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Lead ammo ban could put an end to .22 rifles

The trusty .22, beloved of vermin controllers and gamekeepers, may have to be ditched as finding suitable ammunition proves testing

The .22 is a popular rifle for relatively close range vermin control

The ban on lead ammunition could be a disaster for thousands of gamekeepers, vermin controllers, farmers and target shooters. This is because finding acceptable ammo for the basic .22 rimfire rifle is tricky.

The .22 rimfire is an accurate, cheap to ‘feed’ and easily available modern, bolt-action rifle, which replaced the more upmarket breechloading ‘rook and rabbit rifles’ sold by British makers. It has become a popular staple of rifle clubs, and in particular organisations such as scouts and cadets who offer many people’s first introduction to shooting.

And the .22 rimfire is the most popular cartridge in the world. Here, it is mostly used to fire subsonic hunting rounds through a rifle equipped with a sound moderator, for relatively close range (sub 50-yard) vermin control. It is also popular for target shooting.


The proposed lead ban includes all rifle ammunition, with no exception for the humble .22. The problem is that a 40-gr non-lead .22 bullet would be too long for the chamber of current rimfires. Essentially, nothing that weighs less than lead is going to work in such a small cartridge. So we could be stuck with lighter, faster, noisier, less accurate 24-gr zinc-cored copper-jacketed bullets, all of which break the sound barrier.

The rise of the .17 HMR showed a new, small vermin cartridge can gain acceptance if it performs well. Would a new subsonic round have to be a .22 or could a different calibre better deliver a 40-gr lead-free projectile?

That is of little comfort to current owners of .22 rimfires, whose least-bad scenario is likely to involve buying a new rifle. But there could be some good news for the target shooters. Shooting Times contributor and secretary of the British Shooting Sports Council Graham Downing said: “We are currently awaiting the delayed response by HSE [Health and Safety Executive] to its consultation, so any proposals for a phase-out of outdoor use of small calibre lead bulleted ammunition remain unclear. The Sports Council has argued that any transition should remain open to review until there is certainty that a range of suitable ammunition which is fit for purpose is available. 

“We do not believe that a restriction on the use of rimfire ammunition for target shooting is proportionate or necessary,” he continued. “The HSE has made it clear that indoor ranges will not be affected by any proposals for transition to non-lead ammunition.”