Thanks, Joni

Colt Woodsman Match Target, circa 1950, in as near-perfect condition as it gets. Like the aristocrat she is, she demands only the best: In this case, Federal Gold Medal Match ammunition.

by Terry Wieland

As Joni Mitchell once sagely observed, “You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.”

For the better part of a decade, we could make a call or go down to the store and pick up .22 Long Rifle ammunition by the box, brick, or carton, and dealers were falling over themselves to offer discounts.  Then came the end of the world as we know it (the Great Lockdown) with all the panic that ensued, and suddenly .22 Long Rifle was nowhere to be found.

Various importers moved to seize the opportunity, and gradually we were offered ammunition with a number of unfamiliar names, from countries no one suspected were even in the business.  There was Aguila from Mexico, Armscor from the Philippines, and several different ones from Europe, most made by the conglomerate Ruag.  These included Norma and SK.

Lest anyone think .22 LR is interchangeable, and that anything will shoot in anything, such is most emphatically not the case.

Some guns like one thing, others like another, and what feeds great and shoots accurately in one gun may continually malfunction, and spray bullets all over the landscape, in another — even another of the same model from the same manufacturer.

This is particularly true of semiauto pistols, which are among the most commonly used .22s these days.  Based on my experience with several of these — High Standards, Brownings, Walthers, Berettas, and now a vintage Colt Woodsman — they can be as finicky as Siamese cats.

There are two ways to approach this:  Which guns are the most tolerant, and which ammunition works well with the most guns.

The short answer to the above is, the most tolerant I’ve found is a Browning Challenger from around 1970 — one of the beautiful, made-by-FN, masterpieces — and the most adaptable ammunition is CCI Mini-Mag.  For a while, Mini-Mag was the hardest to find of any, and I know because I was looking.  I even tried to pull some strings with a contact at Vista Outdoors, and all I got was maniacal laughter.  No idea who was getting it as it came off the line, but someone was, because CCI was turning it out at warp speed.

My usual car gun these days is a Beretta Model 71, and if you look askance at that, my view is that if it’s good enough for Mossad, it’s good enough for me.  I keep it loaded with Mini-Mags, which it gobbles up happily with never a pause.  Any .22 intended for self-defence or tactical purposes should be packed with solid bullets, not hollow points.  I discovered 60 years ago that hollow points are the ticket for woodchucks, whereas solids did not work as well; I am advised by those who know more than I that the reverse is true with human assailants.  With a hollow point, you don’t get the penetration.

My carefully hoarded stock of Mini-Mags is reserved for the Beretta.  (I just did a search through and found Mini-Mags suddenly available from a number of sources, and not at exorbitant prices, so maybe the worst is over.)

The recently acquired Colt Woodsman Match Target, circa 1950, seems to love Federal Gold Medal Match and hate everything else.  I tell ya, worse than cats.

Before the Great Shortage, I acquired a nice variety and supply of Aguila .22, and I find it works well in some guns, not so well in others.  Much the same is true of both Norma Tac-22 and Norma Match.

Recently, I got my hands on a goodly supply of SK in a variety of match and field configurations.  Some have flat noses, some round, and I’m still trying to figure out what is intended for what.  But, since I do not shoot competitively, I’m more worried about what feeds well out of the magazine, and if it hits an eight-inch plate reliably at 16 yards, I’m happy.

The one brand I tried that did not work well in anything I own is Armscor, and since my shooting range was selling it for nine bucks for a box of 50, I’m glad I tried a little before buying a lot.  Of course, it works perfectly well in lever- and bolt-action rifles, revolvers, and single-shots of all kinds, so it’s not useless.  And who knows?  Your Ruger Mark IV might love it.

As supplies slowly open up again—as they seem to be starting to do—knowing what your gun likes allows you to lay in a stock to tide you over future shortages.  After all, you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.

Our shooting editor’s grandmother survived the Great Depression and collected bits of string on a ball until the day she died. The lesson sank in.