In recent years, the cost of ammunition has gone up considerably. I remember back in the day when you could buy 9mm ammo in a box of 50 for less than 8 bucks. Sometimes you still can, but the average prices I see around here are between $13 and $16 respectively; that's for plinking ammo. Forget about self defense (SD) ammunition. That stuff typically costs at least a buck a round. We've all known for years that buying SD ammo for practice isn't cost effective at all. True, while it is good to practice with it occasionally to rotate your stock, ensure functionality in your weapon, and verify accuracy, it isn't a wise idea to shoot it all the time. The return on investment doesn't justify the expense. For a lot less money, you can shoot practice ammo, IE: full metal jack (FMJ) ammo through paper instead of high cost hollow point SD ammo. Okay, we get that. However, it's getting to the point where shooting FMJ practice rounds through paper is getting ridiculously expensive.
Now, will you ever hear me say that shooting the caliber you carry is a bad idea? Never. It is always good to shoot with your caliber of choice because it is the most accurate way of practicing that you can do. However, you do not always have to shoot your center-fire ammo of choice in order to work on the fundamentals of shooting: grip, stance, trigger control, sight alignment, etc. For those things, you can shoot something a lot cheaper, and a lot smaller. Yep, you know it! 22 long rifle!
I think every household should have a 22LR chambered rifle and pistol. Why? Well, for starters, the ammo is dirt cheap. I can buy a 500 round box of 22LR for $19-$20, where I might pay $19 (or more) for 50 rounds of practice 45 ACP ammunition. As an example of this value, I have put about 1000 rounds through my Ruger 22/45, in just two trips. If I was paying the current rate (as of Mar 31, 2012) for decent brass cased 115gr 9mm FMJ, I would have paid $300 to shoot the same number of rounds. I only paid about $40 to shoot that many 22LR rounds out of a $300 gun. In another 1000 rounds, this gun will completely pay for itself and start paying me back in 9mm savings over the long haul. As it stands right now, I've about broken even with it. The same can be said about a rifle. You can shoot a long time with a 22LR carbine for a lot less money than shooting center-fire ammo through a more expensive weapon.
Let's talk about another part of this value equation: training. You may have read a recent blog entry of mine where I spoke to the importance of training your wife and kids. I'm a firm believer in teaching kids to shoot at a young age. The problem, however, is what to teach them with. You don't just hand a small child a .308 rifle and tell him to have at it, no. You buy a 22LR chambered carbine with a short length of pull (LOP) that fits them, and you train them with that instead. LOP is the measurable distance from the trigger to the end of the buttstock. Starting a child out on a single shot, bolt action 22 is the best way to go. When they get older and more familiar with guns, and gun handling, then going up to a repeating gun, or a semi-automatic is reasonable. However, I'm not going to get involved in that conversation. It is a topic for another day, perhaps when my son is old enough to shoot his own gun.
What makes a 22 special for training is the fact that the recoil is almost non-existent. Watch this video and you will see what I'm talking about. Oh yeah, this is my brother and me shooting a bolt action Marlin at a steel plate.
If you watched the video, you can see a couple of things. First off, the weapon itself is full size. It's actually quite heavy for a 22 with the scope. This is ideal for training adults. The feel of the gun is substantial, despite the diminutive size of the cartridge.
The other thing is, did you see the recoil? No? Well, it's there; there just isn't much of it. Without a heavy recoil, even a 5 year old could shoot this gun. I know from experience. Dad taught me on an old Marlin Model 60 that he bought when I was just a baby. It is still in our safe at home. When my wife was just starting out, she would only shoot small caliber rimfire guns because she was afraid of the bigger boys, and with good reason. Bigger guns have a hell of a blast. If you are standing next to a person shooting an AR15, it feels like it is launching a freight train out of the barrel. Being behind the trigger isn't so bad, but by standing off to the side, the shock wave it puts off, as the bullet, exits the barrel is intense. This led my wife to believe, for a year or so, that the AR15 had massive recoil, and it wasn't until one of our friends, a man of similar height to Lindsay, showed her that it wasn't as bad as she thought it was. Of course, she doesn't believe me because I once told her a 410 shotgun doesn't have much recoil. Well, to be completely honest, the 410 is a powder puff compared to a 12 gauge. But to a 5 ft tall woman, it is considerable. You big guys need to take that into consideration before you have your petite wife shoot your 500 S&W revolver. Getting back to the point, the 22 has almost no recoil. The recoil impulse you do receive is nothing more than a gentle nudge on your shoulder. This makes even the most timid shooters comfortable enough to shoot the weapon. One thing I demonstrate to show how little recoil the gun does have is to take my Ruger 10/22, and instead of putting the buttstock to my shoulder, I rest it on my sternum. Then I fire a couple rounds down range. This usually convinces them that the 22 has almost no recoil. The 22 definitely allows you to face your firearm fears without worry of being blown on your ass or having your shoulder dislocated.
What other thing did you take from the video above? How about muzzle flash? Muzzle flash is the unburnt powder exiting the barrel after the bullet. Every gun has muzzle flash. It's the nature of the beast. Some larger guns, and weapons with more powder charge, employ a flash suppressor to keep the visual signature down. This is especially important at night because a big blast from the end of a gun barrel will temporarily blind you, making your target disappear completely. In a time is life situation, that could be the end of you. However, for the purposes of training, new shooters tend to be less comfortable around guns with bigger flash signatures than experienced shooters do. Heck, I'll admit that I've shot some pistols where the flash surprised the heck out of me. The beauty about a 22 is the fact that there is almost no perceivable flash by the shooter themselves. Oh sure, if you shoot at night, you might see something, but I've never seen the flash from any of my 22 rifles in broad daylight, and I've been shooting for about 26 years.
A lot of this comes down to trigger control. Now, there are many schools of thought on trigger control, but generally, we are looking for a straight back press of the trigger. We are not "pulling" the trigger. We are pressing it. We only press with enough force to overcome the spring tension in the hammer to release the sear, causing the shot to break. As the shot breaks, we continue to hold the trigger in the rearward position. This is called followup. Once the shot breaks, we then release the trigger only enough to reset and then press it to the rear again. Up until a few years ago, I used to let my finger jump off the trigger when shooting pistols. It was, admittedly, a bad habit that I had to overcome, and ever since I did, my trigger control and shot placement have improved greatly. With a 22 having such a low recoil impulse, it is easier to work on this trigger control, finger placement, followup, and reset because the platform itself doesn't move nearly as much as a larger caliber weapon, be it a handgun or a rifle. I could go on and on about trigger control, but you really ought to learn it in a different medium rather than read about it. I'm just saying.
Sight alignment is also critical to shooting, but not as critical as trigger control. However, for the purposes of training, you need good sight alignment to shoot. With a 22 caliber pistol or rifle, the ability to get back on target is faster than with big bore guns, so your ability to place accurate followup shots. How you sight in your weapon is up to you and your system, so I'm not going to harp on it any longer.
Another benefit actually comes from a detractor for shooting 22LR; reliability. True, there are some grades of 22LR ammunition that are better than others, but in general, 22LR shoots dirty and can be failure prone in some weapons. So, how is that a benefit? The benefit is derived from the fact that you need to clear your weapon malfunctions. Believe it or not, malfunctions occur with more expensive guns running more expensive ammo, and it could just be my luck that when I need the weapon to save my life, it will malfunction. Once the malfunction occurs, what do you do? The only way to overcome a real malfunction is to experience one. I can simulate malfunctions on many of my guns, so I can also train in a controlled environment, but what better way to learn to overcome and adapt than when it you're doing it live and unexpectedly? Talk about a glass half full approach to weapon failures.