Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Value .22LR Bolt Rifles

Looking for the right first rifle part 5

At the low end of the price curve, ranging from $200 to $300, we find the two most common bolt action repeaters in the category, made by Savage and Marlin, and the imported Winchester Wildcat and the Remington/USSG Z5. These are inexpensive rifles, but by no means cheap. Millions of the Savage and Marlin rifles have been sold, and both carry strong support from many of their owners.

For less than $300, the Marlin 980S-CF rifle has a 22" stainless barrel and a rigid, unbreakable carbon-fiber stock. It carries 7- or 10-round clip magazines, universal across recent marlin repeater rifles. Its 6 lbs weight  makes it a comfortable rifle to carry, while its 41" overall length is short enough to be reasonably comfortable to a beginner. It is very accurate - superior to the Ruger 77/22, although not quite up to the CZ. It  has decent fit-and-finish, although not comparable to the rifles already discussed. Its reliability is excellent. Its trigger is poor, but can be greatly improved, for less than $100, by the use of an after-market trigger such as the  Rifle Basix trigger. There are very few reports of magazine feeding problems due to a potential design issue - worrisome if true, but very rarely reported, especially given the very wide popularity and availability of these rifles. It is widely reported as an accurate, reliable, comfortable rifle. Its stainless barrel makes it very weather- and foul-resistant. It does not, however come in a stainless barrel + laminate/ wood stock. For the same price, you can also get a 981T, which is the same rifle with a tubular magazine and a plastic stock. For $30 less, you can obtain a 980S, which is the same rifle as the original 980S-CF with a plastic stock.

The Winchester Wildcat .22 Bolt can be found for approximately $235 - it is an imported Russian rifle, Tula manufactured, formerly sold (for a bit over half that price) as the TOZ-78 rifle with a different stock, different sights and a new trigger (the old one was adjustable). It is a very handy rifle to handle,  with an overall length of 38.375" and a wieght of 4.5 lbs. The stock is made of wood in a walnut stain, the 21" barrel is blued, and the rifle as a whole looks good, although fit and finish is mediocre. The Wildcat comes with three 10-round magazines and one 5-round magazine, which is a very good deal - but the magazines are mostly plastic, and it is difficult or impossible to purchase additional ones. User input on the trigger is mixed, from quite good to poor. The sight is of good quality, precise and well made. The rifle is accurate (close to the CZ), although the bolt action it not totally smooth, and ejection is not always perfect. The three-position safety is not totally intuitive.

The USSG Z5, made by Zastava, was also called the Remington Model 5 until last year, and can be obtained for about $225. It is all steel, with well blued metal, and a good looking walnut stock. With an overall length of 40.5" (22" barrel) and a total weight of 6.7 lbs, it is fairly comfortable to handle. It comes with 5-round magazines, which are difficult to find, and are sometimes a source of trouble. However, 10-round Mossberg Plinkster magazines, widely available, can be adjusted to work on the Z5. The trigger is poor out of the box, but can easily be adjusted to become decent. It has good adjustable sights. Its fit and finish is good, better than others in the same price class, although not quite as good as the CZ. Its accuracy is good, inferior to the Anschutz, CZ and Savage, but comparable to or better than the other contenders.The Z5 gets good reviews from those few owners who report on it.

Last but not least, for about $200, the Savage Mark II G has a carbon steel, blued 21" barrel with iron sights on a nondescript wood stock. Its 39.5" overall length and 5.5 lbs weight make it a very handy rifle that is easy to carry. Its Accutrigger is outstanding, superior to all other rifles in the category except the Anschutz and possibly the Weatherby. Its fit-and-finish, on the other hand, is inferior to all other rifles in the category. Its accuracy is excellent, as in the case for many Savage rifles - it received the Outdoor Life Editor's Choice with the highest score ever. In terms of comparative accuracy, it is second only to the Anschutz if at all. Its reliability is good. Its 10-round magazines are superior to Marlin's. Its gets excellent reviews from the online community, where it is typically evaluated lower than the CZ and as good as or better than the Marlin. For another $50, you can get the Mark II FSS, with a stainless barrel and a synthetic stock, unfortunately without open sights, requiring another $150 for after-market sights purchase and installation -there are many other versions available. As a note, Savage synthetic stocks occasionally fail, as do other manufacturers'.Surprisingly, there is no heavy stainless barrel version on a regular stock - they are all paired with heavy or exotic stocks, resulting in unhandy rifles or much more expensive ones.

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