Gel Testing .22 CB Short and .32 S&W

The test guns- on top my home-made rolling-block carbine, a Western Field Model 37 .22 Rifle, my home-made .22 Target Pistol and an Iver Johnson .32 S&W Hammerless

I re-cast my block of Clear Ballistics 10% ordinance gel last night. I’d over-heated it slightly the first time I re-cast it, which caused it to yellow and become murky. I’ve got another FBI block arriving any day now, and I have plans for that block. I decided to use the current murky block to assuage my curiosity.

.22 CB Short Test

I’ve been having fun during confinement shooting CCI .22 CB Short Low-Noise ammunition for some backyard plinking, and I was curious about it’s performance. I set up to test it.

CCI makes this special low-velocity low-noise .22 Short ammunition for indoor shooting and shooting through suppressed weapons. Fired from a 24″ rifle it’s very quiet indeed; comparable to a low-powered pellet rifle. The label claims a velocity of 710 fps.

From my 24″ Western Field Model 37 it’s really quiet and doesn’t disturb the neighbors. Setting up the gel block and chronograph in my workshop I started testing with that rifle. Since these are not expanding bullets I didn’t bother firing through denim. I carefully fired five shots through the chronograph and into the gel. The results were interesting…

The five shots (at the top of the block) landed quite close together, but not so close they interfered with each other.

From the rifle’s 24″ barrel the chronograph showed an average of 624 fps. and 25 ft./lbs of energy with an extreme spread of 81 fps. Penetration into the gel averaged 8.25 inches for the five shots. The energy of these rounds is comparable to a powerful .22 air-rifle, and it’s very quiet. OK, there’s the baseline; time to move on to the pistol.

My single-shot .22 Target Pistol. It has a 5″ barrel and is a simple single-action mechanism. It’s quite accurate at 25 yards.

Once again I fired a five-shot group, being careful to spread the bullets enough that they would not hit each other and mess up the results.

You can see some of the bullets ‘bounced’ back in the gel, so I measured from the point of deepest penetration rather than the resting place of the bullet. Against all expectation the pistol actually showed higher velocities and deeper penetration than the rifle. Interesting…

The results were unexpected. Shots from the pistol’s 5″ barrel were much louder than from the rifle’s 24″ barrel (which was expected) and it yielded an average velocity of 707 fps. and 32 ft./lbs of energy with an extreme spread of only 27 fps. Penetration averaged 9 inches. OK, that’s kinda’ weird…

Having tried a 5″ barrel and a 24″ barrel I decided to split the difference and grabbed my little rolling-block carbine with a 16-1/4″ barrel. I fired five shots into the gel. I’m not sure what happened but I could not get a good read from the chronograph, so I don’t know exactly what velocity I was getting. I also could not get a good photograph of the bullets in the gel, but the average penetration was 9-1/4″.

My little rolling-block carbine. It has a 16-1/4″ barrel and Quilted Maple stocks.

As I’d hoped this made things a bit clearer; in terms of barrel length there is a ‘sweet spot’ for these cartridges, and the Model 37’s 24″ barrel is well past that length. There’s so little powder in these shells that the bullet simply runs out of power before it reaches the end of the barrel. It hits the point of diminishing returns, which is why it’s so quiet from the long barrel. The 16-1/4″ barrel of the carbine is more to its liking; we don’t know the exact velocity but since it exhibited the highest average penetration we can guess it’s somewhat higher than the pistol’s, but not so much as to indicate that this is the ideal length either. The pistol was far and away the loudest of the three, so it’s a bit shorter than ideal.

Given that it this ammo yields the same sort of power levels as a high-powered .22 air rifles which are deemed suitable for small game, these cartridges would serve that purpose admirably with careful shot placement. A shorter barrel yields fractionally more power, but under some circumstances this may be outweighed by the quiet of the longer barrel. For suburban plinking or pest control this is pretty ideal, and in some survival situations it could be very useful.

Make no mistake though; this does not make your .22 a toy! Penetration is deep enough to cause serious and possibly even lethal injuries, especially if the bullet struck a person’s throat or head. Even with these low-powered rounds all the normal strictures of firearms safety must be observed.

.32 S&W Test

This was a bit of an afterthought, but when I finished with the .22 I thought hey, why not? The test gun is an Iver Johnson Model 1 Safety Hammerless with the barrel shortened (by a previous owner) to 2″. The load is a 90gr HBWC over 1.2gr of Red Dot with a Federal Magnum Small Pistol primer.

The test load uses a 90gr Hollow-base wadcutter. The bullet stands well proud of the casing; the cartridge is so short there is simply no room for it to be seated full-length as one does for .32 S&W Long. A bit heavy for caliber, but this has been a very accurate load for me and is not too heavy for some of my top-break revolvers.

From the 2″ gun this yielded and average of 681 fps. and 93 ft./lbs of energy with an extreme spread of 23 fps. Penetration in gel was rather impressive. Taking into account the ‘bounce-back’ this load penetrated 13″. Not at all shabby!

Of the four shots fired two exited the block, and only this one showed well in a photograph, but penetration on both shots that remained in the block was virtually identical.

This is an improvement over factory ammunition, which is purposefully anemic. I think it also might not suffer from the standard round-nose bullet’s tendency to deflect off bone if it doesn’t hit squarely, but that’s just a suspicion. I would not feed any old top-break a steady diet of this load, though my little S&W hasn’t suffered from it. Still, best to err on the side of caution; I formulated this load for use in my 1849 cartridge conversion after all.

As always one should approach any load data with caution; it is prudent to start 10% under a listed load and work up to it. The author is not responsible for any use or misuse of the load data presented; use it at your own risk. Any antique firearm should be carefully inspected prior to being fired, and your guiding principle should be ‘when in doubt don’t.’

Michael Tinker Pearce, 11 December 2020

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3 thoughts on “Gel Testing .22 CB Short and .32 S&W

  1. Conan Bolonan

    Years ago I tried some CBs in a Mossberg 151K and found lots of the ooomph dissipated trying to cycle the action, I then tried them in a Mossberg 341. They worked much better, and were so quiet the sound of the firing mechanism seemed loud. Worked great on feral critters in very urban environs.

    MTP – I’ve been lurking for a short time, both here and at TTAG. All of your comments and what you have shared of your work is good – very good. Of particular interest to me is your very descriptive reloading and re-purposing experiments with old-time goodness.

    I also heartily applaud your almost complete lack of partisan political content when addressing unrelated technical stuff. That, in itself, is Indicative of a good brain.

    Thanks – keep up the good work.

  2. glenn kresge

    The .22 short CB is no toy! As a Police officer, I have seen incidents of how far this little round will travel and, yes, kill a person. On one such incident, a 12-year-old was shooting at birds at approx. 40-degree angle. One CB round travel approx. 300 yards and killed a person with a shot in the ear.


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