Handloader|February 2021
Gil Sengel

Humankind has battled rats and mice since before recorded history. Not only are they repulsive little varmints, but they apparently dislike us as well because they have killed us by the millions!

Due to the fleas they carry and a propensity to eat almost anything, rats and mice are responsible for the transmission of terrible suffering. Examples include bubonic plague and New World smallpox. Outbreaks that killed only a few thousand people aren’t even noted in history. Any of those people would have gladly traded a cow and two pigs for a smoothbore .22 and an oxcart load of .22 rimfire shot cartridges.

Meanwhile, mankind invented hundreds of devices to kill rats and mice. All were quite labor-intensive. Most folks just relied on instinct, picked up a club and squashed the little beasts. The only problem is that rats are quick and largely nocturnal. They also learn to avoid humans carrying long sticks. There had to be a better way.

Development of the rimfire cartridge by Smith & Wesson resulted in the .22 Short by 1857. Loading the tiny case with shot was done, although just when is debatable. Black powder took up too much space, leaving little room for shot. Perhaps it worked for mice that were just out of club range.

Some references insist larger caliber centerfire shot cartridges came first. This would be in the 1878/80 period. Such is doubtful because these rounds contained far more shot than needed to kill a rat and were quite expensive.

I find it hard to believe that once the .22 Long case became available in 1871 that it was not immediately loaded with shot in the same manner as a brass shotshell. Black-powder, copper-cased rounds like this were disassembled years ago. They contained a pinch of powder similar to that found in firecrackers (Boys tend to take everything apart.) An overpowder wad then rested under about 18 grains of tiny misshapen shot. A thin over-shot wad held it in place. Some have argued that this is impossible because there would not be enough room for an adequate charge of black powder. This is not true. These little rounds only had an effective range of 10 or 12 feet, so a muzzle velocity of 650/750 feet per second (fps) would have been adequate. The rodents were in for a surprise.

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