Friday, May 27, 2011

Small Stuff

For anyone who needs to carry a firearm, concealed or otherwise, under active and rigorous conditions there will always be trade-offs between the weight and bulk of the weapon and its ammunition with the power and lethality of the package. At the extremes I cannot always have a shotgun at hand while a pocket .22LR seems sometimes inadequate. I love the free market. Ammunition manufacturers are responding to the current American trend of smaller firearms for concealed carry and self-protection.

Speer/CCI has introduced its Gold Dot Short Barrel™ ammunition. Hornady is another leading manufacturer producing Critical Defense™ ammunition for smaller caliber weapons of minimal barrel length. These rounds are being produced in a number of calibers, but the one that fascinates me is the .22WMR.

In the past, conventional wisdom held that the .22WMR from a handgun was no more powerful than the .22LR from a handgun. Certainly the little magnum has always performed better from longer barrels. My own testing, however, not so much in terms of velocity but penetration, indicates that .22WMR from my Single Six with its 6 ½ inch barrel is roughly equivalent, if not slightly superior, to the best .22LR rounds from a rifle. Velocity information seems to confirm this.

If I were forced to defend myself with a .22LR rifle, I would choose a Ruger 10/22, and I would load it with CCI Velocitors. The muzzle velocity of this 40-grain round from a rifle is officially 1435 fps. Winchester Super X .22 magnum rounds from a tight 6 ½ inch Single Six will probably also run between 1400 and 1500 fps. While this is not as good as 4 inch .357 with 125 grain HP’s, it’s not exactly a handful of daisies.

But even the slim, light Single Six gets in the way on occasion. In fact, my regular defensive handgun, a .40 S&W, is no more cumbersome when I’m out in the field and only slightly heavier. It would be nice to have something still smaller that could take advantage of the .22WMR ballistic advantage. Unfortunately, when barrel lengths start dropping below six inches, velocity drops dramatically as well. The .22 magnum is also notorious for muzzle blast from a shorter barrel. And, finally, .22WMR bullets are constructed for best results at higher velocities. The Velocitors from a rifle might be a better choice than the magnum-loaded revolver despite the ballistic similarity just because the projectile is working more within its designed velocity boundaries.

What if someone redesigned the now nearly venerable .22WMR for maximum performance out of a firearm with a mere two inch barrel? That would be quite a package. The recently introduced Kel-Tec PMC-30 has a four inch barrel and a 30-round capacity in .22WMR. North American Arms has long produced diminutive revolvers for the rimfire magnum. Double barrel derringers chambered for this round are also available. Smith & Wesson makes small double-action revolvers for it. Except for the Kel-Tec, these are weapons you can drop in your pants pocket around the house, while working on the farm, in the yard or garden.

Manufacturers like Hornady and Speer have, consequently, developed short-barrel friendly .22 magnum cartridges to address the perceived market demand. Both the rounds listed above have muzzle velocities from sub-two inch test barrel of around 1000 fps. Muzzle blast and flash are reduced. Additionally, the projectiles are built for maximum performance at lower velocities.

We are talking about a very compact firearm that can consistently deliver performance equivalent to subsonic rounds from a .22LR rifle, but loaded with a projectile that enhances penetration and terminal destruction. It is a significant move forward in ammunition technology. This is not to say that anyone would deliberately choose to face a life-and-death situation armed with a miniature .22 WMR revolver. Their appeal and utility rests in their size and convenience. They are not a burden to carry, so a person is more likely to have the weapon when it is needed.

Ammunition like Speer Gold Dot Short Barrel and Hornady Critical Defense makes getting the best possible performance out of a pocket pistol a little easier and a little more certain.

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