Like Bob Ross, Mr. Rogers, Blue’s Clues, or a Happy Meal, some classics just never go out of style.
While some would think that the .22 LR is just for teaching kids or plunking rabbits, we believe the .22 LR is capable of so much more.
From training in CQB to learning how to get the fastest split times possible to just turning a little bit of money into a whole lot of really fun noise at the range, .22 LR can do it all.
Keep reading and get all the details!
What Is The AR-22
While there are conversion kits that can turn a normal AR into a .22 LR shooting AR, the name AR-22 is normally reserved for a dedicated .22 LR gun.
Some brands call their dedicated .22 LR uppers “AR-22” and some don’t, it just kind of depends.
Just to be clear, while the “AR” in “AR-15” is for ArmaLite, the AR-22 isn’t an ArmaLite design. It’s just a semi-standardized way of referring to an AR-15 style rifle in .22 LR.
Most people probably think of .22 LR as being a caliber that is only useful for teaching kids or dropping squirrels.
Personally, I love .22 LR because of NRL22 competitions. But I also really dig it in my AR too.
But why do I dig it? Well, I got three main reasons; training, saving money, and because it’s fun.
There is a lot to learn with any rifle system but when you think about it, a lot of that training has nothing to do with the caliber and everything to do with the mechanics of the rifle itself.
Recoil is one concern, but with 5.56 NATO that really isn’t a big deal. And once you accept that recoil is something you’ll have to train for later -- everything else can be done with .22 LR.
.22 LR also means you can shoot at steel targets a lot closer than you can with 5.56 NATO. Generally, 5.56 NATO needs about 100 yards to be safe on steel. .22 LR is safe at about 10 yards.
Reloads, malfunctions, getting on-target quickly, transitioning targets, shooting on the moving, shooting moving targets, low-light shooting, and a whole lot more can all be done just as well with .22 LR as it can with your normal caliber.
With ammo prices as crazy as they are right now, you can save a LOT of money by shooting almost anything other than 5.56 NATO. Especially with this Russian ammo ban that has come down on top of it all.
Decent .22 LR will run you anywhere from 5 cents to 15 cents, roughly. That’s a huge savings when 5.56 NATO is at 45 cents to a dollar per round.
Just Plan Fun
You either love it or you won’t, but I for one love it. .22LR is cheap, handy, easy to use,
What About Home Defense?
I absolutely, without a doubt, strongly Do Not recommend an AR-22 or .22 LR for home defense.
No matter how you cut it, how you frame it, or how you look at it -- .22 LR just isn’t reliable enough or powerful enough to trust with your life.
Sure, if it’s the only thing you have when the zombies are coming for you it will be better than nothing.
But don’t make this your new bedside rifle.
For long distance shooting, .22 LR can be a great stand-in for centerfire cartridges. Sub-sonic .22 LR will perform ballistically (same drop and wind movement) at about 300 yards as .308 Win or 6.5 Creedmoor does at 800-1,000 yards.
However, if that is your goal then an AR-22 might not be the best platform.
For .22 LR and 5.56 NATO there isn’t that handy kind of crossover between the two, but there is still a lot of value in shooting it.
If you want to shoot game though, don’t consider anything larger than a mid-sized rabbit. [See our article about hunting with an AR-15.]
.22 LR Vs. .223/5.56 NATO
Just to drive home the fact that these really aren’t comparable ballistically, just look at this:
5.56 NATO has more energy at 1,000 yards than .22 LR does at the muzzle.
If you need to engage Squirrel Team Six, .22 LR has your back. For everything else, don’t count on it.
Build or Buy?
As with anything in the AR world you can either build it or buy it. .22 LR isn’t any different in that regard but it does have some details that are all its own.
Dedicated Upper or Conversion Kit?
The first thing you should consider is if you want a dedicated .22 LR upper/rifle or if you just want to convert your 5.56 NATO rifle into shooting .22 LR.
But you might have issues. First of all, accuracy is going to be very not good. I wouldn’t trust it for hunting, but for training and rifle drills, it is good enough.
The major upside to a conversion kit is that it’s a lot cheaper than a dedicated platform. But you get what you pay for.
.22 LR Barrel or .223/5.56 NATO?
So technically .223 Rem/5.56 NATO bullets are actually .224 inches in diameter. .22 LR can vary between .223 to .225 inches. That means when using a barrel cut for .223/5.56 your bullets might be either slightly too small or slightly too large for the rifling.
Because .22 LR is so low pressure and made of soft lead, this never presents a safety issue -- so you’re totally fine on that front.
But it does mean that it is simply impossible to get reliable and good accuracy from using a .223/5.56 barrel with .22 LR.
And that is before you consider the twist rates are never the same. .22 LR normally likes 1-12 or 1-16 and .223/5.56 are more commonly found in 1-7, 1-8, and 1-9.
If you want to keep it simple and keep the cost down then a .223/5.56 barrel is good enough, but if you want to chase accuracy then you’ll need a dedicated .22 LR barrel to go with it.
Ammo. Lots of ammo.
.22 LR is older than Coca-Cola but we are lucky enough to live in the golden age of .22 LR ammo!
There are SO many options on the market right now from buckets of cheap horrible ammo to high-end match grade rounds that can cost almost as much as match grade centerfire ammo.
So I’m sure you’re wondering, what kind should you get?
The main thing you look for is ammo that is moving fast. Stick with 40gr generally and check the box for how fast the ammo is expected to go.
Anything under about 1,100 feet per second (FPS) is subsonic ammo and normally won’t have enough power to reliably cycle an AR-22.
Look for ammo that is about 1,250 FPS or higher and you should be good to go.
When in doubt, CCI Mini-Mags are one of my primary ammo types.
Prices are a little high across the board right now but try not to be tempted by buckets of .22 LR. These are highly questionable and really dirty to shoot. I don’t recommend them.
Cleaning and Lubrication
Generally, it’s no different than a normal AR-15.
Keep it clean-ish, keep it lubed when it needs it, and you’re done. But… it won’t be the same as your normal AR-15.
Understand that .22 LR is just dirtier than centerfire ammo so you’ll have to clean more often and lube a little more. Also, know that unless you’re using really hot ammo, AR-22 actions are a little more sensitive to gunk and will start to have malfunctions long before a standard AR-15 would.
My rule is that I lube up before every range session. A quick wipe down with a rag, then a bit of lube on the wear parts.
I shoot until I start to get malfunctions or my bolt starts to feel really sticky either via the charging handle or the bolt release (if I have one).
Then I take it out, wipe it down, lube up, and get back to business.
You can use special “rimfire” lube if you want, but I’ve never found that it made any difference over my standard lubes.
Personally, none of my AR-22s have liked grease. Just oil. But your milage may vary. [See our video below explaining how to clean and maintain your AR-22!]
By now you know just about everything you need to know about the AR-22.
Long story short -- I love them. For training, for fun, they are simply awesome.
And they can help you save a ton of money if you train as much as you should.