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Every shooter loves the .22 Long Rifle!
By Martin Potgieter from www.gunsandguns.co.uk
Yes, every shooter loves the .22 Long Rifle, and if you’re a shooter and don’t have at least one .22, you’re really missing out on this fantastic calibre. For one: it's accurate, two: it’s cheap to shoot and three: it’s easy to keep quiet. The list of reasons to shoot or own a .22 goes on and on...
The .22 Long Rifle cartridge dates back to 1887 - yes the late 1800s! - with the .22 long dating back to 1871 and the .22 short dating even further back to 1857 (which makes it the oldest metallic cartridge still in production). The .22 Long Rifle was originally a black powder cartridge firing a 40gr bullet, first developed by Joshua Stevens specifically for his single shot ‘Ideal’ and ‘Favourite’ model Stevens rifles. I am sure Mr Stevens would turn in his grave if he knew how popular his cartridge had become, let alone how many rifles have been chambered in the .22 Long rifle cartridge.
In the UK we have quite a good selection of second hand .22 LR rifles to pick from, with the CZ being the most popular Bolt Action rifle in .22 LR and the Ruger 10/22 being the leading semi-auto in the same calibre. I would stop right there, both the aforementioned rifles are excellent choices in their respective classes and buying either would result in many happy years shooting and reliable service.
With a special mention to the Ruger 10/22, if you haven’t owned or shot a Ruger 10/22 you’re missing out; there’s a reason Ruger has made and sold over 7 million of these rifles. The 10/22 can be customised any way you want, with upgrades and aftermarket parts for literally every component of the rifle. The rifle comes with a high quality 10-round rotary magazine, which is perhaps the key to its reliability and success. Larger capacity aftermarket magazines are also available, 25 round and even 50 round drum magazines can be found. Perhaps the only negative comment I can make about this rifle is the field stripping; you need to remove the take down screw, and then remove the barrelled action from the stock which will allow you to remove the trigger group and then the bolt.
Another great .22 from Ruger is the bolt action 77/22, which is a high quality rifle using the same 10-shot rotary magazine as the 10/22, normally good value for money on the UK market.
Top to Bottom: Ruger 10/22 Target Laminate, Ruger 10/22 FAB defence tactical, Ruger 10/22 Hogue stock, Ruger 77/22 Bolt action.
I would like to share some other .22 LR options that you might want to consider, all of which can be found on the second hand market right here in the UK. All the rifles I mention, I would have personally owned or tested at some point.
I will start with one of my favourites and certainly the most iconic American .22 Long Rifle and also the rifle that’s been in continuous production for the longest. If you haven’t guessed which rifle I’m talking about, here’s another clue. The rifle was one of Annie Oakley’s, the famous Wild West trick shot, favorites. Yes, it’s the Marlin 39A.
Marlin Model 39A
This an excellent lever action rifle, arguably the best .22 lever action. It’s capable of feeding .22 Long Rifle, .22 Long and .22 Short - not that you’ll be able to find any longs, and even 22 shorts are hard to come by these days. The rifle has an under-barrel tubular magazine, which is front loaded, except for the original 1891 model which was loaded via a side gate, just like a centre fire lever action. This was changed to front loading because as you can imagine, trying to push the tiny .22 rounds into a side gate would be quite testing. The magazine takes 19 rounds of .22 LR, so plenty of shooting before you need to reload.
The Marlin is an extremely well made rifle, the receiver is machined from steel with a coin slotted takedown screw, which is located on the right-hand side of the receiver. Only by taking the rifle apart does one really get to appreciate the quality of the workmanship, it’s a perfect fit. The rifle has a 24-inch barrel and weighs in at almost 3kg (6.5lbs), so a very solid rifle. It feels and handles more like a centre fire rifle than a .22. The rifle ejects on the right-hand side, so it’s easy to mount a scope without affecting reliability, and the buckhorn rear sight can fold down, for a super low mount.
A handy set-up is with Weaver style quick detachable rings, which allows you to use a scope or switch back to a more slender setup with the open sights. I think this lever action is often overlooked by UK shooters and perhaps discarded as a novelty gun, but it’s certainly an excellent target or working rifle. It’s an accurate and very reliable rifle which scores 10/10 when it comes to quality and definitely in my personal list of top 10 rifles ever owned.
Marlin Model 39A fitted with Leupold 1-5x20 telescopic sight
My next recommendation is one of John Moses Browning’s designs, the SA-22 or FN Browning SA-22. This is seen as the first semi-auto .22 LR, made from 1914 and if the internet serves me right, it’s still in production today. The Winchester Model 1903 preceded it as the first commercially successful semi-auto rifle, but the Winchester was not offered in .22 LR but instead it was chambered in the .22 Winchester Automatic, because in 1903 most .22 LR cartridges were either black powder or not manufactured to a high enough standard to reliably cycle a blowback semi-auto action.
Back to the SA-22, this is a pretty slim and light takedown rifle, with the barrel being able to easily detach from the receiver, a feature present in many of the vintage .22’s. This obviously makes cleaning easy and allows for compact storage or transportation. The receiver is machined from solid steel, the spent case ejection is underneath the rifle as opposed to the normal side or even top ejection. Loading is by means of a tubular magazine located in the buttstock. The newer models have a loading port on the side of the stock and have grooves machined into the top of the receiver for fitting your scope, where the early models have the loading port located on the top of the stock, right above the pistol grip and these vintage models wouldn’t have grooves for a scope.
This isn‘t just any takedown, the design is very clever, ingenious in fact, it incorporates a collar which you can adjust in case the head spacing gets affected over time as you take the rifle apart and reassemble it.
Example of the Browning SA-22
The next recommendation is more a type of rifle in .22LR, rather than a specific make or model: it’s the pump action .22.
They’re all slimline, lightweight, accurate and reliable. The pump action gives you the reliability of a manual action without having to move your trigger hand, plus cycling the pump action is great fun! Most of these rifles have a tube fed, under-barrel magazine with a decent capacity, with the exception of some rare box magazine pump action rifles like the BSA or Savage M1909. There are quite a number of makes and models in the pump action configuration to choose from in the UK. This action seems to be less popular with the current or younger shooters - it might just be a case of not knowing they exist.
Winchester’s Models 1890, 1906, 62 and 62A are all variants of the same John Browning’s pump action design dating back to 1890, with the model 1890 being perhaps the most desirable, certainly from a collector’s point of view. These Winchester models all unlock with the firing pin, so if the exposed hammer either strikes or is lowered onto the firing pin, the action is unlocked, to cycle and load another round. It’s worth knowing and understanding this design if you’re interested in one of the aforementioned models.
Perhaps a safety concern for some, if you have a live round chambered and then you wish to clear and make the rifle safe, in which case you would need to lower the hammer onto a live round (needless to say, carefully and with the rifle pointed in a safe direction), this will then unlock the action. I’ve owned and shot a number of these rifles and they’re very reliable and accurate as you’d expect from a John Browning design.
Top to Bottom: FN Trombone, Winchester Model 62A, B.S.A. Pump Action, Remington Model 12A
The newer pump action models have a distinct action release, normally a button located near the trigger, very similar to any modern day pump action shotgun. The FN Trombone is probably the best option, again a John Browning design dating from 1922, manufactured in Belgium by Fabrique National (FN). The Trombone is a side eject action with a scope rail milled into the receiver, two features that few other pump actions have.
Another often overlooked option is the BSA pump action, as far as I’m aware there’s no real model designation for this rifle, other than the BSA .22 pump action. There were two pump action variants from BSA, the tube fed version and the rare, already mentioned box magazine pump action rifle.
With the mention of the BSA brand, to be honest any of the BSA .22 rifles I’ve owned or shot have been of an excellent quality, with British manufacturing at its best. The BSA .22 probably justifies a whole article dedicated just to the various BSA models. BSA would have a competitor to almost every rifle I mention in this article, with the exception of the lever action.
The models range from the single shot rifles built on the mini Martini action, to the Sportsman and Supersport bolt action rifles. Not to forget the super unique and collectable BSA RALOC semi-auto .22.
My last recommendation is one of the many vintage Winchester .22 models, but one that keeps showing up on the UK market well below the price it's worth. The Winchester Model 74 was manufactured between 1939 and 1955. With over 400,000 of these rifles made, Winchester must have done something right. The rifle was available in both .22 LR and .22 Short, here in the UK the short version is a bit of a rare find and the same could be said for .22 Short ammunition.
An interesting fact about this rifle is that during the Second World War, a small number of these rifles were sent to the British home guard in 1942. The rifles were fitted with a Parker Hale ‘silencer’ and a telescopic sight. In the event of a German invasion, the rifles could be used in a guerrilla war and possibly for assassinations and perhaps a means of getting food for the larder. Along with the Second World War nostalgia, this rifle is a very good sporting rifle. Not the best looking rifle I admit, but it makes up for it in reliability and a 14-round tubular magazine, full size walnut stock, steel butt plate and 24-inch barrel. With a definite feel of “they don’t make them like they used to”. Field stripping is straightforward with the model 74, there’s a notch at the rear of the receiver that’s pressed in and it releases the bolt to be pulled for easy access to the barrel and moving parts for cleaning. The safety is located on top of the receiver, right above the charging handle, locking the trigger and action.
Winchester Model 74 on the left fitted with a vintage scope, on the right is a view of the stock and receiver
In summary, my advice to you is to get a .22 LR if you don’t already have one. Or if you do, get another .22 LR. Get a Marlin 39A, any pump action .22, any BSA .22, a Browning SA-22, get a Ruger or a CZ, or get a Winchester model 74 or any Winchester .22 made before 1964 for that matter, or any .22.