We wanted to write this article to get people into the game of Smallbore Silhouette shooting quickly when it comes to the selection of ammunition.
While it seems there are reams of .22 Long Rifle to choose from, and no doubt there is, you'll be happy to learn that the field can be narrowed quickly and easily.
Since this article is geared toward beginners, we're going to assume a beginner's budget and beginner's rifle and look at the available beginner's ammunition. This is not a limiting factor by any means. Ammunition manufacturers make a dizzying array of options for .22 Long Riflers to choose from and you need to learn to read the boxes with care. Some manufacturer's boxes all look the same - only the description or model number may tell you what is different. You want to make sure you're getting the velocity of ammunition you desire. Also note that some boxes may only be (40) forty rounds to a box when you think it's the typical (50) fifty.
Let's talk velocity.
Velocity is easily broken down into a few categories.
Low Velocity (under 800-900 fps)
Sub-Sonic (950-1050 fps)
Standard Velocity (1050-1250 fps)
High Velocity (1250-1450 fps)
Hyper Velocity (over 1500 fps)
We often treat Sub-Sonic and Standard Velocity as one here for reasons we will explain later.
Low Velocity .22 LR is mostly for gallery use or pest elimination. Hyper-Velocity is fairly verboten on the Silhouette range due to the target damage that can occur (they're made of steel but get nailed with enough 1400-1600 fps lead sinkers and you'll crack a leg too). This leaves Standard/Sub-Sonic and High-Velocity.
Typically all match shooters opt for the Standard/Sub-Sonics for some pretty good reasons. It's probably easier to explain by telling you why High-Velocities can give you problems. High-Velocity ammunition leaves the typical .22 barrel just above the sound barrier and once it reaches around 75 meters it slows enough to be sub-sonic. Passing through the sound barrier subjects the projectile to buffeting (turbulence) and no matter how minute, it will never help. Also, since the sound barrier depends on variables in the atmosphere, it's never the same from session to session. Air temperature, air pressure and elevation all determine when the bullet will "go sub-sonic" and this can cause additional inconsistencies in your grouping at known distances. Finally, barrel length and condition can also affect speed enough to change velocity and the distance when the bullet drops to sub-sonic. When you add it up, these are never things that are going to help you keep your shots on target.
Granted, High-Velocity rounds will shoot a flatter trajectory and theoretically buffet high wind better, but we're not shooting at long enough distances for it to really matter. Standard-Velocity and Sub-Sonics are the thing to use.
Why? Because these rounds typically fly in the 950-1140 fps range, with some going up to 1250 fps. The speed you choose may never be as important as how well your rifle likes to group the shots, but picking a velocity in relation to your barrel length is probably wise. The "optimal" barrel length for a .22 Long Rifle is ~16" before the friction in the barrel actually begins to slow the bullet. This is why you will see some silhouette rifles with quite short barrels since scope optics replace the need for a longer, barrel-based sight radius. Since most new shooters use off-the-shelf rifles that have 18-22" barrels, Standard Velocity rounds typically leave the barrel at sub-sonic speeds anyhow.
Most would encourage the use of a lead-nose bullet or something without a jacket. This usually eliminates the need to remove copper fouling in the barrel which is also harder to clean then lead fouling. Lead fouling is pretty infrequent due to the slower velocities and lubrication used on .22 Long Rifle ammunition.
Take a trip.
Find a well priced sporting goods store or search on-line. www.22ammo.com is a good place to look up a lot of what's available. You're going to want to get 50-100rds of as many types of .22 Long Rifle you can afford and is reasonable to shoot. Stick to the Standard/Sub-Sonic Velocity, Lead Solid 38 or 40 grain cartridges at first. You can find such offerings from Winchester, Federal, Remington, CCI, Aguila, Sellier & Bellot, Wolf, Fiocchi, & PMC to name a few. If you like, you can try the "big boys" of Lapua & Eley but be prepared to lay out some money. You can expect to pay $1 to $3 per box of 50. Fire some of each to test functionality, feeding, gumming-up-the-action, key-holing, split or blow-by cases, or any other problem associated with firing a rimfire cartridge. These should be removed from contention unless they group like no other.
Next you'll want to start testing your lots for accuracy which will be our next article. Stay tuned for Part II...