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Top 5 Best .22 LR for Self-Defense: The Itty Bitty Defender

Top 5 Best .22 LR for Self-Defense

Let's just address the elephant in the room right out of the gate:

The .22 LR is NOT the best choice for self-defense

There, we said it.

No one will deny that the .22 Long Rifle cartridge is a great training tool for new shooters thanks to its nonexistent recoil. It's amazing for plinking and pest control, but the simple truth is that larger calibers like the 9mm, 38 Special, and 45 ACP make better self-defense cartridges than the 22 LR.

Don't get me wrong, I love the 22 LR, but it simply doesn't cause a large enough wound channel to reliably put down bad guys (and FBI ballistic gelatin tests confirm this).

As such, every time I walk out the door I'm grabbing my Glock 26 and not my Walther P22.


If all you own is a short-barrel 22 LR Ruger LCR or Taurus TX22, and it's between carrying that or a pointy stick...Then all I'll say is that a 22 LR in the pocket is better than a 45 ACP on the nightstand any day.

Can the 22 LR protect your life in a self-defense situation? You bet your rimfire rear-end it can! However, if you want to increase your chances of surviving a self-defense situation using a rimfire handgun, then you need the right ammo to get the job done.

Below you'll find our top 5 picks for the best 22 LR self-defense loads on the market today (plus a few honorable mentions!)

For those of you who want to place an order now, grab a few boxes of the Browning Performance 36 Grain CPHP. But if you want to explore the best .22 LR rimfire ammunition for self-defense, keep reading.

If you’re new to buying .22 LR ammo, check out our Buyer’s Guide HERE to learn more. Otherwise, just scroll down a little more for the top 5 best .22 LR ammo you can buy to defend your life.

The Best .22 LR for Self-Defense

Best 22LR for Self-Defense - Overall

Browning Performance 36 Grain CPHP


  • Bullet Casing: Brass
  • Bullet Type: CPHP (Copper Plated Hollow Point)
  • Bullet Weight: 36 Grain
  • Muzzle Velocity: 1,280 fps
  • Muzzle Energy: 131 foot-pounds


  • Affordable
  • Easy to find
  • CPHP offers some fragmentation


  • Questionable reliability is some handguns

Why We Chose It

As far as rimfire cartridges go, you aren’t going to find many .22 LR rounds that are versatile enough for plinking, varmint hunting, and self-defense. To make the best .22 LR ammo for self-defense, we had to consider reliability, price, performance, and availability. For us, that’s the Browning Performance 36 Grain CPHP.

A simple copper-plated hollow point round with a solid lead core, this ammo is versatile enough to stop threats from home intruders to rabbits and squirrels. Due to the copper-plated encasement, the projectile penetrates well and won’t deform before creating a deep wound channel.

It’s a non-corrosive round with a high velocity that maximizes kinetic energy transfer (stopping power) and can be used in self-defense scenarios. However, make sure that you test this ammo in your preferred rimfire handgun before you decide to CCW it, as I had some reliability issues with Browning rimfire ammunition in my Walther P22.

However, if you find that your handgun likes this ammo, then you won't be disappointed by its performance.

Honorable Mention

Winchester Silvertip 37 Grain Segmented Hollow Point - Another hard-hitting, fast .22 LR cartridge is the Winchester Silvertip. This cartridge also maximizes stopping power for a small-caliber bullet with high velocity and a hollow point projectile.

However, it can be a bit difficult to find, so when you can get your hands on a box of the Winchester Silvertip, snatch it up.

CCI Stinger 32 Grain CPHP


  • Bullet Casing: Nickel-Plated Brass
  • Bullet Type: CPHP (Copper Plated Hollow Point)
  • Bullet Weight: 32 Grain
  • Muzzle Velocity: 1,640 fps
  • Muzzle Energy: 191 ft-lbs


  • Extremely affordable
  • Reliable
  • Hollow point provides some expansion
  • High availability


  • Lower velocity in typical CCW handguns

Why We Chose It

If you want incredibly reliable .22LR ammo that goes "Bang" every time you squeeze the trigger, then make sure to grab some CCI Stingers.

One major bonus of the CCI Stinger is that it utilizes a nickel-plated brass case that is incredibly smoot feeding. This is important for self-defense ammunition, because clearing a jam can mean the difference between life and death.

CCI Stingers also have some of the highest muzzle velocities available for rimfire ammo, outstripping CCI Mini-Mag and CCI Velocitor ammo by quite a wide margin.

Similar to the Browning ammo mentioned earlier, the 32 Grain CCI Stinger fires a copper-plated hollow point to initiate bullet fragmentation inside the target. But there are some notable differences. For example, the CCI stinger has a much higher muzzle velocity than the Browning (although this may vary depending on barrel length).

Ultimately, it’s a varmint round, but it can also be effective in other scenarios. The copper-plated hollow point tip keeps the bullet from expanding too quickly and gives us penetration of 11” and 13” (in a gel test).

One thing to keep in mind is that most (not all) manufacturers report their muzzle velocities from test barrels that are typically longer than 16". I don't know about you, but I'm not planning on EDC'ing a Ruger 10-22!

Short barrel 22 LR pistols like the Ruger LCP will generally have a lower muzzle velocity than what's listed on the box, and this is true for most all manufacturers. This is not to say that the rounds are ineffective, but it's something you should be aware of before carrying a 22 LR handgun for self-defense.

However, CCI Stingers are very affordable and easy to buy in bulk to stockpile for multiple purposes. Take a few boxes to the range and ensure your .22 LR pistol (or rifle) likes the ammo, then keep the rest at home for the worst-case home defense scenario.

Winchester Super-X 40 Grain CPHP


  • Bullet Casing: Brass
  • Bullet Type: CPHP (Copper-Plated Hollow Point)
  • Bullet Weight 40 Grain
  • Muzzle Velocity: 1,435 fps
  • Muzzle Energy: 108 ft-lbs


  • High velocity for a heavier bullet
  • Very affordable
  • High availability


  • Reliability

Why We Chose It

You can’t go wrong with Winchester. The company has delivered excellent, high-quality, and effective rounds for generations. Of course, the Winchester Super-X 40 Grain is another excellent option for self-defense for those who want or need to use a .22 LR.

This high-velocity cartridge has a copper-plated hollow point that has more kinetic energy transfer (often referred to as “stopping power”) due to the projectile’s opening on the tip.

Compared to other bullet types, the CPHP’s copper jacket decreases fragmentation. While expansion is typically great for other calibers, the lower-powered .22 LR must stay intact to increase penetration.

The wider meplat (bullet tip) combined with higher velocity and copper-plated tip means there’s a larger wound channel on impact. You’ll also get adequate penetration and more kinetic energy transfer.

Of course, it’s probably no surprise that, like all ammo, some shooters experience feeding and accuracy issues with the Winchester Super-X. Fortunately, it’s a pretty low-cost round, so getting to the range to test it (as you should any self-defense rounds) isn’t going to break the bank.

Honorable Mention

Federal Champion 40 Grain LRN - The Federal Champion is a 40 Grain bullet with a led round nose (LRN) that’s reliable, accurate and hits pretty hard. You're bound to get excellent penetration with a 1,200 fps muzzle velocity and the higher-weight grain.

Aguila 38 Grain CPHP


  • Bullet Casing: Brass
  • Bullet Type: CPHP (Copper Plated Hollow Point)
  • Bullet Weight: 38 Grain
  • Muzzle Velocity: 1,280 fps
  • Muzzle Energy: 138 ft-lbs


  • Very accurate
  • High reliability at this price point
  • Lowest cost/round on our list


  • Lower muzzle velocity

Why We Chose It

The Aguila 38 Grain copper-plated hollow points is one of the lower-cost options on our list. But it isn’t lacking in quality. On the contrary, Aguila is well-known for producing high-quality rounds that feed well (in most cases) and have excellent accuracy.

This cartridge has a lower muzzle velocity than other .22 LR recommendations for self-defense, but it also has excellent penetration and isn’t likely to expand too quickly. As with many other recommendations you’ve seen, the Aguila has a solid lead core encased in a copper-plated jacket to keep the projectile from breaking apart on impact.

Of course, what’s better is that for less than one dime per round, you can easily stockpile it, practice with it, and keep a few boxes on hand if you ever find yourself or your family in harm’s way.

Honorable Mention

Fiocchi 38 Grain CPHP - The weight, design, and velocity of the Aguila 38 Grain CPHP are incredibly similar to the Fiocchi 38 Grain CPHP. It’s an excellent .22 LR cartridge that can be used for self-defense as well as small game hunting and varmint control. If, for any reason, you can’t get the Aguila we’ve listed above, grab a few boxes of Fiocchi instead. You won’t be disappointed.

Federal Punch Defense 29 Grain FMJ


Federal Punch Defense 22 LR ammo for sale
  • Bullet Casing: Nickel-plated brass
  • Bullet Type: FN (Flat Nose)
  • Bullet Weight: 29 Grain
  • Muzzle Velocity: 1080 fps
  • Muzzle Energy: 75 ft-lbs


  • Specially designed for self-defense
  • Affordably priced
  • High-quality


  • Availability

Why We Chose It

The .22 LR has plenty of drawbacks when it comes to self-defense. The smaller projectiles with lower muzzle velocities can veer off course and often have too little penetration to stop a threat effectively. Federal’s engineers recognized these drawbacks and designed this cartridge to overcome them.

As far as rimfire cartridges go, this one is designed to maximize penetration and weight retention. Whereas some of the other options on our list are designed to expand, the Federal Punch 29 Grain, surprisingly, does the opposite.

This cartridge has a flat nose, and its lead core is encased in a heavy nickel-plated jacket. The design allows the bullet to penetrate deeper than other .22 LR ammo while also keeping a straighter path on impact.

Furthermore, this round's brilliant design and increased muzzle velocity help it exceed the FBI standard of 12” penetration in ballistic gel (penetrating nearly 14” with a 16-inch barrel). The listed muzzle velocity from Federal Premium comes from a 2-inch barrel, which is what most responsible civilians will choose to concealed carry.

While it won’t replace a solid self-defense caliber like the 9mm or .45 ACP, all of these features combined definitely increase its effectiveness.

Parting Shots

While we wouldn’t run out and buy a .22 over a Glock or a Ruger 9mm (or another semi-auto firearm that packs more punch), we would rather have a .22 than a pointy stick or baseball bat.

While many tout the .22 LRs' ineffectiveness in personal defense, it also has its benefits (especially if you’re using the best self-defense ammo available). For example, it’s an excellent caliber shooters who are extremely recoil sensitive or have weak hands.

So, if you plan to keep a few boxes of .22 LR ammo around in case the worst should happen, order one of the options above. If you want to pick up a few other boxes for plinking or target shooting, head over to our .22 LR ammo page for more cartridges.

If you’re interested in learning more, check out our Buyer’s Guide below.

Buyer’s Guide: What to Look for in .22 LR Ammo

Welcome to our .22 LR buyer's guide! We’ll take a look at the various ins and outs of finding the right ammo for the task at hand.

Even the U.S. Military still uses the .22 LR for training and marksmanship practice. Most of your .22 LR pistols and rifles are a lot of fun to shoot, and they’re great for learning basic marksmanship.

.22 LR Bullet Types Explained

Many of our ammo reviews cover various types of ammo (FMJs, JHPs, polymer tips, etc.). But in the case of the .22 LR, there are only so many options for effective bullet types in personal defense scenarios.

Let’s take a brief moment to break those down.

HP (Hollow Point)

One of the more common self-defense bullet types are hollow points. There are many variations of hollow point bullets (from jacketed hollow points to copper-plated hollow points and more).

Hollow points are typically excellent for personal protection in close range engagements.

Heavier bullets (think 9mm Luger and bigger) penetrate and expand to create a wide, devastating wound channel to quickly stop the threat.

However, the .22 LR doesn’t have enough power for your standard hollow point rounds to penetrate before expanding, if they expand at all. Typically, hollow point .22 LR ammo is best for varmint hunting.

LHP (Lead Hollow Point)

Another hollow point option is the Lead Hollow Point. These are a bit harder to find than your coated or jacketed hollow points but ultimately serve a similar purpose. The LHPs tip has a concave shape and offers better terminal ballistics against small game like squirrels and rabbits.

Another issue with LHPs is the Lead exposure risk. For this reason, many ranges have actually banned the rounds. However, they are inexpensive and great to have around for plinking outdoors or for varmint control.

LRN (Lead Round Nose)

Another common .22 LR is the Lead Round Nose. These bullets are designed to maximize penetration, but unlike the hollow points, they don’t expand or fragment well.

LRN rounds are the simplest and typically least expensive .22 LR ammo available and great for target practice, training new shooters, or pest control. They are easy to manufacture since they don't require specialized plating procedures which aids in keeping ammo costs down.

CPRN (Copper-Plated Round Nose)

The Copper-Plated Round Nose are becoming the gold standard in the rimfire industry and are extremely popular in 22 LR ammunition. They are similar to regular lead hollow point bullets, but are coated in a thin layer of copper that is applied via a process known as electroplating.

These rounds have no exposed lead so they are fine to use at any indoor range. CPRN bullets are also better for long-range shooting as the uniform jacket typically improves external ballistics over traditional LRN or LHP bullets.

These rounds are designed to fragment and break apart on impact, which improves the round's terminal ballistics and stopping power.

.22 LR Versus .22 Magnum

While shopping for ammo, you’ll undoubtedly come across .22 Mag ammo (also known as 22 WMR) in your search for .22 Long Rifle ammo. But there are some notable differences between the two. Both are .22 caliber rimfire ammunition but they are not the same round by a long shot.

We'll get right to it for those wondering (because we know you are): These two rounds aren’t interchangeable. You can’t shoot a .22 Mag from a .22 LR chamber, and vice versa.

Next, the .22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire (or 22 WMR) has a larger case, so you’ll get more muzzle velocity and kinetic energy. Essentially, it’s the magnum version of the .22 caliber family.

Lastly, the .22 Mag has a flatter trajectory and is more suitable for long-range shooting due to the higher muzzle velocity (both cartridges fire similar bullet grain weights).

If you want a .22 caliber for concealed carry, the .22 Mag is clearly the better choice as it is a bit more powerful and packs more stopping power. But if you enjoy a nice, user-friendly cartridge that works well on small game, the .22 LR is perfect.

Rimfire Versus Centerfire

Another burning question you may have is, “What’s the difference between rimfire and centerfire cartridges?” The .22 caliber is a rimfire cartridge. This means that the firing pin will strike the base of the cartridge at the side. This strike sets off the primer and activates the gunpowder, leading to the projectile exiting the barrel of the gun.

A centerfire cartridge, on the other hand, has a primer in the center. You’ll find that all .22 caliber ammo is rimfire, and your shotgun and handgun ammo have centerfire cartridges (along with most rifle ammo). You’ll also find that many of the best-concealed carry options use centerfire ammunition.

Due to the design of rimfire ammo, many experience reliability issues. This is one of many reasons that we prefer centerfire cartridges for our defense ammunition. There’s also debate about accuracy. Rimfire bullets have a lower recoil, which helps with accuracy (you’ll get better shot placement). But the lighter bullets are also more affected by wind and have lower muzzle velocity, so it’s really a trade-off.

Ultimately, the main difference between the two is the primer. But that alone greatly affects the power and behavior of a bullet. Centerfire bullets are better for those important tasks like personal defense and hunting. Rimfire cartridges are perfect for pest control and plinking.

To read more about the difference between Rimfire vs Centerfire, check out this article: Rimfire vs Centerfire Ammunition.

The Brilliant History of the .22 LR

The birth of the modern day .22 LR began in 1857 when Smith & Wesson designed the Model 1 single-action pistol. At the time, the .22 rimfire cartridge’s case was .421 inches long and is now referred to as the .22 Short.

The .22 cartridge got a little longer and more powerful in 1871. With a longer .613-inch case, it was brilliantly named the .22 Long (ammo manufacturers weren’t as creative as Hornady or Remington when it came to naming their creations back then).

Finally, we got the .22 LR (Long Rifle) in 1887. While it still had the .613-inch case, it also had a heavier projectile. In the early 1930s, Remington designed the high-velocity .22 LR, increasing the muzzle velocity and giving the bullet a few more foot-pounds of muzzle energy.

To this day, we still use the .22 LR (mostly in carbines like the Ruger 10-22, semi-auto pistols like the Walther P22, or revolvers like the Ruger LCR). The .22 LR packs more of a punch than its predecessors but is still an affordable round perfect for small game hunting and target shooting.

Back to the Best .22 LR for Self-Defense

Now that you have a clearer understanding of .22 Long Rifle ammo, you can click HERE to return to our list and place an order (or two).

Cassandra McBride
Written by
Cassandra McBride

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