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Searching for a Replacement Small Pest Control Rifle: Part Three

By Mark Wheeler

People have always shot at goats with calibres often considered inappropriate, i.e., .22LR, I’ve done it myself on occasion and the mixed results made me decide not to in the future.

 

However, without qualm I’ve shot animals for years using cast bullets from .310 to .577/450 pushed along at between 900 and 1500fps and I know from experience that unless you hit bone you just get a leaky hole. It's what the bullet hits going through that determines how fast your quarry expires.

 

Nowadays hunting medium to large game with subsonic loads the likes of the .308 is becoming more popular. These rounds are usually loaded with either standard jacketed projectiles (sometimes loaded back to front) or cast lead bullets neither of which will necessarily expand on impact.

 

“It may seem a bit off topic talking about .308 subsonic in a discussion on the .22 Magnum but for me it's about getting a comparison with something I’m familiar with regarding energy and performance at the slower end of the spectrum.”

 

We've all heard that 1000 ft/lbs is the minimum bullet energy required to kill a deer but as most of us know that’s not quite correct. As always, it’s all about shot placement and the size of the hole produced. As they say, “Velocity is thrilling but diameter does the killing.

 

Most subsonic centrefire bullets will happily go through bone, organs, and skin to sail on out into the distance never to be recovered, so energy transfer is probably minimal.

 

I've trawled through my collection of recovered bullets and can only find three cast ones, two are 110gr .30 Cal flat-nosed and the other is a .303 180gr - all had struck bone, the 180 pretty hard by the look of it.

 

A subsonic 150gr .308 bullet doing around 900 to 950fps will successfully kill goats and bigger game as well, and their energy falls well short of the “magic 1000”.

 

Calculated bullet energy figures out to 150 yards for a subsonic .308 Win. and the 40gr .22 Magnum 
Distance yards Energy 150gr .308 Win. @ 900 FPS Muzzle Velocity Energy 150gr .308 Win. @ 950 FPS Muzzle Velocity Energy 40gr .22 Magnum @1900 FPS Muzzle Velocity
0 270 ft lbs 300 ft lbs 321 ft lbs
50 231 ft lbs 259 ft lbs 224 ft lbs
100 197 ft lbs 221 ft lbs 150 ft lbs
125 181 ft lbs 204 ft lbs 122 ft lbs
150 167 ft lbs 188 ft lbs 97 ft lbs

 

The .22 Magnum at 1900fps develops in the region of 320 ft/lbs, so on paper it has a slight edge energy-wise at the muzzle but at distance the .308 with its greater sectional density holds better.

 

The .22 Magnum compares reasonably well energy-wise with the subsonic .308 to around 80 yards and should be able to transfer more of that to the target assuming its bullet design allows it to expand in a controlled fashion - to achieve deep penetration.

 

So, on paper there’s good reason to think that out to 100 yards the .22 Mag's performance should be not too dissimilar to the larger subsonic rounds.

 

It may seem a bit off topic talking about .308 subsonic in a discussion on the .22 Magnum but for me it's about getting a comparison with something I’m familiar with regarding energy and performance at the slower end of the spectrum.

 

TERMINAL PERFORMANCE

After getting some goats under spotlight with the Rossi I took the time to autopsy them. Two were one shot kills, a neck shot, and a heart/lung shot, but one, the ginger nanny, required multiple rounds.

 

There was a gut shot (probably the first) a liver shot that would have been fatal - both these passed straight through without any evidence of expansion - then one through a horn and finally one in the back of the skull.

 

“We've all heard that 1000 ft/lbs is the minimum bullet energy required to kill a deer but as most of us know that’s not quite correct. As always, it’s all about shot placement and the size of the hole produced. As they say, “Velocity is thrilling but diameter does the killing.

 

The results made me believe that a more in-depth study of terminal potential was warranted. The following is not a scientific test simply a few rounds fired into carcasses to see what penetration and damage the different bullets caused. I also wanted to know how much expansion occurred if I could find any of the projectiles.

 

The two larger goats without damaged shoulders shot at night, were “re-deployed” the following morning to test the remaining Hornady Critical Defence ammunition to see if it was “more biffy” on shoulder shots than the Fiocchi 40gr. The range was 50 yards.

 

Hornady Critical Defence FTX 45gr (range 50 yards)

On side entry: Bullet passed high through the shoulder blade and entered the chest cavity.

 

Offside shoulder: One fragment sits by the exit hole into the shoulder there was organ damage in the cavity but little sign of expansion. The bullet exited and was not found. The shot would have been fatal.

 

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TOP LEFT: Critical Defence 45gr entry hole. BOTTOM LEFT: Critical Defence 45gr passing through shoulder blade. RIGHT: Exit hole.

 

Fiocchi 40gr (range 50 yards)

On side: the bullet passed through the thick part of the shoulder blade. The blade was shattered.

 

Offside chest exit: brisket removed to check organ damage; the shot would have been fatal.

 

The bullet, or what remained of it, ended under the skin on the offside and was recovered. After cleaning it weighed 12 grains and had expanded to 10mm or double its size.

 

TOP LEFT: Fiocchi 40gr passing through shoulder. BOTTOM LEFT: Fiocchi 40gr passing through chest. RIGHT: Exit hole.

 

Based on this limited test the Critical Defence ammunition seems to perform about the same as the Fiocchi. Apart from being more expensive it is slower and will probably require a separate zero from either the 40 or 30 grain loads, so it's not interchangeable. I can't see it doing anything that the standard 40gr CCI or Fiocchi style bullets can't do.

 

After this I continued shooting goats when the opportunity presented, getting 15 in total, mostly with single shots but some requiring follow-ups.

 

TOP LEFT: Aiming points. BOTTOM LEFT: Fiocchi 40gr entry wound. RIGHT: Fiocchi 40gr opposite side shoulder blade (See text below).

 

While kids and 2-tooths fall over easily larger old nannies and billies sometimes take a “bit more convincing” and 100 yards does truly seem to be the limit.

 

The image above, and the next group of photographs are of entry and exit wounds using two fallow deer carcasses that ended their careers as dogfood.

 

In no way does this imply that I consider the .22 Magnum to be a suitable deer cartridge, I was simply making use of a resource that was readily available.

 

LEFT & RIGHT: Fiocchi 40gr exit wounds. Both rounds passed completely through the carcass and through the bucket being used as a support, something I had to explain to the wife!

 

Only the 40gr Fiocchi and the 30gr Hornady V-Max were used but the results should be representative of all makes in a similar bullet weight and style. They were shot at 75 yards using the Rossi.

 

The red dots were aiming points. The carcasses did not contain the internal organs so no assessment of damage there could be made. Two rounds of each ammunition were fired at each shoulder one at each dot.

 

LEFT: 30gr Hornady V-Max inside the rib cavity showing one broken rib, RIGHT: No large bits of the projectiles could be found. What looks like an exit hole is a knife tip puncture.

  

Overall, I was surprised and impressed at the penetration of the 40gr ammunition - it reinforced what I had already concluded from the earlier exercise with the goats.

  

The 30 grain by comparison caused a massive amount of surface damage under the skin but only a few small pieces reached the offside chest cavity wall.

 

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You want the bullet to penetrate and create a deep wound channel, not “skin pop”. Although it looks impressive it does comparatively little damage and will rarely incapacitate an animal.

  

Based on this I believe that the 30gr ammunition is not suitable for larger animals.

 

A LOOK AT THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE HEAVIER .22 MAGNUM BULLETS

The sectioned bullets show that the jackets on the Winchester and Hornady are thicker than that of the Fiocchi, but its hollow point is also jacketed leading to the assumption that it is a plated bullet. The lead alloy used in its construction is also the hardest of the three.

 

Of the 40gr bullets the Winchester with its large, exposed lead tip and big hollow point encourages quick expansion. It should therefore be well suited to hares etc but is probably less suitable on goats compared to the Fiocchi and CCI Maxi-Mag style bullet. This is conjecture however as I had none left to trial on the carcasses.

 

FROM LEFT: Winchester 40gr Soft Point, Fiocchi 40gr Hollow Point, Hornady Critical Defence FTX 45gr projectiles.

 

However, both Fiocchi and CCI Maxi-Mag use the same bullet style and have proved to be capable of penetrating multiple pieces of bone of reasonable thicknesses at least to 90 yards.

  

The wound channels left by the projectiles are rather narrow, similar to a large diameter cast subsonic, so it's what it hits inside the animal that makes the difference between a humane kill and one that may require  follow-up shots.

 

Based on my experiences I now believe that with 40gr ammunition the .22 Magnum is well suited to larger pests of around 35 to 45kg live-weight provided you take well-aimed shots at the biggest part of the target (lungs/heart and liver. Set yourself a range limit of around 100 yards.

 

Cutaway of projectiles.

 

The 30gr varieties are ideally suited to  smaller animals (rabbits, hares, geese etc) at ranges out to 125, or possibly more with an appropriate optic.

 

The .22 Magnum isn’t and should never be considered a replacement for the .223 either in the types of game it is suitable for, or the range to which it is effective, but it gets nearly half way there which is pretty impressive.

 

With high velocity centrefires, e.g.; a .223 at these ranges, you get a lot more “wriggle room” with shot placement thanks to hydrostatic shock but even then you will still require the odd follow-up because, as with any shooting, the bullet occasionally goes somewhere other than where it was intended.

 

“When I began this review, I had a low opinion of the .22 Magnum, rating it only marginally ahead of the long rifle in terms of its usefulness. I now realise I was wrong and that it is a far more capable cartridge that I had ever considered.”

 

Ultimately it comes down to the judgement and discipline of the shooter, and their capability to assess if a shot is likely to be a good one or fall into the “while there’s lead in the air there’s hope” category.

 

When I began this review, I had a low opinion of the .22 Magnum, rating it only marginally ahead of the long rifle in terms of its usefulness. I now realise I was wrong and that it is a far more capable cartridge that I had ever considered.

 

There definitely is a niche for this cartridge as a small to medium game and pest control tool, as long as you understand its strengths and work within its limitations.

 

I hope these articles have been informative. Researching them has certainly changed my perspective on the .22 Magnum.

 

Mark

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