Concealed Carry & Home Defense

CCW Weekend: Carrying A .22 Long Rifle For Self-Defense

By Sam Hoober, Alien Gear Holsters

Most people think the .22LR is best reserved for plinking or shooting small game. You know, squirrel rifles or mouse guns.

Granted, there is the old saw that “a hit with a .22LR is better than a miss with a .44 Magnum” or “any gun is better than none,” both of which are true. It’s also true that the typical carry calibers -.380 through .45ACP – are the preferred calibers for good reason.

However, you’d be surprised at what a .22LR can actually do to an attacker.

Anyone wondering whether .22 packs enough punch to dispatch two-legged threats hasn’t heard of Bella Twin. Bella Twin, a Cree from Alberta, Canada, was small-game hunting one day near Slave Lake (about 350 miles north of Calgary) when she and her hunting partner were approached by a grizzly bear.

Twin was armed only with a single-shot .22 rifle and a handful of .22 Longs.

As the bear got closer (about 10 yards or so) Twin decided shooting would be safer than waiting the bear out, and dropped it with a single shot to the side of the head.

Even more impressive is that .22 Long – barely in production today – is a weaker round than LR, being upwards of 500 fps slower than Long Rifle despite using the exact same case. The .22LR was actually developed by placing the projectile from the (commercially extinct) .22 Extra Long in a .22 Long case.

Twin put the rest of her ammunition into the bear after it dropped to be sure, which turned out to be the world record grizzly for several years.

You might not believe it, but .22LR is actually effective as a self-defense round. An analysis on the Buckeye Firearms Association website used about a decade’s worth of data on shootings, including defensive shootings by civilians, police shootings, military reports, autopsies and news reports, compiling various data points of outcomes and grouping them by caliber. (Full disclosure – I discovered it on The Truth About Guns, in case anyone gets curious.)

It’s actually fascinating and well worth the read. The author, Greg Ellifritz, holds an MA in Public Policy and is a police and tactical firearms instructor in Ohio, so he’s hardly unqualified.

The author looked at more than 1800 total shootings. Of those involving a .22LR, there were 154 people shot, with 34 percent being fatal. The average number of hits until incapacitation was 1.38, and 31 percent of hits were one-shot stops. 60 percent of stoppages were accomplished by one hit to the head or torso.

By comparison, 456 people were shot with 9x19mm, with 24 percent being fatalities. Average number of hits until incapacitation was 2.45, and 34 percent of hits were one-shot stops, with 47 percent of stoppages being one-shot-stops to the head or torso.

However, there are some serious qualifiers that go along with Bella Twin’s grizzly (and other animals similarly taken) and Greg Ellifritz’s analysis of data on shootings.

First, Bella Twin had decades of experience (she was in her 60s when she bagged the bear) as a subsistence hunter and trapper. She knew EXACTLY where that shot had to be placed and placed it there. If she’d placed the shot poorly, she would probably have become lunch.

Second, Ellifritz also noted that 31 percent of people shot with .22LR weren’t incapacitated at all, compared to 13 percent with 9x19mm, which was on par with .40 S&W, .45 ACP; in fact, 9mm had an equal failure to stop rate as .44 Magnum. In other words, a .22 can work as well as any other round, but fails to do twice as often as the traditional defensive calibers. He also noted that since a lot of his data for 9mm is from military shootings and consequently involved ball ammo; he also lacked sufficient information to separate data by bullet type.

Another one of his findings is that 75 percent of all head shots were immediately incapacitating, as were 41 percent of all torso shots meaning that placement matters more than caliber, as always.

The larger calibers, therefore, are better at dealing out lethal damage when a hit fails to take the will out of an attacker, which is actually what puts a stop to most defensive encounters. When trauma needs to be done, in other words, a bigger bullet is necessary. That said, if .22LR is all you have it’s actually viable given accurate fire.

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Sam Hoober is Contributing Editor for AlienGearHolsters.com, a subsidiary of Hayden, ID, based Tedder Industries, where he writes about gun accessories, gun safety, open and concealed carry tips. Click here to visit aliengearholsters.com.