It’s sort of funny how the humble 22 Long Rifle is BY FAR the most popular cartridge globally and has been for over a century. It is the oldest cartridge design still in widespread use, and it is the only heeled-bullet design still in widespread use.
There are of course many reasons for this. One is certainly that it is the least expensive firearm cartridge. Another is that it is popular and effective in BOTH handguns and rifles, which is very rare. And another is that it has about the perfect balance of power and economy for target shooting, plinking, and small pest control. Yes, there are faster rimfire cartridges and there have been for over a half-century. Yet they never surpass the 22 Long Rifle in popularity. One of the reasons for this is that 22 LR velocities are about the limit for a lead bullet with plain lubricant. More velocity and pressure and the lead deforms and barrel fowling becomes a problem. Then go on the copper jackets to solve those problems and the price doubles. Yet 22 LR isn’t an airgun. It speaks with authority within its domain of under 50 yards. It dispatches rabbits, squirrels, and pigeons with ease. It can even take out larger pests reliably with good shot placement. This year I’ve dispatched two skunks (one of which killed 5 of our pullets) that weighed about 7 pounds each. Both stopped nearly instantly by a humble 40 grain round nosed lead injection from my Marlin 39.
My wife shot a skunk in the abdomen with a 223 last year, rupturing its scent glands and stunk up the whole place for weeks. The two skunks I’ve shot with a 22LR died just as quickly, yet no massive eruption of stink. They were so bearable I just picked them up by their tails and put them in the garbage.
There are some other side-benefits to 22LR. One is that it is not terribly loud. In fact, out of longer barrels (my Marlin has a 24″ barrel) standard velocity 22LR is just sub sonic, and so it makes no loud crack. This is particularly important with squirrel hunting. Sure, you can get your first squirrel with a 17 HMR or 22 WMR but you wont get a second. One crack and they are gone for an hour at least. With a subsonic 22LR, I’ve dropped as squirrel in a tree without the other squirrel in the same tree knowing it. You can also dispatch night time skunks assailing chickens at 2AM without waking up the whole place. You can sleep right through a 22LR being shot, not so much with a 223 or even a 22WMR going off.
Another side benefit to 22 is that it is both a rimfire and blunt nosed. This means that it is just fine in a tube-magazine. And it also means that the bullets don’t get all mashed up bumping into each other length wise. Long tube mags can hold a day’s worth of ammo. My Marlin holds 19 rounds. No need to carry extra ammo in magazines that get dropped in the dirt/creek/snow.
And high quality 22LR ammo made for target shooting or competetion can be extremely accurate. Without doubt my most accurate rifle is my long and heavy barreled Kimber 82, which is a rifle built purely for accurate shooting of 22LR. It weighs 12 pounds, and loads one-at-a-time. But interestedly the same ammo shoots almost as well out of my little repeating Marlin, which has been doing 100% of the farm protecting around here lately.