Using .22 ARs for firearms training

With the rising cost of ammunition, as well as a lack of ranges that will support rifle-caliber ammo, the .22 AR is in a unique training niche

With the high cost of ammunition — as well as limited ranges that can handle .223 rounds — I was in the market to try out various .22 rimfire alternatives that simulated the weight and feel of a patrol .223 carbine.

These .22 trainers have been around for quite a while — Ciener, Atchisson and others have been manufacturing them for years. I was never particularly impressed with the accuracy of these particular units. I wanted to see what was out there that would work for what I wanted to do.

I wanted something that was reasonably accurate, reliable and had a similar heft and feel to my various patrol style carbines. Reasonable accuracy meant somewhere around 1.5” groups or smaller at 25 yards with quality ammo. Reliable meant it wasn’t finicky and could use a variety of quality ammo to function well.

I initially did a lot of checking on the various units on the market to see what was available. After this research, I purchased an upper from Tactical Solutions that best simulated the weight and feel of my current 16” barreled carbine. I also picked up a S&W M&P complete .22 carbine.

Here are brief evaluations of the two systems.

Tactical Solutions .22 Upper
The .22 upper I purchased from Tactical Solutions was a full .223 weight .22 rimfire unit. It came complete with front and rear sight and a picatinny rail on the receiver for mounting optics. It appeared well made without rough machining marks. 

Reports from other customers indicated it was a well-made, functional piece.

The bolt assembly and takedown was a bit tricky and required careful study of the manual. I was delighted with the weight and feel of the gun when it was put together on my lower receiver and I couldn’t wait to test it out to see how well it would shoot.

I went to the range after putting the receiver on my stock DPMS lower. I tested a variety of ammo including Federal .22 LR .36 grain, Remington .22 LR 40 Grain, and CCI .22 Mini Mags, which are the Gold Standard for function in .22s.

Lo and behold, this gun would not function reliably with any ammo I put in it.

Feeding issues kept arising that kept me from really testing it out. Per their instructions, I was using the recommended parts without any substitutions.

I ended up taking it to my gunsmith and having him tweak the upper to ensure reliable feeding and ejection with a variety of ammunition.

After tweaking, the gun fed several brands well but functioned best with CCI Mini Mags.

Accuracy was superb with several groups hovering around one inch at 25 yards.

The fit and feel of this upper on my gun really felt like my standard carbine. Swinging it from target to target, picking it up and shooting it or just general manipulation of the weapon gave me the feel of my standard weight carbine.

I revisited the Tactical Solutions site recently and see that they are only making one model of AR upper these days. If it works on your weapon, it is top notch but may require some tweaking by a qualified gunsmith to get it to run.

Smith & Wesson M&P .22 MOE
When I received this item from Smith & Wesson, my initial impression was that it felt like a toy gun. The listed weight on it is 5.5 lbs. It had a plastic set of folding front and rear sights and a generous rail system that was seamless from the receiver, right on down the handguard. The trigger was decent and the operation of the piece was simple. The bolt assembly was way simpler than the Tactical Solutions unit and easier to maintain.

This gun gobbled just about any good ammo I could put in it with very few malfunctions. Most of the malfunctions were due to a lack of lubrication as I wanted to see how it ran dirty or dry. It ran best with a light coat of oil on all moving parts.

Accuracy was very good and met my performance goals. They do have a match barrel version of this firearm but I did not deem it necessary for my intent for this piece.

Handling concerns proved to be a non-issue. While not the same weight as a standard gun (by a couple of pounds), it was easy to drive the gun and just shoot it.

Plus, the gun was just fun to shoot! 

It was nice to be able to have a complete dedicated gun rather than switching an upper around all the time. 

If you are looking for a reliable shooter, this is my pick.

Training with the .22
With the rising cost of ammunition, as well as a lack of ranges that will support rifle-caliber ammo, the .22 AR is in a unique training niche.

Can the .22 be a viable alternative to shooting more expensive .223?

I would give it a qualified yes.

While you won’t get the trajectory of a .223, you can do some very good drills out to 100 yards or so. Shooting on the move, position shooting, transition drills, CQB drills and a variety of other drills lend themselves to many more repetitions while perfecting technique, movement, and gun handling.

Instead of paying thousands of dollars; agencies can pay hundreds of dollars in ammunition costs.

I ran some rather extensive tests on the .22 units on a variety of skills and drills and compared them with my .223 drill times. I also designed a custom .22 three-tiered plate rack with two-, thee-, and four-inch plates that was really fun to shoot and train on.

What is also good is that you can shoot them on ranges that only allow pistol level ammunition. You will not damage steel targets or ruin steel backstops.

My opinion on these units is that they are a definite plus and have a place in the inventory of either a department or an individual looking for a low cost training firearm that adds significantly to high level training. Right now, I know many world class shooters that are currently using them for active training and the list continues to grow.

The bottom line is this: they work.

Use high-velocity ammunition, keep them lubed properly; clean them every 500 to 1000 rounds, and they will serve you well. 

About the author

Ron Avery is President and Director of Training for The Practical Shooting Academy, Inc. and Executive Director of the non-profit, Rocky Mountain Tactical Institute - both training institutions dedicated to professional firearms and tactics courses, higher police standards and training and use of force research. Train with Ron Avery. Visit his Course Calendar. Ron is a former police officer with many years of street experience, which he brings into the training environment. He is internationally recognized as a researcher, firearms trainer and world class shooter. His training methodology is currently being used by hundreds of agencies and thousands of individuals across the US and internationally. Ron has worked as a consultant and trainer for top level federal agencies, special operations military from all branches of the armed forces and law enforcement agencies across the US. He is a weapons and tactics trainer for handgun, carbine, select fire, precision rifle and shotgun, as well as advanced instructor schools, defensive tactics, team skills and tactics, low light tactics, arrest and control and officer survival. Contact Ron Avery

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