Full disclosure here folks: I am writing this at the behest of someone I work with. To be perfectly honest, this post is long overdue and I’ve been meaning to write it up for a while. So, if there’s anyone out there reading this, you may thank my unidentified co-worker (and sometimes manager) for finally giving me the motivation.
While we are on the subject of full disclosure, I own firearms in all sorts of different calibers. My taste ranges from military surplus to sport utility rifles, and every where in between. I understand and appreciate the merits of 5.56, 9mm, .45, 38 Special, 30-06, etc. etc. But when I go to the range and want to have fun without worrying quite so much about what it is costing me, I take my .22 rifles and pistols. Yes, I know that .22 LR is a caliber in very high demand and low supply right now. But it is still substantially cheaper than 9mm or 5.56.
There are so many things I love about shooting .22 LR firearms. They have lower recoil, less noise, and can be quite accurate depending upon what sort of weapon you’re using. It is a capable round as far as hunting small game is concerned. One of my relatives can attest to the effectiveness of CCI 40 grain subsonic hollow points when it comes to racoons. I read an account on a message board (complete with a picture of the deceased animal) that showed just how effective that same round could be on a coyote.
One other nice aspect of .22 LR firearms is that the low recoil and reduced noise make them a great choice for new shooters. It allows new shooters to focus on fundamentals such as sight alignment, trigger squeeze, grip, stance, etc. It also reduces their tendency to anticipate the recoil/noise. Let’s face the reality of how we’re wired as human beings. As humans, we’re not really built to be totally comfortable with an explosion occurring a couple of feet from our faces. Our instinct is to close our eyes and flinch. Overcoming that is tough. The more noise and “kick” we have to deal with, the harder it is to focus on the other aspects of what is going on, i.e. the fundamentals of accurate shooting.
It is perhaps easier to get those fundamentals down pat before we dial up the recoil and noise present when we shoot higher calibers. I’ve found that to be effective when teaching people to shoot that are unfamiliar with firearms. Why some gun owners are inclined to give a brand new shooter the biggest caliber they have eludes me. Of course they do it just for fun, but as Youtube videos can attest, some of those people get injured. At the very least I see a grimace on their faces that signals anything but enjoyment. As firearm enthusiasts, we should be looking for ways to encourage new shooters. Sure, some people might be entertained by the newbie who gets rocked by a big bore revolver. But in the grander scheme of things that’s not constructive. They way to preserve rights is to bring others into the fold. Doing so with a pleasant experience is a heck of a lot more effective than pulling what amounts to a prank on them. Thus, every serious shooter who wants to introduce others to the joy of firearms should have at least one .22 LR firearm of some kind.
When it comes to .22 LR firearms, there are so many excellent choices out there I can’t adequately cover them all. Let’s start with .22 LR pistols first and then we’ll move on with rifles. Also, I’ll be focusing on those that I believe provide the most value for the recreational shooter, like me, who is on a budget.
Budget Semi-Auto .22 LR Pistols
I’ve chosen the Ruger 22/45 as my “go to” handgun because there are a few models that have factory threaded barrels. For me, this is very important because I shoot my .22 LRs suppressed as often as I can. The picture below shows the Ruger 22/45:
Photo credit: http://www.ruger.com/products/2245/index.html?r=y
That picture is from Ruger’s website. They seem to want to sue everyone and their cousin these days. Maybe they will see me using their image as what it is (free product promotion) and refrain from suing me. Anyway…
Ruger produces many different types of .22 LR pistols. I prefer the 22/45 due to the fact that the magazine release is located in a traditional spot. On the Mark series of Rugers, the mag release is located on the butt of the pistol (at the bottom of the mag well). One of the reasons I like the 22/45 models is because their controls are in the same place as most of my larger caliber pistols. Thus, practicing with the 22/45s helps me become more proficient with my larger caliber pistols, such as a 1911, Glock, etc.
Prices of the 22/45 ranges from just under $300 and up to about $375 if you decide to get a fancy one. For the non-threaded version with iron sights, I think the price is right at $280. That’s pretty reasonable, all things considered. The Ruger 22/45 can also be modified such that the magazine drops fee. Tandem Kross makes a bushing specifically for that purpose:
The 22/45 also comes tapped for a Weaver rail. This allows the user to mount optics such as red dots and reflex sights. I’ve installed a Burris Fastfire III on one of my suppressed 22/45s shown here:
(click photo to enlarge)
There are other models of .22 LR pistols that are excellent choices. The Browning Buckmark is a wonderful pistol. It is reliable and there are many modifications available for it. The Smith and Wesson M&P 22 is also a solid choice. I happen to prefer the M&P 22 over the Buckmark. It is on par with the 22/45 in my opinion. A friend of mine has a Ruger SR22, which looks to me as if it is a Walther P22 that has been slightly redesigned and re-branded. They are quite nifty because they are so compact, but if you had to have one, by all means get the Ruger version. I humbly suggest to avoid the Walther. I think Ruger has made some substantial design improvements that have cured some of the reliability issues that Walther has dealt with. It may be that Walther has solved all those issues now, but I can really only speak from personal experience. I can personally confirm that the Ruger SR22 shoots well. But as I always say, my advice and a quarter still won’t buy much.
The same fellow who has the Ruger SR22 also has a Beretta Neos. Despite the fact that, to me, it seems to have the controls in the strangest places…and looks like it should be wielded by Buck Rogers in the 25th century…it shoots really well. Maybe I should qualify that statement. The extremely wide front sight doesn’t lend itself all that well to pin point accuracy, but if they don’t already make a narrow version, I’m sure they will. One could easily put a red dot or reflex sight on there, which is exactly what my friend did. But let me just say that the little bugger functions great no matter what we feed it. We have fed it absolute garbage .22 rounds and it just keeps on clicking. For the record, so do my Rugers. But it surprised me that the Neos worked so well even when it hadn’t been cleaned for some time. It isn’t something I would buy for myself considering that I would want to suppress it and the Rugers are the cheapest and easiest path to that. But I have to admit that the Neos is dang fun to shoot. The grip angle is strange, the sights are odd, and one really has to get used to where the controls are. But, perhaps inexplicably, it is a hoot at the range, especially on some metal plates.
I will simply say that my top pick is a Ruger 22/45, but if you go with a Browning or M&P, you’re going to be happy with it. The M&P isn’t that expensive either. You’re still talking about maybe $350. Maybe a few bucks less for the compact version, if you find it on sale.
There are a few models that I would avoid. I would not recommend the Sig Mosquito. Yes, its a Sig Sauer and that usually means quality. Many of them come in all kinds of cool color schemes and factory threaded barrels. But Sig seems to be unable to figure out how to make them reliable, especially for long term use. A good Ruger Mark III 22/45 is something that you should be able to pass down to the next generation after you’ve used it your entire life. I can’t say the same for the Sig. A cursory internet search yields lots of negative reviews of the Sig Mosquito and I personally know someone who owns one. He has yet to make it reliable despite Sig’s help tinkering with it. For what the thing costs, it really should work.
There are other wonderful models of .22 LR pistols out there, such as the Smith and Wesson Model 41. I would love to have one, but the price point is so high, I can buy a Ruger 22/45 and a suppressor for the same amount of money. I didn’t want to be remiss and fail to mention other models that are high quality, but for the purposes of this article, I’m focusing on the models that are at a lower price point, but still have high levels of quality and dependability. I’ve also chosen to focus on semi-auto pistols as the revolvers (at least the high quality ones) have become VERY expensive.
One other item I’ll just throw in here is the mag loading options for .22 Rugers and Brownings. The gizmo in question is called the McFadden Machine Ultimate Clip Loader. And if there was ever anything that is literally worth its weight in gold, I think this would be a contender.
Here’s a short video for those with ADD: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7vgeYZaqQ6Y
Ideally, you shouldn’t have to shake it. If everything is adjusted just right, the rounds should just fall right in. Here’s another video that explains the correct way to use it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-YR7XQcINys
The thing costs about $24. I’m not sure how I managed to live without it. It works like a charm on my Ruger 22/45 pistols.
Photo credit: here.
Budget Bolt Action .22 LR Rifles
It is at this point that my bias is going to shine though in a major way. As I’ve said elsewhere on this blog, only accurate rifles are interesting. That opinion has driven me to prefer .22 LR rifles that are bolt action instead of semi-auto. That’s not to say that there aren’t many accurate semi-auto rifles. But in order to get a good one, one usually has to spend a little more. A friend of mine has a Remington 597 semi-auto. It has a bull barrel and a few other nice features. I think it cost close to $400. But boy does it shoot. That rifle, with Wolf Match Target, is really hard to beat. But that’s probably the exception to the rule.
If one wants to control cost and enjoy accurate shooting, a Savage is probably the very best bang for the buck. I have the Savage FV-SR, in keeping with my preference for factory threaded .22 LRs. A relative of mine bought one of those rifles first, and was also the first one of my shooting buddies to suppress it. It was jaw-dropping quiet. But the real surprise was just how accurate it is. The stock leaves a bit to be desired, as it is a light, thin plastic stock. It is apparent that Savage put the most effort into the barrel, action, and trigger of the rifle. It has a bull (thick) barrel, which also happens to be fluted. Here’s a good picture of the rifle itself:
(click image to enlarge)
Photo credit: http://www.savagearms.com/firearms/model/MARKIIFVSR
There are some really nice features on this rifle:
- The Accu-trigger feature allows the trigger to be adjusted
- It comes with a factory Weaver rail for scope ring attachment
- It has a factory threaded barrel
- It has sling mount attachments
- The rifle is extremely light so it is easy to carry afield
- It has an oversize bolt knob
- The price. I paid $235 for mine.
The oversize bolt knob is something that many people have mixed opinions about the first time they pick up the rifle. I was one of those people. But after shooting it, I found that the oversize bolt is actually quite nice. In fact, once I got used to it, I plan to add that feature to some of my other rifles.
I have the DIP cheek riser installed on my rifle: http://www.diproductsinc.com/Detail.aspx?PROD=111998. It costs about $30 and I found it necessary to get the proper cheek weld on the rifle once I installed a scope. The scope I chose is a Mueller 8.5×25. http://muelleroptics.com/mt852544
I really think the perfect scope for this rifle is the 4.5×14 AO by Mueller: http://muelleroptics.com/mapv451440. I chose the 4.5×14 because it offers the happy medium between shooting recreationally from a bench and hunting. Once can still see and hit small objects at 50 yards, but at the lowest setting one has quick enough acquisition to make it viable for hunting varmints.
If one did not intend to use a suppressor on the rifle, there are other options from Savage that are available at about the same price point. One could move up to the CZ, which can still be had for under $400 if one takes the time to look. But for the money and based on the accuracy that Savage is capable of with the right ammo, the FV-SR is very hard to beat.
Within my small group of shooting buddies, we have three of those rifles. All of which we shoot suppressed. And all three of them are extremely accurate. If one of my (more expensive) CZ rifles is having a bad day, the Savage will often surpass it. It just depends upon what lot number of ammo is available (that I can actually get my hands on from Champion Shooters Supply, such as Eley, Wolf, SK, RWS, etc) and how the rifles like it. A nicer CZ, like a 452 or 455 Varmint, will usually out shoot a Savage. Note I said usually. Not always. And a lot of it depends on how the rifle and the ammo are in sync, not to mention the shooter. Here’s what a typical day at the range looks like with our Savage FV-SRs.
(click photo to enlarge)
A steady bench, decent ammo, and a halfway decent rifle rest (or even some sandbags), are all anyone needs to have a banner day at the range. These rifles are accurate enough to consistently break the smaller sized paintballs at 50 yards. I even made a stand for just that purpose:
(click to enlarge)
The photo above shows a couple different sizes of paintballs sitting on gold tees to keep them from rolling around. Paintballs are a good choice so long as you make sure you get the biodegradable ones. And once the paintballs are gone, the Savage FV-SR, with good ammo, is capable of cutting the golf tees in half. We do this exclusively at 50 yards.
The most fun I have at the range is shooting my .22 rifles and pistols. I find that if I spend, say, $5 on a box of .22 ammo for the rifles, I can usually hit exactly what I’m aiming for so long as I do my part and the wind isn’t too bad. For the pistols, I use whatever reasonably priced standard velocity ammo I can find. Nothing fancy is needed for the pistols.
It is my sincerest hope that this article will help people consider shooting .22s if they haven’t done so already. They are a lot of fun to shoot and they don’t break the bank doing it.
Happy and Safe Shooting to all,