Monday, April 5, 2010

Performance .22LR Bolt Rifles

Looking for the right first rifle part 3

Because of the immense popularity of the 22LR cartridge, there is a plethora of choices in rifles chambered for that round - and, a result, many different opinions about what the right rifle is, and which one it is:-). Curiously, there are few good expert sites, and much of the information is paper-bound - but, on the other hand, there are very large numbers of user sites, blogs, forums, and user ratings, which give enormous coverage to the field.

There is very general consensus about the .22LR (Long Rifle) round being the best for marksmanship practice, primarily because of its cost is so much lower than the competition - although a few shooters hold out for the .17HMR, a new cartridge with more energy, which shoots faster and farther (Maximum Point Blank Range 165 yards range vs 85 yards for the .22LR), but which costs a lot more (about 20c/round vs 7c/round for .22LR). The practical range of the .22LR is around 100 yards, and a .22LR Rifle should probably be zeroed for 75 yards.

There is also general agreement for bolt rifles being best for learning marksmanship - although some hold out for lever rifles when encouraging reluctant young shooters, who might enjoy shooting a lever rifle more. Some experienced shooters, who teach shooting to their friends or children, explain that they structure the learning curve by starting with a bolt rifle, then progressively moving the learning shooter to a lever or a semi-auto. Many argue for the need to have single shot rifles to teach children the value of a careful shot ("one shot, one kill"). For adults, however, most believe that cycling the bolt is enough of a penalty, and a bolt repeater is typically preferred.  In this review, we will focus on bolt action repeater rifles, which are the consensus of the overwhelming majority of shooters for learning and practicing marksmanship.

There are a couple of very high end rifles in the category that are not suited to the purpose at hand. The very high end, competition grade, Anschutz series 1700 rifles, while outstanding in fit-and-finish and in accuracy (you don't make any better), are very expensive (above $1,500). Its 7.5 lb weight and 42.4" overall size make it a little less comfortable to handle and carry than most firearms in the category, and they do not come in stainless versions. The very good looking Cooper rifles, going from $1,000 to $3,000 rifles price themselves out as well.

Under $1,000, we find two rifles built on the same action, the Anschutz 1416 and the Weatherby Mark XXII. Their quality, price and looks make them quite overqualified for the purpose of this article. Yet, because high end rifles loose little of their value over the years unless damaged, it might still make sense to look at them.These two rifles are heirloom class.

The Anschutz 1400 series rifles carry the exceptional reputation of quality and accuracy of their brand, and offer a highly usable alternative to the expensive 1700 series. Anschutz rifles carry a stellar reputation among shooters, who consider them the most  accurate competition rifles out of the box - there are large communities of dedicated Anschutz fans and users. There is unusual unanimity in considering Anschutz ("Annie") as the best in the category, and this "low-end" Anschutz tests well  in England and in the US. For $900, the Anschutz 1416 D KL comes with a carbon steel blued barrel, iron sights, and a 5-shot magazine. Its walnut stock is good but not exceptional - the Beavertail stock option is better than Classic. Its accuracy is only surpassed by the  1700 series Anschutz. It hash a great trigger. Its fit-and-finish is exceptional. Its 5.5lbs weight makes it very easy to carry and shoulder, while its 41.5" overall size, a touch long, keeps it reasonably comfortable to handle. Unfortunately, it does not come in stainless. There are reports of ejection problems.

Built on the same Anschutz 64 action, the $800 Weatherby Mark XXII, introduced in 2007, is manufactured by Anschutz, and  uses outstanding American walnut for a traditional Weatherby look.  It is a real beauty, with better wood than the Anschutz, and a characteristic California stock, but with a bit less accuracy, despite the excellent trigger. Its 40.8" overall size is a touch long but still good, and its 6.5 lb weight makes it an easy to use rifle. While somewhat uncommon due to its price and recent introduction, the Weatherby Mark XXII's online reputation is in general excellent, and its owners report primarily positive experiences, although there are some reports of failures to eject. Like the Anschutz 1416, it is not available in stainless - what a pity!

For about $850, the Browning T-Bolt Stainless Special provides a somewhat tactical-looking rifle which seems to gather all of our check marks. The 22" barrel is heavy and stainless. the 6.0 lb weight and 40.25" overall length make for a very handy and maneuverable rifle. The stock is laminated gray, with a big thumbhole, and is designed to take a bipod. For $175 less, the Browning T-Bolt Target/ Varmint offers a heavy carbon steel blued barrel on an attractive European-inspired walnut stock, for the same overall length and a weight lower by 1/2 lb. For even less money ($550) and less weight (under 5 lbs...) you can get a regular blued barrel over the same walnut stock. The magazine is an interesting 10-round rotary magazine, a bit similar to the Ruger's, designed around a double helix. It has both supporters and detractors.The fit-and-finish, as always with Browning, is excellent (manufactured in Japan by Miroku, a top-notch factory), although there are disturbing reports about a plastic trigger guard. The action is tight but smooth. The trigger is adjustable and appears of very good quality. First accuracy reports (here ,here and here) are good. The Browning is new enough (2007) that there are not too many out in the wild, but first generation users like it, comparing it favorably to the CZ. Check out the T-Bolt on You Tube:-)

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