Rimfires Are Making a Comeback

Years ago, the first firearm for nearly every beginning shooter or hunter was a .22 bolt-action rifle. Now, rimfires are making a welcome return.

Rimfires Are Making a Comeback

Photo: Browning Buck Mark

Years ago, that first firearm for nearly every beginning shooter or hunter was a .22 bolt-action rifle — the ultimate rimfire. Millions of new shooters have experienced their first shot with a .22 caliber rifle.

Now that .22 ammunition is available, it is time to again talk about rimfires. The great news is there’s a lot to talk about. From the exciting .22 rimfire leagues popping up across the country to thrilling small bore precision rifles, rimfires have rebounded. Many hunting and plinking rimfire shooters are also waiting to hold and load another rifle or pistol.

It’s well known that the most common rimfire — the .22 calibers — are fun to shoot, are generally more affordable than some other calibers (both ammunition and the firearm), deliver less recoil and report and provide other shooter-friendly benefits. When shown a .22 cartridge or a much larger .30-06 cartridge, beginning shooters focus on the .22 because it looks and is more manageable. While .22 caliber firearms may seem tame, however, remember that the standard range for a .22 caliber bullet is a mile. Safety first.  

Most hunter education firearm safety field days incorporate the .22 rifle, which is a great way to establish a bond with young or new shooters. Photo: Michael Faw
Most hunter education firearm safety field days incorporate the .22 rifle, which is a great way to establish a bond with young or new shooters. Photo: Michael Faw

The Best Beginner

The .22 rimfire (and the less common .17 calibers) are a good way to introduce young shooters and beginners to the shooting sports. Some retailers even sell the firearm as part of a package that includes ammunition, eye and ear protection, a gun case, some targets and possibly a range bag. These packages make the purchase easy, especially for those making their first gun purchase.

Wondering about the drivers behind rimfire's resurgence? Several state-mandated hunter education and firearms safety courses requires each student to shoot at least 10 rounds through a .22 caliber rifle. Thus, those shooters have experience with rimfires and know what to expect. While some departments provide the firearms, others require that the instructor provide the firearms and ammunition.

Scouts and other widely recognized programs such as 4-H also use .22 rifles in their shooting programs. Some American Legion halls, rural churches and other civic groups host events to introduce today’s youth to shooting and firearms safety. The rimfire rifle is the firearm of choice for most of those. 

While the rimfire's rebound is due, in part, to beginning shooters and first-time gun buyers, they're also popular among experienced shooter, plinkers and target shooters. Plinkers, those shooters who just want to relax and shoot some type of target on the back 40 acres, are top markets for rimfires. 

Rimfire Models and Aftermarket Accessories 

Most major firearms manufacturers offer at least one or more models of rimfire firearms chambered in .22 or 17HMR. Several of those makers also offer tactical .22 rifles. It’s also known among gun retailers that interest in air rifles is on the rise, and this is the next step up for those shooters in their natural progression. 

Popular rimfire firearms that are often well-known among shooters and hunters include the Ruger 10-22, Smith & Wesson 15-22 Sport, Browning Buck Mark pistols and rifles, Marlin’s lever-action 39A and Remington’s 572 Fieldmaster semi-auto rifle. There's also a wide assortment of after-market accessories to customize rimfires to a gun owner's preferences. Those accessories include barrels, stocks, triggers, riflescopes and bases and red dot sights. There are also numerous kits to also convert many 1911 pistols from .45 ACP to .22 caliber cartridges.

In addition to offerings that include rifles in .22 or .17 calibers, there are numerous rimfire pistols such as target models with special grips and barrels and revolvers to suit customer preferences. This diverse rimfire firearms product mix also lends itself to various price points, making the rimfire more attainable for budget-minded hunters and shooters.  

Popular rimfire firearms that are often well-known among shooters and hunters include the Ruger 10-22. Ruger's Target Lite rimfire features a design often popular among younger rimfire shooters.
Popular rimfire firearms that are often well-known among shooters and hunters include the Ruger 10-22. Ruger's Target Lite rimfire features a design often popular among younger rimfire shooters.

Tomorrow’s Rimfire Enthusiasts 

Now that the much-publicized .22 caliber ammunition hoarding has passed, shooters are shopping. Several firearm manufacturers have taken note, and have offered new .22 caliber firearms in recent years.

The popular Browning Buck Mark .22 caliber pistol is available in nearly a dozen models and colors. More versions of rimfire pistols and more technical .22 rifles are the trend now. Millennials searching for that first firearm have made vivid colors and nontraditional stocks popular. This group tends to prefer lots of rails and many accessories. 

Gun retailers have also learned millennial rimfire shooters are focused on action. While they'll shoot paper targets, they also get into the oozing cans, exploding watermelons and other active targets some manufacturers have brought to market in recent times. Steel targets that spin and plink, and small rubber pest targets on light metal frames are also popular among this group. 

A final note on ammunition use: For the cost-conscious shooters, standard .22 and .17 ammunition will meet your needs. For the precision shooters, however, plan to invest in the premium brands and products. 

BONUS: Rimfire Nostalgia 

The aging American shooting enthusiast who remembers a rimfire rifle their dad or grandad had is another segment driving rimfire's rebound. Back in the 1970s, famous gunwriter Jack O’Conner recommended that everyone own a .22 rifle. John Browning, who was well known for rifles, shotguns and machine-gun designs, also designed .22 rimfire rifles. One of those early designs continues in production. High Standard and Colt made rimfire firearms in the past that generations grew up shooting and using.

The rimfire rifle was used by the U.S. military in yesteryear to teach shooting skills and prepare troops for battle. While today’s military branches may have moved to other calibers and firearms, rimfires endure. Scouting continues the decades old merit badge program that introduces many new shooters to firearms and the shooting sports.

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