Russ Gould

The 22 WMR is a cartridge that has never quite lived up to its potential, in terms of market acceptance and field performance. One just has to note that the 17HMR cartridge, a toddler in comparison to it’s progenitor in terms of years of service, has generated widespread adulation in the outdoor publications, rapid acceptance by shooters, and sales that have outstripped the manufacturers’ ability to produce ammo. The 17 HMR is perhaps the cartridge the 22 WMR could have been.

Visually, at least, 22WMR fills the gap between the ubiquitous 22LR and the Hornet

There is a huge gap, in performance terms, between the 22LR and the Hornet as shown below. The LR, in standard guise, produces 140 ft.lbs of energy via a 30gr bullet taking off downrange at a MV of around 1260 fps . The Hornet achieves 723 ft.lbs with a 45gr bullet at 2690 fps. In monetary terms, the gap is similar: 4 cents per round for the LR vs. 50 for the Hornet. Almost no other bore diameter displays such a chasm between popular cartridges in the lineup.

In terms of field use, the LR is at best a reliable ground squirrel stopper at ranges of up to 75 yards. In most rifles, accuracy is poor beyond that range. It’s not a dog cartridge much less a chuck cartridge. The maximum point blank range on a 3” target is 90 yards, assuming perfect accuracy. The Hornet is an honest 175 yard cartridge on dogs, and it has also been used with good effect on turkey and even coyote within that range. The maximum point blank range for the Hornet is 188 yards, double that of the 22LR. For good reason, and despite the horrendous price of factory ammo, the Hornet lives on , and in recent times has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity with the advent of new powders that extend its capability to 200 yards. Due to its modest report and minimal tendency to ricochet, both big pluses in today’s more populated countryside, it‘s a popular cartridge in the Eastern states. The LR has also enjoyed some performance enhancements with the advent of high velocity hollow point ammo but this has been at the expense of bullet weight and accuracy. So the gap persists, arguably wider than before. And that’s a pity, because (as Hornady discovered), the market is ripe for a true 150 yard dog/chuck cartridge, at rimfire prices.

It is this gap that the 22 WMR should have filled, and on paper the cartridge should have sold better than it did. However, in the author’s opinion, the cartridge never really took off for three reasons. First, the price per round is disproportionately high in relation to its performance. For a 50% increase in MV and a 130% increase in ME, the shooter is asked to pay 4 or 5 times the price of the LR. This has always struck the author as poor value, especially when the cost of the components don’t appear to justify the higher price. After all, in standard guise, this is just a LR with a little extra headroom and a smidgen of extra powder. The bullets are jacketed, however, and that no doubt accounts for the large jump in price. But if we are paying for jacketed, why can’t we have 2500 fps? Second, in field terms the round hits with more authority than the LR, but not enough to step up to chucks or coyotes. Third, while it should perform on dogs and ground squirrels out to around 125 yards (the 3“ MPBR is 123 yards), the round’s questionable accuracy in most rifles makes it a 100 yard cartridge in practice. In simple terms, for a lot more buck, the shooter doesn’t get a lot more bang. Finally, with the exception of the Anschutz and the Volquartsen custom guns, all of the rifles offered in the caliber are versions of inexpensive 22LRs that are just not made to the standards of “real” precision rifles. Ruger, for example, offers the 22LR and the Hornet in a proper bolt rifle, but not the 22 WMR. Their WMR is a beefed-up 10/22. Remington makes the very nice 504 in LR, but not in WMR. And neither Kimber nor Cooper chamber for this round.

The mistakes that were made by the industry were to limit the round to roughly the same chamber pressure (25,600 vs. 24,000) as the 22LR, thus capping downrange performance; and also the use (initially at least) of imprecise bullets. No doubt there were good technical reasons for these decisions, but together they limited the round’s appeal. And if the logic was cost-driven, the manufacturers must have kept the savings on their income statements rather than pass it through to the consumer. The relatively low sales (compared to the wildly popular 22LR) achieved has helped to keep the price of ammo high and the choice of brands limited. For many years, only Winchester and CCI offered ammunition, a JHP and a FMJ each.

Recently, in a promising move, the ammo makers have begun to offer “premium” ammo using jacketed bullets of more conventional center-fire style, but the heavy crimp applied to almost every bullet (and this must be necessary to allow complete combustion or to allow the use of tube magazines) distorts the bullet and does not promote accuracy. Remington uses a 33 grain V-max, Federal a 30 grain Sierra HP, and Winchester a 34 grain JHP of their own design. CCI has followed their LR strategy by producing a high velocity version of the standard round, again relying on a light (30 grain) hollow point bullet with the stepped nose of the 22LR. The author decided to conduct a side-by-side comparison of the various current offerings, to see if the WMR is finally approaching its potential even if it’s a little late to steal the thunder back from its sexier 17 HMR cousin.

Lineup: Federal/Sierra, CCI, CCI+V, Win Supreme JHP, Win SX, Rem PSP, Rem Premier V-Max

As someone whose grasp of statistical concepts has mellowed with age, let me state at the outset that I recall enough of the theory to state that this quick study lacks rigor and thus statistical significance. Only two rifles were used, and for each of 6 ammo types, only four shots were fired. Since individual rifles of identical make can differ in peformance and preference, it would be a monumental task to try to construct and execute a statistically valid study. Since nobody stepped up with a large financial grant to enable the author to do this the right way, he decided to do it in a self-serving way: owning only two rifles in this caliber, one of which belonged to his 11 year-old son, he wanted to find out which brand of ammo each specific rifle preferred just as “sage rat” season was picking up in Central Oregon.

Author’s Test “Bed”

The first rifle is a custom gun built on a 1915 Stevens Favorite with a pitted barrel and broken stock, purchased for a few dollars at a garage sale. The barrel, the unusual longer round configuration, was relined and rechambered to 22 WMR (the only work that was sent out); the action was cleaned up and case-hardened (as stated earlier, the chamber pressure of the 22WMR is a little higher than the 22 LR round that this action, particularly the 1915 version, handles with ease); new wood was fitted; and a period Lyman “Expert” 4x scope mounted. This was intended to be a fun gun and it’s also a fine conversation piece. Incidentally, it was completed around the time that Savage began offering their modern model 30G rifle in the same caliber.

The second, also a single shot, is a Rogue River “Chipmunk”, with the rare heavy barrel and synthetic stock, also wearing a 4x scope by Weaver. This is a fine first rifle for a child, with a manual cocking piece and no clip. In other words, the shooter has to insert the round and manually cock the gun before firing it, and once it has been fired, it can’t be fired again without conscious effort to reload. And there is no safety catch, so it’s about as simple as they come. A perfect setup for a youngster intent on laying down some fire and having some fun.

Some ad-hoc testing had been done with both rifles in the past, and both had taken a few sage rats, but the beginning of a new season brought fresh hopes and prayers, and with them a desire to find the “ultimate” ammo for each rifle.

A little digging through the leftovers of prior seasons turned up a few boxes of ammunition of various types, Federal Premium brand being the incumbent favorite. A quick check of various catalogues and websites set the wheels in motion for a few more. Table 1 summarizes the brands and types tested. (with representative pricing for comparative purposes).



Bullet type & wt

COST/50 /ea

CCI Maxi Mag

Shanked JHP 40 gr

$6.49 / 13c


Shanked JHP 30gr


Winchester Super X

Cannelured JSP/HP40gr


Winchester Supreme

Voluted JHP 34gr


Remington PSP

Slit JSP


Remington Premium

V-Max Poly Tip 33gr


Federal Premium

Sierra JHP 30 gr





There was some difference in the appearance of the ammunition. The Remington ammo in particular appeared to have real centerfire bullets! The Federals also sported nice-looking jacketed Sierra hollow-point bullets. Winchester’s Supreme bullet was the nastiest-looking of the bunch, with a gaping hollow point and volutes that create mini-petals near the nose. None used copper-clad lead, or plain lead bullets, although theoretically the standard velocity ammo at around 1900 fps should allow this. Most of the manufacturers also offer FMJ bullets and these were not tested as the author could see no practical use for them. It’s possible they are effective on squirrels but the ricochet factor rules against their use on any ground-based varmint.

All of the ammunition tested had heavily-crimped bullets, although only the Winchester SuperX brand appeared to have a crimping cannelure. The rest appeared to be “squeeze jobs”, which obviously distorts the shank of the bullet somewhat. The Winchester SuperX was also the hardest to chamber due to case bulge at the crimp, especially in the Stevens which has a tighter chamber than the Chipmunk.

Testing was done on two different but similar days, with bright afternoon sunlight on the target and a light cross-wind. Initial testing was done with the brands on hand, while waiting for the remaining ammo to arrive. The range was 100 yards give or take and shooting was done from a “Doggone Good” shooting bag from a standing bench (well actually the bed of my Ford F600 flatbed truck, which is just about the right height for me). The scopes were both of limited power, so 3 inch bulls (about the width of a fat sage rat) were needed to facilitate a good sight picture.

Results with the Stevens custom rifle were initially disappointing. To use the word “group” to describe the results would be stretching the meaning of that word. None of the first three brands (Federal Premium, CCI Maxi Mags, and Winchester SuperX) were sufficiently accurate to be useful in the field. All three delivered groups around 5” with the Winchesters showing occasional promise spoiled by wild fliers. The scope locking screws were checked, minor tweaks to the quaint external adjustments were made, and more shots were fired with the same dismal results. This result confounded me as I had the vague notion, from prior use, that the gun shot the Federals with sufficient accuracy to warrant taking the gun afield, and I do recall my glee dispatching some rats with the rifle a couple of years back.

Moving to the Chipmunk, results were more gratifying. Despite a rather crude sight picture from the diminutive 4 power Weaver and a noticeable lack of inertia in the gun itself, all 4 loads delivered acceptable accuracy , with the two CCI loads at 2moa, with the Winchester SuperX and Federals right at 1moa. As can be seen in the photo below, both brands of higher velocity (lighter bullet) ammo grouped a little higher on the target than the standard versions. Any of the brands would produce hits on rats to 100 yards in this rifle. Surprisingly, this little rifle didn’t seem to have a strong preference, and accuracy with all was good, despite the variable cross-wind. Any rats within 100 yards were in distinct danger of passing to the great Alfalfa field in the sky with this rig.


Chipmunk’s heavy barrel launched most loads with excellent accuracy

The arrival by mail of the premium brands a week or so later allowed testing to resume. This time with better results on average, and astonishing results in one particular case. Again, testing commenced with the Favorite. Aha! Finally this rifle delivered acceptable varminting accuracy! Both Remingtons went into an inch and a half, and if anything, the cheaper PSPs seemed a little tighter and more consistent, thankfully and surprisingly outshooting the higher-priced premium version. The opposite was true of the Winchesters … as before, the SuperX showed promise (which is why I gave it a second chance) but threw uncalled fliers. However, the wicked-looking Supremes again printed higher but held under two inches despite a fairly noticeable crosswind. Under perfect conditions, with a little more magnification, this rifle could possibly hold the better ammo inside 1.5 moa. In practical terms, 100 yards was about the limit on rats with this rifle given that the wind does blow out there and shots are not taken from a bench, so hits would be interspersed with the occasional miss. This was borne out in the field using the Remington PSPs for an afternoon, with some longer “fluke” shots adding to the enjoyment of shooting a unique and classy piece.


Both Rifles Liked Remington, Chipmunk Favored V-Max Load

The Chipmunk decided it did have a preference after all. And it had expensive tastes: whereas the Rem PSPs went around 2.5 moa, and the Winchester Supremes were all over the map, the expensive Remington Premier V-Max loads were stunningly accurate, cutting a .7 moa 4 shot group with one called flier that was disregarded and reshot!

So for the Stevens, we settled on the (cheaper) Remington PSPs, while Junior would need the spendiest brand of all, the Remington Premiers. Unfortunately, there was no brand that performed well in both rifles, although if we had to pick one brand, it would be Remington, and a toss-up between the two versions.

In an attempt to make sense of these results, bullets were pulled from some of the brands. The Winchesters, because the Supremes did so well in the Stevens in contrast to the SuperXs; the Rems because they both performed well; and the CCIs because they performed well in one rifle and dismally in the other. Suprisingly, both Winchester and Remington appeared to use the same powder, so the bullets had to be the differentiating factor. As can be seen from the photos below, the CCI bullets had very irregular heels and were quite crude, as opposed to the others. These and the Win SuperX had crimping grooves while the Rems were squeeze-crimped. And finally, the V-max bullet had the most perfect noses but were also the longest

L to R: CCI, Win SuperX, Win Supreme, Rem V-Max

While researching this article, the author came across an admittedly more professional article in a leading journal testing about a dozen brands of 22WMR ammo in Ruger’s 10/22M rifle. The average 100 yard 5-shot group from this rifle, wearing serious 12x glass, was just over 2 inches, with only the two Winchester offerings and the Federal/Sierra load holding just under 2 inches. In that test, the Remington Premium V-Max ammo did best at 50 yards, but was unable to take the honors at 100 yards. After reading this article, I felt quite proud that my self-made custom rifle with it’s ancient scope, and the diminutive “toy” rifle with it’s cheap Weaver 4-power, performed as well or better than the Ruger wearing much more glass.

In conclusion, it seems that the common wisdom does prevail: each rifle will have a preference in terms of ammo, and performance will vary quite dramatically from rifle to rifle and from load to load. It is also fair to say that with the exception of the Remington Premier ammo in the one rifle, the 22 WMR is a moderately accurate 100 yard round, leaving the door wide open for that 150 yard inexpensive rimfire chuck/dog cartridge. It’s not the 17 Mach2, nor the 17 HMR in this writers’ opinion. Did someone mention a 22 bottlenecked RF with 60 grain bullets at 2250 fps? (Or does that sound like the ill-fated 5MM cartridge‘s big brother?).

Russ Gould owns and operates Varmint Hunter Headquarters (, an online marketplace specifically catering to sellers and buyers of varmint rifles and accessories.