How do all of our finds stack up in the end? An ideal rifle, for us, would have been a 6 lb rifle under 40" of overall length, with a stainless receiver and barrel, a nice wood stock - or brown laminated wood stock, coming with adjustable open sights, a good trigger, very robust, able to use any 22LR ammunition without any malfunction, reasonably accurate, under $500.
When we look through all the available possibilities that we researched, we do not quite find the ideal first rifle. But, from what we have, we are not very far from an ideal profile. Some " almost ideal" rifles would be a slightly shorter CZ with a stainless barrel, a Savage Mark 2 FSS rifle with iron sights and a wood stock, or a Marlin 980S with a good trigger, a wood stock or a light laminated stock, and no magazine fit worries (mind you, there might not be any grounds to have any). As it is, we do not have these options available to us, so we have to pick from what exists today...
What we did not pick
As good as the Anschutz 1416 and the Weatherby Mark XXII may be, it simply seems unreasonable to purchase such high quality rifles for beginners' training, in particular because they do not fit all the criteria we established for the ideal first rifle. The Browning T-Bolt does not have enough user input yet to fully qualify itself. The Ruger 77/22 is a good quality rifle, but its $500 price really seems excessive when you have to add another $150 for sights, especially when the stainless/ laminated stock version is too long and heavy, leaving us with non-optimal plastic stock/ stainless barrel and wood stock/ blued barrel combinations. The Sako Quad has some attractive qualities, despite its lack of stainless barrel and open sights, but, as of last week, it is not being imported in the US any more:( As for the Winchester Wildcat, it did not quite make the grade, although it was not far from making the cut.
The Top 3 .22 Bolt Rifles for practicing marksmanship
- #3 Marlin 980S-CF: for $300, the 980S-CF is a very accurate rifle, and comes with the extremely robust combination of a stainless barrel and a carbon fiber stock. Its 41" size and 6 lb weight are good. Its fit-and-finish is decent, and its reliability is very good - with the possible issue, which may not really exist, of a slightly unreliable magazine feed. Its primary weakness is a fair trigger, which can be improved by after-market parts. Too bad we cannot get a good wood or laminated stock with it!
- #2 CZ 452 Lux: at under $450, The CZ 452 Lux represents an extraordinary value. It is an heirloom quality rifle with excellent fit-and-finish and outstanding accuracy, second only to the Anschutz. It has only two drawbacks, without which it would have been ranked first by a large margin. It is not available in stainless, requiring inexperienced shooters to practice good maintenance to keep this excellent rifle in top shape. At 42.6" of overall length, it is a bit too long, making it a bit more uncomfortable to handle than it could be, despite a light 6 lb weight.
- #1 Savage Mark II: for $200, the Savage Mark II G provides excellent accuracy, a top notch trigger, very good reliability, and what is probably the best usability of all rifles reviews. Its 5.5 lb weight and 39.5" length make it a sweet rifle to handle, even by younger shooters. It's a real pity for the Savage Mark II FSS, with its stainless barrel, not to be available with iron sights: it could have been a perfect learning rifle:-) While the Mark II G is inferior in quality to the CZ, its features make it a better suited combination for the new shooter. For a total price of $200, it is hard to complain about a blued barrel. Altogether a great package!
- Special Prize - Browning T-Bolt Stainless Varmint Special: we wrote earlier than we had not quite found our perfect, ideal rifle among the different competitors. In fact, there is one model which is extraordinarily close to that profile, although it does not come with open sights. At 6 lbs of weight and 40"1/4 overall length, the T-Bolt Stainless Varmint is light and short enough to be very usable. It has a heavy stainless barrel paired with an very stable laminated wood stock. It has excellent fit-and-finish, and traditional Browning quality. First range reports show excellent accuracy, and a smooth action. It is too new, and not popular enough, for a general user consensus to be established on its quality, reliability, accuracy, trigger and magazine performance. There is not enough feedback yet. But, despite its very high price ($850), it might actually end up checking off close to every single item which is a part of what we defined as an ideal first rifle. So - we are giving the Browning T-Bolt Varmint Special a special prize: it is potentially the ideal marksmanship practice rifle for advanced shooters:-) Now let's find out how the next range reports come out...
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