Why Does the Military Use .22 Rimfire Rifles for Training?

In a couple videos last month about American .22 LR rimfire training rifles, I got a surprising number of comments from viewers who did not understand why a military would train with a .22 caliber rifle instead of their actual issue cartridge. There were enough of these comments that I decided it would be worthwhile to make this short video explaining the rationale, because the question suggests a fundamental misunderstanding that should be addressed.

Basically, it is done because learning to shoot with a small and very light cartridge allows the trainee to understand and practice the fundamentals of shooting (sight picture, sight alignment, trigger control, and followthrough) without the distraction of recoil. What seems to be fairly widely misunderstood is that those fundamental skills translate extremely well between different guns and different types of shooting. Someone who is a good shot with a .22 will have a pretty easy time adapting to shooting a more powerful rifle like a 1903 Springfield, while a novice shooter introduced to the Springfield as their first rifle will have a much more difficult time learning proper shooting fundamentals.

This, of course, applies equally to civilian shooting as it does to military training.

34 Comments

  1. I was surprised how many people didn’t get this, but then again not everyone grew up shooting small-bore like I did.

  2. Hi Ian,
    For a number of years I was an instructor in the “first shot” program. Many times husbands or boyfriends were trying to get their wives or girlfriends to learn to shoot. Most times they would pick a light weight “J” frame .357 magnum and the new shooter would be scared to death after they touched a round off. I always told them tao start with a .22 and buy several hundred rounds of ammo, then step up to whatever they were comfortable with. If you develop a flinch it is doubly hard to get rid of it.
    Thanks for the video.

    • “was an instructor in the “first shot” program”
      I heard that rifles (or generally long-arms) are easier to use for beginners, is this true?

      • That is generally accepted. At least if the rifle has iron sights, especially open sights that are often on sporting rifles. If people learn to shoot rifles these days with red dot sights, it may not apply. Unless they are going to a pistol with a red dot sight as well, which may be very likely a decade or two from now.

        When I was learning to shoot many years ago, it was rabbit hunting with a bolt action 22. A big pre-war Remington with iron sights. It had a magazine, but I was allowed to load only one round at a time. That made me aim each shot.

        Now that my kids are getting old enough to shoot they are starting off with an iron sighted bolt action Marlin 22. One they get it right they can move on to something else.

  3. While everything you said in the video is true, I believe, it would be helpful to address why the U.S. (and I think many other modern militaries) do not currently train on .22 LR. In the case of the U.S. I believe it is because the .556 NATO round in an AR-style rifle has low enough recoil to remove most of the advantage of a .22 LR.

    • True, but the 5.56mm NATO also has a genuinely deafening crack when fired. Ear protection is worn on the range, of course, but even through it the sound is a distraction. Distractions in basic rifle training tend to result in flinching, which is difficult to “cure”. I know- I taught small arms to LEO at one time, and not every student was a military veteran, hunter, or etc. with small arms experience.

      There are both .22 rimfire “M-16 cliones” and .22 RF conversion units for AR-15 rifles on the market, and I’ve long wondered why the U.S. military doesn’t use one or the other for BIT.

      As Heinlein said of Hollywood, the most likely reason is money.

      cheers

      eon

      • Rf conversion units have seen limited use at least in the 80’s. One of my friends who participated in College ROTC used one and I have talked to folks who went through Air Force basic training who used them. I gathered it was in part an economic measure and in part because indoor ranges were not safe with 5.56 ammo. You are correct about 5.56 being loud. I lost a ear plug at a night fire range at Ft. Benning that was unpleasant.

  4. The Chinese army took this very logical approach a step further in the ’70s and ’80s, starting their recruits out on single shot, .177″, underlever airguns. This had at least a couple of benefits:

    1) It brought cost to almost zero for the equipment and ammunition used for training.

    2) These air rifles had sights almost identical to those on the AK and SKS series rifles, so that part was the same, and

    3) They had such lousy triggers and ergonomics that if you could shoot well with one, you could shoot pretty much anything (I owned one and the trigger was simply beastly, long and creepy, and never letting off at the same point. On the other hand, I believe it cost maybe $35 new in the box, in about 1995). The slam of the piston running forward amplified the difficulty of shooting well with it.

    It is interesting that during the recent shortage of .22 ammo here in the midwest that there has been a resurgence of interest in high performance air rifles, some of which approach .22 LR in performance, mostly for training purposes. Perhaps the Chinese had the right idea.

    CG

      • Very interesting, I didn’t know they used airguns as well.

        I suppose the consequences of an accidental discharge (always a possibility with trainees who have likely never handled a firearm) would be less with a single shot airgun, or even a .22, than with (say) an AK-47 with a full magazine of 7.62 x 39.

        Thanks for the info!

        CG

      • This is new to me that CSL military used them; I believe not. But as I mentioned elsewhere before, we had part of physical education shooting air-guns starting at public schools and later at middle schools smallbore. Objective was obvious: when draftee (not recruit, that is something else) was called to duty, all he had to do is absorb recoil of M43 cartridge – not a big deal.

        But yes, as you mentioned, that “vzduchovka” had very close appearance, weight and features as pre-war rifle vz.24 (Czech Mauser).

      • Not a bad point Jacob – especially when dealing with conscripts, as opposed to recruits, as Denny pointed out. How far should an officer trust someone who was forced to be there, and perhaps saw some poor junior officer as their primary obstacle to getting away?

        (i. e.) – don’t bring a Red Ryder to a gunfight.

        CG

  5. When I first see title: Why Does the Military Use .22 Rimfire Rifles for Training? my first thought was: it is cheaper

    • Adapters for AR-15 type rifle at easy to use. You replace action and magazine plus insert liner into chamber. Bore is the same. The 22LR is capable of producing sufficient accuracy at 100m; just bought one recently.

  6. Thanks For the explanation!

    1) I Wonder when the first training rifle appeared and in which caliber ?
    I know the US winder musket 1885 in .22 short. Maybe (.22) trainers arrived as soon as breech-loading rifles were invented ?

    2) Is that a Daudeteau 1896 with Berthier wood, on the right side of the screen, over Mr McCollum left Shoulder ? The mag looks similar and there is a small notch in the stock for a safety.

    Regards

    Jeb

  7. Another reason is that .22s can be shot in more places such as indoor ranges. They are also cheaper which can be a big deal if you’re teaching CQB and want to have a lot of repetitions.

    My guess for the move away from .22s for training is that it seems old fashioned. “Modern armies” use things like FATS instead and lasers remove the requirement for qualified range staff and air filtration.

    • And at 5 times the price, and half the effectiveness. Amen.

      There is no substitute, for basic marksmanship, for a smallbore rifle with minimal punishment for the shooter. Not “laser tag”.

      CG

    • Plus in country where we live the ranges/clubs typically do not like anything bigger than .22LR – including outdoor range use.

      • Slightly related. The Canadian Army (the organization that put a male infantry officer in charge of it’s sports bra program) thought FATS was all the rage and replaced most if not all of it’s indoor ranges with it’s version- SAT. The first problem was the guy they had work with FATS didn’t notice that the rifles they had in Atlanta didn’t mount magnifying optics like the standard issue Canadian C7. The system was out of focus and the answer was to buy non-magnifying Elcans.

        The second problem was SAT was sold as a system any NCO could just turn on when his guys had some down time. Of course it turned out that permanent operators were needed (in some cases contractors paid by the hour)who needed to be booked well in advance.

        The end result. Canadian Army marksmanship scores with the 5.56mm C7 (M16A2) mounting a 3.9x optic are no better and probably worse than with the 7.62mm C1 (FAL) with iron.

  8. I did my first shooting ever as a 13 year old army cadet with a .22 Lee Enfield training rifle. We could use them on an indoor range (we had our own range) regardless of the weather outside. This was especially advantageous in the winter, as we did all of our shooting in the evening when it was normally dark outside (and cold and wet). Because of this we got to do a lot more shooting than we even could have had we been using 7.62mm rifles on an outdoor range and so become better shots than we would have been had we only used “full calibre” rifles.

    The thing which perhaps some people are forgetting is that the training rifles such as the .22 Lee Enfield as the same size and weight as an actual .303 Lee Enfield, and are otherwise indistinguishable from the full size model except for the bore size and being single shot. Once I had trained with those I didn’t even really notice the recoil when I first fired a 7.62mm C1 (FN FAL) on a normal military range.

    • Canadian DND was one time considering 22LR rifle for training cadets. It was developed in “centre of excellence for small arms” and ready for production, but never took off. The reason I heard was “issue of liability”. The gun was almost exactly the same as C7 rifle.

  9. In early WW2, our pilots were thrown at high performance aircraft with almost no time, just a couple hours, in training planes. There were no two seaters, you were let loose and if you made it back you were doing well. Couple that with also being on combat patrols for the first time, these boys clanked when they walked…..

    • Notice that Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan suffered from lack of combat rotation. All good pilots were kept at the front until they were either killed or captured (Japanese pilots were almost NEVER captured alive)…

  10. What about some interesting designs like the 1909 Scoda MG,Hotchkis 1909 LMG,Swiss AK blow forward assault rifle, webley-fosbery revolver,early JMB MGs,early swarlose pistol designs,etc ? Is there a possibility to see them on screen ?

  11. When I was 14 I was in the cadet course in ontario where we used singlr shot .22 lee enfields on the school rifle range
    when we went up to CAMP IPPERWASH army camp for weekends we used lee enfields in 303
    However for cacompetition shooting we were given FALS and my accurcy went out the window
    i had never fired a semiauto bigbore rifle and I did accidental double tapps and once even shot my neighbours target due to recoil and poor trigger control

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*