Personal – Almost my secret sin, if given a choice I would love to blow a thousand rounds at the range with a bolt action .22… It takes almost all day to cook off that much ammo, but it sure is fun.. and great for kids. Millions of squirrels have been taken for the pot with bolt .22 rifles, I tried to take as many as I could with my turn bolt as a young kid… If you do not have a .22 rifle you should get one, in the long run most likely to most productive way to get small game for the table, from birds to rabbit if it sits still for a split second it is pot meat… A good quality manufactured example should last a lifetime.
Function – Excellent reliable function if reasonably made, Mongo turn bolt, Mongo pull trigger with bugger hook, fire stick go BOOM. Ok, so not every .22 is that easy, well, actually it is, almost, let’s start with the bad one first –
Romanian M-69 .22LR Training Rifle – The worst of the lot, lots of flaws. For starters, it is ugly and poorly finished, I had two because they were so inexpensive, and they shared problems… Trigger was crap, and the spring for the firing pin must have been of low strength because about every ten rounds you would have to cock it a second time to fire (both rifles were like this). Reasonable to good accuracy when you don’t mangle a bullet from the magazine to the barrel, this happened almost every round. Sold them don’t miss them.
Russian Tula TOZ-78, Winchester Wildcat – my current go to general use .22, when I get a chance to hunt small game or just shoot short range off hand this is the rifle I pull out of the safe first. The trigger is adjustable and is crisp and smooth almost as good as the Remington (listed below). This is now imported as the Winchester Wildcat bolt action rifle. I purchased this rifle in its original Russian format – the Wildcat is a modified version of this rifle with non-adjustable trigger typical cheep stamped sights (worse than the russian sights) and a bit nicer wood stock.
Norinco JW15 – I miss this rifle, I sold it and would love to find a second one (if I could find a good price) accuracy on par with the Tula, but the trigger was not as nice, and the bolt not as smooth in operation. Safety was awkward and rough in operation but better than the Romanian rifle.
Marlin Model 980S – I gave this rifle to a member of the family, it is an excellent .22 with excellent accuracy. Stainless model was almost maintenance free, the trigger was acceptable, but could be much better.
Remington 513 Matchmaster – A CMP rifle that is the best NON SPECIALIZED .22 I have ever fired, accuracy is superior with premium target .22 lr it will shoot tighter than 1/2 MOA.
Design flaws – Strangely almost all .22 bolt guns share one particular problem, feeding the small rounds from a magazine into the bore often results in the bullet scraping the top of the entry port and sometimes shaving some lead off or mangling the bullet, however Marlin figured this out I do not know how but the Marlin clip fed bolt actions do not do this, I think it is the magazine design.
Romanian M-69 – The feed ramp and magazine are poorly designed and lots of lead would get shaved off the bullet going into the barrel or the bullet would get bent out of the casing (if you were not watching) the safety was awkward to the point of unusable and the magazine was of poor design and function. Typical eastern sights of very poor quality a hooded front post and square slot rear “flip up” range selection. Magazine catch lever was primitive bent spring metal.
Russian Tula TOZ-78 – A relatively smooth working action. The stock is a bright wood, I cover it with a slip on camo cover when needed. Light and accurate but shares a similar feed issue with the Romanian .22 you have to be careful when pushing the cartridge into the chamber so as not to shave off lead. A little work on the feed ramp and port are necessary, the plastic magazine works well but the rifle only had one magazine and I cannot find a spare. I would like better rear sights, but they work well for typical russian Post and square notch with turning rear to adjust for elevation by 25 meter increments. I don’t like the placement of the safety at the bottom front side of the magazine well, but you can get to it with the left hand while holding it. The magazine release button is a dedicated part in front of the magazine/trigger guard projection piece and is awkward due to placement inside a slotted front section.
Norinco JW15 – Stiff action, simple construction, a typical Chinese copy of a european rifle (BRNOish) sights were crappy, but the rifle worked nicely with an inexpensive scope, similar to the Marlin. Magazine catch and release lever is a primitive bent spring assembly that takes a dedicated finger or thumb pressure.
Marlin Model 980S – Stiff action, but solid and simple, with a simple bent sheet metal extractor and guide. This rifle has a cheesy synthetic stock, but it is light weight and functional. Similar to the norinco the magazine catch is primitive and takes a dedicated finger or thumb to release.
Remington 513 Matchmaster – Smooth bolt action with excellent machining, excellent trigger, mediocre plastic magazine, heavy – in fact, far too heavy for reasonable carry for small game hunting, this is a full featured target rifle. Magazine catch is also primitive for a rifle this well manufactured.
Only the Remington had a full length stock comfortable for full sized male shooters, the Tula and Marlin were close and function in that regard well enough.
Quality – Varying quality from basement construction to top notch… They can go from reasonable accuracy to superior and from poor fit and finish to first world commercial quality. Buy what you can afford, past the bargain basement versions unless restricted by budget. Any of the listed rifles are good utilitarian choices that would serve well as field rifles (Except the heavy target Remington).
Caliber/Ammunition – .22 LR is very inexpensive ammunition with almost no recoil, even the bulk box .22 LR can be reasonably accurate. If you choose target grade ammunition they can be shocking in accuracy, high velocity rounds can be effective in hunting even larger game with proper placement. In backwoods areas many whitetail deer were dropped with head shots using the .22 LR (that was actually legal at one time).
Use – Easy to strip and clean (not that you need to at all with non corrosive .22 LR) EVERY collection should have at least one.
Current production – The Tula (as the Wildcat), and Marlin rifles are under current production.
I consider the .22 rifle a necessary utilitarian tool, too many brands to name are in current production, and they are popular, easy to find, and inexpensive to buy and feed. They make adult and child models and make a great trainer and hunting tool. Many excellent models are available that I have not listed here almost any name brand in the US will have at least one offering of .22LR in a bolt action.
Watch for my next post about a new offering from Savage!