What do you really need to survive? Sure, the basics of food, water, and shelter are constants, but Maslow’s hierarchy of needs goes a bit further. This article isn’t about self-actualization or esteem, but firmly lodged in the second category of “safety.” In the ideal world, we all have M16s and the logistics surrounding those who carry them. Though 5.56mm ammunition is lighter than the precursor 7.62x51mm, it still all adds up. So what of the diminutive .22LR? Where does that round stand within Maslow’s oft-cited pyramid?
The Case for .22LR
While we’ve often heard the refrain about the baby .22LR killing more people than all other rounds combined (likely true if you dismiss the 7.62x54R), it’s not an immediate “man-stopper” round. There’s a huge difference between someone stopping right now due to a central nervous system (CNS) hit versus someone dying in a crackhouse three days later. Let’s just say you can’t always afford to wait for an attacker to die of sepsis later on down the line. However, the .22LR is likely the most underestimated and dismissed round in all of modern history.
It’s not hard to see why. The bore of the gun that shoots .22LR is well below a ¼ inch. The mass of the projectiles themselves is similarly underwhelming, with a usual range of a mere 36 to 40 grains. While heavier loadings are available, they usually are hard to find and cost more when they are. However, this article isn’t about why the .22LR sucks, but instead how it can be best utilized.
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Ideally, we’d have a bug-out setup with a larger rifle and pistol caliber, with the modest .22LR caliber serving as a quick game-getter. But the world is full of ideal imaginations rather than real situations. There may come a time where a .22LR becomes a primary caliber instead of solely relegated to a secondary position, and you may be in that situation right now as you read this piece.
Also, if you have bug-out pals and friends with larger calibers on-hand, the utility of an excellent .22LR in the form of a quality long gun shouldn’t be immediately discounted. Not every situation requires the use of 7.62×51.
First and foremost is the cost and physical size of .22LR ammunition. While ammunition prices continue to climb, even in the worst of times the cost-per-trigger-pull of a .22LR is significantly less than its full-size brethren. It also takes up little space, and 500 rounds (or more!) can be comfortably carried in a cargo pocket — try that with 5.56mm!
The killing power of .22LR is also vastly underestimated. There’s no getting around the fact that your average .22LR shot causes less physical damage than something of a larger caliber, which just means that your shots have to be far more careful.
The Ultimate Bug-Out .22LR
That we built for this article was absolutely not everything you’d need. In fact, we went the opposite direction and decided to fully kit out a .22LR rifle in order to determine what was necessary and what wasn’t. Sparing no expense, we basically built a racecar in order to determine where your money would be best spent for a daily driver.
After all, you can dial back some capabilities, but you certainly can’t ramp them up. Here we’ll go through all of the aftermarket parts and discuss their usefulness.
Receiver & Barrel
For this build, we chose to go with a Ruger 10/22 foundation. Not only is this rifle one of the most common .22LR firearms available, but it has the most robust aftermarket support, providing a helluva lot of options.
We reached out to Brownells for this build, because not only do they specialize in aftermarket support, they also have their own versions of 10/22 actions, barrels, and parts. One of the specific improvements we liked was a model with an integral Picatinny rail versus one that had to be screwed in place. Not only do the screws represent another possible failure point, but nothing is as rigid as a rail machined in from the word “Go.”
Instead of the standard 10/22 pencil barrel, we opted for a 16-inch heavy barrel. While it weighs more, it’s also stiffer and slower to heat — both of which are advantageous to accuracy if there are more than a handful of shots taking place. Going beyond a 16-inch barrel is unnecessary with a .22LR though many (wrongly) think that it’s better.
If this were a secondary rifle, we’d forgo the heavier barrel, but in this case we find the extra weight to be worth it. Also, the barrel’s threaded so attaching a silencer is easy. We debated between a Bowers Bitty and a GSL Pill Box; while they’re both quiet, the Bowers Bitty better fit the role of a bug-out gun since no special materials are needed at all to keep it going.
Similarly to the heavy barrel, we went with an ultra-premium stock. And to fit that role we could find none better than the Bell & Carlson adjustable fiberglass stock. This system is absolutely top of the line, and it shows. Not only does it allow for a free-floated barrel, it’s adjustable in all the right ways. However, this stock appears to be intended for a custom fit, and quite a bit of material had to be removed via a file and a Dremel before everything fit properly.
Furthering the headache, instead of using Picatinny, MLOK, or KeyMod attachments, the Bell & Carlson opts for an Anschutz rail. Frankly, this was a very annoying way to attach a Harris Bipod to the system and required an extra adapter to be purchased.
While this stock is excellent for target shooting, we didn’t find the extra weight (over 3 pounds!) to be needed to make an accurate field gun.
Determination: Keep the B&C for the range, and go with a Boyds At-One or Magpul stock to save on weight and work for bugging out. If your 10/22 is a Takedown variant, refer to our web-exclusive stock buyer’s guide.
Optics & Ammunition
While the .22LR will never beat the pants off of a dedicated high-power competition rifle, it’s far more capable than most think. When we used Gemtech subsonic .22LR, our groups definitely fell apart beyond 100 meters. However, higher velocity rounds like CCI Stingers allowed us to hit plates at ranges just beyond 300 meters — not as tall of an order as one might think.
Regarding the efficacy of the round at that range? For small game or harassing fire it should be A-OK. Also, remember that ideally you’d have someone else on the team with a larger caliber better suited for extended ranges.
Once you find a loading your individual rifle likes, it’s just a matter of math to calculate your ballistic drops. The Vortex Optics Viper PST 1-6x24mm optic makes dialing or holding your drops a snap, allowing for fast engagement even at ranges once unheard of for .22LR. While there’s a tendency for many to over-scope, believing that more magnification is always better (it’s not), 6-power is more than enough for the ranges we’re talking about here.
We mounted the Vortex in a set of Precision Reflex Inc. rings, and while you could certainly go a little cheaper on the mount, they were rock solid.
Determination: Recommended, but find out what ammunition your individual rifle likes best.
Trigger & Controls
The standard Ruger trigger is completely full of meh. While there are N+1 options available, we went with a complete Volquartsen match trigger group. The break is perfect and the reset is short, but it’s probably a bit more than most would want to spend on a bug-out gun.
If you can afford a Volquartsen or Kidd trigger group, go with one. However, if you can’t, the Ruger factory BX-25 trigger groups are the baseline of acceptable.
Like many other .22LR rifles, the controls are smaller than they could be. Adult and gloved hands can find it hard to manipulate small magazine releases and charging handles. At minimum we recommend an extended charging handle of any variety; we went with a Volquartsen in this instance. For an extended magazine release, we looked no further than Tactical Solutions.
Determination: Recommended, but shop around.
There was a time when every extended magazine for the 10/22 was awful. Thankfully, that time has passed. While there are a still many awful magazines out there, if you stick to magazines with separate feed lips and magazine bodies (such as Butler Creek Hot Lips) or factory Ruger magazines, you should be A-OK.
We definitely don’t expect you to make an exact clone of the rifle we’ve made. Hell, as you’ve read there are some upgrades that we would’ve skipped ourselves if we were starting over. Just like how not every racing mod will make it to the street, nor would every mod we made here make it to a bug-out build.
While we went with all premium options, there are certainly many, many available aftermarket parts. If you can wrap your mind around shooting .22LR at range and for use against two-legged and four-legged critters, you have a lot of options.
Focus on a solid action, a good trigger, and a decent barrel. Everything else will fall into place. Though many will scoff at the .22LR, the fact is it’s far more capable than most realize, and is totally appropriate for a low-key shoot-’n’-scoot bug-out plan.
Brownells BRN-22 Specifications
10 pounds, 10 ounces
10, 20, 30
- BRN-22 Barreled Picatinny Receiver, 16-inch heavy barrel $160
- Volquartsen Ruger 10/22 Match Trigger Group $273
- Ruger 10/22 Receiver Parts Kit, Less Trigger $45
- Volquartsen Charging Handle $47
- Bell & Carlson Ruger 10/22 Stock Adj. Fiberglass $332
- Vortex 1-6x24MM PST VMR-2 MOA reticle $900
- Precision Reflex Inc. 30mm Rings Standard Height Steel Rings $108
- Harris Bipod $98
- Harris No 6 Adapter Rail $12
- Total as tested $1,975