Sunday, December 11, 2016

.22 Aguila 60gr. Subsonic Sniper or....a Dry Treatise on Bullet Stabilization

I'll say right at the beginning, I am an unrepentant grouse junkie. Particularly, ruffed grouse. I'm sure some folks in the sporting dog/tweed jacket/ double game gun crowd would think I deserve to go to hell for my approach, but I am an avid eater of ruffed grouse and will shoot them with relish whenever I find one. Up here (and most places they live actually), ruffed grouse are a highly cyclical species, and the years they are'd better take advantage of them because you might not even see one the next year.  I will and have shoot grouse with whatever weapon I have closest at hand. I've taken grouse with shotguns, .22s, centerfire rifles, airguns, archery tackle, a slingshot and one fortunately thrown stick of firewood.

Earlier this week, I finished up working on some writing assignment and went out for a bit of air before the sun set. Of course, the sun was setting at 3:00 in the afternoon this time of year, but no matter. The important thing is, I saw a trio of ruffed grouse happily roosting away in the swaying branches of a balsam poplar just across my rural road. I hastily donned boots, a jacket and grabbed my much loved CZ .22 from the rack and headed out to round up supper.

Being that I try to be a good neighbor, I tend to try to reduce the racket of gunfire around the house. I've shot a number of critters with CB caps, shorts and assorted flavors of "subsonic" ammunition. As a contributing factor, stocks of .22 ammunition are only of late starting to be more available and I'm still unable to replenish my supply of CBs and CCI Green Tag subsonic ammunition. A few weeks ago, the local hook and bullet got in some Aguila ammunition and the proprietor suggested I try the 60gr Sniper Subsonic. And that was what the rifle was loaded with.

I trotted across the road, rifle in hand, and was soon under the bare branches of the poplar looking up at the plump undercarriages of the grouse. A shot into the underside of the grouse does a couple of things, it absolutely kills them and doesn't tear up the edible bits on the breast or legs. At the shot the first grouse simply folded up and fell off the branch. The shot wasn't loud, just a pop a little louder than my suppressed air gun makes. The remaining two didn't even twitch and soon shots two and three had them in hand with the first. Satisfied with grocery shopping, I carried them inside to dress them out.

By this point in my life, I've shot and butchered (literally) hundreds of small game animals with a .22 rifle and at least two dozen varieties of ammunition. I've never seen anything quite like the carcass. The range was pretty short, 40 or 50 feet, but speed alone couldn't account for the mess the round made of all three birds. The hardest hit had a hole in the back large enough for three fingers to fit in. Grouse are lightly built creatures and a .22 most generally bores a caliber sized hole clean through. Even expanding rounds like hollow points generally won't expand much, if any, on the trip through a grouse or ptarmigan. Besides, the Aguila round isn't an expanding design at all.

The Aguila is simply a .22 Short casing with an extra long plain lead bullet stuck on top of it. It's rated for a moderate muzzle velocity of just 950 feet per second. Holding one up to a ruler shows the bullet is just over 1/2" long or so depending on the heel of the bullet in the case- which by .22 Rimfire standards is simply enormous. The Aguila people suggest that they only be used in barrels that are 20" long or more for best accuracy and my CZ is equipped with a 25" barrel. A little research on the Internet had numerous folks suggesting that the bullets are barely stable in flight and tumble on impact causing significant damage.

And that my friends...sounded like a bunch of hooey.

So I did what any self respecting rifle crank and shooting geek would do. I set up a test. It wasn't even much of a test. I simply took the ammo out at 25 yards and shot a common cardboard box. For a control I shot 5 rounds of CCI Stingers, a 32gr bullet at 1640fps. It's both ends of the .22 ammunition spectrum- a long heavy bullet loping along and a short light one smoking along at twice the speed.

This is the result from the Aguila-

And this is the result of the CCI-

As you can clearly see, the CCI punched nice clean round holes through the cardboard. The Aguila punched oblong holes and looks like the bullets were impacting sideways...because that's exactly what they did. No wonder those grouse were so torn up, they had a spinning 60 grain, 0.224"x 0.625" cylinder of lead smashing through them. While the effect was deadly, an unstable bullet gives lousy accuracy. If those grouse had been in a higher tree or simply further away, I might have missed completely despite being within "gimme" range with an accurate .22 rifle. While my test wasn't geared for accuracy- the group size was three times that of the CCI Stinger and that bullet is pretty mediocre in my rifle. (Authors note- the test was simply firing offhand while freezing in the arctic air. No commentary on my shooting, I was simply looking for impact marks.)

My CZ has a barrel that is 25" long, well over the suggested length by Aguila. I attempted to conduct the same test with my Ruger Bearcat revolver and after 5 shots, hadn't managed to even hit the target. Since it was -11F, I assumed the accuracy is so dismal from a handgun that it was pointless to keep shooting until I hit one by luck. My CZ (and most other .22s on the market) have a barrel twist of 1 turn in 16". That's been the standard twist rate on .22s for just about forever and is completely adequate for virtually every variety of .22 ammunition out there...except this one apparently.

I must confess. At this point, I'm not even sure what this ammunition is good for. I suppose a person could have a .22 LR barrel fabricated with a faster twist, perhaps to use this ammunition with a suppressor, but you'd have a spendy, purpose built gun to use with a single variety of ammunition.  Some rifles may in fact stabilize this ammunition, but I would certainly suggest you try it first before you lay in a large supply. It looks neat, and for close range work it did suffice with tremendous result, but nothing you could rely on at any reasonable distance.

It's an interesting concept, but at this point I'm inclined to regard it as a novelty.

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