The 22 Magnum – Getting Reacquainted With an Old Friend

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I’ve been accused by my wife of showing feelings towards inanimate objects, guns being one of them. I will admit to a having a bit of a soft-spot for metallic things that shoot little bullets. Especially when I first open my gun safe and choose the rifles I will be taking on a hunting trip. Inevitably, I will have to leave some of my favorites behind. This bothers me a bit and some in my house have even said they have heard me mumble “I’m sorry” while I shut and lock the door.

One of my old favorites that hasn’t seen any field time in a while is a Browning A-Bolt in the 22 Magnum caliber. I purchased this gun in 1992 after searching for something that would give me a boost in killing power over my Ruger 10/22. I remember the purchase, because the salesman gave me a box of RWS hollow point ammunition, which was $15.00+ a box. I was appreciative, but very hesitant to shoot those rounds. At the time, the 22 Magnum and I killed everything in site, from ground squirrels to rabbits. It was my number one rimfire rifle and I never left it behind. That is, until the .17 HMR was released. Once I shot the .17, the Browning 22 Magnum found a place in the back of my gun safe and never left.

Fast-forward to this past weekend. The rains here in Southern California finally stopped, so I was heading up to Tejon Ranch to see if the ground squirrels were out. I went through the usual mental arguments trying to decide which rifles to take, when I spotted the Browning A-Bolt behind my deer rifle. At the end of last year, after a scope-shuffle, I ended up putting a Weaver RV-7 – 2.5×7-28mm rimfire classic on it, but never took it out to sight in. I figured this trip would be a good chance to get reacquainted with the A-Bolt and the 22 Magnum, so I threw it into a gun case, grabbed a couple boxes of Federal Premium ammunition and hit the road. I was working on another project, so I didn’t expect to shoot it that much, but after a while I was really getting excited to see if it still shot well.

Luckily for me and the A-Bolt, the ground squirrels were out in force and begging to be shot. I took care of the other project and drove to an area I knew held a pocket of squirrels. When I arrived, I pulled out the 22 Magnum and loaded up the magazine. One quirky thing with the Browning A-Bolt is the need to take the safety off in order to load a round into the chamber. It took a few seconds to remember this, but once it came back, it was a non-issue. After I was loaded up, I started still-hunting my way into an oak grove that was alive with ground squirrel activity. It wasn’t long before I saw a head popping out from under a fallen log. The squirrel didn’t notice me walking, so I was able to stop and watch for a few seconds until the head became a neck, then a shoulder and a body. I shouldered the rifle and found the squirrel’s shoulder in my scope. The crack of the rifle actually surprised me, but the “pop” of the hit is what made me pause. It was loud and left my target motionless under the log. The Federal blew the squirrel back and folded it in half, leaving blood and guts splattered everywhere. All my past hunts from years earlier came rushing back to me. I had forgotten the extreme damage the 22 Magnum inflicts on varmints. When using the right bullets, it can be quite destructive and the Federal Ammunition is just that, very destructive! The impact is definitely evident, as you can see by the pictures below:

Federal Ammunition ballistics state that this loading is traveling at 2200 feet per second (fps), with 322 pounds of energy at the muzzle. At 100 yards it still has 134 pounds of energy, while traveling 1419 fps. That is the velocity of the 22 LR Velocitor at the muzzle! Compared to the 17HMR, the 22 Magnum is equal in energy at 100 yards, but with a bullet almost twice as heavy.

Like the 17HMR, I would probably not feel comfortable shooting predator sized game with the 22 Magnum. However, there are some that use heavier bullets with great success on gray and red fox. I just don’t feel comfortable in my calling setups to go with anything that light.

Last weekend, something told me to pull out my Browning A-Bolt and take it out. I was glad that “voice” told me it was time again to carry the 22 Magnum with me that day. On the drive home from the ranch, the memories of my younger days came rushing back. This was before the 17HMR’s and Mach II’s became my first choice carry rifles. I remembered trips up to the Eastern Sierras shooting cottontail, as well as trips to the Carrizo Plains for jackrabbits and ground squirrels. The 22 Magnum was the rimfire rifle to own and almost everyone I knew had one with them back then. It’s too bad that some folks have to choose between the 17HMR or the 22 Magnum. They are in fact sister cartridges, with so much more in common, than differences. Certainly, anyone carrying a 22 Magnum can equal themselves with someone carrying a 17HMR. Knowing your rifle and its ballistics, as well as the effective range, is much more important than which bullet goes faster, further or bucks the wind better.

It took an old friend named “Browning” to teach me this…

— By:  Eric Mayer

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