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Could A .22 Magnum Pistol Work For Concealed Carry?

When a person asks if a .22 Magnum is good for concealed carry, what they're wondering is if there's a way to get efficacy or something like it with less recoil.

Well, this gets a little complicated. On the one hand, .22 LR has killed a heck of a lot of animals and a heck of a lot of people. It stands to reason, therefore, that .22 Magnum - or more accurately, .22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire - would too.

But the issue is whether it can do so reliably. The short answer is it's more viable than it might seem. On the one hand, you don't see police or militaries running around with rimfire handguns or rifles...but it isn't to be sneered at.

.22 Magnum Ballistics

22 magnum ballistics

On paper, .22 Magnum ballistics don't look impressive...but they aren't everything. With that said...

Velocity and energy varies greatly by manufacturer and load, so take these as ballpark rather than gospel.

Typical projectiles are 30-, 40-, and 50-grain bullets. From a rifle, .22 WMR tend to produce muzzle velocities of between 2,000 to 2,300 feet per second with 30-grain projectiles, and somewhere between 300 to 330 foot-lbs of muzzle energy. 40-grain projectiles will lose anywhere from 100 to 250 fps of velocity relative to 30-grain projectiles, and 50-grain projectiles will lose a further 100 to 250 fps of velocity on top of that. Energy ft-lbs remains around the same.

From a handgun...it's a different story.

For example, CCI's MaxiMag HP high-velocity load pushes a 30-grain .22 WMR to 2,200 fps and 322 ft-lbs of energy from a rifle. CCI purports the same load achieves 1,600 fps from a 6-inch revolver barrel, which would mean - per our back-of-the-envelope calculations - about 170 ft-lbs of energy.

A 6-inch revolver basically means a S&W Model 648, which - it's a 6-inch K-frame - is not a concealed carry revolver.

Speer makes a Gold Dot Short Barrel load in .22 Magnum, with an advertised velocity of 1,050 fps and 98 ft-lbs of energy from the muzzle.

What we can therefore assume is that .22 Magnum has less than half the energy of 9mm from a concealed carry pistol, as garden-variety 115-gr 9mm ammunition yields around 1150 to 1200 fps of velocity and about 350 to 390 ft-lbs of energy from the muzzle. In other words, it has about half the power of the most popular caliber for self-defense.

But how much does this matter in the real world?

.22 Magnum Pistols In The Real World

22 magnum

So, how effective are .22 Magnum pistols in the real world?

Any results from self-defense shootings, at least any that are meaningful (a few successful or unsuccessful instances aren't really meaningful) aren't known to us. However, there is some testing information out there, which can give you an idea of the potential of .22 Magnum handgun efficacy.

Bear in mind that gel tests aren't perfect, since gelatin is not a perfect simulant of human tissue. However, since people started doing gel tests, what's emerged is something of a correlation between performance in gel and performance on the street. Per a conversation I had with Chris Laack, head of handgun ammunition development for Federal (they do a lot of tests and get a lot of feedback from federal and local law enforcement agencies) it's about a 3:2 ratio; a bullet that penetrates 12 inches in gel will penetrate about 8 inches in flesh. Therefore, the FBI standard of 12 to 18 inches of penetration means the bullet will, in all likelihood, be effective on a human target if accurately placed.

Shooting Illustrated tested a few loads using a NAA Pug in .22 WMR, which has a 1.1-inch barrel. Shooting into ballistics gel through five layers of denim cloth, CCI MaxiMag 30 grain penetrated to a depth of 9.5 inches and expanded about 45 percent. Hornady Critical Defense 45-grain FTX penetrated to a depth of 12 inches, but didn't expand. Speer Gold Dot penetrated to about 11.7 inches and likewise didn't expand.

Lucky Gunner used a snubnose revolver to test .22 Magnum handgun loads, and considered the same defense loads as Shooting Illustrated. CCI Maxi-Mag's 40-gr load penetrated to average depth of 15.1 inches in gel through five layers of clothing, but didn't expand; Gold Dot 40-gr JHP penetrated an average 13.6 inches and expanded to an average of 0.34 inches whereas Hornady Critical Defense penetrated to an average depth of 11.6 inches and expanded to an average of 0.39 inches.

The American Shooting Journal likewise got some decent results using short-barrel pistols, including 1-inch and 1.8-inch (meaning a snubby revolver) barrel handguns.

YouTuber Paul Harrell put .22 magnum pistols to the test against his Meat Target, which is leather jacket skin, a pork chop to simulate pectoral muscles, pork ribs, a watermelon (or bag of oranges, depending on the season) to simulate lung tissue, pork ribs on the back, two t-shirts covering the whole thing and the target backed up by a high-tech fleece bullet stop.

See for yourself:

As you can see, .22 Magnum definitely works. Lucky Gunner remarked that it was close to the same penetration as some .38 Special loads. Paul Harrell found that while it lacked for penetration, it did a decent amount of damage, though the loads he tested were also wanting for expansion in some instances, especially when fired from a mini-revolver.

So could a .22 Magnum handgun be effective for self-defense? Sure! If it's all you had or if it's what you can tolerate in terms of recoil, then it's viable enough. However, there is also the caveat that IF you can stand to use a handgun with one of the traditional self-defense calibers, you should use that instead.

Choose A Quality .22 Magnum Pistol And Quality Ammunition

22 magnum pistol

Many a .22 Magnum rifle is on the market, but there are precious few models of .22 Magnum pistol that's ideal for concealed carry. Therefore, choose carefully.

The only autoloader known to us here at AGH in .22 Magnum is the KelTec PMR 30, which is roughly the same size as a 1911 Commander model. While plenty of people DO conceal and carry a Commander frame every day, it isn't the easiest thing in the world to do. The modern concealed carrier TENDS to carry a compact or smaller.

Therefore, what you're likely to look at as a viable choice is a snubnose revolver. There are precious few of these as well. We found two: the Charter Arms Pathfinder and Ruger LCR. Both have six-shot cylinders, and a barrel length of 2 inches or less.

Granted, there are also derringers and the sub-micro pistols by NAA and others. Obviously, a snubnose revolver is a better choice of fighting pistol, but if a teeny, tiny gun is all you got...it's all you got.

Another thing to consider is that if you're going to carry hollow point ammunition, you want to take care to select a load that's made for use in pistols. .22 hollow points made for use in rifles might not be propelled fast enough to meet the minimum expansion threshold from a pistol. Therefore, do your homework when it comes to carry ammunition and take care to select an appropriate carry load.

However, given that .22 Magnum is much smaller, and brings far less energy into the equation than traditional self-defense calibers, accurate shooting is vital. Therefore, put in the range time to place shots where they need to go. Granted, 10mm or .40 or .45 ACP don't really have any breathing room here either; bullets are placed in vital areas or they are not. It doesn't matter what kind of pistol or caliber you shoot, because placement is everything.

So yes, you could carry a .22 Magnum for self-defense, and it's actually more viable than you might be tempted to think. If it's all you had, or if .380, 9mm or .38 Special produces more recoil than you can put up with...it'll work, if placed correctly.

Sam Hoober
 

About The Author

Born in southeastern Washington State, Sam Hoober graduated in 2011 from Eastern Washington University. He resides in the great Inland Northwest, with his wife and child. His varied interests and hobbies include camping, fishing, hunting, and spending time at the gun range as often as possible.