CCI Copper-22 .22 LR Ammunition

By Chuck Hawks

CCI Copper-22 Ammunition
Illustration courtesy of CCI Ammunition.

CCI announced their Copper-22 Long Rifle ammo using a 21 grain, lead-free, compressed copper-polymer construction bullet in 2016. This is supposed to be a small game hunting load and it says so on the blue label stuck to the 50 round plastic boxes of ammo the good old boys at CCI sent me for this review.

Features and Benefits

  • Non-lead bullet suited for plinking, target shooting and small game hunting
  • 21 grain hollow point bullet
  • Compressed copper-polymer construction
  • Excellent accuracy

CCI claims a muzzle velocity (MV) of 1850 fps from a rifle barrel, making this a "hyper velocity" load. The popular CCI Stinger .22 LR was the first hyper velocity load, launching a 32 grain bullet at 1640 fps. This new Copper-22 load ups the velocity by 210 fps (13%), by decreasing bullet weight by 33%. Here are the published CCI ballistics:

Velocity: MV 1850 fps, 1153 fps at 50 yards, 989 fps at 75 yards, 890 fps at 100 yards.

Energy: 160 ft. lbs. ME, 62 ft. lbs. at 50 yards, 46 ft. lbs. at 75 yards, 37 ft. lbs. at 100 yards.

Trajectory (100 yard zero): +1" at 25 yards, +2.5" at 50 yards, +2.3" at 75 yards, 0.0" at 100 yards.

Unlike the Stinger, which is loaded in a slightly lengthened, nickel-plated, LR case, the Copper-22 is loaded in a standard length, brass, Long Rifle case. The exposed portion of the Copper-22 bullet is approximately as long as the exposed portion of the much heavier Stinger bullet. This is because copper is a much lighter metal than lead, making a copper bullet of the same length lighter than a lead bullet. It is also why lead is a much more efficient bullet material.

.22 LR bullets are all tapered heel designs, meaning the shank of the bullet inside the case is somewhat smaller in diameter than the visible portion. This is an old, nearly obsolete (except for the the .22 Short, Long and Long Rifle) cartridge design that allows the nominal bullet and case diameters to be the same. (.223 inch in the case of both the CCI Stinger and Copper-22 cases.)

The Copper-22 bullet has an unusual shape. The part of the bullet that is visible is parallel sided with a small driving band just above the case mouth. The bullet nose, rather than being rounded like most .22 LR bullets, has a conical shape that terminates in a small flat point into which is cast a shallow hollow point. It is a distinctive looking bullet.

The Copper-22 bullet also has a different color than the usual bright copper wash applied to CCI Stinger and Mini-Mag lead bullets. The outside of the Copper-22 bullet is a much darker copper color. My guess is this dark color is the result of some sort of protective polymer coating intended to keep the bullet from turning green.

When I took a knife and cut a shaving out of a bullet, I discovered the inside is the expected bright copper color. I also found the bullet to be much harder than a lead bullet! How well a bullet this hard will expand in a small game animal (tree squirrel, cottontail rabbit, etc.) I cannot say definitively, as I did not shoot anything living. My guess is it will not expand at all.

Why did I not do some small game hunting with Copper-22 ammo to ascertain empirically whether the bullet will expand? The answer to that question brings us to my experience with Copper-22 ammo at the Izaak Walton outdoor shooting range south of Eugene, Oregon.

It was a nice August summer day, sunny and about 80 degrees F. I was with some of the Guns and Shooting Online staff practicing with .22 handguns in one of the pistol pits. These are areas reserved specifically for handgun shooting with a maximum available distance of about 25 yards. There are no bench rests in the pistol pits, which are intended for shooting portable paper or steel targets offhand or from field positions (sitting, kneeling, etc.) at distances between approximately five and 25 yards.

My first experience shooting Copper-22 ammo was from a Weaver stance at a 25 yard NRA pistol target placed at only 15 paces. I borrowed Bob Fleck's New Model Ruger Single Six revolver (Model 0622) with a 6.5 inch barrel for this informal first experience with the new CCI ammo, as this day I had brought a .22 WMR revolver to the range. To my dismay, I managed to shoot a five shot group measuring about 4.0 inches, center to center.

Now, while I am not the world's greatest handgunner, I would normally expect to put five shots into about 1.5 inches or less at that distance. I had, for example, just shot a 2.0 inch group, followed by a 1.0 inch group, at 25 yards with a six inch barreled S&W .22 Magnum Masterpiece revolver, using CCI Maxi-Mag HP-V .22 WMR ammunition.

Well, maybe the Single Six revolver and the Copper-22 ammo just didn't get along. Sometimes this happens. I discontinued shooting with Copper-22 ammo until I could get to the more formal upper range area, which features solid bench rests and target stands at 25, 50, 100 and 200 yards.

The following week, on another beautiful summer day, found me ensconced at a sturdy shooting bench on the upper range, aiming at a 25 yard NRA slow-fire pistol target across a padded rest. This time I was using a Colt Diamondback target revolver with a six inch barrel that, although it has a slight preference for CCI .22 LR Mini-Mag HP cartridges, has always proven very accurate with all conventional .22 LR ammo.

Unfortunately, the accuracy results were about the same. Five shot groups with the Diamondback varied from 4-1/2 inches to 7 inches at 25 yards.

My final accuracy testing was with a Henry Pump Octagon rifle fired from a rest, also at 25 yards. (Normally we test .22 rifles at 50 yards, but by this time I was cautious.) This particular rifle, equipped with a 3-9x riflescope, averages about 1-1/2 inch groups at 50 yards with CCI Mini-Mag HP ammunition.

With Copper-22 ammo, my best groups from the Henry rifle measured 1-1/2 inches at 25 yards (half the normal distance!) and the worst group measured a full 6 inches. The latter was enlarged by a wild flyer, which I did not call and which should have been in the group. At that point I quit testing.

I do not know why the accuracy of the Copper-22 was clearly inferior to lead bullet .22s in the Henry rifle and downright poor in the revolvers. My guess, and it is only a guess, is that the light 21 grain copper bullet was not properly stabilized, especially in the 1:14" twist Ruger and 1:16" twist Colt revolver barrels.

Why this would be I do not know, as 1:16" is the standard twist for .22 LR rifles and pistols and a lighter bullet at higher velocity should be easier to stabilize than a heavier bullet at lower velocity. All I can suggest is first carefully testing CCI Copper-22 ammo from a bench rest in your gun before attempting to use it for any practical purpose.

Now you see why I didn't attempt to do any squirrel hunting with Copper-22 ammo, despite the words "small game" printed on the box and living close to gray squirrel habitat, as I do. Head shots with a revolver would simply be a matter of luck, even at a measly 15 yards, which is closer than one can usually get to tree squirrels in my area. Actually, hitting a squirrel anywhere at 25 yards would be far from certain and I don't want to gut shoot one of these intelligent little rodents, only to have it escape to die a miserable death. All animals deserve better than that at the hands of an ethical hunter.

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Copyright 2016 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.