It has been calculated that all of the popular rimfire ammunition will carry around 1.5 miles with the optimum trajectory.
What is the maximum effective range of a 22?
The first question that must be answered before we can determine the maximum effective range of a 22 is, effective for what?
The word "effective' can mean many things. Effective enough to punch a hole in a paper at 500 yards, effective enough to kill an elephant at a mile, effective enough to kill a man at 50 yards, etc.
I think the failure to really define what "effective" means is why there is so much confusion around what a 22 round can do. I will do my best below to answer what the effectiveness of this little round is based on several scenarios.
What if effective is defined as killing power?
What is the killing power of a 22 round?
A 22 round has the capability of killing almost anything when it penetrates into organs vital for life like the brain, the heart, etc. Is it capable killing a rabbit at 300 yards? Is it capable of killing an elephant at 10 yards.? Is it capable of killing a human being at 200 yards? Is it capable of killing a human being at 7 yards?
The answer to all of these questions again is, if the bullet can penetrate into organs vital for life, it can kill, period. If the bullet does not accomplish this the probability of death is low and of those deaths that do occur the probability of death not being immediate is high.
Fact is, the 22 cartridge is responsible for more deaths in the US every year than any other caliber bullet. Is this because it is so lethal. Probably not. It is probably because there are more 22 firearms in existence than any other and more people have them.
The reason experts will tell you that they don't recommend a 22 for self defense is, as I said earlier, for quick immediate death, a shot into vitals is required. In most self defense situations, the ability to put that shot on target is not possessed by average people. Even experts miss in these situations as stress doesn't get much higher than this.
Larger calibers are recommended because they impart more shock and have a larger wound channel, and therefore, more of a chance to hit the vitals bringing an attacker down quickly.
A 22 bullet does not impart a substantial amount of shocking power as the ability to do that is related to speed and mass. Therefore, that ability to kill is more about the bullet hitting and causing damage to vital organs directly than about hitting near a vital organ with a faster bullet where shock does the damage.
This all goes back to the age old addage "bullet placement is the key to killing power"
I personally know of one situation where a hunter was putting his 22 rifle into the scabbard on his ATV and the rifle mistakenly fired striking him almost in the arm pit. This bullet ricocheted off of bones in his body and exited on the left side of his body, killing him immediately.
I also have personally walked a person to an ambulance who had been shot 8 times with a 22 caliber bullet. He walked under his own power to the ambulance and survived the incident with minimal permanent damage. He was hit in multiple locations with the bullets never touching organs vital to life.
How far is a 22 accurate?
This video was posted Youtube in share mode by Hill Country Rifles
As you can see in the video above, 300 yards at a 6 inch target is not a really a big deal with the
proper tools, set up and technique. This shooter is using a bipod and rear bag for a rest with a kahles 6-24X 56 scope. Having the glass to not only see what you are shooting at, but to see the middle of the target is the key. Kahles optics are top of the line optics with crystal clear glass and dependability. Check them out on Amazon here
With my Savage fv equipped with 6-24 UTG scope (only about a $220 scope) I can hit a 21 x 24 inch plate fairly consistently. This plate is about the size of the vitals area of a man. 500 yards is right on the edge of consistency. You can definitely hit further out but beyond 500 yards more luck than skill starts to come in to play at least with this rig.
500 yards is still a very long shot for anyone. Based on the ballistics charts I have looked at, experience, and research I have done, I would say 500 yards with a 22 is like a 308 at around 1500 yards. Many of the same variables come into play.
Below is a video posted by Styles622 with the shared option. All shooting is done at 600 yards with an Anschutz 1913 Super Match Target Rifle .22 Caliber Wood Stock using Eley ammo. The target is 3 feet by 3 feet.
These guys were set up really well and the shooter appears to be very competent. Still their shots that impacted were scattered all over the 3 foot target. This is quite a difference from the first video on a 6 inch plate at 300 yards.
How to increase the effective range of your 22
So far we have discussed the maximum effective range of the 22 cartridge itself. As with any cartridge the firearm it is shot from has a great deal of influence on effectiveness.
If you are shooting this round from a stock 22 with a sporter barrel, stock trigger, open sights, and no tuning with bedding or free floating, your maximum effective range will be much less than if fired from a $2500 custom rifle.
Why, because accuracy and consistency are the key to being effective at any range given the cartridge is capable of reaching vitals. It is a pretty sure guess that the custom rifle will deliver on target more often, increasing it's ability to kill.
So how can you increase the effectiveness of your rifle. Make it accurate with a scope, bipod / monopod combo or better ammo. Ensure the barrel is free floated and the action is correctly bedded. Check the torque on the action screws and make sure they are good and tight. Work on improving your shooting skills. We all think we know how to shoot. Go back to the basics and shoot a few groups at 50 yards. You might be surprised at what you will learn.
Based on the facts we have discussed above regarding killing power of a 22 round we know that as long as a vital organ can be damaged or destroyed by the bullet, this round will kill. We also know that accuracy really begins to suffer, even from the best rifles past 500 yards. For those reasons I believe the maximum effective range of a 22 round is 500 yards when shot from a good rifle and by a good marksman.
Sure you can hit large targets beyond that as we saw in the video above. I have seen video of another expert shooter onYoutube making shots with a 22 out to 760 yards. He was making contact but infrequently and his shot dispersion was larger than 3 ft. I have seen other videos he has made and I can tell you he is an expert shot so I don't think anyone else could do much better. Further reinforcement that 500 yards is the maximum effective range.
So I think the best way to answer this question is that the 22 can kill as far away as you can shoot it accurately. This is true for all weapons, down to and including a sling shot.