When it comes to rimfire ammunition, particularly .22 LR, there are no absolutes. Two firearms, assembled side-by-side at the factory will often, if not likely, work ‘best' with different ammunition; whether simply a different series from the same manufacturer or an entirely different brand. With that said, CCI touts itself as "The Leader in Rimfire Ammunition" with some justification. In much the same way Winchester White Box is the ‘standard' against which other, centerfire, ‘value' ammunitions are measured, CCI's rimfire ammunition serves as something of a benchmark.
Recommend this product?
As regards Mini-Mags, the CCI catalog says it best: "Original CCI offering, still the most popular." Given that the original Mini-Mag was first offered in 1963, the question becomes: "What can be said that hasn't already been covered?"
Let's find out. (Well, after covering some of the basics.)
CCI - The Company
Cascade Cartridge, Inc. (CCI) was established in 1951 by Richard Speer. His brother, Vernon, had already met with success in bullet manufacturing, so Richard started out by producing cases; later, with his partner Arvid Nelson, the company ‘made a name' by producing primers. The rest is "history" as they say, with CCI production facilities still located on the same property outside of Lewiston, ID as it has for nearly 60 years. Now owned by ATK, an "aerospace, defense, security, and sporting products company" with considerable breadth, CCI Ammunition is just one brand placed in the commercial products section of the ATK Security and Sporting division; with other recognizable names including, but not limited to: Federal Premium Ammunition, Speer, RCBS, Alliant Powder, and Weaver.
Velocity Categories... Standard, High, and Hyper
Mini-Mags are designated High Velocity .22 LR ammunition; thus, the "HV" in the product name. Unfortunately, this can be a confusing subject and often leads to numerous misunderstandings in gun shops, let alone the many department stores where this ammunition can be found. In my experience, even the supposed ‘expertise' found in the specialty shops isn't always ‘guaranteed' when it comes to differentiating between these velocity categories.
Before someone immediately shouts - "But, this or that reference says..." - let's stipulate that many of those references are based on the 1992 American National Standard Voluntary Industry Standards for Pressure and Velocity of Rimfire Sporting Ammunition for the Use of Commercial Manufacturers. This report, produced by the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers' Institute (SAAMI), is currently the downloadable version from their site and, so far as I know is still the ‘standard.' As an example of the problem, however...
I could be wrong as I'm not aware of all the variations out there; but, I believe, at the time of this post, that the lowest velocity load ‘recognized' as "hyper velocity" being produced is the Remington Viper, with a current listed muzzle velocity of 1,410 fps. SAAMI lists one test cartridge as HypV with a 36 gr. truncated cone solid bullet at a velocity of 1,385 fps. But, I believe that's an ‘old' velocity; despite many listings. Remington's website currently lists the Viper with a 1,410 fps velocity. On the other end, Aguila claims they have "the fastest velocity .22 Ammo;" e.g., the Aguila SuperMaximum at 1,750 fps with a 30 gr. hollowpoint. In addition, there are those who argue that "hyper velocity" should be capped and a "super maximum high velocity" category created.
Put simply, the ‘top' of the high velocity category and ‘bottom' of the hyper velocity category has changed since that 1,385 fps. Likewise, there is ‘debate' in some circles that the hyper velocity category may no longer be ‘the most' one can get from the .22 LR cartridge. In other words, what may have been ‘the standard' has likely changed with technological advances.
Add to this discussion the fact that SAAMI allows for a margin of error used in creating a standard for rimfire velocity specifications is plus or minus 90 feet per second (fps). This means that the cartridge used to ‘establish' the 1,385 fps ‘floor' for hyper velocity loads is an average velocity, with the range of velocities exhibited being 1,295 - 1,475 fps. Using the exact example SAAMI provides, if an "high velocity" product specification is 1,235 fps, you have to remember to account for SAAMI's plus or minus 90 fps. In other words, any given round in that box of .22 LR HV can have an ‘acceptable' muzzle velocity of 1,145 - 1,325 fps.
Wait a minute?! If an High Velocity (HV) cartridge can reach 1,325 fps and stay within standards and a Hyper Velocity (HypV) cartridge can be as ‘slow' as 1,295 fps and still be within standards...?!?!
That's not even taking into account other variables such as elevation, bullet type/weight, case length, etc. Naturally, there's also the discussion of powder type to generate such velocities within a SAAMI accepted pressure range. In short, it is very easy to get lost in the weeds when discussing what is or is not Standard, High, or Hyper Velocity .22 LR ammunition. While it would be extremely easy to simply say that there is no ‘accepted' absolute in terms of a definition, there are some loose guidelines which can be used to provide a certain context to the discussion.
Suffice to say that as a general rule of thumb the following can serve as a guide, though not an absolute, to understanding the difference between velocity categories...
1.) Standard Velocity (SV) = approximately 1,080 fps (the speed of sound) up to approximately 1,200 fps
2.) High Velocity (HV) = approximately 1,200 fps up to 1,400 fps
3.) Hyper Velocity (HypV) = greater than 1,400 fps
Insofar as subsonic or ‘super maximum high velocity,' I'll leave that for another time.
CCI Mini-Mag (HV) - Factory Specs
The important point is that with a listed velocity of 1,235 fps, Mini-Mag (HV) is considered a High Velocity cartridge. (Mmmm. I wonder which cartridge SAAMI used to create their exemplar above regarding velocity range?) This round has a 40 gr., copper plated, round nose bullet; effectively an FMJ and not a ‘hollowpoint' such as with the Stinger, Velocitor, or Mini-Mag HP (see links below). CCI lists it under their "Competition: Target & Plinking" section; stating that it is the "Original CCI offering," has reliable feeding, and clean-burning poder which won't foul the barrel.
For me, this last is important. Years ago, I stopped using Mini-Mags because their use resulted in feeding and ejection problems with an AR-7 that I regularly carried at the time. Not long after that, I found the rifle had developed such issues with a variety of ammunitions and it was subsequently ‘let go.' Be that as it may, it took a while to get past the nagging thought that "maybe it was the ammo." Several years later, when store shelves were stocked (or not stocked) in a manner which presented little choice, I grabbed a box of Mini-Mags, was assured they'd "changed the powder," and I've never looked back.
Yes. There are less expensive ‘bulk' brands which are more ‘economical' for ‘plinking.' That's all well and good - so far as the argument goes. However, I've reached that stage in life where what's left is "too short" to fill it with little problems resulting from being "penny wise and pound foolish." In other words, while I'm not for my frugality, the lower blood pressure that results from using the more reliable (at least in my guns) Mini-Mags instead of the ‘cheap stuff,' is almost doctor mandated. (Not to mention those who happen to be around don't have to remind their children that "polite people" don't talk like that.)
CCI Mini-Mags can be had for $6.97 in a box of 100 rounds at the local Wal-Mart. That's $34.85 a ‘brick' (500 rounds). That's about $10, give or take, more expensive than a ‘bulk' pack of 555 rounds. It's only a couple of dollars more expensive than a brick of the non-copper coated Winchester Wildcat. So, the question is how much does the price difference represent in ‘swear factor' with your firearm?
Standard and Method for Evaluation
Okay. So it's cost effective? Mini-Mags are still for plinking. C'mon, it's not rocket science or brain surgery. We're talking about .22 LR ammunition.
Fine. It's about time we look at actual performance. To do so, a ‘standard' for testing needs to be established. The first thing I'll say in that regard is that I am not a "professional gun writer" in the context of having access to companies who might donate copious quantities of ammunition or machine rests or a rack full of different firearms for comprehensive testing. Thus, sample sizes in terms of both rounds fired and variations in firearms is, of necessity, limited in comparison to what one might see in a ‘gun magazine.'
With that said, three rifles were used. Since SAAMI testing utilizes a 24 inch barrel, two CZ 452 LUX rifles were used; one with iron sights used primarily to establish velocity and expansion data, one with a Burris Timberline, 3X - 9X x 32mm scope for establishing accuracy. The 452 LUX, recently discontinued by CZ, has a 24.8 inch barrel; which is as close as I'm going to come to the SAAMI barrel length.
Given the Ruger 10/22 is, arguably, the most popular semi-automatic on the market, a 1980's era, wood stock 10/22 carbine with a Tasco 3X - 9X scope of the same vintage was pressed into service. Having seen more than its share of squirrel hunting, the 18 ½" barrel was replaced last year and still isn't (at least in my opinion) ‘completely' broken in - yet. The idea was to ‘balance' the testing so as to provide a range for the more common barrel lengths found in hunting rifles.
As we just established, "high velocity" range is considered to be 1,200 to 1,400 fps, approximately. As was also noted, SAAMI standards allow for a standard deviation of plus or minus 90 fps; meaning that with a listed velocity of 1,235 fps, we should expect to see velocities ranging 1,145 - 1,325 fps out of the CZ 452. Insofar as the Ruger, I can't find a ‘chart' which predicts an average loss of velocity per 1" reduction in barrel length similar to what SAAMI provides for centerfire rifles.
Of course, there is the old ‘debate' regarding 16 inch barrels being ‘optimal' for .22 LR vs. those who profess the ‘gospel' that .22 LR increases velocity up to 19". Critics then point to bullet weight, barrel twist, powder... Oh, no. Here we go again.
Given that 180 fps (SAAMI's +/- 90 fps) is a rather large range, I would normally look more toward the Standard Deviation (SD). The trouble is that rimfire ammunition is notoriously unpredictable. While I hope for an SD between 10 and 20 in centerfire factory loads, given the vagaries already discussed, it might be more realistic to expect an SD between 20 - 30 with rimfire ammunition; with ‘reality' probably resting much higher for bulk packed .22 LR. In that context, given that the Mini-Mag (HV) is a ‘value,' hollowpoint ammunition, ‘reality' might be more ‘realistic;' if you catch my meaning.
A Chrony F1 (chronograph, see link below) was set up 10' from the muzzle of both the CZ and the Ruger. (While SAAMI uses 15', but circumstances do tend to trump theory and given the shorter Ruger barrel, I figured the distance was a reasonable compromise; with 10' being sufficient to mitigate muzzle blast issues.) All velocity testing was done offhand. The elevation was 5,500 ft. on a partly cloudy afternoon with temperatures ranging from 80 - 83 degrees F over the course of the velocity data collection. Winds were 5 - 10 mph from 8 o'clock, with humidity hovering around 40%.
For the purposes of establishing velocity, 2 boxes, from different lots were taken and 10 rounds from each were taken for both rifles; i.e., 20 rounds for the CZ and 20 rounds for the Ruger. The results were as follows:
CZ 452 LUX
Mean Velocity =1,309.09
High = 1,344 fps; Low = 1,266 fps - ES (Extreme Spread) = 78 fps
Standard Deviation (SD) = 21.02
Mean Velocity = 1,233.57
High = 1,263 fps; Low = 1,206 fps - ES (Extreme Spread) = 57 fps
Standard Deviation (SD) = 19.74
This puts the mean velocity in the CZ toward the high end of the SAAMI range; though not out of line considering the ‘extra' 0.8" of barrel length over that of the SAAMI test barrel.
Frankly, however, the results with the 10/22 were unexpected and, dare I say it, enlightening. It would seem self-apparent that the CCI Mini-Mag, insofar as the listed velocity, is optimized for the 10/22. If you remember that the original Mini-Mag was introduced in 1963 and the Ruger 10/22 was first introduced in 1964, it's not as ‘surprising' as it might appear at first blush.
While the mean velocities from the two rifles, more or less, reflect the differences in barrel length, I find the relatively close Standard Deviations suggest, at least to me, that CCI has pretty much got the production down to where, assuming it functions at all in your firearm, one can reasonably expect a certain consistency in performance.
There were no failures to feed and no failures to fire in either the CZ or Ruger. There were also no failures to eject in the Ruger. (I wish I could make such claims for all the .22 LR tested that day.)
While all this velocity data is interesting, to a point, in reality it proves very little in that, as a ‘value' ammunition, one shouldn't expect performance equal to more specialized cartridges such as the Stinger or Velocitor. Given the bullet type, it's not really a hunting round and while velocity numbers don't necessarily tell the whole story when it comes to performance in the field, in this case, there's not too much that should come as a shock.
Retained Weight and Expansion
As noted, the Mini-Mag has a copper-plated, round nose bullet. Roughly equivalent to FMH or "ball" ammunition, ‘expansion' isn't even a point of discussion. It simply doesn't expand.
Insofar as weight retention, I fired several rounds into a series of ½ gallon milk jugs filled with water at a distance of 22 yards using the iron sighted CZ. Temperatures on that day ranged between 50 -55 degrees F; but, the elevation was the same 5,500 ft.
Measured on an RCBS 5-0-5 scale (see link below), the best retention was 39.65 gr. Since you're starting with a 40 gr. bullet, that means weight retention of 99.125%. Again, no surprise there.
What this does strongly suggest, however, is that the Mini-Mag (HV) is not truly suitable as an hunting round. Since the Mini-Mag (HV) and the Mini-Mag HP are, essentially, the same price, have virtually identical names, and are packaged similarly, you will need to make sure you're getting what you need for your intended purpose.
Let's say that many a pine cone, uncounted aluminum cans, numerous milk jugs, and various other ‘targets' have met their demise on the receiving end of Mini-Mags. While the Mini-Mag is listed under "Competition: Target & Plinking," I can think of better ‘target loads' when it comes to competition shooting. For ‘friendly' competition, well, it'll do reasonably well. In fact, such ‘matches' might serve well in determining which ammunition performs best in your firearm.
I don't shoot competition anymore, so ‘paper punching' at a recognized range isn't my thing. Likewise, I've reached a point where I have nothing to prove other than to ‘challenge' the nephew to improve - if you know what I mean. (Kinda like my Grandmother used to do with everyone else in the family, extended family, the neighbors, and a few individuals who only thought that they were dead shots.) In that context, I'm more interested in field performance, under field conditions. To that end, I carefully measured a 50 yard distance and tacked standard Birchwood Casey scope targets ($2.97 per 12-pack at Wal-Mart) to a stump end. At the ‘firing line,' I laid out a tarp, followed by a Ridge Rest sleeping pad, and used my Arc'Teryx Bora 30 (see link below) as my field rest.
Elevation was the same 5,500 ft. Temperatures were dropping as quickly as the barometer; i.e., it went from 48 degrees to 39 degrees in late afternoon in just 2 ½ hours, with increasing cloudiness. Winds were a fairly steady 5 mph from approximately 9 o'clock, with gusts up to around 10 mph. (Unfortunately, it was necessary to leave the jacket shell and fleece vest in the pack to create enough bulk.)
Firing a 10-shot group from the scoped CZ 452 LUX, measured center-to-center, a 1.35" group was achieved for 10 shots. Bottom line, however, is that represented the next-to-last ammo to be tested that day and it was getting a bit ‘cool,' to say the least. The bottom line is that I'm certain, given a proper range, ‘official' rest, etc., groups could be pulled a bit tighter. My only hesitation in saying that they would be pulled tighter is the group sizes tend to reflect the predictions hinted at by the chronograph data. But, that's not really the point. Under actual field conditions, shooting a single string (as opposed to multiple strings, then citing only the ‘best'), a group size of 1.35" out of a CZ 452 LUX means a decent ‘plinker' ammo for that rifle.
Insofar as the Ruger, well... I wasn't really interested in trying for a ‘group' as Mini-Mags are my default ammo for that rifle when it comes to such ‘entertainment.' (Though I prefer the Stingers for hunting with the Ruger out to about 50 yards or so.) Besides, I had another ‘round' to go, with a different brand... Did I mention it was getting noticeably cooler at that point?
I can guarantee that there will be readers who sniff and say: "Well, it works great in my rifle."
I can further guarantee there will be readers who scoff, saying: "Mini-Mags don't work in my rifle at all."
Remember what I said to begin with... When it comes to rimfire ammunition, particularly .22 LR, there are no absolutes. As a consequence, there is no, single, ‘best' rimfire ammunition on the market. However, there is, at least, a ‘good' brand/type for your individual firearm. In fact, you might even find one that actually performs better than most others in that weapon. Whether it turns out to be Mini-Mags or something else is going to be something for you to work at finding.
For the purposes intended, CCI Mini-Mag (HV) ammunition meets my needs, with my rifles. Now, if that means letting the nephew buy his own, less expensive ammunition that happens to be a brand/type which doesn't perform quite as well in the same weapons, well that's all part of the ‘challenge' isn't it? You know, old age and treachery sometimes trumps youth and exuberance. Right?
Well... We can't all be like my Grandmother, where it didn't seem to matter what ammunition/rifle combination she used. Some of us need an ace up our sleeve. Though, come to think of it, since my Grandfather did most of the ‘coaching' for the rest of us when it came to shooting, I wonder if there wasn't a certain level of ‘education through experience' going on in there for someone's amusement...
Reviews Cited Above
RCBS 5-0-5 Scale
Arc'Teryx Bora 30
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