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Searching for a Replacement Small Pest Control Rifle: Part One

By Mark Wheeler

This is a series of three opinion pieces supported by facts about filling the vacuum left by the loss of semi-automatic centrefires for hunting and pest destruction.


In the first part we concentrate on the ammunition, the second part focuses on the rifles, and the third article which developed incidentally will look at the terminal performance of the .22 Magnum. First a brief outline, then an in depth look at the ammunition.



Well for pest control in a target rich environment they are unbeatable. You can transition between targets quickly without losing the sight picture or cheek weld, you can rapidly follow up on misses when your shooting position is less than ideal. The larger magazine capacity also helps in this instance.


If fitted, pistol grips also provide slightly better ergonomics across a range of firing positions and the semi-automatic action also partly mitigates recoil aiding in rapid target transition.


They are ambidextrous and easily customisable, plus they’re fun to shoot. In certain circumstances it is still possible to obtain a semi-auto centrefire for pest control, but the criteria you have to meet and conditions surrounding its use mean that most people will either be deemed ineligible or not bother to apply.


“We looked at the most commonly available rifles as well as looking at the strengths and weaknesses of the ammunition they consume.”


Therefore, for the bulk of people looking for something a little more punchier than the .22LR the .22 Magnum seems to be a logical place to look. But is it any good and what are its limitations?


Some of this is may be a bit controversial, but the opinions and facts presented here have been gathered over several months from multiple users and many hundreds of rounds.


The dictionary definitions of pest and pest control are:

Pest: A member of the animal or insect kingdom that impacts adversely on human activities.

Pest control: is the regulation or management of a species identified as a pest. It’s a pretty broad definition but we will be looking at small to medium sized vertebrate pests, rabbits, hares, wallaby, and goats.


Requirements for a pest control rifle: Fires a cartridge of adequate power, is ruggedly built, not excessively heavy, handles well, is accurate, reliable, easy to maintain and capable of rapid follow-up shots without losing the sight picture.



We looked at the most commonly available rifles as well as looking at the strengths and weaknesses of the ammunition they consume.


Three .22 Magnum semi-automatics, courtesy of Ken Rountree and 55SIX were trialled side by side using the above criteria - the CZ American 512, an Excel Accelerator and a Rossi 7122M.


These rifles were chosen as I believe they are representative of all the styles of .22 Magnum semi-automatics currently available in New Zealand.


As benchmarks we included two rifles: A Sako Quad (below) - the bolt action Quad is considered one of the most accurate .22 Magnum rifles available. Its purpose was to give us baseline velocity and accuracy data for the brands of ammunition we tested.



A Heckler & Koch 300 - although over 30 years old this is an example of what at the time was considered the gold standard of .22 Magnum semi-autos and possibly still is.


Although no longer in production it is included to see if any innovations or improvements have occurred in .22 Magnum semi-autos the past 30 or so years.


The 30-year old H&K is still considered to be one of the finest .22 Magnum semi-autos ever produced.


After any shooting-in period the testing would consist of:

  • Chronographing of all ammunition both in the Sako and the three semis to see if A) they do what the box claims and B) to see what if any difference in velocity occurs due to the semi-auto action.
  • Grouping trials with all the ammunition after zeroing.
  • Groups would be shot at 50 yards along with drop charts if required to verify assumptions for determining PB zero range.
  • Comparison of the rifles using a standard set of criteria, including a panel review by a number of shooters with different levels of experience.
  • Practical field shooting including spotlighting and terminal performance results from field dissections.
  • A final summary.


A round count for each rifle was kept and as well as a record of stoppages.



To be an effective small pest control round it needs to:

  • Have adequate power for the task
  • Have a reduced ricochet potential in built up areas
  • Be cost efficient (223 being a good benchmark)
  • Be sufficiently accurate
  • Have an effective Point-Blank Range of around 125 yards on the smallest target species


The .223 Remington is pretty much the answer to all those things. Even if it is over-powered for rabbits it gives you extended range and could easily take bigger species like deer if they presented an opportunity.


If you take the .223 out of the equation clearly the .22 Magnum and the availability of semi-auto rifles chambered for it should make it a popular choice for those targeting the smaller pests, as it’s quite a step up from the .22LR.


As far as adequate power goes the .22 Magnum has one third the energy of the .223 but roughly two and a half times the energy of the .22LR, so it fills the middle ground nicely.


If you wonder why the .17HMR is not being considered, in our opinion there is yet to be a thoroughly reliable .17HMR semi-auto produced and its use on anything larger than a hare is questionable.

--- Article continues below ---


Nosie: The .22 Magnum round is noisy, especially the V-Max even in open country. Without a suppressor hearing protection is required so suppression is desirable.


Using subsonic .22 Magnum ammunition would solve the issue, but you get the same ballistics as a .22LR subsonic so you would be better off using that, also no semi-auto .22 Magnum reliably cycles subsonic ammunition.


Ricochet: The .22 Magnum bullet is likely to fragment more readily than a standard .22 although segmented rounds are available in long rifle and may be a better option in lifestyle zones or near buildings


While there is a reasonable variety of .22 Magnum ammunition made, it comes from only a few manufacturers, who as well as making their own also manufacture for others. This limits competition and may affect prices.


We managed to obtain the following makes and concentrated on these. Also included was a box of subsonic just to see if any rifle cycled with it.


Mark used a variety of currently available .22 Magnum ammo to perform the review.


Not all brands are available everywhere. In our area (Tararua/Wairarapa) there are five ammunition retailers, none stocked every make in the table below at the time of this review. We found price variations between brands and bullet weights from $17.50 to $39.95 per box of 50.


The table shows the range of prices we encountered for .22 Magnum ammunition. Purchasing in brick lots (250 rounds) may reduce the price.


It is interesting to note that at least two brands in the table below from the same factory in the same bullet weight retail for significantly different prices.


Ammo Pricing
Ammo Type Price range per 50 Notes
30gr Hornady V-MAX $25 - $28 Widely available
30gr Winchester Varmint HV $25 - $29 No stockists - ammo kindly supplied by Kilwell
30gr CCI V-Max Varmint $32.95 - $36.95 Only one stockist
40gr Winchester $21.00 - $24.99 Widely available
40gr CCI Maxi-Mag $39.95 Only one stockist
40gr Fiocchi $20.00 Only one stockist
45gr Hornady Critical Defence $30 - $34.99 Widely available
.223 55gr frangible* $19.50 In 1000 round bulk lots ex Belmont
.223 55gr Soft Point $34 In 1000 round bulk lots ex Belmont


All prices inc GST. We included the price of .223 frangible (39c per round) as a benchmark, as it is intended for use on the same range of pests as the .22 Magnum (and it's something it does outstandingly well).


The standard soft point (69c) is included just for reference. Depending on your situation and ammunition choice .22 Magnum will cost you between 39c and 80c per shot which is the same as .223, so it is not a cheaper alternative for high volume shooting of small to medium pests.



The .22 Magnum fits a particular niche for pest control, as the rifles are mostly lighter than centrefires, the sound signature can be moderated easily and its effective PBR range is approximately twice that of the .22LR and just under half that of the 223.



We fired five rounds of each brand and weight from each rifle and recorded velocities using a Competitive Edge Dynamics M2 chronometer from a distance of five yards.


The small sample size was chosen as we only had a limited supply of CCI ammunition available and wished to conserve it for accuracy testing.


However, we still found consistent variations in velocity between three rifles with the CZ recording velocities 4% higher than the Excel and 6% higher than the Rossi across all ammunition types.


It was however about 10% slower that the Sako. Some velocity difference between the semi-automatics and the bolt action was expected but a difference between the semi-autos was not.


Kelvin gets in behind the Excel.


Barrel length does not account for this as the “fastest” and “slowest” semis have the same barrel length, but we think we have the answer. When cleaned after 200 rounds virtually no unburnt powder was found in the CZ or Excel compared to the Rossi.


We believe this shows their recoil systems are better balanced, allowing more propellent to burn before opening.To avoid confusion, we chose to only use the CZ results in the table.


Measured Velocities     
Ammunition Packet claim fps CZ Average fps Sako Average fps Speed difference bolt vs semi CZ speed as a % vs Sako
Winchester 30gr 2250 1943 2153 Plus 210 fps 90%
CCI V-Max 30gr 2200 2150 2290 Plus 140 fps 94%
Hornady V-Max 30gr 2200 2163 2326 Plus 163 fps 93%
Winchester 40gr 1910 1677 1900 Plus 223 fps 88%
Fiocchi 40gr 1910 1800 1990 Plus 190 fps 90%
CCI Maxi-Mag 40gr 1875 1807 2045 Plus 238 fps 88%
Hornady Critical Defence 45gr 1700 1685 1818 Plus 133 fps 93%


For the statistics nuts these are the standard deviations for the 5-round strings from the CZ.


Ammunition Standard deviation
Winchester 30 30.6
CCI V-Max 30 10
Hornady V-Max 30 8
Winchester 40 14
Fiocchi 40 24
CCI Maxi Mag 40 21
Hornady Critical Defence 45 24


Standard deviation (SD) is a measure of how close to the average each shot is, the smaller the number the more consistent the ammunition.


For the Hornady V-Max 70% of all shots will be within 8 fps (1 standard deviation) of the average velocity we measured. A sample size of 5 is not ideal so these results should be seen only as a guide.



Two 5-round groups were shot at 50 yards with all makes of ammunition and the group sizes averaged. Measurements are in millimetre and inner to inner.

--- Article continues below ---


  Sako CZ American Excel Rossi H&K
Winchester 30gr 15mm 32mm 38mm 20mm 25mm
Hornady 30gr 7mm 15mm 20mm 12mm 20mm
CCI 30gr 18mm 22mm 10mm 12mm 23mm
Winchester 40gr 15mm 15mm 20mm 12mm 25mm
Fiocchi 40gr 10mm 15mm 35mm 15mm 22mm
CCI 40gr 12mm 20mm 25mm 15mm 20mm
Hornady 45gr 20mm 25mm 27mm 32mm NA


The .22 Magnum always had a reputation for mediocre accuracy certainly when compared to the 17HMR. Improvements in bullet design over the last 15 years mostly lead by Hornady have obviously substantially improved this.


Interestingly the Rossi which previously shot poorly with the Winchester 40 grain now shoots it exceptionally well, and overall, its group sizes were the smallest.


A calm sunny morning, ideal for the accuracy testing.


It has the highest round count (600+) while the CZ was on 175 and Excel 205 at this point in the exercise. I am reliably informed that Rossi' shoot best when fouled.


Any group size under 25mm at 50 metres (1" at 50 yards ) would be considered fit for purpose. Regarding reliability we had just three out of 350 rounds from all makes fail to fire with a good firing pin strike evident on the rims.


In all cases the round was rotated, reloaded and one fired on the second strike - all were Hornady V-Max. By way of explanation we have shot much more Hornady V-Max, Fiocchi, and Winchester 40gr than the other brands due to their availability.


“Any group size under 25 mm at 50 metres (1 inch at 50 yards ) would be considered fit for purpose. Regarding reliability we had just three out of 350 rounds from all makes fail to fire with a good firing pin strike evident on the rims.”



You can influence this by choice of zero range and or by altering the sight height above the bore but ultimately your goal is to find the maximum distance from a target you can be while having all your shots land in a rabbit-sized 4" circle without the need for sight adjustment.


With the differences in speed between a bolt action and recoil operated semi there are differences in energy and trajectory that should be considered.


Terminal energy is a consideration especially if you are contemplating tackling anything larger than a hare, but shot placement is equally important.


The muzzle energy for the respective ammunition in both the CZ and Sako.


Ammunition CZ Average fps Muzzle energy in Ft lbs Sako Average fps Muzzle energy in Ft lbs Difference
Winchester 30 1943 252 2153 309 +57 ft lbs
CCI V-Max 30 2150 309 2290 349 +40 ft lbs
Hornady V-Max 30 2163 312 2326 360 +48 ft lbs
Winchester 40 1677 250 1900 321 +71 ft lbs
Fiocchi 40 1910 324 1990 352 +25 ft lbs
CCI Maxi Mag 40 1875 312 2045 372 +60 ft lbs
Hornady Critical Defence 45 1700 289 1818 330 +41 ft lbs


So the bolt action gives you around 15% extra muzzle energy due to the extra speed - that’s not insignificant, especially as the different velocities also mean different trajectories.


We shot two drop charts using the Sako and CZ with the popular Hornady 30 grain V-Max out to 150 yards to see what the differences were.


Chart showing the bullet drop.


So, there is no significant difference in trajectory worth worrying about till you get to around 100 to 125 yards where they begin to noticeably separate.


If your target was a rabbit or hare you stand a good chance of missing with either rifle. With the CZ we tried a 25 yard zero to see if it would be a better option.


It reduced the drop at 125 yards by an inch and a half, but at 150 yards it was still 6 inches low so 125 yards looks to be about the limit for point and shoot.


Range yards CZ Sako
75 minus 1/2" 0
100 minus 1-1/4" minus 7/8"
125 minus 4-1/4" minus 3-1/4"
150 minus 7-1/2" minus 6-1/4"


At 25 yards the 40 grain Fiocchis still shoot to the same point of impact, so a quick two targets were shot at 100 yards, one with the Hornady and one with the Fiocchi to see what the difference would be.


The photo shows the two targets superimposed, the Hornady rounds are in the red, the Fiocchi (black circle) is the “string” below, the squares are one inch. The heavier ammunition shoots around 2lower. We would suggest finding a brand of ammunition your rifle likes and sticking with it.


Target showing the bullet drop variation between 30gr and 40gr ammunition.


Changing between bullet weights will require a change in zero. Depending on ammunition and zero range the .22 Magnum can be expected to perform reliably to around 125 yards in good conditions depending on ammunition.


From our experience with these rifles 25 yards appears to be the optimal zero for a maximum PBR of 125 yards.


In Part Two we will take an in depth look at each rifle individually, do a side by side comparison and some real world shooting with them, and summarise our overall impressions.




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