How far can a 22 bullet travel in miles?

The 22 caliber is one of the most popular and widely used calibers for rifles and handguns. With its relatively small size, low recoil, and good ballistic performance, the 22 LR rifle cartridge is an excellent choice for recreational shooting, small game hunting, and even self-defense in some cases. But just how far can a 22 bullet travel when fired from a rifle or handgun barrel?

Quick Answer

The maximum range of a standard high velocity 22 LR bullet fired from a rifle is typically between 1 to 2 miles. However, under optimal conditions, a 22 LR bullet can travel as far as 3 miles before dropping below the force required to injure a person. The maximum range depends on many factors like the velocity, bullet weight, atmospheric conditions, angle of fire, and height of rifle above sea level.

What Influences 22 Bullet Range?

There are several key factors that determine how far a 22 LR bullet will travel in miles:

  • Muzzle Velocity – The speed of the bullet upon leaving the barrel has a major impact on range. Higher velocity 22 LR loads can achieve velocities of 1,200 to 1,300 fps.
  • Bullet Weight – Heavier bullets will retain velocity and energy better at longer distances. Most 22 LR bullets are 30 to 40 grains, but some high performance loads use 50+ grain bullets.
  • Angle of Fire – The flatter the trajectory, the less bullet drop and more horizontal travel. A 22 LR has a typical arc trajectory, requiring angled fire for long range.
  • Atmospheric Conditions – Air temperature, humidity, wind speed & direction can all influence trajectory over long distances.
  • Rifling Twist Rate – Faster twist rates in the barrel help stabilize longer & heavier 22 bullets in flight.
  • Elevation – Firing from higher elevation will allow bullets to travel further since air density decreases with altitude.

Typical 22 LR Ballistics & Range

Under standard conditions at sea level, most 22 LR high velocity loads with 40 grain bullets will achieve velocities in the 1200 fps range when fired from a rifle barrel. Some hyper-velocity 22 rounds can reach 1300-1400 fps with lighter 30 grain bullets.

For comparison, here are some typical 22 LR ballistics figures and maximum effective ranges from a 20 inch rifle barrel (Note these ranges are for a point target, not maximum distance the bullet will travel):

22 LR Bullet Type Muzzle Velocity Maximum Effective Range
Standard velocity 40 gr 1050 fps 100 yards
High velocity 40 gr 1200 fps 150 yards
Hyper-velocity 30 gr 1400 fps 200 yards

As you can see, even with a very fast hyper-velocity 22 LR round, the maximum effective hitting range on a small target is only about 200 yards or 0.1 miles. The bullets will continue travelling much farther than that, but accurate shot placement rapidly diminishes beyond the maximum point target range. Wind effects in particular become very pronounced over longer distances.

Maximum Horizontal Travel Distance

Under optimal conditions, the maximum horizontal travel distance of a 22 LR bullet would be approximately:

  • Standard velocity 40 gr: 1.0 to 1.25 miles
  • High velocity 40 gr: 1.5 to 1.75 miles
  • Hyper-velocity 30 gr: 2.0 to 2.5 miles

This assumes firing at a high angle between 30 to 45 degrees to maximize the arched trajectory, lower density air at higher altitude, and minimal wind. The bullet will be dropping rapidly at those distances and would not have enough force to cause injury. But it shows just how far a tiny 22 LR bullet can potentially travel given enough height and a clear path.

Record 22 LR Range

In 2012, a shooter in Virginia set what is believed to be the longest confirmed kill shot ever made with a 22 LR rifle. Using a Volquartsen semiautomatic rifle, perfectly calibrated for the attempt, the shooter made a confirmed hit on a steel plate target at 2,060 yards – nearly 1.17 miles away!

At that distance, the bullet took over 7 seconds to reach the target. The 50 yard zeroed bullet dropped over 340 feet on its arcing trajectory. Windage had to be perfectly calculated over 2,000+ yards. This incredible feat demonstrates with ideal conditions and precise calculations, a 22 LR bullet can indeed travel over a mile horizontally.

Maximum Elevation Range

For maximum elevation or “apogee” range, the theoretical maximum ceiling of a 22 LR round would be around 2 miles high vertically. That would require being fired perfectly vertically at high velocity in very thin air and low wind. In reality, achieving over 1 mile of vertical altitude is extremely difficult under any normal conditions.

For safety reasons, recreational shooters should never fire guns vertically into the air. What goes up must come down, and falling bullets can cause serious injury or death. This maximum elevation estimate is for illustrative purposes only based on ballistic calculations.

Angle of Fire for Maximum Horizontal Distance

For achieving the maximum possible forward travel distance, expert long range shooters recommend firing at a high angle between 30 to 45 degrees. The flatter the angle, the less vertical arc and more horizontal travel. But if the angle is too low, air resistance slows the bullet too rapidly.

45 degrees maximizes air time and minimizes drag to allow 22 LR bullets to fly over 1 mile. At this angle, the bullet is still rising at around 500 yards distant, reaching its apex at 750-800 yards altitude, then falling for the remainder of its 1+ mile flight.

Realistic Maximum Hunting & Self Defense Range

While 22 LR rounds may be able to travel 1 mile or more under rare conditions, in realistic hunting and self-defense shooting, the useful range is much more limited. For hunting small game like squirrel, rabbit and coyote, maximum ethical shots on live targets are:

  • 50 to 75 yards with standard velocity ammo
  • 100 to 125 yards with high velocity ammo
  • 150 to 200 yards with hyper-velocity ammo fired from a scoped bolt action or semiauto rifle

For self-defense against human threats, distances beyond 100 yards become highly questionable and unethical due to the bullet’s lack of stopping power and accuracy at those ranges. Most self-defense engagements occur at less than 50 yards anyways where 22 LR can certainly be effective with proper shot placement despite its limited power.

Trajectory Math & Physics

The long range trajectory of a 22 LR bullet can be calculated using some basic physics and trigonometry equations. Assuming a 22 LR muzzle velocity of 1,250 fps and a 200 yard zero:

At 45 degrees, the vertical velocity component is:
1,250 fps x sin(45) = 885 fps

Vertical travel time of the bullet is:

2,000 feet vertical drop / 885 fps vertical velocity = 2.26 seconds

Horizontal velocity component is:

1,250 fps x cos(45) = 885 fps

So for 2.26 seconds of flight time the horizontal travel is:

2.26 seconds x 885 fps = 2,000 feet = 0.38 miles

This back of the envelope calculation shows in ideal conditions, a 22 LR bullet can indeed travel over 1/3 mile when fired at a 45 degree upward angle. Precise computer modeling programs verify these general mathematical relationships and principles regarding 45 degrees providing good maximum range trajectory for the 22 long rifle cartridge.

Sectional Density and Ballistic Coefficient

Two other physics concepts that are important to understanding long range bullet trajectory are sectional density and ballistic coefficient.

Sectional density relates to how penetrative or aerodynamic a bullet is based on its weight and diameter. Higher sectional density indicates better ability to overcome wind resistance and air drag during flight. Although tiny, some 22 LR rounds have decent sectional density due to their lighter weight and smaller diameter compared to most rifle calibers.

Ballistic coefficient encapsulates a projectile’s sectional density, shape, and other factors into a single number that represents aerodynamic efficiency. Higher BC bullets lose less velocity and experience less trajectory drop and wind drift over long distances.

Good 22 LR hunting and target rounds typically have BCs in the .100 to .300 range. This is quite low compared to larger rifle bullets with BCs of .400 and up. But it allows 22 LR bullets to fly relatively well out to 200+ yards targets despite their very small size.

Spun vs Standard 22 LR Bullets

Another factor that impacts 22 LR ballistics is the use of slower, heavier “spun” bullets versus lighter, faster “standard” bullets. Spun 22 bullets have a larger bearing surface that engages the rifling grooves for more stable spin and accuracy. This also reduces velocity compared to slip-point standard 22 bullets.

Most match target 22 ammo uses spun bullets for precision. Standard 22 LR loads use lighter standard type bullets optimized for velocity. At longer range, the slower yet more stable trajectory of quality spun bullets allows them to retain energy and resist wind drift better than lightweight standard bullets travelling above 1,200 fps.

Subsonic 22 LR Range

In addition to standard, high velocity, and hyper-velocity 22 LR loads, there are also subsonic 22 rounds. These fire a heavier 45 grain bullet at well under the speed of sound, around 1,040 fps or less.

Subsonic 22 ammo produces much less noise and eliminates the sonic “crack” from supersonic bullets. This makes it popular for pest control and recreational shooting where noise could be an issue. Maximum range is reduced compared to faster loads, with acceptable accuracy out to around 100 yards depending on conditions and rifle twist rate.

Effective Range Considerations

While it’s interesting to theorize about the maximum possible range of a 22 bullet under rare optimum circumstances, it’s important to remember there is a huge difference between maximum unmanned range to hit a steel plate versus effective range on live targets.

For game hunting, consider energy delivery on target. Most states require a minimum of 100 ft-lbs of energy for medium game like deer. Standard 22 LR rounds carry less than 100 ft-lbs of energy past 100 yards, making their effective hunting range on larger animals very limited. The long range trajectory abilities of 22 LR exist in theory more than actual effective practice on live targets.

For self-defense, the goal is fast incapacitation by hitting vital organs. Given its lack of hydrostatic shock and limited penetration, 22 LR lacks reliable stopping power much past 100 yards on human threats, even with perfect shot placement. Overall, keep realistic accuracy and energy limitations in mind when assessing 22 LR maximum range potential.

Better Optics and Sights

One way to extend the effective range of 22 LR rifles is by mounting higher quality optics. A scope with an adjustable objective lens, target turrets, and parallax adjustment is ideal for dialing-in 22 rimfire rifles for long range. Use adjustable target rings to get the proper eye relief for your optic.

If sticking with iron sights, choose models with finely adjustable windage and elevation controls. Fiber optic and aperture style target sights also provide greater sight radius and aiming precision suitable for rimfire rifles. Investing in better rifle sights helps take advantage of the 22 LR’s inherent long range trajectory potential.

Heavier Barrels Help Accuracy

Standard 22 rifles often have very lightweight barrels to keep them fast handling and easy to carry. But lightweight barrels sag as they heat up, degrading downrange accuracy. Installing a heavier, stiffer barrel on a 22 rimfire rifle will wring out every bit of accuracy potential from the cartridge at long range.

Aftermarket match 22 barrels from companies like Kidd Innovative Design and Volquartsen allow 22 LR rounds to excel for 100+ yard target shooting and competition events. For maximizing accuracy at distance, invest in a quality heavy target barrel.

Match Grade and Standard Velocity Ammo

Be sure to use the best ammo possible suited for long range accuracy. Standard high velocity plinking rounds are designed for affordable close range fun. For target shooting at longer ranges, use premium match grade 22 LR ammo for peak performance. Brands like Eley, Lapua, Wolf Match Target, and SK Standard Plus have excellent reputations for sub-MOA groups at 50+ yards.

Some shooters report good accuracy using standard velocity 22 LR loads for long range shooting instead of high velocity ammo. The slightly lower velocity standard rounds are sometimes more consistently accurate at extended distances. This may relate to improved stability and spin rate. Test different 22 LR ammo types to find your rifle’s preferences.

Mirage Correction and Reading Wind

Two other advanced shooting skills are key to getting the most out of 22 rimfire rifles at long range: mirage correction and wind reading ability.

Mirage refers to optical heat waves rising from surfaces like the ground or a sun-heated wall. Looking through a high power rifle scope, these mirage waves provide clues about wind speed, direction, and vertical air density gradient. Learning to “read the mirage” can help calculate long range holdover and windage corrections.

Observing flags, vegetation movement, and blowing dust provides further wind reading insight. Dialing-in windage adjustments for 22 LR flight at 200+ yards is crucial. Mastering these advanced environmental observation skills allow 22 rimfire rifles to connect successfully on distant small targets.

Elevation Considerations

Since air density drops as elevation increases, 22 LR rounds can travel somewhat farther when fired at high altitude as opposed to sea level. All other factors equal, a 22 bullet would travel 10-15% farther at 5,000 feet elevation compared to sea level due to thinner air resistance.

Firing from an elevated position like the top floor of a building also extends effective range versus ground level shooting. Fire from high ground whenever possible to gain every extra bit of potential range from a 22 rifle within safe and legal limits.

Suppressors Allow Target Observation

One benefit of shooting suppressed 22 LR rifles is that it eliminates muzzle blast and allows the shooter to better spot bullet trace and hits on distant targets. The disadvantage of increased muzzle velocity and flatter trajectory from longer barrels is negated since most 22 suppressors add 6 to 9 inches of extra barrel length.

Being able to precisely observe bullet impact through a scope without muzzle flash helps make very long range 22 LR shots more feasible. Just be sure to use subsonic 22 ammo to prevent problematic sonic cracks from supersonic bullets.

Specialized 22 LR Long Range Rifles

There are a few factory 22 rimfire rifles built specifically for competitive target shooting at 200+ yard distances. Two stand-out options are:

Anschutz 64: German-engineered 22 LR target rifle with a heavy match grade barrel and micrometer adjustable target sights designed for 300 meter shooting events. It’s expensive but highly accurate out past 500 yards in capable hands.

Bergara BMR Rimfire: Spanish made 22 LR bolt action rifle with interchangeable match barrels, built to excel for NRL22 and PRS style competition shooting at extended ranges. More affordable than the Anschutz yet still a half MOA precision rifle.

Specialized competition 22 rimfire rifles like these provide the ultimate platform for exploiting the long range trajectory potential of the 22 long rifle cartridge in actual practice versus just theoretical estimates.


In summary, while typical 22 LR effective hunting and self-defense range is under 100-200 yards, the cartridge is theoretically capable of reaching 1 to 2 miles with a high arc trajectory under rare ideal conditions. A 22 bullet fired vertically could reach close to 2 miles altitude. Expert long range shooters have made hits with 22 rifles out to over 1 mile. But for most practical purposes, keep shots under 200 yards for best accuracy.

To maximize 22 LR range, use the heaviest bullets with highest ballistic coefficients in match grade rifles equipped with quality optics. Learn to carefully judge atmospheric conditions and dial-in precise long distance windage and elevation adjustments. With practice and optimal equipment, the 22 long rifle cartridge can take small game humanely and hit targets far beyond what many shooters expect from America’s favorite plinking and training rifle caliber.

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