Winchester Silvertip .22LR: A Defensive Rimfire?

Self-defense ammunition has undergone significant advancements over the last 30 years. Modern “high-performance” defensive ammunition like Hornady Critical Duty, Speer Gold Dot, and Federal HST are a vast improvement over the days of solid lead wadcutter bullets. In that time, Winchester has produced reliable defensive cartridges like their Ranger T, PDX, and, infamously, Black Talon lines. Most recently, they’ve entered the defensive rimfire ammunition market with the Winchester Silvertip .22LR cartridge.

If you’re mulling over the concept of a defensive rimfire cartridge, don’t worry, so have I. While ammunition has advanced extensively in quality, reliability, and performance since the late twentieth century, rimfire ammunition remains uncertain as a quality defensive round. Accordingly, it seemed appropriate to run the Winchester Silvertip .22LR through the ringer and see if it fulfills the role of a truly reliable defensive rimfire cartridge.

Winchester Silvertip 22LR

The Winchester Silvertip line is nothing new and is approaching the half-century mark in age. Released in 1979, Winchester offered the Silvertip originally in 9mm and .45ACP as high-performance expanding defensive ammunition. Since then, the lineup of Silvertip cartridges has expanded to include rifle and additional pistol calibers. In 2023, they took a leap into the rimfire realm by introducing the Winchester Silvertip .22LR with a 37-grain plated segmenting hollow point.

winchester silvertip 22lr next to winchester 9mm
The 37-grain Silvertip next to Winchester’s 147-grain Ranger T defensive cartridge.

Undeniably, Winchester Silvertip .22LR is advertised as a defensive round. The ammo box’s tagline is “Power to Defend” and advertised accordingly on Winchester’s website. Nevertheless, rimfire as a defensive round is a legitimately controversial topic. Centerfire ammunition has an inherently greater reliability and consistency compared to .22LR and other rimfire offerings. Furthermore, the terminal ballistics from more rimfire cartridges is anemic at best when compared to most centerfire handgun cartridges – more on that later.

The Winchester Silvertip .22LR Segmenting Bullet

Winchester offers Silvertip in two rimfire cartridges: .22LR and .22WMR. The testing for this article focused on their .22LR line. The Silvertip .22LR is a 37-grain plated segmenting hollow point. At first glance, segmenting bullets appear to be a traditional hollow point. However, during penetration into a fluid ballistic medium (e.g. tissue, blood, etc), the hollow point is forced open and the bullet expands. With a segmenting hollow point, the expanding petals of the bullet actually fragment, or “segment”, from the base of the bullet.

segmented bullets
A partially expanded 37-grain Silvertip (left) clocked by debris. The base and segmented petals of the .22LR Silvertip cartridge (right).

Since rimfire has somewhat limited penetration compared to larger calibers, I decided to evaluate this cartridge’s performance using a homemade water tank. With three rounds fired from a suppressed Ruger 22/45 Lite at close range, the results were obvious and consistent. The Silvertip consistently expanded through the fluid medium with the petals shearing from the base into several pieces. The bullet’s initial entry into the water medium was impressive, casting a spray of water into the air before creating a less energetic wound channel that ended around 18 inches into the tank.

bullet performance in water
The top photo shows the disturbed path and energetic entry of an expanding Silvertip. The bottom image is the same cartridge that failed to expand during penetration into the water tank. Note the less energetic entry of the cartridge due to no expansion.

Ultimately, I fired five rounds into the tank with the last two through its plastic siding to record the bullet’s performance. Naturally, one of the bullets failed to expand due to the hollow point becoming clogged by the plastic it initially penetrated. The other bullet performed spectacularly though and fragmented into three nice petals. Once again, the immediate energy transfer was impressive.

Ballistic Reality

While I won’t volunteer to get hit by the 37-grain Silvertip, the performance is not a “man-stopper”. Small cartridges, specifically those designed for handguns, are notoriously inconsistent in stopping a lethal threat. Even the best ammunition doesn’t always expand upon impact or deliver immediate terminating effect upon its intended target. While anecdotal evidence exists of .22LR and .380ACP stopping threats with one shot, I’ll counter with examples of 72 rounds of 9mm defensive ammunition required to stop a threat. Taking my argument a step further, I know of individuals sustaining gunshot wounds to the chest from a .44 Mag at near contact distances – and surviving.

Handgun cartridges should balance capacity, manageable recoil (more hits on target), and terminal performance (energy transferred into the target). Winchester Silvertip .22LR’s advertised muzzle energy is 92 foot-pounds. Conversely, Winchester’s 9mm 147-grain Silvertip delivers 333 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle. Yes, 9mm has more recoil; however, it has nearly four times the muzzle energy of .22LR and far greater reliability. Gunfights aren’t fair. Your choice in caliber and bullet should stack the odds towards you being unfair against a violent assailant.

Silvertip on the Range

Winchester Silvertip .22LR’s advertised muzzle velocity is 1,050 feet per second (fps). While this may seem slow for a purported defensive caliber, the claimed velocity is from a 3.5-inch barrel. Winchester states this ammo is “optimized for handguns”. I don’t disagree with this statement given the observed terminal performance from a pistol. Nevertheless, obtaining performance data from a wide variety of firearms never hurts when testing ammunition.

rifles and ammo on shooting bench
Ballistic testing was performed at 75 feet with multiple firearms, both suppressed and unsuppressed. From left to right: Ruger 77/22, Ruger 10/22 takedown, and Ruger 22/45 Lite.

In the interest of finding truth in advertising, I set up the trusty chronograph and obtained velocities from the Silvertip through a Ruger 77/22 with a 24-inch barrel, Ruger 10/22 with an 18.5-inch barrel, and Ruger 22/45 Lite with a 4.4-inch barrel. The Silvertip’s velocity peaked with an average of 1,246 fps through the 77/22. However, the longer barrel didn’t contribute much to velocity as the 18.5-inch barrel of the 10/22 produced average velocities of 1,214 fps (suppressed) and 1,228 fps (unsuppressed). For a 5.5-inch difference in length, you’re not gaining much. Meanwhile, the pistol with its 4.4-inch barrel produced velocities relatively close, both suppressed and unsuppressed, to those advertised by Winchester. Velocities remained relatively consistent during testing with the average standard deviation hanging in the 30 fps range.

Firearm Barrel Length (inches) Average Velocity (fps) Standard Deviation
Ruger 77/22           24           1,246           23
Ruger 10/22 Suppressed           18.5           1,214           32
Ruger 10/22           18.5           1,228           29
Ruger 22/45 Suppressed           4.4           1,004           39
Ruger 22/45           4.4           1,040           12

The Ruger pistol and 10/22 were not optics equipped. Nevertheless, they produced groups ranging between 1.2 inches for the 10/22 and around 3 inches for the pistol. The Ruger 77/22, equipped with a scope, produced a 0.426-inch, five-shot group from 25 yards. This was impressive considering it previously generated a one-inch group at 100 feet the last time I shot this ammo for accuracy.

Winchester silvertip 22lr group from rifle
The Silvertip cartridge provided impressive groups out of the 77/22 rifle. This group measured under 0.5 inches at 75 feet.

So, is Winchester Silvertip 22LR a capable defense round?

While some may argue to the contrary, I don’t believe rimfire cartridges are a reputable defensive round. Yes, the terminal performance of the Winchester Silvertip .22LR is impressive. However, it’s inadequate compared to centerfire counterparts like 9mm, .40, and .45. If that isn’t a strong enough argument against .22LR as a defensive round, I experienced two failures to fire from the Silvertip ammunition out of 50 rounds fired during testing. For a defensive round, that failure rate is unacceptable. This isn’t a knock against Winchester’s quality control as much as it’s an acknowledgment of the limitations of rimfire ammunition.

Winchester Silvertip .22LR has excellent terminal performance, and consistent velocities, and is capable of producing acceptable, if not excellent, accuracy. While my perspective is against it as a defensive cartridge, the Silvertip is a great cartridge for varmints and pests. I have no qualms against using it for that purpose. Despite my dedication to CCI Stinger ammunition for those applications over the years, Winchester Silvertip has found a place in my squirrel and varmint guns.

Tom Stilson began his firearms career in 2012 working a gun store counter. He progressed to conducting appraisals for fine and collectible firearms before working as the firearms compliance merchant for a major outdoor retailer. In 2015, he entered public service and began his law enforcement career. Tom has a range of experience working for big and small as well as urban and rural agencies. Among his qualifications, Tom is certified as a firearms instructor, field trainer, and in special weapons and tactics. If not on his backyard range, he spends his time with family or spreading his passion for firearms and law enforcement.

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