The following information on small game cartridges comes from Rifles and Rifle Shooting by Charles Askins. Rifles & Rifle Shooting is also available to purchase in print.
.22 Short.—.22 Long rifle.—.22 Winchester R.F.—.22 Automatic.—.25 Stevens.
These cartridges have the same general characteristics, light bullets, low velocity, slight report, and a trifling amount of power. Usually one and all of them are cataloged as the proper thing for small game. It depends greatly upon the definition of small game; if we mean song and insectivorous birds the catalogs are right. If, however, small game means turkey, geese, coyotes, woodchucks, foxes, or jack-rabbits, not one of the above cartridges is worth considering. Of course, they will kill sometimes, kill a steer if the bullet is placed in the brain, but following the principle of big game hunters who require a rifle that will kill instantly where the ball strikes fairly, all the .22 rimfires will be found inadequate.
The amount of cruelty and mischief compassed by the .22 rimfires would be startling if known in its entirety. Recently, near my home, where I had been carefully protecting the song birds, I had the pleasure of watching a man out for his daily practice with a .22 automatic. He killed one bluejay that flew fifty yards before falling, dying after its head had been pounded. Of three doves shot at, one got away feathered; one flew some distance, tried to alight on a tree, fell off, and was shot again; a third fell dead after making quite a flight. A mocking bird had one leg shot off, and I have seen it a number of times since, hopping about on its remaining leg. One blue bird and three other little fellows were killed dead on the spot.
The .22 rimfire is the favorite rifle of boys and a certain lawless class of our resident alien population, before whom everything that gets up in front of the gun is game, song birds preferred. The average so-called small game shooter starts out for an afternoon’s sport with about two hundred cartridges, and if there is any wild thing which does not draw a shot, the hunter is not the average I am speaking of but an exception. I should estimate that half the little birds that were once in America have been killed by the .22 short and the single barrel shotgun. If the Audubon Society has the real interest of our songsters at heart it will fire a broadside at these misnamed small game rifles in place of the automatic shotgun.
The real province of the .22’s is gallery and short range target work. With them a foundation can be laid for rifle shooting skill, and later an arm can be taken up with which something can be killed in a sportsmanlike manner.
The .22 caliber R.F. is the rifle for the beginner. It cannot be used at long range so none of the problems which later puzzle the rifleman, such as light, wind, atmosphere, temperature, humidity, or elevation are connected with its use. The task of the miniature rifleman is simply one of holding, aiming, and pulling trigger, and he who fails to perfect himself in these has but himself to blame.
The .22 Short
This cartridge contains three grains of powder and thirty of lead, and can be had either in black or smokeless powder. As noted under the general heading, it has been extensively advertised as the correct thing for small game shooting, but neither the .22 short, .22 long-rifle, nor .22 automatic has the range, trajectory, or power that a game rifle should possess.
In the gallery, however, the .22 short has a special field of its own. The very highest possible scores have been made with it, and it is the consensus of opinion among expert riflemen that the .22 short is as accurate as any cartridge made up to seventy-five feet, when used indoors. The points of this cartridge which appeal to the gallery shot are, accuracy, cheapness, cleanliness, light report, and little smoke, all important requisites in the gallery. The outdoor snapshot prefers the cartridge for similar reasons, though accuracy is of less importance to him. If the .22 short is to be used on game, head shots alone should be taken.
The .22 Long Rifle
This cartridge is loaded with five grains of powder and forty of lead, and the powder may be either black or smokeless, the former giving a trifle the higher velocity.
The long-rifle takes the place of the .22 short when it comes to outdoor target practice, since the heavier bullet is much less sensitive to wind. Up to a hundred yards it will do good work in any ordinary weather and will make a close pattern at two hundred yards on a still day. However, a moderate wind will drift the bullet two feet at the latter range, and therefore its use is not practical beyond one hundred yards. Of all the ammunition made this one seems to be able to fire the largest number of shots without loss of accuracy from fouling, which makes it a prime favorite with short range target shots.
As a game cartridge it will do for squirrels and rabbits but the hollow point bullet should be used or many animals will escape wounded. Its trajectory is too high for it to be used with much success at ranges beyond fifty yards—this for unknown and estimated distances.
The .22 Automatic
The .22 automatic is very similar in ballistic properties to the long-rifle, when the latter is loaded with smokeless powder. It uses a forty-five grain hardened bullet which promotes penetration without adding to killing power. Like the foregoing it is a splendid cartridge for continuous, non-fouling target practice, being a great favorite with professional fancy rifle shots, owing to the weapon in which it is used, its cleanliness, freedom from recoil, and accuracy.
The .22 Winchester Rimfire
For various reasons this is a better hunting cartridge than either of those mentioned above. It has more power, driving a forty-five grain bullet with seven grains of powder. The bullet is seated in the shell with no lubricant exposed, wherein it has the advantage of the .22 short or the long-rifle, neither of which can be carried loose in the pocket. Moreover, it is a better cartridge for a repeating rifle since the ball is crimped to the shell and will not jerk out letting powder spill into the action. If sport can be had shooting such birds as quail, doves, and snipe, with a rifle, this cartridge would prove effective. Both pump and single-mot rifles are chambered for it in addition to the Colt revolver.
The .25-11-65 Stevens Rimfire
Limiting small game to birds of a size less than turkey, and not considering trajectory as a factor in landing our bullet on the mark, this cartridge will do the work. It kills squirrels and rabbits very cleanly when struck in the fore part of the body. For a combination of killing qualities on birds without undue smashing it has few rivals. Its power can be considered as roughly double that of any of the .22 rimfires. The rifleman who uses it upon game at ranges beyond sixty yards must be an expert judge of distances.
The .25 Stevens rimfire has accomplished very fine work at two hundred yards off-hand. While the .25-11 is a splendid short range target cartridge, superior even to the long-rifle, yet its use has been restricted by the increased cost as compared with the .22 rimfires.
Small Game Rifles—Target Rifles for Short Unknown Distances
The demands upon a rifle intended for woodchuck, geese, turkey, coyotes, foxes, hawks, crows, jackrabbits, cottontails, and squirrels, are that it must have ample power, the trajectory must be flat enough to shoot at any distance up to one hundred yards without change of sight, the arm itself should be light, the accuracy must be good for a long series of shots, and the ammunition inexpensive. Not all of the cartridges mentioned comply with the condition fully, and some are better adapted to one species of game than another—as will be shown. Perhaps we should have limited this small game ammunition to nitro powder shells, but a couple of those listed, while loaded with black powder, have enough merit to be included.
Preferably ammunition for this sort of shooting should have a minimum velocity of not less than 1,800 feet, with a muzzle energy of at least 500 pounds, but we have only a few cartridges that will meet these requirements, and must, therefore, accept others. For game like rabbits and squirrels a lower velocity and less energy are all right, but for shooting above one hundred yards flat trajectory is very important.
It should be borne in mind that rifles of the class we are treating here are intended as much as anything for rifle training, shooting in the woods and fields at various marks, unknown distances up to three hundred yards. Bullets for this purpose must have range, accuracy, flat trajectory, and not be too much affected by the wind. Moreover, the question of recoil is not to be overlooked where the novice is being put through his paces—a kicking rifle would have to go into some other class.
.22-13-45 Winchester and .22-15-60 Stevens
For the sake of economy in space we will bracket these two cartridges together. The former has a trifle more velocity and the latter somewhat greater power. The trajectory of either is about two and a half inches at one hundred yards, the velocity a trifle better than 1,500 feet, the energy 237 to 275 foot pounds.
As target cartridges neither would compare with some of the rimfire .22’s, since the heavy black powder charge fouls too much, but as game cartridges they are superior. Either of them is capable of keeping ten shots in a four-inch circle at one hundred yards. Both of them could be improved by being charged with smokeless powder behind a metal patched bullet, and perhaps this will be done some time. Loaded with nitro powder, giving a muzzle velocity of 2,000 feet, they would have a much wider field of usefulness. At present they are chiefly useful for work on rabbits, squirrels, hawks, and crows, though with hollow-point bullets they will kill larger game. Only single shot rifles are chambered for these two cartridges.
The .25-20-86 Stevens and .25-20 Marlin and Winchester
Here we have cartridges that, while not of the same shape and not interchangeable, have practically the same ballistics—when loaded with black powder. The former can be used only in single-shot rifles and the latter only in repeaters. The .25-20 repeater cartridge loaded with black powder gives the ordinary 1,400 feet velocity and with smokeless increases the velocity to 1,700 feet.
This feature of the cartridge makes it perhaps the best now obtainable as combined small game and general practice ammunition. The shell takes a greater variety of charges, designed for more special uses than any other I know. It can be charged with ten grains of black, semi-smokeless, or an equivalent amount of smokeless powder and a seventy-seven grain, sharp pointed bullet wherewith even small birds like quail may be shot through the body without mutilation. Then the regular black powder cartridge is an especially good one up to two hundred yards, splendid scores having been made with it on the Standard American and German Ring targets at the distance. The .25-20 is also a great promoter of economical rifle practice since it lends itself admirably to hand reloaded ammunition. The rifle lover can mold his bullets to different tempers and shapes, and make up his ammunition entire if he likes, or lubricated factory bullets can be bought at a trifling cost, and half the price of ammunition saved.
The regular black powder charge has a muzzle energy of 360 foot pounds, a trajectory of 2.88 inches, an accuracy of a three-inch circle at one hundred yards. This black cartridge is quite capable of accounting for any of the birds or animals mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, when fired upon at ranges not exceeding a hundred and fifty yards. If the rifleman has occasion to shoot beyond this distance the high velocity, smokeless ammunition will be found suited to his purpose.
The .25-20 high velocity has an initial speed of 1,712 feet, one hundred yard trajectory 1.85 inches, energy 560 pounds. There is no question of its effectiveness on anything smaller than deer, and even those animals would be stopped if struck right. The high velocity charge increases the practical killing range of the .25-20 from a hundred and fifty to two hundred yards.
There are two other black powder cartridges that have about the same ballistics as the .25-20. These are the .25-21 and the .25-25 Stevens. The shells of these are straight inside, a feature that renders them easy to reload and keep clean, and they are well liked by the experimental rifleman.
The .22 Newton-Savage High-Power
This cartridge is the latest development of ammunition and rifle for small game shooting. The powder charge is twenty-five grains of DuPont Lightning, and the metal patched, sharp-pointed, soft-nose bullet weighs seventy grains. It is given an initial velocity of 2,761 feet, and its trajectory up to two hundred yards is practically the same as that of the ’06 Springfield. The accurate range of this ammunition is over five hundred yards, but it is not intended for a long range rifle, but for work on small game and for that attractive outdoor rifle practice of which marksmen are so fond.
There is no doubt but this cartridge will prove effective on anything up to deer, having about the same power as the .25-35. For shooting at estimated distances up to say three hundred yards I believe it to be the best cartridge that we have, since it comes as near to shooting point blank at two hundred yards as anything now built in this country. The moderate recoil of this cartridge and gun would further accuracy when used by the average rifleman who has not been trained with military arms.
For work on such beasts as coyote, wood-chuck, or fox the soft-nose bullet could be used with paralyzing effect. Where smashing was not desired, a full mantled ball would be best. The shell can also be reloaded with a fifty grain bullet, and a reduced powder charge for lesser game like squirrels and rabbits. The twist of the rifling, one turn in twelve inches, is such that plain lead bullets and reduced powder charges will work nicely.
On the whole it appears that the Newton-Savage is the last word in small game rifles. It is ·not intended for shooting tiny birds, but neither are they “small game.” This cartridge is adapted to the lever-action repeater made by the Savage Arms Company.