When it comes to firearms, choosing the right caliber for your needs and wants is absolutely crucial.
Two of the most popular and common rounds that you’re likely to see on the market today are the .22LR and the 9mm, but if you ask ten people who wins the .22LR vs. 9mm debate, you’re going to get at least 12 different answers.
Each has its own unique characteristics and ideal use cases, just as each will also have its specific strengths and weaknesses.
However, the short answer is that a .22LR is going to be better for easy dispatching of small critters and plinking targets, while a 9mm is going to offer more stopping power against larger, potentially human-sized targets.
With more than two decades behind a trigger, and having spent more on ammo than I care to admit, I’ve had plenty of experience with both of these rounds, in both handguns and rifles. We’re going to dig deep into these two rounds, cover their dimensions, power, uses, and ultimately look at which is best for your needs.
Overview of .22LR
The .22LR is a small, often inexpensive rimfire cartridge that has been around since the 19th century.
It is one of the smallest commercially available rounds, with a diameter of just 0.22 inches, and a length of one inch with the case and bullet included. It can be found in semi-auto handguns, revolvers, and a wide range of rifles.
The .22LR is known for its accuracy and low recoil, making it ideal for beginners and those sensitive to recoil or noise. It is commonly used for hunting small game like squirrels, rabbits, and raccoons, and makes a great target round for plinking out to 75-100 yards.
Overview of 9mm
The 9mm round, also known as the 9mm Luger or 9mm Parabellum, is a centerfire cartridge that has been in use nearly as long as the .22LR, making its debut in the early 20th century. The diameter is notably larger at 0.355 inches, and while only 0.169 inches longer, it features a bullet of approximately three times the projectile weight of a .22LR.
The 9mm platform is incredibly popular for several reasons. First, the 9mm is one of the most popular calibers for small self-defense handguns and rifles. Additionally, it is considered one of the more reliable and affordable centerfire calibers around. It’s a great choice for targets, defense, and even some hunting applications.
Specification Chart for .22LR and 9mm
|Bullet Diameter||.22 inches||.355 inches|
|Bullet Weight||30-40 grains||115-147 grains|
|Case Length||.613 inches||.754 inches|
|Overall Length||1.000 inches||1.169 inches|
|Neck Diameter||.225 inches||.394 inches|
|Max Pressure||24,000 psi||35,000 psi|
|Muzzle Velocity||1,000-1,300 fps||1,000-1,400 fps|
|Common Uses||Plinking, small game hunting||Defensive & target shooting|
Key Differences Between .22LR and 9mm
While there are some similarities when looking at the .22LR vs. 9mm rounds, there are also some critical differences.
We’re going to dig into these differences in detail here so that you have a complete picture of how each round is going to perform in regard to certain criteria.
Bullet Size & Weight
The first and likely most obvious difference between these two rounds is their physical size. While this may be a very superficial observation at first, that size and weight can have a considerable effect on your shooting and more.
If space or weight is going to be a factor for you, the difference between these two rounds is significant.
The .22LR has a bullet diameter of .22 inches, while the 9mm has a bullet diameter of .355 inches. This means that even though you are making a compromise of increased power, stopping ability, or distance with a 9mm, you’re making that compromise at the cost of size and weight.
Depending on what you’re going to potentially be shooting, this can be a crucial consideration or a passing one.
If you hunt in the bush a lot or pack out to anywhere that you like to shoot, you have to pack all that ammo with you. Just based on rough projectile weight, every 9mm round in your pack is three .22LR rounds that could have taken its place.
The same line of thinking applies to the size of the round, and in the same backpack space, you can have a box of 50 .22LR rounds, or you could have a box of 25 9mm rounds.
Ammo Cost & Commercial Availability
The cost and availability of the ammo for the caliber you choose should be a more weighty consideration than many people make it, particularly if you’re looking to supplement your armory for a survival or SHTF situation.
This makes this point particularly important if you’re shopping for a firearm to keep in a go-bag or bug-out location.
First of all, .22LR rounds are considerably cheaper than even the roughest, corrosive, steel cased Russian 9mm rounds.
This means that for anyone that anticipates emptying a lot of brass at targets or during practice sessions, going with a .22LR is going to be the most economical option. This is also going to be a boon for anyone that likes to stock up on ammo since you’ll be getting roughly twice the ammunition for your money when you go with the smaller of the two.
Additionally, with some of the supply chain issues that have popped up in recent years, going with a caliber that has a much wider commercial availability than even the famous 9mm means you’ll always have a better chance of finding ammunition that you can use.
A big concern for many shooters is what the reload process is going to be like when they try to reload their spent brass.
For many shooters, reloading is a far more economical way to get the rounds and loads you want, for less money, in exchange for a little time and elbow grease. A massive benefit to both .22LR and 9mm rounds is that they can be reloaded by hand, although there are some things to consider beforehand.
Primarily, you need to consider that the .22LR is a rimfire cartridge, which means that the primer is in the rim of the case.
This may not sound like a big deal, but it makes it significantly more difficult to reload than a standard 9mm cartridge, which uses a centerfire primer, located in the center of the case.
Reloading a .22LR cartridge requires specialized equipment, and can take more time than reloading 9mm rounds.
Another major difference between the .22LR and the 9mm is their versatility. It’s pretty common knowledge that the .22LR is used for recreational plinking, some competitive shooting, and hunting small game.
It’s also widely acknowledged that a 9mm is a very effective defensive weapon.
What’s not often discussed, however, is that the .22LR can be considered more versatile than the 9mm because it can adapt to a wider range of uses with a little planning.
The .22LR can be found in a range of loads that make hunting even medium game like a coyote or small deer achievable. However, when hunting small game, such as squirrels, small rabbits, or even raccoons, 9mm rounds may be worse than ineffective; they may be wasteful.
When you put a small animal down with a well-placed .22LR shot, the animal is down humanely and can be usefully harvested.
When a 9mm round is used on smaller game, the result is often a shattered frame, significant meat loss, and a ruined pelt. While the 9mm works well on medium prey, for smaller game they can simply have too much kinetic energy to make them effective for harvesting.
In the long-raging .22LR vs. 9mm debate, the ultimate question has always been, “which round has the better stopping power?” But when you think about it, anything will expire with enough lead in its diet, so how important is stopping power in the grand calculus of self-defense?
Well, it can be a lot, in all honesty. In a potential firefight, you’ll be sending rounds downrange in an incredibly stressful and life-threatening situation. While any one of those rounds has lethal potential, your effectiveness needs to be as quick as possible. That said, this is another area where you’re going to have to consider a compromise.
If you go with a .22LR, you have lighter bullets with smaller profiles that are going to do limited soft tissue damage. Those rounds, however, are going to cause less recoil and enable you to be more accurate with your first and subsequent shot placement.
This means that even if one or two rounds won’t stop your assailant, it won’t be much of a challenge to add numbers 3 and 4 to their menu.
If you choose a 9mm, you have a larger bullet, which, if using HP ammo, will expand considerably, and much more kinetic energy being imparted to the target.
The larger bullet is more likely to continue moving and “tumbling” in soft tissue, creating more damage and potential stopping power. The downside is that the recoil of a 9mm is going to make it harder to reacquire your target and place subsequent shots with any effectiveness.
.22LR Pros & Cons
- Lightweight ammo and guns, great for small game hunting or bolt bag
- Reliable and accurate with cheap cost
- Low recoil makes it an attractive option for first-timers
- Much quieter than larger calibers
- One of the most widely available calibers
- Low shock value due to lower bullet speed
- Lower weight means less stopping power for human-sized targets
- Cheap ammo means a wide range of quality
9mm Pros & Cons
- Moderate recoil, but not unmanageable
- More stopping power & soft tissue damage
- Widely available
- Impressive range of ammo types and loads
- Ammo is more expensive than smaller calibers
- Many beginners find 9mm too powerful
- Can be too powerful for small game hunting
- Cost of ammo discourages recreational shooting or plinking
Does a 22 LR have stopping power?
There is a difference between lethality and stopping power. A .22 does not have a lot of stopping power, but it can absolutely be deadly. It might take a few hits to stop an attacker from advancing, but it can be lethal with a CNS shot or if you hit a vital organ.
What is the size difference between .22LR and 9mm?
A 9mm bullet is significantly larger than the .22LR.
The bullet diameter of a .22LR is .22 inches, case length is .613 inches, and overall length is 1 inch. The 9mm has a bullet diameter of .355 inches, a case length of .754 inches, and overall length of 1.169 inches.
Is a 22LR Deadlier than a 9mm?
According to a study from Baltimore that reported more likelihood of death as caliber and power were increased, the 22LR is less deadly than all larger calibers, including 9mm.
It can certainly be deadly, but more deaths have come from a 38 revolver and a 9mm pistol than from 22LR. A standard duty pistol (9mm) is about 40 to 50 percent more lethal than a 22LR rifle or pistol.
There you have it; the debate of .22LR vs. 9mm is settled. Right? Ok, maybe not, but for good reason.
Both rounds are incredibly effective at what they are generally used for, and what you’re going to use them for is going to be the biggest factor in which one is the best choice for you.
That’s what really matters here, not our opinion, but giving you the information you need to make the best decisions for you and yours.
We hope that we’ve helped to shed a little light on the small arms race of .22LR vs. 9mm, but no matter which one you choose, make sure you’re shooting responsibly.