Friday, May 6, 2011

.22 rifles

A friend recently asked me to be on the lookout for a good .22 rifle.  This isn't the first time I've had that question, but with my lifelong experience with these devices, I have a lot of opinion on the subject.
Dad's rifle had a shorter barrel than this example

The first .22 rifle I shot was my dad's old 'shooting-rats-in-the-dump' gun.  It was a Page-Lewis single-shot lever rifle that took only .22 Shorts, one of the classic early 20th century so-called "boy's rifles."  Unfortunately no one in our family knows what became of it.  It would have been a great teaching tool for my grandsons.  This is one of the classics I'm always on the lookout for, though I have never seen another one anywhere despite haunting gunstores and gunshows all over the country for years now.

The Marlin 81D from Sears
By my teen years, my dad bought a Marlin 81D from good ole Sears Roebuck.  It's a tube fed, bolt action rifle with a heavy walnut stock and solid construction that takes .22 Short, Long and Long Rifle ammunition.  That one we still have, or at least my little brother has it.  I've fired hundreds of rounds through it, and really learned to shoot a rifle with that gun.  I've dispatched many a squirrel with it down along the Nottoway River and our whole family has enjoyed shooting it for years now.
Over the years I've come in contact with, fired and learned to use many different .22 rifle designs.  The Mossbergs come to mind, notably the 152 with it's fold down stock, the Remington bolts, Winchester bolts and pumps, and the famous Ruger 10-22.

As I've grown older and both more able to research and buy the options, I have become a fan of CZs .22 rifles.  My recent favorites include a CZ-452 Full Stock rifle, a CZ 452 Lux (with the 24.5" barrel) which have the quality CZ bolt action and takes .22 Long Rifle ammo only fed in magazines of 5 or 10 rounds.  At the moment, I have a CZ-452 Scout that is for my grandboys when they're old enough to learn to shoot as well as my own main .22 rifle, a CZ-452ZKM "Special Training" rifle.

CZ-452 Scout waiting for Marshall and Calvin to grow up

All of the .22 rifles I've been discussing so far are what I would call general purpose or field use rifles.  They're suitable for teaching, training, hunting small game, and general target shooting.  Although they are all inherently accurate, none are as specialized as the purpose built competition rifles, like the Anshutz.

So with all this as background, I'd like to return to the original topic here--what's a good .22 rifle?  Since almost no one who asks that questions is looking to become an Olympic competitor, I always recommend keeping the cost down and getting something that is reliable and can be shot a lot without needing constant repair or adjustment.

There is an excellent series of .22 rifles being sold under the Mossberg name called the "Plinkster."  The model 702 is the semi-auto version, and the model 802 is a bolt-action.  Both rifles take 5 or 10 round magazines and have synthetic stocks (many are black, but several new models with camoflage pattern stocks in a wide variety of colors have recently appeared).  I've only seen these rifles with a blued metal finish, but I'm informed they can also be found in stainless.  They can be found for $100 to $200 at Walmart, Bass Pro, Dicks, Gander Mountain, as well as many gunstores.  I've owned and used several examples of this gun and find it a fun, accurate, easy to use rifle, it's main feature being it's low price.  The semi-auto version can jam or misfeed from time to time, and as with the Ruger 10-22, maintaining the magazine is important to keeping the gun running well, but the Plinkster is the rifle I recommend as a good low-cost entry level rifle in .22LR.

One note on action types: I like bolt action rifles for most purposes since they are simple to learn, reliable, and easier to maintain and keep clean.  Semi-autos are fun because you can shoot a lot quickly, but I find that they encourage the shooter to be less attentive to fundamentals as well as shooting up too much ammunition.  Other actions such as lever, pump or slide action, etc., are preferable to semi-autos for learning to shoot, but tend to be a little more expensive.

So my recommendation:  If you want to spend less than $150.  Get a Mossberg bolt action rifle and six bulk boxes of ammo (that's 3300 rounds).  If you want a high quality, classy rifle, (i.e. $500 or so) buy a CZ-452 or a Ruger 77-22 bolt. 

Which ever gun you get, shoot it extensively without a scope so you really learn to shoot well.  Then, if you really need one, add a scope later.  That's only a $25 expense if you go to Walmart.

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