December 2008

Bolt-Action 22 Trio: Two Old, One New, All Good for Our Team

The players: An early Marlin Model 80-DL, $200, a Winchester Model 69A, $400, and a new $298 Marlin Model 980S. The results: We liked the older ones, but the newer one is just fine.

Bolt-action 22 rifles are among the most basic and useful of all firearms. They are fine trainers and excellent tools for a variety of uses limited only by the imagination of the owner. We’ve seen ‘em used for just about anything, and about the only constant is that decent 22 bolt rifles generally have long and useful lives. In this comparison we look at two older 22s by Winchester and Marlin, and a new Marlin as well.

The rifles are an early Marlin Model 80-DL, $200, a Winchester Model 69A, $400, and a new Marlin Model 980S, $298. The two early rifles take Shorts and Longs as well as Long Rifles. The new one takes only 22LR. They all had iron sights and detachable magazines. They were grooved for "tip-off" mounts. The two early rifles had walnut stocks and blued barrels.

The new Marlin had a black synthetic stock and stainless barrel and action. All the rifles were adult size, with good weight and reasonable dimensions. We tested them with CCI Velocitor HP, Federal Classic round-nose, Eley Match EPS, and Remington Yellow Jacket HPs.

Bear in mind the Winchester Model 69A and Marlin 80-DL are not modern rifles. If you choose to buy one, be sure you get it all, and that it functions when you buy it. Spare parts are going to be hard to find. Gunsmiths might refuse to work on them. If you need a simple rifle you’ll find many modern ones cheaper, easier to find, and far less risky over the long haul. We don’t condemn the older rifles, but the buyer must be aware there are plenty of choices in 22 bolt rifles today. But if you happen to come across one of the old blued-steel and walnut 22 bolt rifles, they might please you as no modern rifle can. Here’s what we found.

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