The Gateway Cartridge

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I wish all kids would get hooked on .22s like we all did. The world would be a better place.

According to dictionaries and what I remember from my days in school, a gateway drug is a substance that “while not itself addictive, may lead to the use of other addictive substances.” When it comes to shooting, perhaps nothing has hooked more people into joining the world of firearms than the wonderful .22 rimfire cartridge.

For many of us, it was the first cartridge we shot — and it made sense. Having little to no recoil makes it pleasant to shoot for both young beginners and grizzled grandpas. And it’s usually abundant, relatively cheap and just plain fun to shoot.

The humble .22 in all its glory. I bet I shot thousands of these boxes as a kid.

Be it hunting, competing, or just plinking with friends and family, .22 is the way to go. Every farm, and most houses, had a .22 rifle when I was growing up. They were also a rite of passage for many of us on our first small game hunt.

The Perfect Gift

Certain birthdays carry more meaning than others. For me, my 8th birthday was a big one — it was the year I got a .22 rimfire rifle. Even back then I realized the significance of such a gift. It was mom and dad’s way of showing they trusted me, and I wasn’t about to blow it!

Since kindergarten, the first week of summer vacation was always the same. Mom would take me to get a buzzcut, three pairs of jeans and a pack of t-shirts and underwear. I was then shipped off to grandma and pap’s farm for a week. It was great!

Here are a few of Tank’s .22s. They have a way of propagating when left in the safe.

I had two uncles still living on the farm and we’d go groundhog hunting most evenings. I’d roam the fields and woods, learning the lay of the land. Now I had my own rifle to tot with me and take care of any varmints I should happen to stumble onto.

My First Rifle

My first rifle was a .22 Harrington & Richardson Plainsman. It shot .22 shorts, longs and long rifle cartridges. To my way of thinking back then, it had three power levels, making it versatile. I learned a lot carrying that rifle on the farm.

I bet I killed a hay wagon’s worth of ground hogs, along with a few corn-raiding raccoons, pigeons and sparrows. All these critters are considered farm pests, so I was helping keep the herd in check.

Set up like one of Tank’s centerfire guns, .22 provides an inexpensive option to practice for an upcoming hunt.

I also learned how to shoot iron sights using it. Thousands of shots taught me about trajectory and how raising the rear sight allowed you to hold “dead on” for longer shots. As time passed, I was making more hits than misses. I was learning the basics of sight alignment, sight picture and coordinating my trigger press when everything was “right.” All this shooting and hunting of varmints and other nuisance pests instilled a desire to hunt and shoot bigger game and rifles.

Life-long Love

As the years progressed, my attention turned from rifles to handguns. I went up in the cartridge spectrum from dainty .22s to .475 Linebaugh and everything in between. As much as I loved all those cartridges, and still do, I never lost my love for the .22.

I still like to keep .22 rifles and handguns around that mimic my centerfire guns. It’s good for practice, cheap, and keeps the muscle memory in check using the same action type for an upcoming hunt. I’ve got .22 pistols in single action, double action, semi-auto and single-shot actions.

Red dots make sense if your big bore handgun has one, right?

Some of my pistols have scopes, peep sights, iron sights and red dot sights. For .22 rifles, I have semi-auto, lever, bolt and single shot actions. I still enjoy shooting all of them from time to time.

Handloading is also a big passion of mine. I love everything about it, from casting my own cast bullets and working up loads, to converting one cartridge case into another. I get a real kick out of making my own ammunition, but there’s just something nice about having plenty of .22 fodder around. It’s still cheaper to shoot than even my handloads.

Rimfire Reminiscing

There’s nothing like the feeling of grabbing a handful of bulk .22s, stuffing your pants pockets and grabbing your rifle. Remember the days when a 10-year-old could ride his bicycle to the gravel pits, .22 rifle strapped on his back, and neighbors just waived as he rode by? I do. You’d spend the day shooting, eating the peanut-butter sandwich you packed and soak up the sun, enjoying your freedom.

The prettiest gun Tank owns, a Ruger Shopkeeper engraved by Tyler Gun
Works, dedicated to the memory of Terry Murbach, after he died. Terry
knew the value and importance of having plenty of .22 pistols.

That’s the feeling you remember now, as you load up your car with a few .22 guns, a brick of ammo and your homemade lunch. Instead of pedaling, you’re driving. Rather than heading to the pits, you’re going to the shooting range. But the feeling is the same. A day of fun, adventure and being a kid again — no matter how old we really are.

And that my friends is the power of the .22 — the gateway to happiness.

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