Home Product Reviews .22 Magnum for Personal Defense – Is the Juice Worth the Squeeze? By: Rob Garrett

.22 Magnum for Personal Defense – Is the Juice Worth the Squeeze? By: Rob Garrett

.22 Magnum for Personal Defense – Is the Juice Worth the Squeeze?   By: Rob Garrett

Trends and Calibers

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If you have been following the trends in personal defense, you have probably noticed a lot of talk about the resurgence of the “snub nose revolver”? It seems the armed community is rediscovering the advantages of the small revolver over the pocket auto! A sub-topic of this discussion is whether the .22 Long Rifle and the .22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire are suitable calibers for personal defense. The purpose of this article is not to rehash the entire debate on the subject. Instead, it is to simply share the data and results from my personal testing of both calibers and to see if the .22 Magnum has a significant advantage over the .22 LR. Hopefully, you can review the data and reach your own opinion on the subject.

Revolver Options – Smith & Wesson Rimfire Centennials

The author set out to determine if the .22 WMR was significantly better than the .22 LR with regard to personal defense. He used the Smith & Wesson 43C and 351C for the tests.

Two of the most popular rimfire revolvers are the Ruger LCR and the Smith & Wesson Centennial models. Both are available in .22 LR and .22 Magnum. I am partial to the Smith & Wesson J-frame series and own both a Model 43C and a Model 351C. Both are chambered in .22 LR and .22 Magnum respectively and are Centennial-type pistols with an internal hammer, making them double-action-only. They feature an aluminum alloy frame and cylinder with a stainless steel barrel. To further reduce weight, there are lightening grooves machined in the backstrap and the bottom side of the trigger guard. According to Smith & Wesson’s website, both the 43C and the 351 weigh 11.5 ounces. Each comes from the factory with a fixed notch rear sight and a high visibility XS white dot front sight. The factory stocks are a soft rubber over-mold boot type style. The most significant difference is that the 43C has an eight-round cylinder while the 351C has a seven-round cylinder. MSRP on each model is $759.00.

I have owned both Smiths for several years and have found both to be completely reliable. As with other .22 caliber revolvers, the 43C requires more cleaning due to shooting the LR lead rounds. This is not a concern with the .22 Magnum because all of the magnum ammunition features a plated bullet. I have found the XS front sight is exceptional and wonder why Smith & Wesson will not offer it on any of their centerfire J-frames!

Ammunition and Testing Protocol

One of the significant factors that inspired this test is Federal’s introduction of their Personal Defense Punch in both .22 LR and .22 Magnum. This is the first .22 LR ammunition I am aware of that was developed and marketed specifically for personal defense. Having both these options caused me to ask two questions. Is the .22, in either long rifle or magnum, a viable option for personal defense? Second, is the .22 Magnum significantly better than the .22 LR?

All loads were shot from 10 feet with the chronograph placed in front of the gel block.

We tested three loads in each caliber. The .22 LR loads were the Federal Personal Defense Punch 29 grain nickel plated flat nose, the CCI Mini-Mag 36 grain Copper Plated Hollow Point, and the CCI Mini-Mag 40 grain Round Nose. In .22 Magnum, we tested the Federal Personal Defense Punch 45 grain Jacketed Hollow Point, the Speer Gold Dot Short Barrel 40 grain Gold Dot Hollow Point, and the Hornady Critical Defense .45 grain Jacketed FTX Hollow Point.

I ordered two blocks of Clear Ballistics 10% FBI ballistic gelatin for the evaluation. I shot the test loads through bare gelatin and then through 4 layers of denim cut from an old pair of Wrangler jeans. The gelatin was placed 10 feet from the muzzle of the revolver and the chronograph was placed in front of the gel block. Each shot was chronographed, measured for penetration, and then recovered and labeled. The temperature for the test started at 72 degrees and increased to 80 degrees by the completion of the tests. I understand gel is not the same as flesh and bone. However, it provides a consistent medium to compare how loads perform.

Clear Ballistics 10% FBI ballistic gelatin was used for the evaluation. Toothpicks mark the depth of each projectile.

According to the FBI Ballistics unit, a duty round fails its requirements if it penetrates less than 12” or more than 18”.  Readers should consider that these requirements were written for law enforcement where there is a need for penetration of barriers such as sheet metal, auto glass, and sheetrock. Law enforcement is also tasked with taking a suspect into custody, so rapid incapacitation is important. For the armed citizen, the goal is to stop the assault. It is very rare that a citizen may need to shoot through a barrier. In addition, most armed encounters, by citizens, are at very close range.

The below charts are the simplest way to relay all of the data given.

.22 Long Rifle Test Results

The most obvious result is that, regardless of the bullet weight and design, none of the .22 LR rounds expanded or even deformed. The Federal Punch, with a 29-grain projectile, averaged 1,187 fps and 1,203 fps with an average of 11.138” through bare gel and 14.33” through denim. The other two .22 LR loads had a heavier projectile that resulted in lower velocity and less penetration. With penetration being key, the Federal Punch clearly outperformed the other two loads.

Federal Personal Defense Punch .22 LR
29 gr. Nickel Plated Flat Nose
Bare Gelatin 4 Layers Denim
Avg. Velocity 1,203 1,187
Avg. Penetration 15.13” 14.33
Min. Penetration 13.25” 11.50”
Max. Penetration 16”+ 16”+
Expansion None None
*3 rounds exited *2 rounds exited


CCI Mini-Mag .22 LR
36 gr. Copper Plated Hollow Point
Bare Gelatin 4 Layers Denim
Avg. Velocity 993 1,009
Avg. Penetration 11.35” 11.90”
Min. Penetration 10.38” 10.63”
Max. Penetration 12.25” 12.75”
Expansion None None

CCI Ammunition

CCI Mini-Mag .22 LR
40 gr. Round Nose
Bare Gelatin 4 Layers Denim
Avg. Velocity 938 940
Avg. Penetration 11.40” 12.78”
Min. Penetration 10.0” 9.25”
Max. Penetration 12.0” 16”+
Expansion None None
2 Exited

.22 Magnum Test Results

The .22 Magnum loads were more comparable to each other,  and were closer in weight and average velocities. In our tests, there was no significant difference in the three loads. Average penetration was very similar and, in bare gel, all three loads expanded consistently. When shot through the four layers of denim, all three loads failed to expand or deform. In examining the recovered projectiles, I did not see where the denim plugged any of the hollow point cavities. My conclusion is that the denim slowed the projectiles down to a velocity that did not allow expansion.

Federal Personal Defense Punch .22 Magnum
45 gr. Jacketed Hollow Point
Bare Gelatin 4 Layers Denim
Avg. Velocity 1,055 1,064
Avg. Penetration 12.28” 11.08”
Min. Penetration 10.25” 10.31”
Max. Penetration 13.25” 11.65”
Expansion Yes None
Speer Gold Dot Short Barrel .22 Magnum
40 gr. Gold Dot Hollow Point
Bare Gelatin 4 Layers Denim
Avg. Velocity 1,080 1,076
Avg. Penetration 12.48” 11.81”
Min. Penetration 10.88” 11.20”
Max. Penetration 14.25” 13.06”
Expansion Yes None

Speer Ammunition

Hornady Critical Defense .22 Magnum
45 gr. FTX Hollow Point
Bare Gelatin 4 Layers Denim
Avg. Velocity 1,018 1,013
Avg. Penetration 11.76” 11.09”
Min. Penetration 10.63” 10.33”
Max. Penetration 13.50” 11.60
Expansion Yes None


Long Rifle or Magnum?

For a better comparison, the average results for all the loads is shown in the table below.

Comparison Chart
Load Caliber Avg. Penetration Bare Gel Avg. Penetration 4 Layer Denim
Federal Punch 29 gr. .22 LR 15.13” 14.33”
CCI Mini-Mag 36 gr. CJHP .22 LR 11.35” 11.90”
CCI Mini-Mag 40 gr. Round Nose .22 LR 11.40” 12.78”
Federal Punch 45 gr. JHP .22 WMR 12.28” 11.08”
Speer Gold Dot 40 gr. HP .22 WMR 12.48” 11.81”
Hornady Critical Defense 45 FTX .22 WMR 11.76” 11.09”

So which caliber is the best for personal defense? Before we look at performance, we should consider availability and cost. In general terms, the .22 Magnum is more than twice the price of the .22 LR. According to Federal’s website, a 50 round box of .22 LR Punch retails for $10.99 while 50 rounds .22 Magnum Punch retails for $25.99! If you decide to carry CCI Mini Mags, they come in a 100-round box that retails for $12.99. From a cost perspective, the .22 LR is the clear winner. This equates to the ability to practice more often and, hopefully, be more confident and proficient.

The only area where the .22 Magnum really excelled was in the bare gelatin testing where all of the rounds expanded. However, when you are starting with a .22 diameter projectile, is expansion really significant? I’m not so sure! The magnum also has a significantly louder report, more felt recoil, and muzzle flash.

The S&W 43C, in .22 LR, is a viable option for personal defense, provided the proper ammunition is carried.
The S&W 351C is the .22 WMR version of the 43C. The .22 WMR offers the advantage of more options of loads that are specifically designed for personal defense.

The Author’s Conclusion

I will say that this is one of the most labor-intensive editorials I have done in some time. I will also say that it is worth the time and expense. I contacted my friend, Mark Fricke, and shared my results with him. Mark does a lot of testing and his results closely mirror mine. As for a choice, I have the advantage of owning exact pistols in both calibers. I recognize that this is not the normal case for many. That said, if I could only own one, I would definitely select the 43C in .22 LR. The performance of the .22 LR Federal Punch load was impressive. Given both the wide availability of .22 LR ammunition and the very reasonable cost, in my book, it is a hands-down winner. 

These results reflect a very limited test protocol. Should you consider carrying a .22 for personal defense, I suggest that you do your own research and due diligence. Then, determine if it meets your requirements. Perhaps this article can assist you in that determination.

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