Is it Possible to Kill a Deer with a .22?

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Is it possible to kill a Deer with a .22: I’ve seen this question form a subject of discussion for as long as I can remember. Different people express different opinions on the same. The fact remains to be yes; you can take down deer with a .22 long life rimfire. Although the answer is yes, it is not an easy task to do so.

Generally, rimfires are primarily used for hunting small game animals, not bigger than coyotes, citing power concerns. This gives me a feeling that rimfires are underrated for no good reason.  With the right shot placement, a rimfire can kill large animals, including hog and deer. Actually, in 2013, multiple shots with a .22 LR rifle killed an elephant.

History and Popularity of .22 LR

.22 Long Rifle cartridges have been in existence since early 1884. Over the years, this cartridge has gained popularity with both beginner and expert shooters. I find it an ideal cartridge for pest control, recreational shooting, and, more so, small-game hunting.

For novice shooters, this cartridge is also ideal for beginner firearms courses. This is because .22 LR caliber rifles are relatively silent and have minimal recoil. As a beginner back in the days, I would get frightened by the recoil and loud noise of more powerful guns.

Today, a wide variety of .22 LR caliber rifles, handguns, and pistols are available in the market.  

Different Types of .22 Caliber

Generally, .22 cartridge calibers include the .22 short, .22 long, .22LR and .22WMR. Below are some facts and differences between the mentioned cartridges.

The .22 Short, Long, and Long Rifle have the same specs for rim, neck, and base diameter and rim thickness. On case length, .22 long and .22 long rifle have similar case lengths while that of .22 short is shorter. 

It is also worth noting that rifling twist rates are identical at 1:16 for .22 long, long rifle and .22 WMR.

.22 Short 

The .22 short (5.6 mm) is the oldest cartridge among the .22 caliber. It was developed in 1857 and was America’s first rimfire metallic cartridge.  The main objective when designing this round was self-defense. This changed along the way, and today, it is majorly used for recreational shooting.

With the high rifle advancement witnesses, only a few modern rifles have .22 shot chambers today. The standard velocity rounds are made of lead and can launch a 29-grain bullet at a speed of 1045 fps.

.22 Long

This rimfire cartridge was an advancement of .22 short in 1871. Initially, it had a 5 grain (0.32 g) in addition to the 29-grain (1.9 g) bullet the .22 short had. The goal was to use it in revolvers but later chambered in rifles. The configuration of guns earned the cartridge a strong reputation, making it a highly preferred small game cartridge.

.22 Long Rifle

It is the most popular among all rimfire cartridges. A 40-grain bullet was combined with the .22 long case to produce this superior hunting cartridge. It was characterized by minimal recoil, low cost, and low noise.

Bullet weights vary from 20g – 60g and velocities ranging from 575 – 1750 fps. This is one of the cheapest rounds today. This model almost rendered .22 long obsolete.

To manage a guaranteed kill shot with a .22 long rifle, ensure a perfect target. The animal’s anatomy is quite essential. I advise that you focus on the deer’s lungs or the brain or the heart. A shot to either of the three organs will dispatch the animal faster, and doing so is also more humane and ethical.

.22 WMR (Winchester Magnum Rimfire)

The .22 WMR was introduced in 1959 by Winchester. Initially, this rimfire cartridge carried a 40-grain (2.6 g) bullet with about a 2,000fps velocity. Currently, this cartridge can be loaded with much heavier bullets ranging from 50 grains (3.2 g) to as lighter as 30 grains (1.9 g) at 1,530fps and 2,200fps, respectively.

This .22WMR is commonly referred to as .22 Magnum, .22 Mag, .22 MRF or .22 WMRF.

Centerfire vs Rimfire

22 Rimfire Round Properties

Most rimfire rounds I’ve used don’t have the expansion properties or energy to swiftly kill animals such as deer. Standard deer hunting rounds range from 6mm to 30 calibers and can expand enough due to the cartridge’s bullet and velocity features.

Also, larger bullets configured for low expansion have adequate energy within normal hunting ranges. Therefore, they can damage and knock out the animal quickly.

With relatively low power, a round with 1200fps at 50 yards only creates a small hole into a ballistic gel. This compares to the body of an animal. Therefore, if a soft point or hollow bullet with a small wound channel will not damage any vital life-sustaining organ, the deer will just get wounded.

In simpler terms, I can conclude that most of the rimfire ammo does not generate necessary velocities to manage proper bullet expansion. A viable alternative I found was the fragmenting ammo. I can buy these rounds in several various ranges of speed. The fastest is CCI’s fragmented offering, which has a 1600fps velocity rating.

Upon impact, these bullets are configured to break into three segments regardless of the velocity. They have a two-fold intention: to deposit full energy into the animal and create a more substantial and permanent wound that would eventually increase the killing power.  

A need may arise to take a deer-sized animal with a .22 caliber rimfire, especially in SHTF or survival situations. In such cases, fragmented ammo would be my topmost priority. This is simply because, with just a close-up headshot, I will be safe. Long-range shooting is not preferable in emergency situations since the room for error is much more significant.

Why Centerfire .22 for Deer Hunting?

Middle Primer

Upon learning that most states have legalized .22 centerfires for deer hunting, I sought for a significant difference. A centerfire cartridge has its primer in the middle of the cartridge case head. Opposed to rimfire cartridges, primers are separate and replaceable components in centerfire cartridges.

Withstand High Pressure

 Centerfire cartridges are deemed to be more reliable and beneficial for military purposes. This is attributed to metal cartridges’ ability to withstand high pressures without insignificant damages compared to rimfires. That said, it does not mean they would not work in favor of hunters. With high pressure, attain higher velocities and great energy.

Another pro of a centerfire cartridge is that their cases are reusable. It is possible that after replacing gunpowder, primers, and projectiles.

Downsides of Centerfire Cartridges

On the downside, centerfire cartridges are relatively more expensive than rimfires. A hunter might, therefore, not afford to use them consistently.

Centerfire cartridges have more weight than rimfires. Carrying the rounds around and for long durations is thus a tedious and exhausting task for a hunter. It might reduce the effectiveness when in the field.

Is Hunting Deer With a .22-Caliber Rifle Legal?

The legality of the use of a .22 to hunt deer differs from state to state. In most states in the US, taking down deer with .22 rimfire or any other rimfire is illegal. Therefore, using a .22 rimfire in a state where it is unlawful attracts punishment by law. It may attract hefty fines and penalties that are not worth it. Even though it is a downside, .22 centerfires are legal.

After having used both centerfires and rimfires, I discovered the significant power difference between the two.

Better .22 Deer Hunting Options

In the .22-caliber, bullets run from ultra-light 37-grain pure lead, which can be driven to a low speed of 900 feet per second (fps) in subsonic LR rimfires, to 80-grain jacketed bullets with other 3,500 fps from rifles such as Wildcat .224 TTH and .220 Swift.

It is vital to note that the two extremes deliver energy and terminal performance that vary significantly. On the lower edge, performance is very minimal and inadequate. On the upper side, the performance is adequate and marginally acceptable to hunt smaller species of the big game. This species includes the pint-sized whitetails and antelopes.

I observed heavier bullets (62 to 80-grain) driven at a speed of 3,200fps and over are great

Perfectly-placed shots delivered instant kills with minimal meat destruction. With the .22 caliber rifles, shots are not for trying luck. They are precise and deliberate. A shot in doubt is better not shot.  My prime targets were double-lung shots. The primary objectives were does and juvenile bucks that approximately weighed 100 pounds.

Most Popular Ammunition Accessories

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Even though .22 rifles can kill bucks and does, their use is illegal in most states. Bearing that in mind, 22 rimfire rifles can be put in other different applications. Most people regard them as survival weapons. 

Besides survival situations, I continuously remind myself to stick to animals within the optimum range, depending on the cartridge design. That is rabbits, raccoons, squirrels and coyotes for the maximum range. If I only have a .22LR rimfire, I would pass up a coyote, especially long-range.

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