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- Last updated: 07/12/2023
.22 shotshells are an interesting take on the shotgun cartridge and are really designed as an option to put into your .22 rimfire rifle for vermin/small game out on the trail. They were heavily marketed in the USA as a close-range vermin cartridge, with images of cowboys dispatching snakes using revolvers on horseback, or the denim-clad dungaree farmer dropping a few pesky pigeons or doves from his grain store with his pump action.
Well, back in Blighty, do they have a real purpose? Truthfully, with so many good 12 ft/lbs and FAC-rated air rifles these days, and indeed the advent of reduced charge rimfire ammo like the CBs and RWS Z lang loads, it’s hard to see a place for these weird mini shotshell cartridges. However, they are still available, and I know several pest controllers that keep a box handy in their pockets for close-range jobs and for locations where collateral damage must be minimised. So, let’s take a look at a few and see how they really perform.
As one can imagine, ammo is a bit sparse these days, but it’s amazing what turns up on shelves in the gun shops. I already had some CCI Mini-Mag shotshells that I have used from time to time for very close rats in barns, where a single projectile was dangerous at any velocity. Also, some nice Federal Game Shok, which like the CCI, are distributed by Viking Arms now. I also found some Eley Long Rifle Shot cartridges lurking at the back of the ammo cabinet, which I used in the old Thompson Contender pistols.
Both the Federal and the Eley take the same basic form, in that the shot or pellets are stacked directly above the powder charge on a small card wad, and both have a crimped case closure with a length of 0.9705” and 0.9740” respectively. This gives the round a length close to a standard .22LR and thus will feed from a magazine, which is handy.
The CCI takes a different route, and although it has a 0.9805” overall length, like the others, the brass case is only 0.6075” long. The remaining frontal section is a plastic capsule that houses the pellets, a bit like a dissolving pill.
On firing the Eley and Federal, the load is released from the crimp, travelling down the barrel ‘bare’. Whereas the CCI capsule, to some degree, keeps the pellets ‘trapped’ until it exits the barrel.
The Eley shotshells use a payload of 25.4-grains (1.62-grams) of No.12 shot, whilst the Federal Game Shok use 26.2-grains (1.69-grams) of No.12 shot. The CCI’s internals pepped up the pellet count to 29.4-grains (1.88-grams ) of No.12 shot. However, looking at some of the pellets in the Federal and CCI loads, they had varying sizes of shot, with some looking like No.9, which will bring the total pellet count down. No.12 shot, or dust as it is sometimes called, is a good choice to get at least a half-decent payload, but its small size limits the striking energy and thus penetration, hence the short-range limitations.
I used my Sako Finnfire with its short 14.5” barrel, and without a sound moderator fitted, just in case!
These shotshells are an acquired taste. They work well at very close range as the patterns show, but no more than 10ft, as the spread is too large to be effective. I even found some pellets still embedded in the paper target, as they failed to penetrate the cardboard backer. However, the patterns were quite good for such a small payload. The Federals had a few feeding issues (tight in the Sako’s chamber) but managed 74 pellet strikes at 5ft and a spread of 15”. At 10ft, the spread had doubled to 24” and I was down to 35 pellet strikes. I have used these on feral pigeons in a barn.
By contrast, the CCIs fed superbly from the Sako’s magazine, with that plastic capsule acting like a conventional bullet. This ammo has a larger payload of the same-sized pellets, so at 5ft, the spread was 12”, with a total of 106 strikes. It was quieter, too. At 10ft, the spread was more than 20”, with 79 pellets on the target, and the pattern was nicely centred and even. So, if reliable feeding and a fast second shot are essential to you, then the CCIs are a good bet. While testing them, it was obvious that the blue plastic capsule retaining the shot did its job and ensured a tight pattern.
Finally, the Eley cartridges fed better than the Federals, as they were not as tight to chamber. We had quite surprising results, as at 5ft, they produced a very tight 8” pattern consisting of 130 pellets, which is nearly all of them. Wow. Then at 10ft, they managed a 15” pattern with a hefty 92 pellet cluster, which was evenly spread. Overall, a great load.
Great patterns overall from all three shotshells, with the sleek CCIs feeding the best. However, those Eleys patterned brilliantly, and you could realistically nearly double the range of these. All in all, great fun.