At the turn of the 20th Century, the .22 Short rimfire cartridge was a popular choice for indoor shooting sports and carnivals. Rifles chambered in .22 short only were produced by the big manufacturers of the day in many permutations: single shot, pump, semi-auto, lever-action and bolt-action/magazine fed. Even as late at the 1960’s and 70’s, .22 CB (Conical Ball Cap) Shorts, propelled by primer and very little powder with muzzle velocities from the mid-300’s to 700 FPS were used in carnival shooting galleries throughout the US.
Even if you weren’t a kid in the 1960’s, you may have seen a rerun of an episode of The Andy Griffith Show entitled “Opie and the Carnival”. (Season 5, Episode 31; original air date: April 26, 1965) In it, Opie uses a Remington 121 Field Master .22 Rimfire Rifle. (you can clearly see the distinctive side take-down screw) to win his father a birthday present from crooked carnival barkers.
As a cartridge, .22 Short is ballistically limited. Velocities have standardized from just over 700 fps for the 29 grain lead CB loads to just over 1,100 fps for the 27 grain hollow pointed loads. Muzzle report is minimal from rifle length barrels. Recoil is negligible even for a small framed shooter. Adequate for short range small game varmint hunting and more than qualified for good old fashioned plinking. This is a cartridge primarily built for FUN.
A Bevy of Vintage .22 Rimfire Rifles on the Used Gun Rack
On a recent visit to a Cabela’s store, the used gun rack provided a surprising selection of century-old rimfire rifles chambered in .22 Short, including a few honest-to-goodness pump action Gallery Guns. For the most part, condition was fair to good with lots of patina and use-marks. Considering the hard use these rifles endured, they are in pretty good shape. Many barrels were marked for .22 Long and Long Rifle in addition to .22 Short, but a quick search specific to the Marlin Number 18 indicates that the while those rifles came standard with the .22 Short carrier installed. The .22 Long carrier was a factory option to be installed by a gunsmith or the user.
As to modern use of these rifles, certainly a through inspection by a competent gunsmith would precede any live-fire of these elderly gems. In my opinion, it would be prudent to stick with the standard low velocity ammunition.
My research indicates that the Marlin Number 18 pump action rifles were shipped being able to only function and fire the .22 short cartridge as these guns were designed for Carnivals and indoor “gallery” shooting events. Marlin sold these guns in 1906 with the octagon barrels (a $0.50 option) for $13.00. By 1908, Marlin’s retail price for the Number 18 plummeted to $1.00. Marlin created a replacement, the Marlin Number 20, which could shoot the .22 Short, Long and Long Rifle cartridges without any additional parts or alterations. Ironically, the 2013 asking price on this pretty Marlin Number 18 is $470.00.
This Winchester 1906 had a price tag of $250.00
This Savage Model 29 sported an octagonal barrel and a nice patina. Asking price was $225.00
This poor old Winchester Model 03 was saddled with a horrible receiver mounted scope mount. The receiver was treated to the horrible indignity to have its receiver drilled and tapped for the scope mount after it had left the factory. It had a “sale” tag of $ 349.99
This Winchester 1904 .22 Short Single Shot had a price tag of $315.00 but it’s barrel looked to have been shortened by an amateur gunsmith (note the flat muzzle).
Shooting .22 Shorts Today
CCI, Winchester and a few other manufacturers currently load ammunition in .22 Short. To my knowledge, no current maker manufactures a .22 Rimfire Rifle chambered specifically in .22 Short. However, many modern manually-operated rimfire rifles chambered in .22 caliber will accept and shoot the .22 Short cartridge. The last semi-auto chambered for .22 Short was a Remington Nylon 66 GS (Gallery Special) made from 1962-1981.
I have a Winchester 69A Bolt-Action Magazine-fed Rimfire Rifle with a 25″ barrel. It’s chambered for .22 Short, Long and Long Rifle. The 69 was first produced in 1935. In 1937, the 69A was introduced with a few changes and upgrades. The bolt now cocked on opening, the safety lever was moved to the right side and the prominent rear cocking piece was eliminated. The rifle gained some weight due to constant diameter round contour barrel being installed. The 69A was continuously manufactured until 1963. I purchased my Winchester 69A for $45.00 about 5 years ago. Since there are no serial numbers to reference, all I can say that mine is post-WW II; owing to small design changes made at that time: a slightly swept back bolt handle, a grooved trigger and the receiver is grooved for scope mounting.
The Winchester 69A handles well and is quite accurate. Today, I tested some .22 CB Short ammunition and was surprised that the muzzle report made less noise than the sound of the bullet’s impact in the dirt berm at 30 yards. The days of live-fire carnival games are long gone but the .22 Short cartridge, so easy to shoot and accurate, still provides a lot of relaxing fun and enjoyment.
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