Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Mid-Range .22LR Bolt Rifles

Looking for the right first rifle part 4

The $600 Sako Quad Synthetic (other versions, such as the handsome Hunter Pro, are not available in the US at this time) provides an unusual capability - you can swap barrels between 4 different calibers, .22LR, .22WMR, .17HMR and .17 Mach 2. Beyond the first one, each barrel costs about $275 with one magazine. The manufacturer claims that barrels can be swapped in 20 seconds, and that the rifle does not lose its zero when swapping barrels.  Reviews confirm the ease of swapping but indicate that the rifle needs to be zero-ed again after swapping barrels. The Quad does not come with open sights or with stainless barrels. It is a handy rifle, weighing 6.2lbs with an overall length of 30.7." The adjustable trigger is good. The accuracy is high, typically rated close to the Anschutz rifle by most user reports. This rifle is often used by amateur snipers as a practice gun (to save on ammunition costs), typically with an after-market tactical stock. There are reports of misfeeds and failures to eject. The regular magazine has a 5-round capacity, although 10-round magazines exist. Parts for this rifle are difficult to obtain, and the distributor, Beretta USA, does not bend over backwards to support it - it may actually not be available in the US any more in the coming year.

In the $600-$700 price range is the Ruger 77/22 rifle, a reliable, well finished American-built rifle with a long and valued track record. The 77/22 has an unusual and unique rotary 10-round magazine, which is superior to all other magazines in the category in usability and reliability. It is a highly reliable rifle, whose accuracy is sufficient for the task, although not comparable to the other contenders. Its fit-and-finish is good, not comparable to Anschutz, Weatherby or CZ, but clearly superior to Savage and Marlin. Its trigger is decent, although not great.

The 77/22 comes in 3 models, all of which are interesting but none of which are perfect.  Unfortunately, none of them carry open sights, resulting in an additional $125 to $200 in gunsmith and sight costs. For about $600, the 77/22-R has a walnut stock and a carbon steel blued barrel, and its 6.5 lb weight and 39.25" size make it comfortable and handy. At about the same price, 77/22-RM, with the same handling characteristics, has a stainless barrel (yeah!) and a synthetic stock (oh:(. For another $100, The 77/22-VBZ has the best combination of stainless, heavy-duty precision 24" barrel, and laminated stock, but, as a result, ends up longer (at 43.25") and heavier (at 7.5lbs).

All versions receive very good reviews from their owners and from experts as well, in reliability, looks, and fit-and-finish, as does the Ruger rotary magazine: Shooting Times review, Gun Tests review, typical user thread on Gun & Game forum, The 77/22 rifle's accuracy gets dinged by many and ends up comparatively low on the accuracy totem pole - although accuracy, as a feature, is overestimated by the many in the shooting community who tend to disregard all next to accuracy. While the 77/22 is a very good rifle, the additional cost due to the need to add iron sights brings it close to the price of an Anschutz or a Weatherby, which are both much better rifles.

The next rifle down the price curve is an exceptional one, due to its value, fit-and-finish, and accuracy. CZ, a Czech company, makes bolt action rifles in the $350 to $500 price range. In accuracy, CZ rifles are close to Anschutz standards, and are superior or equal to Weatherby. Their fit-and-finish is very close to Anschutz.  Yet they can be acquired for half the price of an Anschutz or a Weatherby. Their wood stocks are OK to good. They are handy at hand in weight, sometimes a bit too long for optimal usability. Their adjustable trigger is fair, although not quite as good as an Anschutz or a Savage - a lot of creep before breaking. Their safety works the opposite way from that of pretty much other rifles - a bad thing for many reasons... They carry expensive, but quality, 5-round magazines, although 10-round magazines are sometimes available. All in all, they represent an outstanding value proposal. They come in several models, three of which are of interest to us.

In the mid $400s, the CZ 452 Lux carries a hammer-forged, carbon steel, blued, 24.8" long barrel, and a Turkish walnut stock. Its weight is quite handy around 6 lbs,  but its 42.6" overall length is slightly longer than optimal. For about $50 more, the CZ 452 FS carries a 6.4 lb weight but a handy overall length of 39.2" (barrel length of 20.8") and a lovely full-length Mannlicher-like stock. For about $50 less, the CZ 452 Training provides exactly the same features, with a 6.4 lb weight, an overall length of 32.6" (barrel length of 24.8"), except that its stock is made of lesser, although quite adequate, beechwood. Stainless is unfortunately not available.

Over the past few years, CZ has become more recognized as a quality brand, and is now viewed on the net as a very high quality brand, with excellent fit-and-finish, and top-notch accuracy. There are very few problems reported with its rifles, which are now seen as heirloom quality as well, despite their very affordable cost.

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