By: Warren Gray
Copyright © 2021
“What counts is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight — it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” — President Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1958.
“We could get twice as many hits in the same amount of time with the .22 LR. There were also fewer misses.” — Edward “Ed” Head, Operations Manager, Gunsite Academy, AZ, October 2010.
The ultra-compact, Ruger Lite-Rack LCP II in .22 Long Rifle was introduced in December 2019, according to the Ruger web site, as “a low-recoil pistol with an easy-to-manipulate slide that shoots comfortably regardless of your hand size or strength...as a training tool...or as a concealed-carry option.”
While many people mistakenly think that the .22 LR cartridge is not a suitable, self-defense, pistol round, Gunpowder Magazine published an article that I wrote on “.22 LR Self-Defense Ammo Testing” on February 11, 2020, in which I tested seven different .22 LR loads in wet, natural, modeling clay to reasonably simulate the terminal, ballistic effects of a close-range, shooting incident, with some pleasantly-surprising results.
The test handgun for that article was a Walther P22Q target pistol with a 3.4-inch barrel, usually chosen as my lightweight, trail gun when hiking in the forests. But, having recently acquired a Ruger LCP II (#13705) in .22 LR as a very small, concealment or backup pistol with a 2.75-inch barrel, I realized that it may be useful to test this tiny, self-defense gun in a similar manner, firing selected ammunition into wet clay blocks to visibly demonstrate the close-range penetration, expansion, and temporary-wound-cavity potential of each round.
While a 9mm or .45 ACP handgun is definitely a better choice for serious, self-defense situations, these weapons are usually fairly large and difficult to conceal, especially in the summertime, when we wear very light clothing for comfort. The Ruger LCP II is certainly small and quite concealable under most circumstances, and weighs a mere 12.3 ounces (only three-quarters of a pound) when fully loaded with 11 rounds of ammunition (10 rounds in the magazine, and one in the chamber.)
Chris Baker of Lucky Gunner wrote on April 29, 2020, that, “When we get into the realm of 12-ounce, pocket pistols carried for self-defense, something chambered in .22 (LR) makes a lot of sense...the LCP (II) easily wins the title for the best itty-bitty, .22 pocket pistol. That’s the gun you have on you when you can’t or don’t want to carry around a real gun...they don’t make a 9mm this small, and if they did, I wouldn’t want to shoot it...the .22 is faster (than the .380 version)...the recoil is negligible...I’m inclined to recommend (that) people just skip the .380 altogether and carry the .22.”
Jon Wayne Taylor added in his LCP II .22 LR review for The Truth About Guns exactly one month later, that, “One of the greatest features of the LCP line is that they are tiny. You can carry them anywhere, so you are more likely to carry them everywhere. That’s a good thing...While it’s small and might not be for every shooter, the big thing the little gun has going for it is that it’s possible for almost anyone to operate this gun safely.”
A .22 LR Ruger may not be ideal for self-defense against humans, but it’s certainly much better than a rock, a stick, or even a knife, and no one wants to be shot with any caliber. Statistically, an armed attacker usually flees the scene approximately 92 percent of the time, as soon as a law-abiding citizen draws a pistol, without firing a shot, but in that very rare instance in which they stand their ground, your tiny LCP II will have to suffice. Is it enough gun for a lethal encounter?
As I wrote in my previous article, “Stopping-power studies from 1,800 actual shootings have proven that felons hit with a .22 LR were incapacitated by just one shot to the torso or head 60 percent of the time, primarily due to better shot placement, compared to just 47 percent for a 9mm bullet, or 51 percent for a .45 ACP, so don’t underestimate its stopping power. But a word of warning here: 31 percent of felons were not incapacitated, no matter how many times they were hit in the torso with a .22 LR bullet (head shots are another matter), so the failure rate is higher than with centerfire ammunition...you need about 10 to 15 inches of bullet penetration...with 12 to 13 inches being the ideal range for reaching vital organs.
“However, if two quick torso shots don’t work against your attacker, you’ll need to consider a head shot to decisively end the incident. The head is a much smaller target, so it takes very calm, careful aim. This method, two rounds to the chest, and one to the head, has been taught to many military, government, and law enforcement agencies...In any gunfight, shot placement is usually the decisive factor, and the .22 LR, with very light recoil, definitely provides the best-possible opportunity for a smooth, well-placed shot...Remain as calm as possible, focus on the front sight of your weapon...and squeeze the trigger gently.
“There are actual, military units that employ .22 Long Rifle pistols, both defensively and offensively. Within the British Special Forces, for example...the elite, Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SRR), currently includes some small-framed, female operatives who carry the Walther PPK in .22 Long Rifle (or .32 ACP, or .380 ACP) as their primary weapon, or sometimes as a backup weapon.
“The CIA...has used the Walther PPK, Walther TPH, and more-recently, the Walther P22, all in .22 LR, with suppressors, because they are extremely quiet, and plausibly-deniable as American weapons...The U.S. Navy SEALs and Force Recon Marines have widely employed the excellent, stainless-steel, Ruger/AWC Amphibian II and Amphibian-S pistol series with integral suppressor for covert action such as quietly eliminating enemy sentries or guard dogs. And Russian OMON special riot police were photographed at least once using the Baikal/Margolin MCM .22 LR target pistol during demonstrations in Moscow.”
While carefully considering all of this fairly-grim, background information, I tested five different, popular .22 LR loads from a Ruger LCP II pistol, which is my own concealment/backup gun, with a 2.75-inch barrel. This is fairly typical of the weapon size that many people might carry for deep concealment, while probably not expecting a heavy-duty, self-defense encounter.
I’ve sometimes heard the LCP IIs in .22 LR maligned as rough, unreliable pistols, despite being high-quality, American-made firearms. There have been various complaints about light hammer strikes, stovepipe jams, extraction problems, and double-feeding of rounds, while other shooters report no problems at all. Often, a thorough cleaning, lubrication, and proper grip on the weapon will solve most of these problems, but, yes, most .22 LR pistols are notoriously temperamental, so the LCP II must be kept very clean and well-maintained for the best shooting results.
Galloway Precision and M*CARBO each offer spring kits to overcome some of these issues, featuring a stronger hammer spring, extractor spring, magazine-release spring, and recoil spring. They also offer a lighter trigger spring (although the standard trigger pull is a perfectly-acceptable 5.5 pounds), and reduced-power, firing-pin spring, but none of these may be necessary if your LCP II functions properly. I experienced no hammer, firing-pin, extractor, or magazine-release problems whatsoever while breaking in my gun, but there were a few failures to feed all the way into the chamber, due to the weak recoil spring not being snappy enough in pushing the slide forward again.
As a bare minimum, smoothing and polishing the tiny feed ramp at the chamber mouth of the barrel will improve feeding with all types of bullets. I also use a polished, stainless-steel, recoil-spring guide rod and 10-percent-extra-power, recoil spring for better functional reliability with hotter loads, and this has helped the feed problem.
Every single jam that I’ve experienced has been related to either the extra-small feed ramp (a design flaw, in my view), or the recoil-spring function, both before and after polishing the ramp, and before and after installing the stronger spring. It still jams about 10 percent of the time, which isn’t great, but once I get a round into the chamber, it always fires, and I’ve been able to clear every jam by hitting the rear of the slide with the heel of my hand, to shove the round into the chamber with extra force. It’s not an ideal solution, but it does work. I’ve had similar problems with other .22 LR pistols in the past, so it’s not an unexpected consideration, but my Walther P22Q target pistol has a larger feed ramp, and functions perfectly every time.
The original LCP in .380 ACP, and now the new LCP II, in both .380 and .22 LR, are notorious for their extra-light, recoil springs (nine pounds for the .380 model, later increased to 10.5 pounds, with aftermarket springs up to 13 pounds), and the current, “Lite-Rack” model is no exception. This reliability modification is totally non-controversial, and it helps to feed very-high-velocity loads much better, a definite safety consideration. My LCP II now functions well, most of the time, and it works best with high-velocity ammunition, so that’s what I always use
A simple, rugged, PoleCraft, inside-the-waistband (IWB), Kydex holster completes the essential gear for this gun, and the combination is so thin, lightweight, and comfortable that I hardly notice that I’m carrying a concealed pistol, and other people can’t detect it at all, which is exactly the intended purpose for a gun this small.
These are the five loads that I tested in wet, natural, clay blocks, which approximate the consistency of the human body. All ballistic testing was accomplished indoors near Knoxville, Maryland, 495 feet above sea level, with an air temperature of 68 degrees, using digital calipers to measure bullet expansion. Here are the latest candidates:
Águila Interceptor 40-grain, copper-plated hollowpoint (CPHP.)
Browning BPR 40-grain, CPHP.
CCI Mini-Mag 36-grain, CPHP.
CCI Stinger 32-grain CPHP.
CCI Velocitor 40-grain CPHP.
Águila Interceptor 40-grain, CPHP: Águila means “Eagle” in Spanish. This was the fastest, hottest, load from the tiny, Ruger pistol, achieving an astounding 1,233 fps muzzle velocity (Mach 1.09, which is the only supersonic load), per Shooting Times’ actual chronograph testing on June 1, 2020, and 135 foot-pounds of kinetic energy. They are manufactured in Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico, to very high standards, and the company is one of the world’s largest producers of rimfire ammunition.
Actual, clay-block, test results: Temporary cavity = 2.25 inches wide, penetration = 11.0 inches deep, and bullet expansion = .361-caliber. This bullet mushroomed very nicely, with excellent expansion and a moderate, temporary cavity. It was the most-consistent performer, achieving results very similar to my February 2020 testing with the Walther P22 pistol. In fact, expansion was exactly the same, to .361-caliber, from both barrel lengths!
Browning BPR 40-grain, CPHP: BPR stands for “Browning Performance Rimfire.” From the small LCP II, it achieved a respectable, muzzle velocity of 1,026 fps, but a mere 93.5 foot-pounds of kinetic energy.
Actual, clay-block, test results: Temporary cavity = 2.5 inches wide, penetration = 11.5 inches deep, and bullet expansion = .256 caliber. This had a wide, jagged, temporary cavity, where the bullet’s front half violently fragmented away, leaving only the slightly-mushroomed base, which still penetrated quite well. The Browning BPR performed much better, and held together, from the longer barrel of my Walther P22, but this was still quite adequate performance from the tiny LCP II.
CCI Mini-Mag 36-grain, CPHP: The Mini-Mag is a very conventional, high-quality, standard-weight, hollowpoint bullet. Attained velocity was 906 fps, with 73 foot-pounds of energy, and in ballistic-gelatin testing, it has penetrated to 10.3 inches and expanded to .27-caliber.
Actual, clay-block, test results: Temporary cavity = 2.2 inches wide, penetration = 12.5 inches deep, and bullet expansion = .401 caliber! This load was definitely the best penetrator and best expander of the group of five tested cartridges!
CCI Stinger 32-grain CPHP: This is one of the fastest-available, .22 LR loads on the market, rated at a blazing, 1,640 fps from a long-barrel rifle, or a much-more-modest 1,090 fps (Mach .965, not quite supersonic) from the LCP II pistol, which equates to 84.4 foot-pounds of kinetic energy. It comes with an extra-long (1/10th of an inch longer than standard), nickel-plated case for smoother, more-reliable feeding into the chamber, and a lightweight, hollowpoint bullet. Previous testing in ballistic gelatin has demonstrated an average penetration depth of 9.8 inches, with bullet expansion to .34-caliber or larger.
Actual, clay-block, test results: Temporary cavity = 2.25 inches wide, penetration = 8.5 inches deep, and bullet expansion = .396-caliber! Penetration was slightly weak, but this would equate to about 9.5 inches in ballistic gelatin, which is certainly adequate in a human torso, according to the FBI, and expansion was definitely impressive. Overall, it’s a great choice for defensive ammunition.
CCI Velocitor 40-grain CPHP: This is CCI’s heavyweight, high-velocity hollowpoint, which has achieved mixed results in other ballistic testing in the past. Muzzle velocity from the LCP II is 1,030 feet per second, with 94 foot-pounds of energy.
Actual, clay-block, test results: Temporary cavity = 3.25 inches wide, penetration = 10.5 inches deep, and bullet expansion = .370-caliber! This had the widest, most-impressive, temporary cavity of all five tested loads, rivaling the damage produced by some 9mm hollowpoints (3.5 inches for Federal HST Micro 150-grain, for example, in similar, clay-block testing that I performed in 2019) and the bullet retained a classic, mushroom shape. Penetration and expansion were ideal! This would also be an excellent choice for self-defense purposes.
In conclusion, they’re all readily-available, reliable loads, and your potential assailant in a self-defense situation clearly wouldn’t want to be shot with any of them. I’d be hard-pressed to pick a clear winner here, with the CCI Mini-Mag the best for penetration and expansion, the CCI Velocitor leading the pack in temporary wound cavity size, and the Águila Interceptor coming out ahead for sheer consistency and kinetic energy. Any of these rounds would likely save your life in a deadly encounter, provided that your shot placement was good.
Based upon this ballistic-testing experience, my concealed-carry choice will probably an alternating stack of five fire-breathing, rapidly-expanding, nickel-plated CCI Stingers, and five cavity-inducing, deeper-penetrating CCI Velocitors for the best-possible combination of feeding reliability, expansion, penetration, and overall stopping power. But you really can’t go wrong with any of the other tested loads, either. The .22 LR cartridge, in calm, capable hands, is much more effective than most people realize.
Warren Gray is a retired, U.S. Air Force intelligence officer with experience in joint special operations and counterterrorism, and is an NRA member. He served in Europe and the Middle East, earned Air Force and Navy parachutist wings, four college degrees, and was a distinguished graduate of the Air Force Intelligence Operations Specialist Course, and the USAF Combat Targeting School. He is currently a published author and historian. You may visit his web site at: warrengray54.vistaprintdigital.com.