The lowly 22 in a handgun might seem like a last resort as a self-defense option, but there are certain advantages and even some proponents. The 22 Winchester Magnum has been helped by defensive-style loadings and use in compact, reliable revolvers while retaining the benefit of low recoil. The ever popular 22 LR have no such loadings yet, but there is so much ammunition and guns out in the little round, there are at least a few combinations that work.
What the 22 LR and 22 Magnum have in common is that they were original designed for rifles. The cases are long and the ballistics are ideal for a rifle. This leads to problems, especially in auto-loading pistols. The one exception in the rimfire world is the great-granddaddy of all metallic cartridges, the 22 Short.
The 22 Short is ancient, as ancient as James Buchanan’s presidency. It was developed back in 1857 for use in a new handgun with a bored-through cylinder, the Smith & Wesson No. 1 revolver. Propelling a 29 grain lead bullet with 4 grains of black powder, the little gun was a hit item with civilians and many soldiers who felt the need for a back-up plan as they marched off to fight the American Civil War. The 22 Short served well in small hideout guns and it would come to survive the jump to smokeless gun powder.
The 22 Short’s portly rimmed case and heeled bullet made it ill suited to new autoloading pistols at the turn of the 20th century, so alternative pocket guns were devised–particularly the 25 ACP as a more reliable option. However, the 22 Short did see use in autoloaders eventually. Beretta and a few other firms produced small pistols in the little round until recent years.
Today, the 22 Short is best known as a pest control round for use out of a rifle. The 22 LR has since gotten more reliable and more powerful and there is little need for a 22 Short. Currently, only North American Arms and their tiny Mini Revolver remain as a 22 Short offering. There are many older handguns still floating around and seeing action, so it is worthy to see how well the round could still do for self-defense.
I have one of those new NAA Mini Revolvers and I was anxious to put it to the test. The gun wears only the 1 1/8 inch barrel so I expected my ammunition to register lowly in terms of velocity.
I had two types of ammunition to test, both at different ends of the power spectrum.
CCI CB Shorts are subsonic and meant for quiet pest control. It features a 29 grain lead bullet.
I also used CCI High Velocity ammunition using a 27 grain copper-washed hollow-point.
At six feet, I fired both types of ammunition available to me over the Caldwell Chronograph. I fired an average of five rounds of each ammunition.
The 22 Short (left), the 22 LR (right).
CCI CB Short 579 feet per second
CCI High Velocity 768 feet per second
These numbers are quite low by modern standards, especially with those CB Shorts. It is interesting to note that the HV ammunition has similar velocities to some 22 LR loadings; however the 22 LR utilizes a heavier bullet which would in theory help with penetration, vital when dealing with relatively low powered cartridges. So how does the Short stand up?
The test setup is my calibrated batch of Clear Ballistics 10 % synthetic ballistic gelatin–a pair of nine-inch long blocks. The front face of the first black is layered with four layers of denim fabric to replicate clothing, part of the FBI’s protocol.
My first shot, using a CCI CB Short, skimmed out with the round landing far to the left. A follow up shot hit the block squarely. The lead bullet tumbled with the base facing forward, penetrating only four inches.
Two follow-up shots were fired into the block with the CCI High Velocity loads, hopeful the extra velocity would equal more penetration. This is true, but not by much. The bullets tumbled, landing base forward at 6.5 inches and 6.75 inches respectively. Penetration was straight but the wound tracks were very light with no upsetting in the “tissue”. In this particular narrow test, the 22 Short falls well below the 12-18 inch standard set by the FBI when they started testing ballistics seriously to determine effectiveness in such things as ballistics gel, clothing, obstacles, ect.
The 22 Short has seen its day end as a self-defense cartridge. You are more likely to use 22 Short ammunition as a quiet pest control round out of a rifle than use the round for self-defense out of a pistol. Despite not being chambered in many pistols today, there are many older handguns chambered for it and floating around at reasonable prices. Even though some 22 Short handguns will have longer barrels affording better ballistics, it wouldn’t be enough to make up for such poor performance. But poor doesn’t mean useless. Seven inches of straight penetration is better than what can be accomplished with your usual knife and it can be done in safety beyond grappling distance. A center of mass shot is dicey with much bone for the little, light round to conquer. The right part of the target has to be “targeted”.
I would encourage no one to buy a 22 Short handgun or rely on a piece of inheritance for your defensive plan, but if a 22 Short is what you have, don’t despair. Though the 22 Short and the pistols that fire it are known for being easy to carry, you can get more powerful handguns in small packages. Even the 22 LR outperforms it. But as I carted off my supplies at the end of the test, I was convinced that the round is still valuable. The 22 Short comes from an era where getting the jump on an opponent was more important than on paper ballistics. These guns are not gunfight winners. These are the types of guns that can turn the tide at a moment’s notice and if the presence of a gun is not enough, solid repeated hits on target will give you a chance to escape the situation.