Target Plinking: Mutual Disrespect for .22 Caliber Ammo

 

  • The Good, the Bad, the Ugly…Identify the “right” (best) ammo brand for your firearm before hunting
  • Federal Champion .22LR 40-Grain Ammo
  • CCI Hollow-Point .22LR 40-Grain Ammo
  • Winchester .22LR 40-Grain Ammo
Sandbags helped me eliminate holding variation when target-testing different ammo brands. Dieter Voss Photo

By Collin Voss

I am not wise in this field, but I experienced this first hand and have enough facts that can end an ongoing debate in the firearm world. Does .22 Caliber LR rimfire ammunition matter?

My immediate answer would be yes, but that would not settle this case. I recently became a full-time adult member (I turned 18) at West Falls Conservation Society in West Falls, New York. My whole life I had been a junior member – it is where I grew up and a big reason why I have a welded relationship with the great outdoors.

One of the benefits of being a member of this organization is the private rifle range. Last July, the summer of 2019, I had used my privilege to open that big red gate with my key to the range! With me, was my guest and very good friend Alex. Alex had his Savage MKII .22 caliber bolt-action rifle with iron sights and I had mine, a .22 caliber Rossi single-shot, break-action, youth rifle with a 3-9x32mm Bushnell Sportsman riflescope.

I had sighted my rifle in once a few years ago, except I received a bit of help from my Grandfather. Knowing the rifle had not been shot in so long, I purchased Federal Champion .22LR 40-Grain ammunition. Packaged in 50 count boxes, I bought four.

Federal Champion .22LR 40-Grain Ammo

We set up our targets 50 yards out. Mine was on the left and Alex was on the right. Before shooting we both went over the range rules posted on the back wall and our own firearm safety precautions. Which were basic and included keeping the barrel pointed downrange, always have the safety switch on (if there is one) and the action open when handing the rifle to one another, both of us would go to check targets with the rifle in hand, and most importantly ALWAYS treat the rifle as if it were loaded and live.

It’s Time to Shoot

Alex begins shooting and I begin the sighting process. I grab three sandbags from the range cabinet and stack them in a pyramid-like shape, the bottom two are parallel with one another and the third sandbag lays across the bottom two in a perpendicular manner. I used this setup as a rifle rest to eliminate any human movement and achieve the greatest accuracy possible. The most proper way to sight in a rifle is to use a gun vise, which I do not have available to use, so the sandbags were my next best thing.

Officially, to start the sight-in process, I rest my rifle on the sandbags, put the crosshairs directly over the center of the target, slowly let out my breath, and gently squeeze the trigger. To my amazement, I hit the target, but not where I was aiming. To tell whether it was my scope or my excitement of taking the shot, the bullet hole was two inches to the right and 3 inches low. Hmmm, I thought. To see if it was me or the ammo or something else, I decided to take 5 more shots identical to the first. Immediately there was a grouping of 6 holes on the light cream-colored target, all within an inch of each other – perfect.

This let me know that my rifle was shooting straight and I needed to adjust my scope. I unscrewed the elevation and windage adjustment caps. I gave 10 clicks counterclockwise on the elevation adjustment (up) and 7 clicks clockwise on the windage adjustment (left). I took my next three shots at the target and to my surprise, they had all hit the bullseye.

To clarify my observations of the target sighting and gun and ammo, I took 10 more shots. – all in the bullseye. I was thrilled! First time ever sighting in a rifle on my own and I did it perfectly? I couldn’t believe my own eyes. From there it was a great day of target practice.

CCI Hollow-Point, 22LR 40-Grain Ammo

It was now March of 2020, I had no more Federal Champion .22LR 40-grain ammunition. Instead of taking the long drive to Cabelas, on the way to West Falls, I stopped in at The Valley Gun Shop in West Falls, NY.  I had never been here, but I thought it was time to say hello, introduce myself, and to check it out. The gentlemen who owns the shop only carried CCI hollow-point 40-grain ammunition for .22 caliber rifles. I decided to purchase those and see how they shot. I figured they would probably not shoot the same as the Federal ammunition, but wanted to try them and compare anyway.

As I took my first 3 shots on the target. They all shot to the left 2-inches and 1- inch high, creating a nice small group. I concluded to compensate for the change rather than adjust my scope due to how nicely it was sighted in with the federal ammunition. 100 rounds and 2 trips to the range later, I was out of ammunition once again. I acquired some Winchester .22 LR 40-grain ammo, four boxes.

Winchester 22LR 40-Grain Ammo

The Winchester .22LR 40-Grain ammo was simply not consistent for the first 100 rounds fired. I then cleaned my rifle hoping that removing the usual spent powder and metal fragments the other two ammo types would provide a better bore for the bullet to travel through. Again my first 15 shots were inconsistent, as much as 3-inches high, low, left, or right. All over the place.

Now, on the 16th shot after the barrel had been cleaned, to my disbelief, I see nothing more than a hole in the dead center of the target. I thought my luck had changed with this ammunition, but that was not the case. I would have to say every 2 to 3 shots, I would have one round that would shoot straight at 50 yards. What surprised me was that at 100 yards these bullets were landing exactly where I wanted them to with very little pattern change. The only difference I had to adjust for was aiming about 3 inches above the target to hit the bullseye. Hard to analyze.

Best Ammo (for my Rossi)

Testing the ammo types was educational and fun. While these ammo brands might perform differently in other rifle brands, I would have to conclude from live-fire testing that for my break-action, single-shot Rossi, the best (most accurate and repeatable) ammo out of these three brands was the Federal .22LR 40-Grain. Not only does the gun powder smell fresh (hard to describe), the crisp sound of the shot was consistent and the ammo performed consistently. Above that, I never had a misfire in those 200 Federal rounds fired.

Lessons Learned

Before going hunting with any brand of ammo, make sure you test it and know what it does in your firearm.

Hindsight and Future Thoughts

It was especially enjoyable to use the range as a regular member and share it with a friend. In summary, think I’m ready for squirrel season!

The Ultimate Spring Hat-Trick Turkey Destination…Plan Now for Next Year: Hunting, Fishing, Eating!

Chautauqua County turkeys, lots of 'em in spring.

  • Look for these Critical Elements to assure a great Turkey Hunt:
    • Woods, Waters, Streams, and Forage Resources
    • High-Harvest Average 
    • Lots of Public Hunting Land – it spreads out the hunters
    • Chautauqua County in New York meets the List!

By Mike Joyner

My Hat-Trick Gobbler – thanks to Jake Ensign for this photo.

Ultimate destination – a bold claim for a resource-laden state such as New York. To be clear, New York boasts many vibrant outdoor adventure meccas, but you’ll want to plan your next turkey hunting and spring fishing getaway to the outdoor paradise in Chautauqua County. Hunting and fishing interests are easy to satisfy and that’s the honest goal for every sportsman.

My recent hat-trick getaway to Chautauqua was memorable and was just what the doctor ordered to decompress and rejuvenate my busy business life. The excursion found me spring turkey hunting in the mornings with Jake Ensign, followed by an afternoon of fishing with Captain Frank Shoenacker of Infinity Charters. In the evenings, after the outings, I could choose from a smorgasbord of places to visit and explore. My base of operations would be at the Comfort Inn Hotel in Jamestown – it was close to Chautauqua Lake and the turkey woods. Perfect for the extra minutes of sleep needed when chasing gobblers.

I met up with Jake Ensign, a supreme hunting friend that lives nearby.

Jake provided an eye-opening personal tour of his game room, as he is one of only a few dozen archery hunters to successfully hunt all of the North American Big Game Species. It was evident to me, Jake had spent many years of dedicated preparation to be so successful. Jake goes the extra mile, the extra 10 miles, in making each hunt an exercise in due diligence. It is impressive even to a veteran turkey hunter like myself.

Jake Ensign hosted us on a private tour of North American Big Game critters that he took with his bow.

My introduction to the Chautauqua County turkey woods came early the next morning and did not disappoint. We started out just above a vineyard on a ridge top with plenty of roost trees. Plenty of sign was present.  Feathers, tracks, scat and dusting bowls were scattered about during our walk in and out. With the exception of two clucks further up the ridge behind us, we were greeted with a whisper quiet, yet beautiful morning. You could hear every sound and if a turkey gobbled, we could easily locate the bird and make an approach.

As the sunrise greeted us, a chorus of trains blasted their air horns providing shock gobble inspiration from nearby highway crossings far below us. The gobblers, however, opted to be of the strong and silent types. We gave it some time to let the place reveal itself and after several setups, we backed out to not disturb the location. Running and gunning was not the game plan that so many engage in when the action is at a lull. Jake had mentioned they have had many successful hunts in that spot. Assessing the area with such ample sign, I would agree. Of course, when you have plenty of Intel on an area, courtesy of Jake, you conduct each hunt more patiently.

Collin Voss, a young local outdoorsman, is sizing up this giant bear. He did admit, “Geez, he’s huge!”

After checking a number of properties in the southern region of the county we came upon a parcel not far from Route 86 and got an eager gobble in response to our pleas. With a flat ridge top that lay between us, we settled in to see if we could persuade him across. The wind had come up and it was a solid “maybe” as to whether or not the bird answered us after that. Thirty minutes later a report of something lesser than a 12ga shotgun rang out ahead of us, but much lower on the ridge on another property. We decided to back out. Consistent with other properties we checked, we would come across plenty of turkey sign including sets of gobbler tracks. We were in the middle of great turkey country

The first morning concluded with sightings of a few hens out bugging in the fields, as we searched for more gobblers to keep track of for the next hunt tomorrow.

Having hunted gobblers in nearly half of New York’s 62 counties, I would point out that the turkey woods of Chautauqua County are among the nicest woods I’ve ever set foot in. A quick review of the past 10 years of harvest data reveals Chautauqua as #1 in New York for turkey hunting harvest. In any given season, Chautauqua is always in the top echelon. With over 20,000 acres of public forests and a mix of land types and food sources, it would be a sound recommendation to add Chautauqua County to your annual spring and fall gobbler chasing vacations.

Before heading out for an afternoon of fishing with Captain Frank Shoenacker on Chautauqua Lake, Jake suggested that we have the best sandwich to be had anywhere (i.e. North America) for lunch. I naturally agreed. My sampling verified his suggestion. A trip to the Ashville General Store is must do stop during your time in the area. The “Jester” spicy turkey sub served hot is a turkey hunter-approved menu item (https://ashvillegeneral.com).

After that great lunch, I met up with Frank at the Bemus Point boat launch. The launch was easy to find and not far from the exit off Route 86 for Bemus Point. With eight boat launch sites available on Chautauqua Lake, there is ample access for all boaters (https://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/23907.html).  The Lund Tournament Pro-V was perfect on this beautiful, sunny afternoon. The Lund had a heavier hull and was stable, even in the slight chop we had.

Perfect boat for our day on Chautauqua Lake.

On this outing, Frank and I would both fish and that set the table for a relaxing time on the water. We fished simple, drifting live worms along weed beds and enjoyed lots of fun conversation. As Frank spends more time guiding than fishing, I invited him to fish too and our trip became perfect fun. We were using a killer rig, a homemade double-hook worm harness with a butterfly spinner made by Frank. It’s sort of a secret rig.

We were one of just a handful of boats on the water as you might expect at mid-week of the early season. We caught walleye, perch and a surprisingly large bullhead.  A perfect afternoon.

Captain Frank Shoenacker with his secret troll/drift rig to catch walleyes.

In his larger boat, Frank also guides on Lake Erie: Infinity Charters https://www.infinitycharters.com/. It is a fantastic way to plan an essential part of your Chautauqua Hat Trick.

Having fished Lake Erie in the past, it is also on my ‘A’ list to visit frequently.  I plan to return with my bride of nearly nineteen years to modify the hat trick concept, this time, to be a fishing and lazy-tourist combo. Lee, my wife, loves to fish, and I have promised her to revisit the region.

For the evening, I needed to visit the Southern Tier Brewing Company for a craft beer tasting and a pulled pork sandwich. Accompanied by their “Nitro Stout,” a great beer product, they earned my attention for another “must-do” stop while in the region. Their friendly staff and personal service were 5-star. 

Author’s favorite…Southern Tier Nitro Stout microbrew.

I caught up with Jake after dinner to plan the morning hunt and received good news. As Jake scouts at sunset periods, he has endless energy, he found two different turkeys roosted. This is the best kind of news to get when chasing gobblers. Again, another short night, but I would wake up 10 minutes before the alarm clock sounded. Excited? A little bit.

One prime spot we found in Chautauqua turkey country.

This last morning of my hunt, I would come to appreciate the dedicated strategies that Jakes executes. Our walk to the first roosted bird was in total silence, not a twig nor a dried leaf to reveal our progress. Jake routinely rakes and grooms his paths for stealthy approaches to known roosting areas. It is this extra effort that ups the odds for a successful hunt.

As daylight approached, a hen began to yelp on the limb, not sixty yards from where I sat. Jake mimicked her and I would also respond with muted tree yelps. No gobbling nearby, but one volley of gobbles came from the second location that Jake had marked the night before. It was a little over 250 yards from us. Once the hen flew down, she walked right past Jakes’ location as he sat motionless. She fed away. Once she left, we moved up about 100 yards toward a low swampy area where we had heard the gobbling.

We got a quick response from four different gobblers once we sat down and began calling from our new position. They had closed the distance, spotting them moving to my left around the swamp at 80 yards. They were circling and closing fast. As seconds seemed far too long, the most aggressive and vocal of the birds marched in and would stop within range to survey for the hen. The brilliant red, white and blue heads of the gang of four was impressive. The boom that followed sent the other three back as quickly as they came. Maybe a little faster, as I think of it.

The turkey woods was picturesque with a lush green canopy newly emerged. It was a great hunt in a beautiful hardwood forest. It also reaffirmed the wisdom for scouting, roosting, letting the hunt play out, and having patience. All of these hallmark attributes describe Jakes’ approach to turkey hunting.

My hat-trick gobbler was right on time, thanks to the good scouting of my buddy, Jake Ensign, who snapped this photo. Jake Ensign Photo

We concluded the hunt with a hearty breakfast which always tastes a little better after a successful hunt! We’ll catch up again in the near future to hunt next year when I am sure to return!

There are so many places to visit here. Great eateries, wineries, breweries, entertainment venues – something for everyone.

I have planned a returned visit for next year, stay tuned!

© 2019 Mike Joyner- Joyner Outdoor Media