We are in an interesting time in firearms development. We currently have more options on the firearms market than ever before. The rifle you buy from shop could barely resemble the final rifle you pass down to your grand-kids if that’s what you choose. The best of the best .22 rifles all have a few things in common: quality, reliability, availability of aftermarket parts and the overall reputation of the rifle.
So to jump right into it here are the top 4 .22 rifles:
Best .22 Rifle
The best .22 is the Ruger 10/22. It’s the old standby that everyone loves. In terms of function, it’s hard to beat. In terms of price it’s about as good as it gets. As for everything else, well it’s a Ruger!
It is the most customizable rifle behind the ar15 and is offered in dozens of different models from Ruger. The aftermarket support of this rifle is unbelievable. Bull barrels, stocks, even trigger assemblies can be installed for a truly custom rifle. Whole forums are dedicated to this design and the used market for older rifles is fantastic. This truly is one of the best .22 rifles to reach the masses.
The newest incarnation of the rifle is the takedown version. The takedown is a two-piece design that allows the rifle to be carried in a case no bigger than a book bag. The gun still shoots like a normal gun but it comes apart, without change of zero, to allow easier transport. This is almost like the old school rifle, but the when assembled the rifle is a true blue 10/22!
The other notable update to the rifle is the BX25 Magazine. It is an easy to find banana style rifle magazine for the 10/22 that is built like a tank and just as reliable. The magazine was a welcomed sight because Ruger took a while getting a high quality magazine out that held enough rounds for range use.
Best .22 Semi Auto Rifle
Smith & Wesson M&P 15/22
The black rifles are here to stay. The finest of the .22lr ar-15 pattern rifles comes from the revolver guys. Smith & Wesson puts out a great product that looks, and despite weight, feels just like a 5.56NATO ar-15.
As far as customization is concerned; it’s an ar15 pattern rifle. Other magazines everything that can go on a “regular” ar-15 can go on this rifle.
Caliber conversions for the ar-15 abound so why buy an entire other gun? The reliability is one thing; the whole gun has been designed for rimfire. The springs inside the lower receiver don’t strike as hard to account for rimfire ignition. Having an entire other gun is valuable to have more than one shooter use the range at once, or even to give to someone as their first ar-15. The rifle itself is extremely high quality. Any person who’d never held an ar-15 wouldn’t know it wasn’t a “real” ar-15.
The only meaningful differences is the charging handle is shorter on the M&P 15/22, and the lower receiver is polymer and also different dimensions than standard ar-15s but not much to give up for reliable practice. They made the lower receiver a different dimension to keep full power upper receivers off the gun and not making people pay for a full strength lower when it isn’t needed.
Best .22 Bolt Action Rifle
Ruger American Rifle
The Ruger American rifle is a tribute to modern production. An affordable accurate design made cheaper by mass production and technology. It’s not uncommon to see the Ruger American Rifles to group 1 to 11/2 MOA with high quality ammo. The Ruger American Rimfire bring the same design, technology and expertise to rimfire cartridges. Coming in a synthetic stock and free floated barrel the Ruger American combines the best features that are normally only found on centerfire high end rifles.
The stock itself is extremely well thought out. Pillar bedding along the action, lightweight with grip section to get a secure hold when you need to, a generous trigger guard and a tang safety for convenience. The other part of the stock that really needs to be recognized is the removable cheek comb. The rifle ships with two cheek risers, a flat top one, a taller one for scope use. Because rimfire .22s are often used with iron sights but may be outfitted with a scope for hunting, they made it easy to use both. No awkward “Chin” weld when using a scope, and no extremely tall proprietary sights to fit over comb of the stock.
Clearly this rifle is well thought out and deserves a title of “Sniper .22” but it’s main call will be hunting and .22 target rifle. The accuracy of the bolt action .22 rifle, with the ergonomics and lightweight reliable design make it at home in the field or on the range. The adjustable stock is a great feature and fits seamlessly with the action and barrel. The rifle as a whole is hard to beat event though it typically retails for more than other .22lr rifles.
Best .22 Rifle for the Money
Marlin Model 60
Very cheap new, and extremely cheap when used these rifles are what many shooters grew up with. The 17 shot tubular magazine can be annoying to reload, even dangerous if you do it wrong. It is attached so you don’t have to worry about losing the mag. The rifles have been historically accurate despite the tubular magazine and the semi auto action is reliable and very fun to shoot. Cleaning is a breeze because of the simple design. The barrel is on the short size at 19 inches but totally long enough for the .22 cartridge.
This rifle is special because it seems like a natural progression from a rough rider BB gun. The rifle comes in either a wood or synthetic stock with a decent trigger. The price is right so go ahead and upgrade the sights with a fixed 4x power scope and this may be one of the ultimate squirrel and vermin hunting rifles. It’s lightweight and short, fits great on a backpack and carries all day with no effort.
The Ubiquitous .22LR
The .22 caliber bore is a special one. One of the few calibers to make the conversion over to smokeless powder from black powder the .22lr showed promise as the way of the future in its day. A small trapper’s gun for dispatching game or ranchers chasing vermin the .22 was a utilitarian round. It’s cheap, shortages notwithstanding, and fun to shoot. This history of the .22 is long and the uses it’s had over the years is fascinating.
The .22 is perhaps the most common and beloved caliber in the world. Stories abound of the limitless capabilities of the cartridge. A realistic overview of the cartridge puts it strictly in the small game territory. It is banned in every state for deer hunting, although people do hunt feral hogs with it hunters are frowned upon hunting with the cartridge.
The main reason being the ballistic energy of the cartridge. Of course loads vary but you can generally expect a 40gr bullet to travel around 950fps. It won’t penetrate deeply and will normally violently expand. To make matters worse the vast majority of bullets stuffed into 22lr cases are pure lead or soft alloys that make bad bullets for medium to large game.
A bad hunting round for big game still has merit. The two redeeming qualities are the low power and the cheap cost per round. The very attribute that makes the round bad for hunting big game makes it great for small game and target shooting because the little power makes little recoil. The low recoil, low noise round makes an ideal target and practice round as well as small game shooting.
The low cost of the round comes from a combination of three factors from lower grade brass being used to form the rimfire case and cheap pure lead bullets used to stock the rounds. The second reason the cartridge is so cheap is the lack of a primer. Not only do you not need to pay for the primer you don’t have to pay to have the primer pushed in and crimped or to have the bullet crimped. The final reason the .22lr is so cheap is that large amounts can be sold for cheap because the rounds are so small huge amounts can be shipped for cheap.
Choosing a Rifle Type and Style
.22 rifles, more so than any other, have an extremely broad range of available rifle and aftermarket rifles. Specialized rifles can be had for just about anything you could need a .22 for. For versatility nothing beats the Ruger 10/22 second only to the 1911 and the Ar-15. Speaking of which both the 1911 and the Ar-15 comes in .22lr rifles.
As a rule, .22 rifles are made from materials that cost less than their centerfire counterparts. These cheaper materials are easier to machine and making the rifles cost quite a bit less. This price difference is in no way meaning the rifles are low quality, it just means the rifles cost less to produce because thee .22lr cartridge doesn’t create large amounts of powder.
The main problem with the .22 for hunting is the lack of power and cheap construction. In a paradox these two things are also the greatest attributes of the .22lr. For starters, the cartridge is rimfire, which means a potential for unreliable ignition and a dirty powder burn. The rimfire also means feeding issues in semi-automatic weapons is potentially a problem because of the loose quality control of .22 ammo lines.
The next problem is the bullets used for the .22lr. The bullets used to stoke the round are often pure lead, or weak alloys. This is great for violent expansion but bad for penetration and stopping power. The calling card of the .22 is small game at close range. Stories abound of its use, often illegal, on larger game but the truth remains anyone pursuing hogs, deer, or coyotes is performing a stunt that makes us all look bad. Responsible hunters must use appropriate weapons for all game we pursue.
Be sure when you wield your .22 you know what to do and how to use it. Most .22 rifles cannot be dry fired for practice. The strengths gained in dry fire practice can be huge for knowing your weapon but because of the rimfire ignition design the firing pin slaps the side of the chamber and will erode the chamber and break the firing pin. Always use snap caps in firearms when dry practicing:
Sights and Scopes
The sights and scopes on the best .22 rifle should be the absolute best for the job you have in mind. Magnified optics of fixed 4x power are the best for hunting with .22 rifles because of the simplicity and low cost of high quality glass. The target shooter or prairie varmint shooter however will need higher magnification and a 2-7x will serve the best.
Most magnified optics for .22 rifles will have parallax set at 50 yards because of the limited range of the .22lr cartridge. Try and stay from excessively heavy centerfire models with high magnification because their heavy weight will throw off the balance of a .22 rifle and many of the features will be wasted.
Iron sights can be a fun way to teach marksmanship and many .22 rifles come with iron sights mounted on the gun. For udder simplicity and rugger reliability these are hard to beat. If looking to upgrade iron sights to aperture sights or fiber optics, many options are available in the aftermarket.
The .22 rifle is an American classic. Every “Gun guy” has a .22lr rifle tucked away in the closet or in the safe. The majority of .22 rifles are shot at the range teaching new shooters and young hunters how use a firearm and how to take game. The .22lr cartridge is cheap, affordable and fun despite being underpowered for anything bigger than a large rabbit.
Many of the most mass produced guns of all time such as the Marlin Model60 and the Ruger 10/22 have earned reputations for firearm companies that will last forever. The best .22lr can be customized to be your rifle with scopes stocks and even suppressors. The .22lr round may be hard to find for now but it’ll live on forever just like it’s done since the black powder days.