Why 22 Bullets Are So Deadly

There are plenty of wives’ tales about .22 caliber bullets. How deadly are they really? .22 caliber guns are one of the most common in the world today, and by units sold, the .22LR outsells every other round. Due to its popularity, and small size, it’s no wonder everyone wants to know how deadly it is.

Teacher my daughter to shoot with a .22 caliber Cricket rifle

I grew up learning on a .22 caliber rifle, and that’s what I am teaching my kids on (see photo above of my 3 year old daughter). Even though this is a great gun to start out with, it’s important to understand the following:

The 22LR bullet is known to have less power than other large cartridges but still has the ability to kill. Each bullet has a diameter of 5.7mm-5.73mm, so a shot to a vital area would be devastating. 22 bullets often ricochet through the body once they enter, causing additional unseen damage.

This article will discuss how the 22 caliber round is dangerous and what the gun should be used for. We’ll also be going over past crimes that have involved the 22 caliber round and hear some real-world wisdom from an expert.

Cricket .22LR Rifle with .22LR cartridges

22 Caliber Bullets: Piercing Through And Causing Tissue Damage

All bullet types have the potential to cause damage, but let’s look at 22-caliber bullets in more depth. They have an unseen ability that makes them particularly dangerous.

When a 22 caliber bullet is fired from projectile weapons, a large amount of kinetic energy is transferred straight into a target. This causes the body’s tissues to ripple from a shock wave of force. The bullet is designed to penetrate through the surface area, transfer the energy, and tunnel through as far as it can from the shooting yard’s distance. The end result is either to take out the target with lethal force or cause a ricochet effect because of the 22 bullet’s lightweight. Source

The .223 is able to be even deadlier because of the velocity it gives off. When the bullet is shot, it can fly up to 3,200 feet per second and travel up to 1,660 feet per second. These bullets also have a range of 500 yards, so it’s hard to get out of range even if you know it’s coming.

The .22 is shot with a velocity of 2,690 feet per second, slows down to 840 feet per second, and only lasts up to 500 yards in ideal shooting conditions. .223 bullets make a bigger shock wave while tunneling through farther into the body, but both of these calibers can cause extensive damage. Source

For other velocity depictions on caliber bullets, visit here:

Do .22 Caliber Bullets Cause More Damage Than Larger Rounds? 

In 2010, there was a study performed for a Master’s thesis in forensic ballistics. The thesis was on the cranial ballistic wounding found in gunshots to the head. What was mentioned in the thesis was how many times a .22LR could ricochet inside the human body.

A post-mortem subject had five gunshots to the back of the head, which the author was observing, and all the shots were in a contact range to have enough gas expansion to damage the cranial cavity. Three of the five 22LR bullets were recovered inside the cranium with no wounds exiting outside. When going over the C-T scan, a single lead bullet was found in the throat, and the last was found inside the bladder. Both bullets are found around the head and below the body before the velocity ran out and lodged inside body tissue.

22LR bullet close up
22LR Close Up

What Is The Bleed Out Risk?

Many injuries that are caused by a .22 caliber bullet will result in almost instantaneous death (if a critical area was hit). However, guns can also cause secondary damage that leads to excessive bleeding and tissue damage. It’s. important to know what the signs of a fatal gunshot are and which areas are the most vulnerable. So what are the overall gunshot areas that would result in a risk of bleeding out?

The answer came out to be that the GSW (or gunshot wound), would be quickly fatal if the bullet damaged the heart, the aorta, or another major blood vessel. Death comes as a result of bleeding out when these areas are hit. Basically, any gunshots around the lungs or heart will be particularly deadly. Death occurs few minutes after the bullet enters.

There is a possibility for survival but only if the victim is lucky and was able to be treated with emergency surgery. If shot in the lungs specifically, the victim would bleed out unless they are able to recieve emergency surgery, have the bullet removed, control the bleeding, and successfully repair the lung. That’s a tall order and many victims are not able to survive a gunshot to the lung. Even if successful, the surgery would last for a couple of hours and result in at least a week in the hospital and a few months of recovery.

However, if the bullet was shot through the chest, the bullet would land inside the chest wall and not enter the chest cavity. Instead, the bullet would bounce off the breast bone, rib, or deflect out altogether into the chest wall’s tissue, even down to the person’s abdomen. If the bullet were to strike bone, it can bounce off to any point within the body. .22 caliber bullets are particularly notorious for their ability to ricochet and. move from. the initial point of impact. They are unlikely to leave clean entry and exit wounds.


22 Caliber Bullets Fired: How Often And How Far?

How far away does the .22LR need to be for a fatal hit?

When hunting, the danger range can be up to a mile apart, though this depends on if the shot is accurate, as the effective range is between 75-100 yards for small game (bunnies, squirrels, etc.). During gun competitions, a .22 rifle can be shot at more than 100 yards with the velocity dropping between 5-6″ and increasing on average to 20″ when shot at 150 yards.

Depending on the shooter’s preference, the average range can be 25-75 yards if they don’t care for the bullet dropping. When shooting for fun, heavy targets can be shot at from 450 yards, but there will be a large drop in control and accuracy. Source

However, the lethal distance changes when there is the intent to murder a human. If someone is shooting from top to bottom of the head, factoring in a 10in drop, the lethal distance is 87 yards. If aiming from the top to bottom of a person’s groin, including a 40-inch drop, it’s 166 yards. Lastly, if aiming from top to bottom of a person’s feet, including a 70-inch drop, a .22 caliber shot would be lethal at 214 yards. Source

How often are people shot at with a .22 caliber bullet?

There was a cross-sectional study that ranged over 5 years of data from investigations at the Boston Police Department. The study was to determine what the fatality rates were from the injuries inflicted by certain caliber firearms for murder.

In all cases, there were one or more gunshot wounds to the victim that were criminally based on over 221 gun-related homicides. There were also 300 nonfatal cases during the 5 years. The results, according to the source, concluded that a final sample of 511 gunshot victims resulted in 220 being fatal whereas survivors were at 291 nonfatal. During the investigations, the firearm found was a caliber being seen at a 63.2% at nonfatal cases and 83.2% at the result of fatal cases.

Combining the cases, there were three groups of the caliber bullets featuring the small types of .22, .25, and .32. Medium caliber bullets were found to be .38, .380, and 9mm with larger bullets being .357 magnum to 7.62x 39mm.

Granted the caliber bullets present in these cases are not to be associated with the number of inflicted wounds, the location of bullet holes, or the circumstances of attacks. Therefore the likelihood of death with cases involving smaller caliber bullets was at 2.25 with larger caliber bullets being at 4.54 in statistical terms which reduces the resulting homicides by 39.5%.

When the location of assault was included, the bullet holes were usually found in the head, neck, back, abdomen, arms, and legs. with the wounds being accounted for single shots and various shots.

The overall result of the gunshot homicide cases was a 1-6 ratio of the victim dying from a caliber shot. This was determined by which homicides were fatal with how many gun wounds are present, the location, size of the bullet, and the bullet weight.


Talking To A Gun Expert

While researching .22 caliber bullets, I talked to an experienced gun owner who gave some great real-world answers for the following questions:

What should the gun be used for?

“I’d say the gun should only be used for home defense, self-defense, and hunting as it is best used as a tool.”

What has been your experience .22 caliber bullets/guns?

“Oh, they’re super fun and it’s great that they’re cheaper to shoot. You can generally find bulks of .22 caliber bullets for cheap at any gun shop. They are also very popular and well-stocked too.”

Is the .22 caliber a better gun choice for hunting/protection?

“When hunting small animals and not larger game, yeah. I’d recommend using it for jackrabbits, black-tail rabbits, cottontail rabbits, as well as quail, wild pig (may take a few shots since their skin is thick), and squirrels. I recommend to aim at the head for a good clean shot.”

Have you had any complications with the gun?

“Semi-auto versions will have more malfunctions because the lighter bullets tend to have problems shooting, especially out of a double-loaded firing rifle. The gun needs to have a solid recoil system to be light enough for the bullets to be fired. Smaller rifles have fewer problems as they only have one cylinder to rotate through in one direction. It also helps that they don’t have a lot of moving parts.”

What Makes The 22 Caliber Dangerous?

Guns are dangerous if they are fired by novices or used for ill-intent. First, we need to see what stands between death and survival is how quickly someone can receive medical care. From the time someone is hit with a .22 and receiving medical assistance is normally longer because the victim may keep fighting the attacker or running away instead of collapsing.

So what is the main danger of the .22 caliber bullet/gun? It’s the same anger as any other type of bullet; it can kill or seriously injure someone.

There’s not a strong survival chance if the bullet hits someone in vital organs or major blood arteries. Statistics generally point to a .22 long rifle being the second most used gun for death fatalities as well as resulting the same with any caliber more than a 9mm Luger. With a .22LR having the energy between 120-180 ft ibs, the hunting arrow is around 80 ft ibs which can kill a dear with the .22 able to kill a person. Source

Therefore, the 22 caliber bullet produces a higher fatality rate rather than not. A shot has the potential to be deadly as any large bullet but can be less debilitating. (Source)

If the victim is still alive when the EMT arrives there is an 80% chance to live however, someone surviving until the EMT is factored on where they were hit and long it took the EMT to arrive. If the victim is found able to flee or being held back from bleeding, the major problem would be focused if they were hit around the abdominal cavity from any major arterial branches within the torso. This results in the victim not able to be helped and usually results in death.

If the victim is hit with too many shots, it’ll be harder for the trauma surgeon to work on their wounds, which causes them to bleed out more quickly.

Trauma surgeons find it hard to expand bullets because they cause more damage by getting the bullets out while also posing a risk to the doctors themselves. There are different survival rates with people shot with expanders vs. people having various rounds in them/extra holes. Fewer exit wounds are able to form from expanding design transferred by energy towards the victim instead of a straight shot through the body. This results in fewer holes to stop bleeding with survival being a better outcome.

So while all bullets can be lethal, 22 calibers tend to be particularly difficult to treat and remove before the damage becomes permanent.


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Matthew Osborn

Matt is an entrepreneur who has created and successfully exited multiple companies and brands. Now, he dedicates his time to Legionary, where he produces content on guns, family, and freedom.

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