.22 Long Rifle – The Best Survival Ammunition?

Is the .22 Long Rifle truly the best survival cartridge out there? Well, many survival enthusiasts and preppers would certainly say so, and for good reason. But there are some major concerns in selecting the .22 as an ultimate-survival tool, which I’d like to discuss today. So based on a sound assessment, let me answer this: is the .22LR really the best survival cartridge out there, or should you consider an alternative?

The .22 Long Rifle is often considered to be the ultimate survival cartridge, especially when paired with a renowned and reliable rifle, of which there are many. Advantages of this legendary caliber include affordability, ease of use, light weight, and availability of ammunition. But stopping power is a major drawback, and rapid takedown of large animal or human predators will require an expert shot. For this reason, I would consider the .22LR to be a suitable choice only when violent threats are unlikely. When preparing for total anarchy, a more effective cartridge should be considered, such as the AR-15’s .223 Remington.

This is not to say that the .22LR wouldn’t meet the needs of many survival enthusiasts out there, in fact there are numerous survival scenarios that would see the caliber exceed. But your decision must depend on the type of disaster that you are preparing for, and how vital stopping power is to your state of readiness.

The Ruger 10/22 is an outstanding semi-automatic rifle chambered in .22LR, and is offered in many variations.

22 Long Rifle – Stopping Power & Terminal Performance

Since many individuals are preparing for defence against civil unrest and other violent threats, stopping power indisputably comes into question. If you are to defend yourself against a host of intrusive threats – be it by human or animal – you will need a firearm that can do the job. So is the .22LR capable of effectively defending your tribe when needed?

Cartridge Comparison – the .22LR compared against common survival cartridges. The .223 Remington has been used as the primary cartridge for comparative purposes. Note: these figures are only approximate.

Unfortunately we can see by comparing these common cartridges, that the .22LR clearly lacks the stopping power needed to effectively incapacitate – producing only 150ft-lbs of muzzle energy. This is not sufficient in a self-defence role, and will result in poor terminal performance. But who’s to say that 150ft-lbs of stopping power isn’t enough?

Well, the 9x19mm Parabellum is often considered to deliver the minimum amount of stopping power required for adequate self defence. In fact, many users prefer a caliber with even greater knockdown power, especially when planning to defend against multiple assailants. While the above figures are only approximate, we can see that the .22LR is around 60% less effective than the 9mm, and 88% less effective than the .223 Remington. And although the .22 and .223 are of the same diameter, the 223’s extra weight and superior size awards an enormous advantage in stopping power.

  • Stopping Power – this is the ability of a firearm to cause a target to be incapacitated or immobilised
  • Terminal Performance – otherwise known as terminal ballistics, this is the behaviour and effects of a projectile when it hits and transfers its energy to a target

Now I am fully aware that many will disagree with my argument, possibly providing reference to historic events whereby the .22LR has successfully incapacitated a target with only a single shot. But while the caliber is capable of producing instant incapacitation towards a human threat, this will rely heavily on either luck, or a high level of skill in very precise shot placement. The bottom line is that the .22LR’s projectile does not carry enough speed and energy to provide peace of mind in defending yourself against all odds.

I’ve had two uncles shot with the 22LR and both lived,  one in the temple – he lost his eye, the other nearly in the heart – he was fine. Both were shot at a distance of less than 10 feet.

Spotter Up – The Myth of the 22lr Survival Rifle Cartridge

If you do decide to go with a .22LR for your ultimate survival cartridge, then you should make sure that you are familiar with shot placement and how to cause incapacitation to your target as fast as possible. The following article will bring you up to scratch: The Importance of Shot Placement in Self Defence

The .22’s Cost, Affordability & Availability

One of the .22’s most attractive features is its cost. A modern sporting rifle chambered in .22LR is around 40% cheaper than its centerfire counterpart. But while this is a benefit, it is also a one-off cost and certainly wouldn’t persuade a new buyer. Ammunition affordability is where the .22 really shines, with bulk ammo often costing as little as $0.08 per round; only a fraction of the cost when compared to AR-15 and Ak-47 ammo.

By why is low cost such a perk? Well aside from saving you money – the obvious reason – I see two other major advantages.

  • First off, a lower cost allows you to meet your desired round allocation or total ammunition stores at a faster rate. For example, if you intend on storing 10 000 rounds of ammo in a lockable safe – let’s say for an evacuation emergency with the possibility of civil unrest – an $800 budget is far easier to achieve than the .223 Remington’s cost of $5500.
  • And secondly, at around $0.08 per round, the .22LR will allow most gun owners the opportunity to expend many more rounds when compared to other calibers. This allows for more live fire training and progressive development in weapons handling ability.

This is a major advantage, but if you decide against the .22LR, do not be disheartened. Simply save up over time to meet your ammo goals, and substitute additional live fire training with dry fire training. We’ve written an excellent article on dry fire training which will help get you started. Click here to read it.

When it comes to ammo access – just like the 9mm and .223 Remington – there is no major concern over shortages. The .22LR is one of the most commonly used cartridges worldwide, and foraging during survival will most likely see success. However, since the cartridge is not adopted by law enforcement agencies, private security contractors or military forces, it may be harder to find when compared to 9mm and .223 Remington (or 5.56mm NATO).

The Rimfire’s Reliability & Ease of Use

Is it no secret that rimfire ammunition is less reliable than centerfire ammo, and feeding/ignition issues are a fairly common occurrence. This is another reason why the .22 isn’t dependable enough to trust your life with. If you decide to use a semi-automatic rimfire rifle for self-defence, then you should be well-practiced in how to quickly clear ammunition malfunctions.

Out of a big bulk pack of .22 ammo, it’s not unusual to end up with a handful of rounds that just won’t go “bang”

To get more reliable feeding and ignition from a semi-automatic .22, you should use higher quality ammunition. Higher quality ammo costs more of course, and is often stored in plastic ammo trays rather than cheap cardboard boxes. If you own a semi-auto rimfire rifle, you’ll notice how fussy they can be with ammo, often jamming when fired too quickly. In this case, it is highly recommended to experiment with different ammo brands to find what your rifle likes best. Do this before buying in bulk, trust me.

One of the best things you can do to keep your .22 running smoothly is to clean it often and keep it lubricated. This is because rimfire ammo runs dirty. Unburned gunpowder and lead residue will foul your rifle, while sticky wax bullet coatings only add to the aforementioned problem.


When it comes to recoil though, the .22 is extremely light and so much fun to shoot. Felt recoil is of no concern whatsoever, making the .22LR accurate and easy to operate by all individuals; both young and old.

The .22LR for Hunting

If it is a meal you’re in need of, there’s really no cause to look further than a .22LR. The caliber may not be a hard-hitting man stopper, but the lower pressure loads of rimfire cartridges are extremely popular when hunting small-game and varmint.

Squirrels, rabbits, duck and coyote are common food sources that are very successfully hunted with the .22LR. Larger animals such as wild pigs and whitetail deer can be taken cleanly with a .22, but only when combined with proper shot placement. So if food is your greatest concern, then the .22LR may be a serious contender.

If you shoot a rabbit or a squirrel with a .22, you are able to eat your meal and move on, with plenty of ammunition remaining. When comparing .22LR with .223 Remington, we found that we were able to store over 300% more ammunition in our .22 carry configuration.

And finally, returning to the Armageddon scenario, the softer-sounding .22LR won’t attract unwanted attention over great distances, thereby eliminating or decreasing the chances of unfriendly examination of the sound.


All things considered, I have a ton of respect and admiration for the .22 Long Rifle. If you’re looking at the 22cal as a survival rifle, you need ask yourself only one question: do you require a rifle that is capable of defending you and your loved ones against anything more than a single assailant. If your answer is no, then the .22 may be perfect for you. If you answered yes, then scrap the idea and consider something larger.

My perfect survival caliber is the .223 Remington (5.56mm NATO), but my wife and kids have all trained with my .22LR, and it would securely accompany us with an abundance of ammo if we were to abandon our home. So why not prepare to carry both; a .22LR and a hard-hitting man stopper? That would be my decision.

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One thought on “.22 Long Rifle – The Best Survival Ammunition?

  1. Very interesting article. I would use 22 lr for hunting small game and 223 or 5.56 for whitetail and 2 legged predators in a survival situation if I had no other choice. Thanks for article

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