Can a 22 Long Rifle Kill a Deer?

Susan Fernandez November 11 2021

Uses for 22 Long Rifle

A rimfire cartridge widely used in target shooting since its introduction in 1887 by the J. Stevens Arms & Tool Company. It's also ideal for casual plinking, varmint hunting, small game hunting, and pest control.

Colt produced a single action army revolver that was chambered in .22 LR known as the Colt Frontier Six-Shooter or more commonly called the "Woodsman". Marlin Firearms created their Model 62 lever-action rifle which is chambered in .22LR. The semi-automatic Marlin Glenfield 60 was one of Marlin's first lever-action rifles to be chambered in .22LR.

A 22 long rifle is a small cartridge used by many hunters in hunting games and plinking. Many people doubt that a 22 cannot kill a deer due to its small size and less muzzle energy. But a deer is easy to kill as long as you take a perfect shot at the weak point areas.

Features of 22 LR

  • Uses:  Plinking, small game hunting, practice
  • Ammo type:  Rimfire cartridge
  • Caliber: .22 in (5.6 mm)
  • Height of front sight above barrel: 1.09 in (27.7 mm)
  • Weight loaded with a mag: 5.9 oz (170 g)
  • Length from muzzle to rear sight base: 7 in (178 mm)
  • Length of barrel: 16.13 in (410 mm)
  • Twist: 1:16 in (1:9 in rifled for 22 CB and BB)
  • Lifespan:  Approximately 1894-1994, but was only cataloged until about 1993. Some sources say the lifespan is around 1994, with production ceasing that same year.
  • Muzzle energy ft·lb (J): 112
  • Maximum pressure during firing (psi): 36,000 psi (250 MPa; 21,790 atm), which is 21 times greater than .45ACP! This means you can fire multiple rounds without putting too much strain on your firearm and it is a very safe and convenient carry and handle. When handled with care, the firearm is durable and reliable.

The size and the velocity of the .22lr round make it discounted as a less powerful rimfire by regular hunters. Due to its affordability and versatility, many homesteads use it as a staple tool. The rimfire can work perfectly for hunting vermins like chipmunks, squirrels, and rats.

Due to the high cartridge velocity and explosion property, deer are hunted by a round of 30 caliber to 6mm. Hunting a deer with a .22 rifle requires excellent skill and hunting experience to shoot from a distance and aim at a vital angle.

Can you hunt deer with a 22 rimfire?

By all means yes! A perfect shot in the heart or brain area will kill a deer in minutes. Keep your aim true and do not let the animal suffer if you want any meat from it later on. When using .22 rimfires under normal conditions, avoid shooting at long ranges as ballistic properties reduce energy in flight.

The cartridge lacks good expansion properties due to its size and velocity in order to kill a deer in a single shot. So make sure you have mastered the use of this cartridge before going out for hunting games involving deer-sized animals.

The small size of the bullet makes it more difficult to kill an animal quickly. Though many hunters swear by the .22, only a few shots are lethal due to its lack of expansion properties.

The pain felt is mild and does not cause death directly for the first 10 minutes, so the deer will try to escape unless you put it down immediately at the right spot. A good shot on the neck area ensure instant death, but most people aim at non-fatal parts like the shoulder or chest that result in prolonged pain before dying out within hours or days.

Is the 22 long rifle a lethal round?

Yes, the .22 LR is a lethal round and underestimated due to its explosion power and size. Despite this, the deadly rifle has a record of killing some big animals in the US, even if it is not the first choice in hunting. 

When hunting a deer, aim for a clean headshot, lung, heart, or spinal column around the neck. You will finish the job quickly and humanely.

Currently, it is illegal to hunt using a 22 rimfire in the US, and if found, you will have to pay a heavy fine or end up in jail. The rimfire lacks the expansion properties and enough energy to dispatch a deer-sized animal quickly.

Why you might consider the .22LR?

The rifle is lightweight, making it easier to carry when traveling a long distance to hunt. The round has different velocity limits the fastest being the CCI’s holding a muzzle of over 1600 fps.  The ammo of this rifle is inexpensive and readily available, increasing your ability to store many tons as they take little space when keeping.

Also, the rifle is relatively quiet when using a suppressor at a subsonic speed, making your hunting easy. The ammo is designed to break into triple segments upon impact despite the velocity limit. The rifle is mostly used by plinking enthusiasts who want to shoot targets at short distances. The .22 LR can accurately take down vermin like raccoons, rabbits, and possums that are pesky in the homestead or garden under 50 yards.

What it takes to kill a deer using a .22LR

Experienced and skilled hunters can kill a deer from a 50-yard distance by targeting the brain core. The brain is protected with a tough bone, yet by using hunting skills one can cause an ethical kill to the deer. 

Aim for the lungs, heart, or neck for the deer to die on the spot so it cannot run for a long distance making it difficult for you to track.

Refrain from using low-velocity rounds because you will need enough penetration power to kill the deer. The ammunition must be high velocity, giving the bullet the ability to expand quickly and cause maximum damage upon impact.

The .22LR is not designed for hunting large animals like elk, moose, or even a bear; rather it is used for plinking at short ranges.

Conclusion

You can use the .22lr round for several functions but it is not the best for deer hunting as it is challenging to make an ethical kill.   The rifle is easy to carry for long hunting journeys, but the lack of penetration power is too far behind.

The 22lr is perfect for vermins in your homestead or garden, and if you are an avid hunter interested in plinking targets, it will give you good value for money. Remember, it is illegal to hunt a deer using the .22lr rimfire in the US, and if caught, you will pay a heavy fine or face a jail sentence.