.22 rifle vs. .38 handgun

Discussion in 'Self Defense Tactics & Weapons' started by CampingJosh, Sep 29, 2008.

  1. CampingJosh

    CampingJosh Well-Known Member

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    I thought of this while doing laundry earlier, and I really don't know the answer to this one, so I figured I'd ask my friends here.

    With a single shot to the center of mass from a range of 20 feet, is a .22LR from a 20" barrel a better man stopper than a .38 Special from a 2" barrel?
  2. Bill DeShivs

    Bill DeShivs Well-Known Member

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    Possibly. The energy figures are close.
  3. TranterUK

    TranterUK Guest

    I would have to go with the .38, especially if a hollow point, the expansion of the projectile would create a much larger temporary and permanent wound cavity than a .22, and thus have more effect. (non +P .38 HP typically expands to +/-.5" with 10"-15" into ballistic gel).

    It is also true multiple strikes, even with a .22 will have a disproportionate effect on the attacker. Thus I would say two or three .22 hits are likely to have much more effect than a single .38.

    It should be kept in mind however different people have reacted very differently when shot. Some will take a light flesh wound and roll around crying while others will take several serious hits and still have the where with all to continue. So I dont think there can be a golden rule. Just focus and what ever you shoot remember, only hits count.
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 30, 2008
  4. Terry_P

    Terry_P New Member

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    I'll take the 38 Spl. You can load with +P's and it makes a much larger wound channel.
  5. delta13soultaker

    delta13soultaker New Member

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    The energy numbers for either cartridge, regardless of barrel length, are so far below the threshold of real "knockdown" power (as in centerfire rifle energy levels) that figures and numbers won't reflect much useful info.

    Which is heavier....a ton of feathers or a ton of bricks?

    I'd reckon a good .22 hollowpoint like a CCI Stinger from a 20" barrel would give a .38 Spl lead round nose or target wadcutter a serious run for its money.

    But a quality .38 Spl hollowpoint like those used by Hornady, Federal, and Remington is going to much more often have more terminal effect than anything a .22 LR is likely to produce.

    It's just a matter of frontal cross section and mass at the velocities the two bullets in question strike at....both of which the .38 Spl is superior in, even more so once penetration and expansion are accounted for.

    For a .22 LR bullet to achieve clearly better terminal ballistics than a .38 Spl, the .22 bullet will need to be moving way faster, say another 600-1,000 fps, and then would need a better built bullet than anything in a .22 rimfire to hold its mass inside the tissues it must penetrate.

    Some people still claim that .22 LR bullets bounce inside a person like a pinball or something. It's an old myth to justify using the tiny cartridge for self-defense. In reality though, no bullet...not rifle or handgun, has enough time for a bullet to do more than one 180 degree flip and/or at most a near 90 degree turn over several inches before the bullet either comes to rest or exits the body. (A bullet flipping 180 degrees is the result of the base of a round nose our pointed bullet having more mass/weight than the front, so as the bullet rapidly slows the back may become the front. But once the base of the bullet, the heavy end, is in front it stays that way until it stops or exits.)

    At any rate...I'd not want to be in front of a .22 rifle or .38 snubby if the shooter can hit center mass.
  6. CampingJosh

    CampingJosh Well-Known Member

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    That's the kind of answer I was looking for, Delta. Thanks.
  7. delta13soultaker

    delta13soultaker New Member

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    Depends on Uncle Sam's whim every 3 yrs.
  8. Ursus

    Ursus New Member

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    Delta's answer is a 100% right on.
  9. ponycar17

    ponycar17 Active Member

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    Delta, I'm going with purely comparative numbers and not converting to ft-lbs, but a .38 spl traveling at 850 fps with a weight of 125 gr. is going to produce only ~3% more energy than a 32 gr. .22 traveling at 1650 fps from a 20" barrel. For a 40 gr. .22 round traveling at 1250 fps. the energy difference is much more, at ~30% less energy for the .22. I get this by the formula that Energy is proportional to Mass times Velocity Squared (E=1/2 M*V^2).

    You're absolutely right on that the .38 has more frontal area and will have more momentum for penetration and less fragmentation on impact which make it superior in most cases. I just thought it was really interesting how close the actual energies are for a high-quality hyper-velocity .22 round. I'm not trying to dispute your post because I believe you're still technically right.

    I just think about how quickly I can follow-up on a .22 shot from a semi-auto vs. a .38 shot from a J-frame Airweight and I get right back at Josh's question about which would be realistically better for me?... Hmmm... :confused:

    Easy answer though... If in the situation where one can wield a long gun, I take the 12 gauge with 00 buck. If in the situation where the .22 might be frowned upon by my side, the .38 would fit nicely in a waistband or pocket. In either case, the .22 loses... :D
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2008
  10. CampingJosh

    CampingJosh Well-Known Member

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    All right. Now that we have some people crunching numbers, let's again consider the range (20 feet). How fast is a .38 still traveling there? How fast is a .22 still traveling there? I really don't know, but I assume the .38 slows down much quicker.
    Anybody know more?
  11. Terry_P

    Terry_P New Member

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    I think that using energy as the determining factor doesn't tell the whole picture as energy is velocity dependent. A 38 special has a heavier bullet with a larger diameter and will penetrate to a vital whereas a 22 LR is problematic for penetration. The 38 was the LE cartridge for many years and can still do the job with the right bullet. Where the police ran into problems was with penetration through car windshields and other barriers and found it would not do the job under those circumstances. For use as a home defense firearm I feel the 38 Spl would be entirely adequate and even better than many more powerful, loud with high muzzle flash cartridges. If I were going to use it I would use the old 158 gr LSWC-HP +P FBI loads.
  12. delta13soultaker

    delta13soultaker New Member

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    I trust your numbers, but this was my point to begin with.....with either weapon you are only looking at 100-200 ft-lbs of energy across a variety of loads, barrel lengths etc. 20 or 30 ft-lbs of energy this way or that is not much to fiddle about.

    By just the numbers, a bowling ball rolls down a lane with more kenetic energy than all five cylinders of that snubby combined will deliver. Actually more than a cylinder of .44 magnums even. But lay on that lane and all that bowling ball will give you is a bad bump and a bruise.

    The stopping power of a pistol bullet is in its ability to penetrate vital organs and destroy tissue in order to drop blood pressure through blood loss. More or less like an arrow does....except a hangun bullet crushes much more tissue, thus is a better tool to quickly stop a man.

    Bullets fired from .38 Spl and .22 LR have a terminal effect reliant on crushing tissue and puncuring blood-rich organs/vessels. Neither bullet hits with enough kenetic energy for the energy alone to transfer into tissue damage of anything more than could be delivered by a healthy man's kick or punch. Both bullets have plenty of energy to punch deep into a body, so long as the bullet remains together/little or no fragmentation.

    A centerfire rifle bullet. That is where ft-lbs of energy transfered into the mass of the target can be measured by terminal effect. In the thousands of pounds of energy. Where large organs and large vessels actually burst, rip, and tear loose from the shock of a ton (tons) of energy instantly releasing into the body.

    Pony you're a smart dude and I'm not preaching to you. Just want to explain in my humble opinion why numbers in this instance are highly decieving.

    On the follow up shots etc etc....that is a matter of skill and up to an individual to answer a tactical problem with whatever technical solution he may choose.
  13. delta13soultaker

    delta13soultaker New Member

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    At 20 feet the .38 bullets may slow to where hollowpoints don't expand much or even at all. In that case the .22 may edge a bit closer to par on the .38 bullet.

    On the other side of the same coin...at 2 feet the .22 bullets may not be strong enough to remain intact a rifle barrel velocity, thus fail to penetrate and stop the threat...while the .38 at 2 feet is at it's best.

    Either way that .357 bullet has more mass and cross section than the .224 bullet if no expansion is factored.
  14. ponycar17

    ponycar17 Active Member

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    I would assume the same as you Josh about the .38 slowing down more quickly but I don't know that evidence backs that assertion up. I do know that the power required keep an object at a constant speed through a fluid (air in this case) increases as a cubed function of the object's speed. So, a bullet going 1650 fps is going to require 7.3 times the power (energy/time) that an object of the same frontal area going 850 fps would require to maintain its speed. With that said, and the fact that the force of drag is only related one-to-one with the frontal area of a medium traveling through a fluid, I'd have to say that the .22 is going to lose a good bit more velocity than the .38 would at the same distance, percentage-wise. So, it's entirely possible that the .22 would have a good bit less energy at 20 ft. than would the .38 given that the energy given that energy is a squared function of velocity... Sorry, I'm a dork... :D

    Here is a link with some equations concerning drag for reference...
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drag_(physics)
  15. ponycar17

    ponycar17 Active Member

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    I agree with you Terry. Penetration is a function of an object's momentum and frontal area. Let's assume the front area is negligible, and agree that momentum is a function of Mass times Velocity. Although an object may have a MUCH higher energy, it may actually have a much lower momentum due to the fact that energy is a function of Velocity squared while momentum is a one-to-one relationship. The .38 would definitely penetrate more at 20 feet. The .22, I believe but am not positive, would use up its energy to disintegrate and fragment in shallow tissue while not penetrating far at all (even if it did stay intact).

    For example, the momentum of the .38 at the muzzle assuming my previous velocities and weights is nearly 2 times that of the .22 rifle at the muzzle, even though there's only a 3% difference in energy.

    While I appreciate that Delta, I'm not that smart and consider real-world testimony such as your own much more important than my math. I agree that the numbers are very deceiving and we just need to keep that in mind. I believe you're absolutely right in what you posted but thought that the energy level similarity was pretty interesting.

    I noted above that momentum and energy are VERY different with momentum often times playing a bigger role in terminal injury than energy. I think that energy only becomes more important when a projectile totally disintegrates, creating a massive wound cavity (essentially exploding on impact). When you're talking about a .22 LR bullet that just breaks up at higher energy, vs. a .38 that holds its weight, momentum of the .38 is probably much more important to terminal effectiveness. Now, when you start debating a .223's velocity/weight ratio to a 7.62x39's velocity/weight ratio the issue get's a LOT more complicated because both provide a huge amount of destructive energy on impact and momentum is less important when dealing with effects on personnel since both could easily penetrate fully through a person with ease.

    Thanks for the feedback Delta, and I don't mind preaching at all, as we all have a lot to learn... :)
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2008
  16. delta13soultaker

    delta13soultaker New Member

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    I understand now what you're saying better. Yeah it is interesting how close the energy seems.

    Velocity is a useful number to a guy. He can use that along with bullet weight to closely guess a given trajectory. Add in the ballistic coefficient etc etc and he can guess really damn close. I say "guess" because air temperature, humidity and mother nature have the right to change their minds at any moment and play games with velocity (i.e. trajectory/your close and far zero).

    But energy in ft-lbs? It is a general guess at what a bullet might do.

    People who make and sell ammuntion love ft-lbs. It makes a bar to measure against that shooters (customers) can see. It's just like in casinos....games where a percentage of wins vs losses is displayed gets more players. But that percentage from past plays has zero effect on the next plays. None. Looking at ft-lbs is kind of like that.

    Car makers and dealers love horsepower. It sells cars. But real car guys look at a whole lot more than just horsepower because they know it takes more than that to make a car go fast. Torque, powerband, etc etc.

    Marketing is marketing.
  17. ponycar17

    ponycar17 Active Member

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    Yep, Delta you're right... Ft-lbs really isn't a measuring stick for ammo performance on live game or for self-defense. If a .22 can nearly measure up to a .38 in energy production then our instinct really should take over to say that this figure doesn't necessarily give a good measure of terminal performance.
  18. delta13soultaker

    delta13soultaker New Member

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    Yep. Not to take away from the little .22 LR; it is an extremely important and useful weapon. It really does inflict damage out of proportion to its size, but not as much damage as medium bore handgun cartridges.

    Really the very things that make the .22 so well suited in general shooting tasks (hunting small game, plinking, target, hiking, emergency firearm) also make it a poor choice for use against most human threats. For the record, even organizations that use the .22 LR on humans only do so with total surprise and an extreme situational advantage to begin with.
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