Let us be your guide for picking out your next rimfire rifle.
By Phil Massaro
A rimfire rifle can afford a shooter a lifetime of fun at the range, whether it’s for precision practice on paper targets, serious competition or simply plinking at tin cans in the back field. The ammunition is economical, the recoil and report minimal, and they provide an excellent means for honing your shooting skills. One of the beauties of the rimfire rifle is that almost anyone can learn how to effectively shoot one. Indeed, they are often used as a training tool for young shooters, though they are certainly not a child’s toy.
There are many styles of rimfire rifle available, from slim and light autoloaders and heavy-barreled bolt-action jobs to pump rifles, lever guns and single-shots. Stock materials range from traditional checkered walnut to laminate hardwood and synthetics. Designs run the gamut as well, from serious precision tools and rifles for cowboy action shooting games to scaled-down versions of big-game rifles. With so many choices, let’s take a look at what’s available and what might be best suited for you.
Ruger Precision Rifle—A huge favorite of the long-range centerfire community in centerfire calibers, this rifle is also available in .22 Long Rifle. With a one-piece molded chassis, adjustable Ruger Marksman trigger and a fully adjustable stock, this little bolt-action rifle offers serious performance. Heck, even the bolt throw (the amount of distance required to raise the bolt enough to cycle the action) is adjustable from 1½ to 3 inches for a custom feel. With a Picatinny rail—a nearly universal platform for mounting optics—and a 10-round detachable magazine, the Ruger Precision Rimfire will have you shooting consistently in almost no time.
Ruger 10/22 Competition—Ruger’s 10/22, a neat semi-automatic gun that serves both the target shooter and small-game hunter equally well, has been in the company’s lineup for decades. As versatile as that rifle is, I like the new Competition version. A new twist on the classic design, this rimfire has a bull barrel (thicker to better dissipate heat and heavier to be held steadier) a 30-MOA Picatinny rail for optics and an adjustable target trigger. It’s available from the Ruger Custom Shop, but for those who want something a little different, it’s worth looking into.
Savage bundles a number of features in its rimfire rifles for those looking to shoot tiny little groups. The Savage AccuTrigger has long been an accuracy-enhancing feature, and Savage’s barrels have a reputation unto themselves. The A22 and A17 series make a sensible investment, as they are utterly reliable and wonderfully accurate, but I enjoy some of the B-Series rifles, especially for serious accuracy.
The Mark II BRJ has a heavier, fluted barrel, AccuTrigger and neat-looking laminate wood stock. The B.Mag Target, chambered for the speedy .17 Winchester Super Magnum cartridge, sports a thumbhole laminate stock with a wide fore-end (perfect for using a sandbag rest), dual sling studs for bipod use and a heavy-profile stainless steel barrel. All this translates into a rifle that will put tiny little groups on the target, year after year.
Though the rifles I've above all have special features designed for enhanced accuracy, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with choosing a more traditionally styled rimfire rifle. The multitude of great Marlin rifles available in both lever- and bolt-actions with Marlin’s MicroGroove barrels can be the arch-nemesis of tin cans and paper bull’s-eyes. Historically, Winchester has made some great target rimfires, and its new Wildcat 22 is a modern design that has lots of promise. The same can be said for Remington: Many great models of the past can tempt you on the used rifle rack, as can modern beauties like the Custom Shop Model 547 Target.
For those shooters who love the nostalgia of the Old West and want a rifle that combines looks and accuracy, the Henry Classic Lever Action may be what you’re after. The Classic has all the appointments of a traditional lever rifle, and with over 1,000,000 sold it has stood the test of time. Chambered in .22 Long Rifle, it is economical to shoot and great for developing off-hand shooting skills. The receiver is grooved for scope use, but I can tell you first-hand that shooting an iron-sighted rimfire rifle is an awful lot of fun.
I use my old Ruger 77/22, a bolt-action rifle built to mimic the company’s famous Model 77 big-game rifle, as a training tool before my big-game hunts. When I’m headed out on a safari, where I’ll be using a .404 Jeffery or my .470 Nitro Express double rifle, I’ll spend a considerable amount of time with my iron-sighted Ruger, sharpening my eye with cheap rimfire ammunition and almost no recoil at all. Should I want a bit of practice for deer season, I can easily mount a scope on it and set up a miniature practice range—and I can tell you such practice helps immensely.
About the Author: Phil Massaro is a freelance author and editor-in-chief of Gun Digest Annual. He is happiest hunting the wildest places left on earth.