Ask most shooters what they started with and the majority will say their first real firearm was a .22. The .22lr round is not the largest, it isn’t the fastest and it isn’t the most powerful. The .22 is an easy shooting, accurate and capable round if used correctly. For the most part, .22 ammunition is widely available and comparably less expensive to practice with than larger rounds. While only some shooters can handle the largest and sexiest firearms, just about anyone can learn to be proficient with a .22 rifle. Availability and cost issues aside, there are other reasons why I put so much faith behind the meager .22 rifle as THE survival firearm.
A.22 rifle is packable, sometimes break down, and it doesn’t have to break your back. Less pressure in the chamber requires less steel to support it. Less steel translates to less weight. A myriad of aftermarket products can turn lightweight rifles into even more ultra light tools. Furthermore, a hundred rounds of ammunition can be carried in a small pouch in a pocket with less weight than some multi-tools. Even a large “brick” of .22’s is smaller than a nalgene bottle and weighs less than a full one. I carry spare ammunition on my rifle so even if separated from my other gear, there is always more on board. The lightweight rifle and lightweight ammo combination ensures I am never too burdened to have them with me.
The .22lr, when used out of a long barrel, provides rifle accuracy. The longer sight radius is an advantage over a pistol. If I could choose between a .22lr rifle or a 9mm pistol in an emergency, I’d lean toward the rifle each time. When pistol capability comes into range of the target, the .22 rifle is already there. Accuracy and shot placement and rounds on target first win out in this case. A .22 rifle can be used effectively out to 100 yds by most with practice. Also, even the best pistol marksmen can be outshot by a good shooter with a rifle. Furthermore, pistols are not legal to own in all states but just about every state allows a rifle to be carried in a vehicle locked in a container separate from ammunition out of reach.
The .22 rifle is a game getter. It is a round which can be used to hunt animals humanely and it doesn’t destroy the meat filling up the pot. The .22lr round can be used for small mammals, for birds (illegally in most cases unless in a real emergency) and just about any other small game. Trappers have long used a .22lr to dispatch trapped game without ruining their pelts and butchers have used it to put down animals prior to slaughter. It is also a round that has taken more animals on this planet than any other. While I would not personally hunt deer with it, I’ve heard accounts of poachers effectively using .22’s at night with success.
Another reason why the .22 is THE survival rifle is ammo availability. Travel to small gunshops around the country and you’ll find it on the shelves. Even in gas stations in the Northern states, you’ll find the standard rounds like .30-30, 12 gauge, .30-06 and of course .22lr. I’ve even found .22 ammo at yard sales. When .22 long rifle is unavailable, the long and short cartridges can be fired out of the same chamber if loaded individually. If and when your other ammo dries up, you can be assured there is .22 somewhere.
For less than the cost of a Glock pistol alone, the survival minded outdoorsman can have a .22 rifle, accessories and enough ammunition to feed it for a lifetime. It is the first firearm I recommend to students learning firearms handling and use. It is also the one I tend to reach for most when going on a trip out of state and away from civilization. If you don’t have one already, consider adding one to your preparation. Find out why it is the most widely used caliber in the history of US firearms.
About the Author
Kevin Estela is the Founder and Head Instructor of Estela Wilderness Education. He conducts private and semi-private wilderness and urban/suburban survival courses, tests and evaluates knives and equipment for various companies, is a Mountain Khakis Professional Ambassador, and is a life-long outdoors enthusiast with additional pastimes in canoeing/kayaking, fishing and cooking. Kevin's work has taken him from Los Angeles, CA to the United Kingdom and many points in between. Kevin is ranked in both Sayoc Kali and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and is a shooting enthusiast. Kevin is formerly the Lead Instructor for the Wilderness Learning Center. When not teaching outdoor skills, he is a full-time High School History Teacher and Track and Field Coach who lives in Connecticut.