About 125 years ago, the J. Stevens Arms & Tool Company introduced the .22 Long Rifle cartridge. This classic round is still with us today, loaded with its standard 40-grain, round nose lead bullet. The little rimfire is manufactured by dozens of companies at a rate that far exceeds any other cartridge. Standard velocity, high velocity and hyper velocity .22 Long Rifle rounds are used for target practice, hunting, and the always entertaining pastime of plinking.
The time has come for law enforcement to embrace the tiny .22LR as a true training tool. The .22 cartridge can be used to increase your police department’s range training during a time of budget cuts. The .22 can also improve your own personal shooting skills and tactics while cutting your ammunition costs.
Several factors have come together in a perfect storm to make the .22 rimfire a smart and useful tool for law enforcement training. The nationwide economic downturn has cut the training budgets of many departments. To make matters worse, the cost of centerfire ammunition has risen considerably. Piling on top of these two situations is a lack of ammo availability. This trifecta of less money, higher prices and scarcity of ammo has heaved even greater pressure on training budgets.
However, a plethora of new .22 caliber firearms and conversion kits has recently arrived on the firearms scene to rescue our range programs. The addition of .22 caliber training is a fiscally responsible option for police departments. Individual officers looking to improve their skills will also find .22s much less expensive in the long run. History of .22 Training
Military and civilian firearms instructors have long used the .22 for training due to several inherent advantages. The small bore round is accurate, reliable, and low in both recoil and noise. Armies around the world have long converted military rifles to .22 caliber or adopted purpose built .22s that were similar to the actual firearm issued to soldiers.
Savvy firearms instructors have long realized that it’s best to start a new shooter with a .22 caliber firearm. The virtual elimination of recoil and a loud report allow the novice to concentrate on stance, sight alignment, breath control and trigger squeeze. Placing a .44 Magnum in a first timer’s hands is an obvious mistake we all know not to make.
Practice with a .22 can often help cure a mid-level shooter’s flinch and other bad habits because harsh recoil and loud muzzle blast are eliminated from the training equation. While we don’t always think of the 9mm cartridge as intimidating, some officers can develop bad habits with it, just like those with heavier recoiling .40 and .45 caliber pistols.
While dry fire practice certainly has its place, actual shooting is necessary as well. Expert shooters assert there are three ways to become the best: practice, practice and more practice. Live fire helps greatly with weapon control familiarization (trigger, magazine release, slide release, safety, decocking lever, etc.). Live fire training can be accomplished with inexpensive .22 ammunition instead of more costly centerfire ammo.
As an example of cost savings, say a department of 50 sworn officers purchased new ballistic shields to have in the trunks of their squad cars. The officers need to be taught to draw, fire and reload using only their strong hand. Their other hand will be occupied retaining their new shield.
Proper training should require many rounds to be fired in order to adequately prepare each officer for the correct and safe deployment of the shield. Because techniques and tactics are the primary goal, with accuracy coming later, .22 cartridges are a very cost-effective training tool.
To achieve the most “apples to apples” cost comparison, we’ll use retail store pricing instead of state bid or police discount costs. A brick of 550 rounds of Remington .22LR is $15.47 on the shelf. Fifty rounds cost just $1.41 compared to Federal 9mm ball ammunition at $9.97 for a 50-round box. That’s three cents per round for .22 versus 20 cents per round for 9mm. The cost differential is even greater when the .22LR is compared to even more expensive .40 S&W, .357 SIG and .45 ACP cartridges.
Getting back to our 50-officer department that needs to train with its new shields, let’s say we would like to have them fire 150 rounds of 9mm per officer to be fully trained. That’s going to cost $1,495 for the entire police force to be adequately trained.
Let’s say we have each officer fire 250 rounds of .22LR instead, while learning how to change magazines one handed, kneel to reload, and move and shoot with the shield. Then each officer fires 50 rounds of their 9mm ammo. The total cost would be $746 for all officers (half of the $1,495), and each officer would have trained with an extra 100 rounds. Half the cost and 100 extra shots fired sure seems like a win-win training situation.
The reality is that many police departments may schedule this type of training and only fire 50 rounds or fewer. The utilization of .22 caliber cartridges could seriously increase training. Repetition, muscle memory and learning from mistakes are needed to become proficient in shooting techniques. Shooting ability is a perishable skill that needs constant reinforcement, and this reinforcement is necessary to save lives.
Training with .22s can help retain and improve an officer’s skill because it allows more than just dry firing. Low-cost .22 caliber ammo can also pave the way for additional training with low-light shooting, barricade, cover and concealment, movement, and many other types of live fire.
Rimfire .22s should only supplement centerfire cartridge training, not replace it. Police officers must still train with full power loads, and qualifying must also be with standard centerfire ammo. Conversion kits can add to the number of rounds fired during training, even if the rounds are not the same as those for which the weapon was originally chambered.
Beginning with .22s
I learned to shoot with a Stevens Favorite .22 single-shot youth rifle that my dad bought for me. I learned sight alignment, trigger squeeze and breath control as a young man with this simple .22, along with my father’s patient instruction. The scaleddown rifle’s lack of recoil and noise allowed me to concentrate on the basics. There’s a reason it’s best to start new shooters with .22 caliber firearms. If I had pulled the trigger on a .30-06 rifle for my first shot, I probably wouldn’t have wanted to shoot ever again.
When I entered the police academy, my experience put me ahead of the shooting curve. But for many new officers, the first time they pulled a trigger was with their duty gun at the academy. 9mm, .357 SIG, .40 S&W or .45 ACP caliber handguns can induce bad habits right off the bat. Most academies don’t have the time to begin training with a .22 rimfire in order to avoid flinching before moving up to larger calibers.
Small caliber .22s can be a range officer’s solution when a probationary officer, fresh out of the academy, barely qualifies with the minimum required score. Over the years, I’ve used my own personal .22s to instruct new shooters and seasoned veterans alike. One officer with my department qualified at the minimum threshold each year, and he was unhappy with his consistently low scores.
I brought my High Standard Supermatic Citation target pistol to the range and let him practice his combat shooting with it. This quality gun features target sights and a target trigger that is amazingly light and precise. The officer impressed himself with how tight his fired groups were. He came to understand that he had the ability to shoot very well; he just had to overcome some of the errors he made while firing his duty gun. His next qualification was dramatically improved, and he was thankful for the extra training he received with my .22 caliber pistol.
Numerous Manufacturers Today
Though my old High Standard helped that officer to better hit what he was aiming at, the pistol’s controls did not function anywhere near the same as his Sig Sauer duty pistol. While sight alignment, breath control and trigger squeeze are the same with all firearms, shooting a .22 that is as similar to an officer’s duty gun as possible can be an even greater advantage.
Colt’s Service Ace .22 conversion kit was introduced in 1938 as an improvement on the Ace .22 pistol. Developed by David “Carbine” Williams, the “floating chamber” design amplified the power of the .22 Long Rifle cartridge so its recoil could work a modified slide on a standard 1911 frame. The Service Ace had the added advantage of being less expensive than a full handgun as the slide/barrel/recoil spring could be mounted on the .45 already being used.
Today, Jonathan Arthur Ciener (www.22lrconversions.com) offers .22 conversion kits for Glock, 1911, Beretta 92, Browning High Power, AR-15, Mini-14 and AK-47 firearms. Advantage Arms (www.advantagearms.com) also offers Glock and 1911 kits, and Marvel Precision (www.marvelprecision.com) has 1911 conversions. Many firearms companies offer their own .22 conversions. Sig Sauer, EAA and Kimber all have factory .22 kits available.
While necessity is the mother of invention, profit comes in second place. Because of this, more kits for popular sidearms (such as the Smith & Wesson M&P and Springfield Armory XD-M) can be expected in the future. The high cost of centerfire ammunition causes civilian marksmen to look at conversion kits too, and manufacturers make money on conversion kits while saving the consumer money in the long run.
Most of these modern conversion kits feature lightweight alloy slides, which allow the diminutive .22 cartridge to operate the action. Because these conversions are only the “upper” and do not include a serial numbered frame, they are not considered to be firearms and can therefore be shipped directly to individual officers or departments. Despite fully adjustable sights, the converted guns usually fit an officer’s duty holster.
Smith & Wesson (www.smith-wesson.com) and Colt (www.coltsmfg.com) have both recently introduced full-size, dedicated .22LR versions of their AR-15 rifles. The S&W M&P15-22 and Colt M4 .22 are targeted for inexpensive law enforcement training. The German Sports Guns GSG-5 is a .22 caliber mimic of the Heckler & Koch MP5. Umarex of Germany also produces an HK-approved .22 version of the MP5. All of these rifles feature exact or very similar controls compared to their centerfire counterparts and can provide training that is very cost effective.
Shooting .22 Conversion Kits
Sig Sauer’s (www.sigsauer.com) conversion kits transform duty guns into less expensive .22 training tools. Currently available for the P220, P228/P229 and P226, Sig’s kit comes in a plastic carrying case that contains a lightweight aluminum slide, a .22 caliber barrel, a matching recoil spring/guide and a 10- round capacity magazine.
As a test example of a .22 conversion kit for police use, I purchased Sig Sauer’s P220 conversion kit for $349 and swapped it onto my 1988 vintage P220. I also bought two extra magazines, and I tested various brands and types of ammunition for functioning and accuracy. The .22 “upper” is exchanged for the stock parts by simply field stripping the slide/barrel/recoil spring. The smaller caliber’s polymer magazine is then inserted in the frame instead of the .45’s steel magazine, and it’s time to start shooting.
The lightweight alloy slide is well finished in a matte black coating, typical of Sig’s high quality. The alloy slide on top of my Sig’s aluminum frame combined to make a featherweight pistol. The sights are fully adjustable for windage and elevation and are of the three-dot combat style. The adjustability is quite helpful when sighting in with various .22 loads.
Finding the Right Ammo
Rimfire pistols can be rather finicky with ammunition, and most prefer high velocity, round nose bullets. Truncated cone profiles and radical ogive contours can cause feeding malfunctions. In police firearms training, we usually shy away from shooting unjacketed bullets to avoid lead buildup in barrels. But .22s are not prone to bore leading and are easily cleaned with solvent and a bore brush.
I discovered that Winchester Wildcat ammo functioned 100 percent in my Sig, and it also fired the tightest groups. A 500- round brick of this lead ammunition sells for $19.99 at my local store. CCI Stinger hollowpoints also functioned perfectly. They cost about double that of the Wildcat ammo, but they’re still much less expensive than centerfire practice fodder.
Aguila’s 30-grain cartridges cost even less than the Winchester ammo but did not function well in my Sig. They also produced the largest group of the day. The power just didn’t seem to be there with the lightweight bullets, and the slide would not cycle reliably. The Sig’s action appeared to jam because of the round’s slightly shorter overall cartridge length compared to cartridges with 40- grain bullets.
Remington’s Thunderbolt ammo is another bargain, costing about the same as the Winchester Wildcats. The Thunderbolts grouped well but had occasional misfeeds. Showcasing how different guns can be nitpicky with the same ammunition, my EAA Witness .22 conversion kit worked well with the Aguila and Thunderbolt ammo, but jammed with the Winchester Wildcat .22s. It usually takes a bit of trial and error experimentation to settle on the .22 cartridge that works best in a particular weapon.
It must also be noted that many .22 conversion kits will not lock the slide back after the last fired shot. This is a hindrance to practicing reloads from an empty weapon mode. Both the Sig and the Witness slides do not lock back when the last round in a magazine is fired. However, the slide can be manually locked to the rear by pushing up the slide release lever.
I also fired a friend’s GSG-5, which is a .22 replica of the Heckler & Koch MP5. This compact rifle comes with a false tube screwed over its 16-inch barrel that looks like a suppressor. We shot several brands of high velocity ammunition through the GSG-5’s 22-round capacity magazine, and it never failed. The GSG-5’s controls are so similar to the real thing that SWAT and tactical officers who carry the MP5 could put this .22 to good use in training.
Umarex/Walther also makes a .22 caliber version of the MP5 that is now authorized by HK. Live-fire training costs can be greatly reduced by firing inexpensive rimfire ammo in these MP5 clones. The ability to work out team tactics with more trigger time is an advantage as well. More shooting, at less cost, equals better trained police personnel.
Conversion Kits Pay for Themselves
I don’t practice shooting with my left hand as much as I should, so I fired 150 rounds with my Sig P220 .22, operating the handgun exclusively with my weak hand. This type of repetition builds muscle memory and improves handling skills. It cost me just $6 for three boxes of Winchester Wildcat .22s, instead of $60 for three boxes of .45 caliber cartridges. The cost effectiveness of shooting .22LR rounds is readily apparent.
My single trip to the range to practice left-handed shooting saved me $54 in ammunition costs; it won’t take me long to make up for the $349 I paid for the Sig Sauer .22 conversion kit. Any officer interested in shooting more while paying less should check into a .22 conversion kit for his duty gun.
For the same reason, any department that issues a particular weapon should certainly consider purchasing a few .22 conversion kits. Even departments that allow various makes and models of duty guns should be able to find several kits that would aid most, if not all, of their officers. The kits can be used with extra armory weapons, or they can be swapped with individual officers’ handguns. AR-15 .22 conversion kits or replica .22s like the S&W M&P15-22 or GSG-5 are also excellent training tools for patrol and SWAT officers.
Shooting skills can definitely be improved with more practice, and more practice can be economically realized by shooting duty guns converted to fire .22 caliber ammunition. However, the end result of this increased training could be the most important—it could mean a life saved.
Steve Tracy is a 22-year police veteran with 20 years of experience as a firearms instructor. He is also an instructor for tactical rifles, use of force, less-than-lethal force and scenario-based training. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.