others, but either of those two (or both) are good places to start.

Good luck!

waepnedmann said...

I recall reading in Outdoor Life, during another century, about an old woman in Canada that killed the last known Plains Grizzly.
She was running her trap line when she came face to maw on the trail with the griz.
She shot it in the corner of its eye with her single-shot .22.
Shot placement is everything.

Anonymous said...

I am late to the party here, but will add that Bobbie Kennedy was killed with a .22 and last time I checked he was still dead.

Anonymous said...

Peter, What do you think the lightest weight 22lr hand gun with crimson trace is?

I'm a backpacker, and us backpacker really work hard to reduce the weight of our packs

We are called "gram weenies" due to our obsession at weight reduction of our packs.


Peter said...

@Greg: A lot depends on what you want to do with it. I insist on reliability as a primary consideration in any firearm that might be needed for defensive purposes. If it won't go BANG! each and every time I want it to, it's not suitable for purpose.

That said, right now, for backpacking purposes, I'd go for a Ruger LCR snubnose revolver with a Crimson Trace grip. See for details. It's lightweight (about a pound, fully loaded), of proven reliability, and accurate enough at short to medium handgun ranges. It gives you 8 rounds of ammo on tap, which should be enough for most purposes. It's also compact enough to carry in a pocket of your trousers or shorts, or an outer pocket of a backpack (although you won't be able to get to it in a hurry there).

For a pistol, rather than a revolver, I'd choose the new Ruger Mark IV 22/45 Lite. It's heavier and larger than the LCR, but Ruger Mark I/II/III rimfire autopistols have an enviable reputation for reliability, which I'm sure the Mark IV will continue. That makes its larger size and greater weight worthwhile to me.

I hope that helps.

Anonymous said...

Thirty-*cough* years ago, I brought some classmates to the local municipal outdoor range with me for an afternoon's delight of plinking. After running a couple of magazines through my Jennings J-22, one of the fellas scoffed, "Man, you can't hit the broad side of a barn with that thing!" Granted, at 25 ft. the spread was a little 'bigger than a breadbox', but I cleared the weapon walked down range to retrieve the target and backing, came back and placed it over my torso. Every shot was within my body's silhouette. Loudmouth got *very* quiet.

PJW Gent said...

I have heard in the past that a 22lr will basically turn the brain to mush as it ricochets off the back of the skull from a frontal triangle shot (eyes/nose).

You said several of your students successfully defended themselves with such shots. Did the attackers survive?

Glenn B said...

Just added a pretty wordy reply and got the message your site refuses to display my content. Very disappointing.

Unknown said...

I am a fan of 22lr. Doesnt matter what i get shot with its gonna ruin my day.

FredLewers said...

Howling with laughter... The best gun in a fight is the one you have. Training is essential. But having a firearm and the willingness to use it in self defense are the first two ingredients. And they are essential...

Jerry said...

An Ohio gun trainer, Greg Ellifritz has a wonderful article titled, "An Alternate Look at Handgun Stopping Power" where he tallies the results of a decades worth of shootings.

My conclusion after plugging the data into a spreadsheet and digesting the numbers is that the 22 rimfire is actually competitive with larger and more powerful cartridges. I now carry a Taurus PT-22 Poly in a pocket holster as my concealed carry gun.

More to the point I might add that I made an amazing discovery as a rural police officer. Did you know that criminals do not like to be shot and will go looking for easier pickings when they discover a potential victim is armed? A 22is still a gun.