Rimfire Field-Rifle Shoot-out: Marlin, Mossberg, and Ruger

To find the best 22 LR self-loading rifle, we fired them with iron sights, a red dot, and with rifle scopes. Tested: The Marlin 7000, Mossberg Plinkster, and Rugers 10-22 M1 Commemorative.


Marlin 7000

In this installment, we test three rimfire rifles from three makers. The genre is the very popular and flexible field-gun description. The 22 LR rifle is an excellent trainer, a favorite recreational shooter, and a great small-game rifle. The rimfire is the one rifle every rifleman must have. The field gun is by definition, and the definition is liberal, a versatile go-anywhere get-anything shooter. Informal practice and small-game shooting are great pastimes. And while we are not focusing on personal defense, we should note that a good quality 22-caliber self-loader is a formidable firearm in skilled hands. Is a 22 LR a self-defense chambering we’d recommend? No. Have untold numbers of bad guys been deterred by being hit with a 22 LR round fired from a pistol or rifle? Yes. So reliability is important as well.

Marlin 7000

Mossberg Plinkster

Commemorative version of the Ruger 10-22

The rifle we are looking for should be light but not too light. It should be light enough for carrying for a day in the field, but it should have sufficient heft for good offhand shooting. While we carefully measure accuracy by firing from a solid bench rest, we also want a rifle that retains a good portion of its accuracy in offhand fire. Thus, a good balance of weight and a decent trigger action are desirable traits.

Range Data

CCI Velocitor 22 LR 40-gr. Marlin 7000 Ruger 10-22 M1 Commemorative Mossberg Plinkster
Average velocity 1400 fps 1354 fps 1388 fps
Muzzle energy 174 ft.-lbs. 162 ft.-lbs. 171 ft.-lbs.
Average group 1.3 in. 2.6 in. 2.3 in.
Fiocchi HV 22 LR 40-gr.
Average velocity 1255 fps 1240 fps 1267 fps
Muzzle energy 139 ft.-lbs. 136 ft.-lbs. 142 ft.-lbs.
Average group 1 in. 2.75 in. 3.3 in.
Winchester M22 22 LR 40-gr.
Average velocity 1219 fps 1227 fps 1238 fps
Muzzle energy 131 ft.-lbs. 133 ft.-lbs. 136 ft.-lbs.
Average group 1.2 in. 2.9 in. 3.6 in.
Notes: To collect accuracy data, we fired five-shot groups off a bench rest. Distance: 50 yards. We recorded velocity with a Competition Electronics Chrony Chronograph. The first sky screen was 10 feet from the muzzle.
Ammunition notes: We purchased the CCI Velocitor for $7.39/50 rounds at MidwayUSA.com; the Fiocchi HV for $6.50/50 rounds at BulkAmmo.com), and the Winchester M22 for $75/1000 rounds at SportsmansGuide.com)

Ruger M1 10-22

Historically, probably more 22 LR rifles have been set up as bolt actions, but because of their light recoil and shot-to-shot speed, self-loading rifles are the biggest sellers today. To keep prices in check, we selected a mix of readily available used and new firearms as well as optics for greater coverage of the best choices. As noted above, reliability is always important, but in this test, we allowed that if the firearm occasionally ties up and we lose a squirrel, we were more willing to give a gun a pass than if we were testing personal-defense firearms. It is almost a given that a 22 self-loading rifle malfunctions from time to time, and the fault is more often due to the construction of the 22 rimfire cartridge than any other single variable. We searched for ideal rifles and found some good picks. All had good points. Here’s how they performed on a gun-by-gun basis.

Mossberg 702 Plinkster 22 LR, $160


Mossberg 702 PlinKster 22 LR

The Plinkster is the least-expensive rifle tested and the lightest. Reliability was perfect, with no malfunctions. But it wasn’t as accurate as the other rifles.

ACTION Semi-auto
OVERALL HEIGHT (w/ scope) 4.2 in.
ACTION FINISH Black anodized
STOCK Synthetic
WARRANTY 2-year limited
TELEPHONE (203) 230-5300
WEBSITE Mossberg.com

Mossberg 702 PlinKster 22 LR

This was a recent price at Cabelas.com, but it looks like Mossberg no longer offers the stock finish we tested. Most Plinksters are offered as our test gun was set up, with adjustable rifle sights, but one unit, the #37044, can be purchased with a 4x riflescope. The Plinkster has several attributes that stood out. It is the lightest rifle as well as the least expensive. The Plinkster is obviously modeled after the famous Marlin Model 60 rifles, so it has a mechanical resemblance to the Marlin 7000 also tested. The action and the controls are nearly identical. However, the Marlin 7000, in common with the original Model 60, features a safety located behind the trigger in the trigger guard. The Plinkster safety is placed in common with the Ruger 10-22 in front of the trigger in the trigger guard. We had no clear preference for either safety location, and each safety worked well enough for all raters.

Mossberg 702 PlinKster 22 LR

The trigger action broke at 5.65 pounds. We found it interesting that the Plinkster and the Marlin 7000 did not use the same magazines, taking into account their similarities. We used the supplied 10-round magazine, and we also ordered an additional 25-round magazine that resembles an AR-15 magazine for use with the Plinkster ($30 at AcademySports.com) This made the firing tests go faster because there was no need to stop and load magazines.

The Plinkster features conventional sights, with an open rear and post front sight. However, instead of using a leaf to adjust elevation, the Plinkster sight features a screw that is moved for elevation. This was a simple change that allowed easy adjustment. The rear-sight leaf folds down, which we liked. The rear sight features an open notch, and the front post allows a good aiming point. Some liked the Plinkster sights better than the Ruger M1, but the votes were split. The stock is similar to the Marlin 7000 in outline, but with a Schnabel forend. The Plinkster, however, seems to have the lighter stock. The Plinkster is light at 4 pounds and would never be a burden on the shoulder. Fired offhand, the rifle was useful enough. We liked the fact that there were no malfunctions of any type with either magazine. The 25-round-capacity magazine neatly snaps into place, and a lever on the magazine is used to actuate the magazine release, which is covered by the new magazine. The magazine isn’t difficult to load.

Mossberg 702 PlinKster 22 LR

Fired for accuracy at 50 yards, the Plinkster was the least accurate rifle tested. As one of the raters noted, it was still fine for knocking a squirrel out of a tree at tip-top tree-limb distance. And it wasn’t inaccurate at all, with our shooters getting groups of 3 to 4 inches at 50 yards.

Our Team Said: The Plinkster is obviously intended for plinking, not accuracy work, and it lived up to its name. We rated the rifle down a grade based on poor accuracy compared to the other rifles. Just the same, we feel that we got our money’s worth.

Marlin 7000 22 LR, $225


Marlin 7000 22 LR

Though the Marlin 7000 appears to be out of production, we were still able buy one at retail. We like the handling, the magazine disconnect, and the accuracy of this rifle.

ACTION Semi-auto
OVERALL HEIGHT (w/ scope) 5.9 in.
WEIGHT SCOPED (as tested) 5.8 lbs.
STOCK Black synthetic
WARRANTY None, used
TELEPHONE (844) 700-0870
WEBSITE MarlinFirearms.com

Marlin 7000 22 LR

This was a recent counter price at SCGunCo.com. The Marlin 7000 is a much-modernized Marlin Model 60 variant, or perhaps more properly, a early Marlin 795 variant. Rather than the Model 60’s long tubular under-the-barrel magazine, the Model 7000 uses a 10-round box magazine. The rifle features a well-designed synthetic stock that we like a lot. The stock is nicely fitted to the action. The Model 7000 is well balanced and shoulders well for fast shooting, our shooters said.

Marlin 7000 22 LR

We ordered an additional 7-round magazine ($17 from Brownells.com) for a contrast in handling, since it didn’t protrude as much from the bottom of the gun. For serviceability, we would order a 10-round magazine next time, but the 7-round magazine is neat and easy to handle. A limiting factor during the test was the magazine capacity of each rifle. The Ruger rifles could easily spit out 25 rounds from the X-series magazine, which we had plenty of, while the Plinkster was used with a single 25-round and one 10-round magazine. The Marlin had only a 10-round magazine as purchased. This is fine for hunting, but having a limited magazine selection cut into the recreational value of the rifle. The primary advantage of the Marlin is the bull barrel. This heavy barrel played a part, we are certain, in the rifle’s excellent accuracy. Because the Marlin lacked any sights, we fitted a BSA 4x rifle scope on the Marlin ($35 at Cabelas.com). This scope was supplied with rings and mounts and was easily sighted in.

Marlin 7000 22 LR

The Marlin 7000 is the heaviest rifle tested at 5.8 pounds with the scope attached. The trigger is also the heaviest of the rifles tested, requiring 6.2 pounds of compression to release. This heavy trigger was smooth enough, but we would have preferred a lighter break. Just the same, the Marlin 7000 was the most accurate rifle tested. We fired the rifle in the same drills as the other rifles. It took somewhat longer to fire 100 rounds offhand in the Marlin. We had at best 17 rounds in a string, firing one magazine and then reloading with the other, then we had to reload the two magazines. The groups were smaller, and we hit better compared to the other rifles.

The rifle came to the shoulder quickly, and we were able to get minute-of-animal accuracy for short-range squirrel hunting and excellent accuracy at longer range as well. The rifle suffered a single malfunction with the Velocitor load, a failure to fully feed with a spent cartridge case caught in the ejection port. We like the bolt hold open. This device is used to hold the bolt open, and when the rifle is loaded, the lever may be used to lower the bolt on a loaded magazine as well. Also, unique among the rifles, the Marlin features a magazine safety. If the magazine is not inserted, the rifle will not fire. This combination of features was appreciated.

Our Team Said: What we liked most about the rifle was its accuracy. The Marlin fired groups as small as 0.75 inch at 50 yards. The other rifles were not as accurate. The combination of features and economy made the Marlin 7000 a solid Best Buy.

Ruger 10-22 M1 Commemorative Rifle 22 LR, $340


Ruger 10-22 M1 Commemorative rifle 22 LR

The rifle is functional, reliable once broken in, and accurate enough for most chores. The nontraditional rail may not look like an M1 carbine, but it certainly held the red dot well.

ACTION Semi-auto
OVERALL HEIGHT (w/o scope) 3.75 in.
STOCK Matte-finished wood
TELEPHONE (336) 949-5200
WEBSITE Ruger.com

Ruger 10-22 M1 Commemorative rifle 22 LR

This rifle is a near look alike for the .30M1 carbine. The 10-22 M1 rifle features the proven Ruger 10-22 self-loading rifle action. The controls are a standard push-button safety and the new enlarged type magazine release. The rifle feeds from a standard 10-round magazine or the extended X-series magazines. You cock the bolt by use of a convenient cocking handle. The stock-to-metal fit of this rifle is excellent. Where the two halves of the stock and forend meet, the fit is practically seamless. The wood is well finished and closely mimics the M1 carbine in looks and feel. The stock features a forward barrel band similar to the M1, and there is also a sling cut-out in the stock. The rifle isn’t an exact match, but it is very close to looking like a real M1 Carbine.

Ruger 10-22 M1 Commemorative rifle 22 LR

The sights are considerably different from anything found on previous 10-22 rifles. The aperture rear sight is similar to the M1 carbine. The sights offer good accuracy and are very fast to use. The 10-22 M1 features a rail for mounting optics. While some felt the rail takes away from the classic look, others noted that some shooters went to great lengths to mount glass on the original M1. It is a handy thing to have if you want a riflescope or a red dot.

Ruger 10-22 M1 Commemorative rifle 22 LR magazine

The trigger action breaks cleanly at 5.8 pounds, the heaviest of the three rifles and the second-heaviest trigger action of the test behind the Marlin 7000 trigger action. The M1 rifle comes with a single magazine, a new type of X magazine that holds 15 cartridges. The rifle accepts the standard ten round rotary magazines as well as both the new X-15 and the previous X-25 Ruger magazines. The X-15 magazine is a good compromise for handiness and firepower. It isn’t difficult to fire the rifle from a bench rest with this magazine in place. When testing the rifles, we elected to fire 100 rounds in offhand from each rifle. We used the Winchester M22 load, the CCI Velocitor, the Fiocchi HV, and CCI Blazer loads in offhand, 25 rounds of each, firing at targets at 10, 15, 25, and 50 yards. It wasn’t difficult to load up 100 rounds with the Ruger and its 10-, 15-, and 25-round magazines. When firing the rifle off hand, we got good results. We also fired some shots from a semi-braced position leaning against a range post at the 50-yard targets. There were no surprises. The M1-type stock handles well. Control and balance are good. It wasn’t difficult to get center hits on targets at 50 yards.

Ruger 10-22 M1 Commemorative rifle 22 LR

Squirrel-sized targets were in danger of getting head shots at 15- to 20-yard distances. A single malfunction occurred with the Winchester load and another with the Fiocchi loading, in each case a spent cartridge was found in the ejection port between the bolt and the chamber. This was a new gun, and this is par for the course with the 22 rifle. We also fired the rifle for accuracy off the bench at 50 yards with the Winchester M22, Fiocchi HV, and CCI Velocitor rounds. The aperture sight is OK for most uses, but the front post subtends some of the targets, so achieving pinpoint accuracy is difficult at 50 yards. The iron sight we liked best at close range became more difficult to use at longer range. The rifle produced several 2-inch groups at 50 yards, but most were larger than 2 inches. Only the Plinkster was less accurate. We feel that the aperture sights are most useful at closer range and for fun shooting.

Our Team Said: We debated about the rating on this rifle, which would have been the “number-one fun gun” if we had such a rating. Of course, enjoyable shooting is part of the rating, but performance comes first. We came up with a B rating, knocking the rifle down a half grade for accuracy and another half grade based on two malfunctions. There were no malfunctions firing off the bench and none at all with the CCI Blazer loads.

We liked all of the rifles tested. The Plinkster was okay for the money. The Ruger M1 Commemorative is a great recreational shooter with excellent fit and finish, but it wasn’t the most practical. The Marlin 7000 offered the best accuracy in careful bench rest firing.

Written and photographed by R.K. Campbell, using evaluations from Gun Tests team testers.


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