The Missing Subsonic .22LR Market

Precision shooters know that keeping bullet speeds out of the transonic region preserves accuracy. The pressure dynamics around the sound barrier can upset a ballistically efficient bullet on its way to the target.

It turns out that the round nose and stubby heel of a typical .22LR bullet make it remarkably aerodynamic at subsonic speeds. Consequently, match-grade .22LR ammunition is typically designed to leave a rifle barrel under 1000fps.

Competitive rimfire shooters aren’t the only ones who have discovered advantages to subsonic ammunition. Anyone who fires a well suppressed gun will note that even if the muzzle blast is fully contained in the baffles of a silencer a supersonic bullet makes a significant amount of noise of its own: As it travels down range the supersonic pressure waves in its wake produce a “sonic crack.” Since .22LR cans are so light, cheap, and efficient, there are a lot of suppressor owners opting for subsonic ammunition to keep shooting sessions as quiet as possible.

Anyone who has pulled a subsonic .22 bullet has probably been surprised at how much empty space is in the case. It takes less than one grain of powder to propel the standard 40gr .22 lead bullet to the sound barrier. With all that extra room in the cartridge, why not add some more mass to the bullet? After all, holding all else equal, mass is your ballistic friend: It increases ballistic coefficient, which increases a bullet’s effective range by helping it retain velocity and resist atmospheric disturbances. Extra mass at the same speed also increases energy, which enhances terminal ballistics.

Aguila 60gr SSS .22LRAt some point you’re bound to notice a peculiar offering in the .22 marketplace: Silver boxes of Aguila-brand subsonic .22LR ammunition with some odd-looking 60gr bullets. Based on all of the preceding observations, you might justifiably exclaim, “Ah ha! There’s a great idea! I’ll put those in my rifle and enjoy all of the benefits of subsonic shooting for pennies a round, but with improved ballistics!”

And you would be right, except for one problem: Virtually every .22LR barrel is made with 1:16” rifling, and that is not adequate to reliably stabilize those longer 60gr lead bullets. In fact, I have looked long and hard to find anyone who makes a .22LR barrel with faster rifling that is also threaded to accept a suppressor. (The closest you can come is to buy an aftermarket specialty barrel from a place like Green Mountain, and then pay another $100 to get someone else to thread its muzzle. Or buy a .22LR conversion kit for a .223 rifle, many of which have 1:9 twist threaded barrels.)

Do some more research and you will also conclude that Aguila does not enjoy the most stellar reputation in rimfire ammunition. And yet they are the only company that makes .22LR bullets heavier than 50gr (and there are only a tiny number of other specialty loads heavier than the standard 40gr).

.22LR is by far the most popular consumer cartridge. Every .22LR shooter with a silencer, and many without, would love to be able to buy reliable and accurate 60gr+ bullets, as well as threaded barrels with sufficient twist rates to stabilize them.

So my open question to the firearms industry is: Where are the reputable bullet manufacturers selling cases of plinking, varmint, and match-grade 60gr .22LR ammunition? And where in the vast marketplace of .22LR guns and parts are the 1:12 twist .22LR barrels with threaded muzzles to shoot those bullets?

18 thoughts on “The Missing Subsonic .22LR Market

  1. Richard Meyer

    Happy New Year!

    I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED your article on the Buckmark with the tactical solutions barrell and the Gemtech supressor!!! You have me all set to order my parts now to emulate your weapon! I was especially impressed with the technical aspect of the 4 inch barrel preventing a supersonic bullet – I would not have thought of that!!!

    Many thanks!

    Can you hook me up with Gemtech for a mil discount on the supressor and/or Tactical Solutions as I am an USAF active duty fighter pilot?

    One last thing… what the HELL was Browning thinking when they made this wonderful pistol SO damned hard to clean? I can clean five AR-15s in less time and with much less worry of damaging the weapons I am cleaning than when I clean my Buckmark!!!! My easiest and fastest to clean is the Ruger LCP!!! (15 minutes to take apart, clean and re-assemble!) SWEETNESS!

    Cheers and thanks for the great info!

    Richard A. Meyer, Lt Col, USAF

  2. federalist Post author

    Col. Meyer,

    Glad you enjoyed the article. You should definitely ask for military discounts when buying guns and accessories. Not everyone offers them, but it doesn’t cost to ask, and it pays when they do!

    Regarding the cleaning: I can’t help myself, but I’ve begun to realize that most guns don’t need to be kept in the pristine condition I prefer. When I shot rifle in high school we would only clean our Anshutz .22s at the beginning and end of a season! Of course a semi-auto like the Buckmark isn’t going to tolerate dirt as well as a bolt gun, but when I get back to shooting mine I’m going to try just lubing the action without disassembling it, and maybe using an Otis cleaning kit (with flexible rod) to pull patches through the bore. We’ll see how that goes….

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  4. Twrecks

    I too have been wondering for several years at the lack of heavier 22 ammo…especially since most .22 plinking and pest control is done below 50 yards…or perhaps even less than 50 ft.

    I’m just an amateur…but I have come across the 1:9 ratio for 10/22 rifle barrels designed around the subsonic rounds. Has there been a comparison of 1:9 vs 1:12 barrels with the different subsonics?

    Interestingly enough I just last week emailed Tactical Solutions last week asking about 1:9 barrels for a Ruger MKIII or Buckmark for building a subsonic pistol built around the Aguila SSS 60 gr. round. They were quick to reply, but had not heard of any fast twist (1:12 or 1:9) pistol barrels. I’m going to see if they would do a prototype/custom buckmark barrel for me and see what they quote me. Here is an interesting technical discussion with some Aguila SSS 60 info as well:

    http://guns.connect.fi/gow/QA5.html

    Perhaps someone can influence CCI to develop a series of quality, heavy, copper coated 50-60 grain .22’s for the good of mankind. Hopefully they are taking notice of all the interest and increasing sales of the Aguila SSS 60’s.

    Here are some 1:9 barrels…with threaded end options!

    http://www.hi-desertdog.com/index.php?_a=viewCat&catId=23

    http://www.eabco.com/cgi-bin/shopper.exe?preadd=action&key=127-182

    There seems to be a trend developing…hopefully.

    Regards.

  5. federalist Post author

    Yeah, Aguila noted that their 60gr bullets are popular. They also recommend at least 1:9 twist to stabilize them.

    I asked Brett Olin at CCI whether they’ve considered entering this product space and was disappointed he said, “We don’t believe that there is enough interest in this product to pursue.”

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  7. 11BravoCibVet

    Completely agree with the heavier bullet theory, however Id just be happy to have a 45 grain bullet with the best B.C. possible ! It would function well with std. 1in16″ twists too. Im currently shooting several rifles including a Anschutz 54 supermatch on steel targets out to 300 yards plus here on the ranch and could definetly benefit from a Subsonic heavy bullet. My wind drift chart with a 90 degree 10 mph wind @ 300 yards is 26.9″ with Wolf Match Target. The drop is -132.49 at the same distance. Any thing that helps retain a bit more velocity and less drift would be great! Just mentioned this to a tech at CCI and if you want it to Id tell CCI… Good shooting to you and drop CCI a hint, maybe they will listen.

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  9. oldjeans

    I shoot Aguila 60gr sss out of my Marlin 795 almost exclusively. Yes, they are dirty and smelly but pretty accurate. I get 0.5-1.0in.groups at 50 yards routinely. There is some slight keyholing between 50 to 75 yards. At around 100 yards they’re straight again. Weird. Anyway, the slight keyholing certainly does NOT warrant buying a specialized barral. At least not for me. They also have a LOT of momentum. At 50 yards they knock a groundhog on its back, never to get up again. I love ’em.

  10. twrecks

    Update on manufacturer’s interests and plans: I ran into the Winchester ammo rep at a sporting goods store opening. We hit it off real well and got to talking. He said the manufacturers all barely make any money on .22LR because it takes a crazy 3-5 day process to make them and that the market is so competitive that prices are held down. He had never even heard of the Aguila SSS 60gr. which tells me they don’t know their own market, don’t care because it barely breaks even for the bottom line. Hence all the resistance to increasing production facilities to produce more .22 ammo. Not gonna happen since they (CCI, Winch/Olin, etc) all believe the demand spike is a fad. I mentioned that in the last 3 -5 years the number of models of rifles, pistols and revolvers that are made in .22LR has multiplied many times over because few can afford to shoot 9mm, 40 or .45, much less .223, .308, 7.62×39 or any rifle calibers. His eyes glazed over and he couldn’t get it.

    Whoever decides to do this and market the .60 grain .22LR will make a mint if they just spend the money on a little marketing. Subsonic, fast twist, 60gr. is so much a good fit for .22 it is hard miss. 50% more mass is a lot more terminal energy. Most .22 shooting is plinking, close range varmiting, etc. Even the self defence role of .22LR for people who are rare to never shoooters, women new to shooting, children learning would be best served by a .22 with 50% more mass to deliver.

    Imagine a 60gr copper plated hollow point from CCI. At least I can dream.

  11. federalist Post author

    As far as I can tell Lapua Scoremax was discontinued years ago. If you find anything to the contrary please let us know!

  12. Thumper

    I also long for a heavy .22 round. After years of hoping for other 60 gr. 22’s, too much time researching and dreaming of fast twist Ruger or Buckmark pistol barrels, etc. I was told by several large ammo co. reps the same thing: There is no one who believes .22 heavy rounds would sell at a price where they could make money since it is a ‘commodity’ type mature market and once you charge enough to make it corporate appealing you are into the centerfire ammo price range… The reps I spoke with also, were unaware of Aguila’s SSS 60 gr. Their eyes also glazed over when I was asking a few basic questions. Also, Tactical solutions answered an email of mine not long ago regarding a possible custom project around the 60 gr. Aguila, that namely they have tried something a while back and were unimpressed with the round. No details yet, though I’m sure the stinky things make a bad first impression. My Buckmark only gets them to light off every other round or so. I was told the Aguila’s brass is harder and so suffers from light strike fff in many weapons.

    The one ‘pistol’ solution I can think of is to get a Ruger Charger, a fast twist Eabco or Green Mountain or such barrel and have that barrel cut to pistol length of your choice. Then you have a very heavy 10/22 ‘pistol’. I wonder at what barrel length the 60 gr. Aguila’s powder maxes out the power.

    So, my daydreaming is shifting toward an AR build around the heaviest .223/5.56 round that could be matched to an appropriate twist (1:7, 1:8, 1:9?) barrel tuned to subsonic velocities, etc. Weird, off the wall solution, maybe? Any thoughts or criticisms would be welcomed.

  13. Thom Paine

    That bore will be .224″ in size, whereas the avg. .22LR diameter is usually under that. Solution in my case was a Neal Waltz ” bump” or sizing die that slugs up the bullet to .225″ . It also will hollow point or Eley EPS flat point the bullet adjustably. Even CCI Quiet 40 can be hollow pointed with an extremely large h.p. cavity that works very well on barn rats etc. Can also say that my accuracy and consistency in several rifles and pistols has improved. Wish I had a link for you but do a search for Neal Waltz .22LR size die and it should give you a link to some info. Screws into a standard press too. And how many guys have a choice of 60 gr .22lr with hollow or flat points? Sorting blocks and 30 round mtm ammo wallets round out my setup for bench and field
    Hope the info helps. Happy New Year!
    PS I think your accuracy will suffer without a bump of some kind here. The Waltz is in my opinion first class in every way . It was also $180 if I recall correctly . But then to me at least in was worth every cent and I’m retired in varmint country. 🙂

  14. federalist Post author

    @Thumper: I just chronographed the Aguila 60gr and Aguila 40gr subsonic in both an 18″ rifle and 4.5″ pistol.

      40gr:  Rifle μ=990fps    Pistol μ=870fps
      60gr:  Rifle μ=900fps    Pistol μ=740fps
    

    Obviously these loads are designed for rifles. I have no idea how close to maximum pressure Aguila is running its 60gr loads, so I don’t know if there’s room for a manufacturer to bump the 60gr closer to 1000fps in a .22LR in either rifle or pistol.

    Regarding centerfire subsonic loads: My advice from plenty of experience is don’t even bother trying it in .223 unless you can get your hands on some of those special 100gr tungsten powder bullets. In any standard centerfire rifle case you can really only manage subsonic velocities safely (i.e., without risking bullets stuck in bores) with TrailBoss powder, and even then you won’t get an autoloader to cycle and you’ll struggle to get consistent muzzle velocities. Now that there are COTS rifle calibers designed for subsonic like 300BLK you should just get an upper or barrel in one of those.

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