A few years ago I read an article (it could have been in a book) by Craig Boddington in which he stated that one of his previous editors, when interviewing prospective writers, asked if they owned any .22 rifles. If the answer was no, that was the end of the interview and the writer went away to look for work elsewhere, the premise being that a gun writer who did not own a .22 rifle was no gun writer.
I firmly believe that to be true. The .22 is so fundamental to the sport that it is one of those things that is just plain indispensable.
Most of us started out with a .22 rifle (not including BB guns and pellet rifles) and those of us who didnt should have. The .22 is the greatest teacher of shooting ability that has ever been invented. I firmly believe that the various law enforcement agencies are missing the boat by not starting their new recruits on .22 rimfire handguns rather than full-power duty weapons. Even today, after more than 50 years of hunting and shooting, I shoot far more .22 long rifle ammunition than I do all the other calibers combined. I have found that by doing so I keep myself in the finest fettle for shooting the big guns, and the cost is a mere pittance.
My pet of pets is an old and abused (not by me) Winchester Model 75. It once belonged to a 4-H shooting club. When I first saw it, it had a broken stock and trigger, the magazine was missing, and for years the gun just lay in pieces in the gun box.
When my daughters grew too old to compete in 4-H, I offered the club a nice Marlin target rifle for the broken Winchester and they gladly accepted. My father fixed the stock, I got a new trigger and magazine from Numrich Arms, and soon the old gun was shooting again. I took the match sights off the gun and mounted a 4X Weaver scope on it. Today it shoots about as well as it ever did. I expect it has had in excess of 25,000 rounds run through it, which demonstrates the fact that it is almost impossible to wear out the barrel of a .22, if it has been properly cared for.
My Grandpa LaMascus always told me not to dry-fire a .22 rimfire. He said that the firing pin would impact the rear of the barrel, peening it, and would eventually ruin the firing pin or cause misfires. In most cases today that is not the case, but it still does happen.
Not long ago I was testing the little Browning 1911 .22. After I fired it enough to find out what I wanted to know, I got out my trigger pull gauge and began testing the trigger pull. After dry-firing the gun about a dozen times I loaded it back up and tried to fire it. It would not feed. It had me stumped for a while, but I finally realized that the problem was exactly what Grandpa had warned me about. The firing pin had peened the back of the barrel and caused a bit of the metal to intrude into the rear of the chamber. The lead of the bullet was catching on the little piece of steel and not entering the chamber.
Today, as I write this, I was cleaning my Browning Buck Mark .22 after a range session. I field stripped the gun and when I cleaned the gunk off the back of the barrel I noticed a bright, shiny mark in the 12:00 position at the top of the chamber. Once again the firing pin was impacting the back of the barrel. This has not caused a problem, yet, but you can bet your bottom dollar that I will be verrrry careful about dry-firing this particular .22.
This is one of a very short list of things peculiar to a .22 rimfire. Mostly they are amazingly easy to keep in working order.
Cleaning a .22 is a breeze. My Grandpa, again, used to clean his with a bit of rag tied to the end of a piece of fishing line (the old braided type). He trimmed the rag to a size that was a tight fit through the .22s bore, and then crimped a split-shot of the appropriate size to the other end. When he cleaned his .22, he would simply put a bit of 3-in-One oil on the rag, drop the split shot through the barrel, pull the rag through by the fishing line and he was through. This old trick still works today, but there are much better ways to do it. Using a cleaning rod, brush, and jag, with the right size patches, and using better solvents and lubricants, like Hoppes Number 9, does a much better job.
Before you begin to field strip your gun for cleaning, make very certain you know what you are doing. Some guns, like the Ruger semi-automatic .22 pistols, are very easy to take apart and danged near impossible to get back together, unless you know the tricks. The same is true of the old Remington Model 66 semi-auto rifles.
If, however, you have a gun that has no hidden traps, and if you know how to field strip it, that is the proper way to clean a gun. Grit and grime get into the most inaccessible places and you cant get a gun really clean without field stripping. I almost never take a gun down to its component parts, but I do strip it down enough to clean and oil it in the places where it needs it.
On the bearing surfaces, like where the slide rides on the rails, use a good grade of gun grease. In other areas use a high-grade gun oil. Word of warning: There are products out there that are commonly used on guns that will turn to gum after a period of time. This will not happen if you use products made specifically for guns. I have learned to trust the cleaning products marketed by Birchwood Casey. Old Hoppes Number 9 is as good as any solvent for cleaning .22s, and Barricade will keep them rust free.
Last, ammunition cost for a .22 long rifle is a small fraction of that of your deer rifle. A box of 550 rounds of .22 long rifle hollow points currently costs about $20. Current cost of a standard box of .30-06 ammo is about, you guessed it, $20, more if you want the premium ammunition. A full-sized .22 rifle, with a good scope, will let you practice for deer season for, literally, pennies on the dollar.
Take care of your .22, clean it when it is dirty, oil it when it is dry, and it will shoot practically forever. And if you dont have a .22, well, go get one.