In a match-up of 20 rimfire brands, this $5-a-hundred budget small-game bullet beat up on several pricey products.
The .22 Long Rifle handgun hunter who shoots rabbits, squirrels, small predators, and varmints needs a combination of ammunition performance that most field shooters overlook. Too often, small-game handgun hunters worship at the altar of energy rather than accuracy, forgetting that they must first hit their targets before they can cook them. The key is to get a round that shoots well in your handgun, and then learn how to shoot that round with pinpoint precision. When you’re able to pop a fox squirrel in the shoulder from 30 yards away, then how hard you hit it doesn’t makes a lot of difference.
The fact is that if you’re trying for that level of accuracy in a hunting smallbore handgun, then you must spend some money on ammunition that, at least initially, is going to give you sticker shock. Also, in general terms, you may wind up shooting a foreign brand of ammunition, since Winchester and Remington, which supply the lion’s share of .22 ammo in the United States, don’t make a high-end, target-accurate .22 LR round.
We recently tested 20 samples from seven manufacturers in a revolver suitable for small-game hunting, the venerable Smith and Wesson Model 17, trying to find a brand that shot best in the gun. Also, we wanted to find out if expensive ammo always outshot lesser-priced brands, and if the expensive fodder turned out to shoot better, we wanted to assess if the performance edge was worth the money.
Though there’s no guarantee that top-ranked rounds fired in our gun will shoot well in yours, our rankings are a good place to start your own ammo search. You can see from the following tables and text that it might be worth your while to try a box of RWS or Federal ammo in your rimfire revolver. They are pricey, but we think you’re likely to hit more of what you aim at if you’ll experiment with some of these products.
If we were going to buy a few boxes of .22 pistol ammo today, we would first try Federal Gold Medal Target 3BY052, which shot 0.80-inch group averages and cost only $5/100. Though Gold Medal Target’s accuracy wasn’t quite as good as the top-ranked ammo—RWS Rifle Match 61Q07, which shot 0.70-inch groups at 25 yards in the Model 17—we don’t think that 0.1 inch is going to make much of a difference to a jackrabbit. We do think the RWS’s $10.40/100 price tag will make a difference to the thrifty hunter, however. Next up would be Eley Tenex WR960, which fired 0.73-inch groups for us. It costs a hefty $16/100. We would also try a box of Eley Bench Rest Gold WS1351, which recorded 0.76-inch groups and runs $18/100. Lapua Master 4739R finishes out our top-five rounds, shooting 0.80-inch groups at a price of $11.50/100.
Our explanations for these picks and other buy/don’t buy recommendations follow:
How We Tested
Our test gun was a Model 17 Smith & Wesson with an 8 3/8-inch barrel. This gun was topped with a Leupold 1.5X scope mounted with a Redfield base and rings. To test for accuracy, we clamped the gun into a Ransom Pistol Rest with windage base mounted on a 24-inch-square plywood base that was 1.4 inches thick. This platform was C-clamped to a 1-inch-thick steel sheet attached to a steel pipe concreted in the ground. We shot all our test groups outdoors at 25 yards. We fired 10 five-shot groups to collect our accuracy data, spotting the rounds with a Nikon 20- to 60-power Field Spotting Scope. Using a Parker-Hale cleaning rod and jag, we cleaned the guns with Pro-Shot Lead and Powder solvent between lots and then fouled each gun before shooting the next test lot. We measured all the groups to the nearest tenth of an inch using a Neal Jones benchrest-scoring device. To collect the 10-shot chronograph data, we used an Oehler Research 35P chronograph.
As we mentioned above, the best buy in our ammo tests was $5/100 Federal Gold Medal Target, which shot groups only 0.1 inch larger overall than the top-ranked RWS Rifle Match 61Q07, which notched 0.70-inch groups. Other rounds that shot well but which cost plenty were Eley Tenex WR960, $16/100; Eley Bench Rest Gold WS1351, $18/100; and Lapua Master 4739R, $11.50/100.
Other affordable, but still competent performers included Eley Club Xtra FR78, which cost $7.25/100 and shot 0.84-inch groups. Cheap ($2.50/100) Federal Classic 3AR117 averaged 0.85-inch groups in the test. RWS Target 51QP6, priced at $6.50/100, shot 0.87-inch groups.
Federal’s Gold Medal UltraMatch 315 came in seventh (0.84-inch groups) in the Model 17, but it costs a whopping $21.50/100. The $10/100 Eley Match Xtra FR903 shot 0.87-inch groups to round out the top-ten accuracy rounds.
Not Our First Picks
At some point on the price/performance scale, a combination of middling accuracy and priciness means a round falls out of consideration for our recommendation. That’s the case for the remaining products. They either didn’t shoot well enough to merit a pure performance nod, or they cost too much for the accuracy they did deliver.
Lapua Dominator M 6849C ranked in the middle of the test ammos, shooting 0.88-inch groups. It cost $14 per 100. Fiocchi Pistol 0135002 cost $13.50/100 and managed only 0.94-inch groups. The Lapua Pistol King 5540S shot 0.96-inch groups on average, but ran $9.50/100. Eley Standard LN215, priced at $5/100, shot 0.97-inch groups.
Several ammo brands shot noticeably worse than the rest of the field, coming in with inch-plus groups. Those rounds included $17.50/100 RWS R50 565CN247, which shot 1.00-inch groups, $3.75/100 Winchester Super Silhouette 2KE52N, which shot 1.01-inch groups, and $13.50/100 Fiocchi Super Match 136003B, which shot 1.06-inch groups. Other under performing rounds included Federal Gold Medal Match L1615, which shot 1.07 inches on average and cost $13/100, $14/100 RWS Special Match 541WL582, which shot 1.44-inch groups, and Remington Target 22 C21A2, which shot 1.53-inch groups in the Smith & Wesson Model 17.
Field Tests Recommends
Handgun-hunting ammo used in the field must balance economy and accuracy. Of course, small-game hunters need to trust their rounds to shoot where they’re aimed, so that furred critters great and small can be taken humanely and safely. Still, we recognize that target-level performance isn’t needed with every round, so picking the cheapest of several comparable rounds is the way to go, we think.
With that in mind, we believe rimfire handgun hunters should consider testing Federal Gold Medal Target in their hunting guns. Our test lot, 3BY052, shot 0.80-inch group averages and cost only $5/100. That performance was noticeably better than results we got with other rounds costing less than $5/100, including Winchester Super Silhouette and Remington Target 22. If money is really a factor, try $2.50/100 Federal Classic. Our test lot 3AR117 averaged 0.85-inch groups in the Model 17, which ranked in the top-ten most accurate rounds.
If money is less of a factor, you might consider trying some of the less expensive Eley and RWS brands. Though they are still relatively costly, RWS Rifle Match and Eley Club Xtra were among the top performers in our tests, but weren’t among the highest-priced items.