June 1998

Ruger 77/22 VMBZ Our Pick In .22 Magnum Varmint Rifles

Although more expensive, the Ruger was smoother and more accurate than the Marlin 882 SSV or the Savage 93FVSS.

About 50 or 60 years ago, every boy had a .22 rifle, knew how to shoot it and had a place to shoot it. We are quite sure that each and every one of those boys longed for a bit more power from their rimfires. They figured they’d be happy if the darned bullet shot just a tiny bit flatter and hit with a bit more power. Unfortunately, the .22 Winchester Rimfire (WRF) was in the process of becoming obsolete, and anyone who bought one of those rifles seeking just a bit more power was doomed to run out of ammunition. However, its replacement was already on the drawing boards.

The .22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire (WMR) came into being in 1959. The first guns available were actually Ruger and Smith & Wesson revolvers. Winchester’s first rifle for the new cartridge was their slide-action Model 61, and it wasn’t brought out until 1960. The cartridge’s ballistics fall roughly halfway between .22 Long Rifle (LR) and .22 Hornet numbers: a 40-grain bullet at around 1,900 feet per second (fps) compared with a velocity of 1,100 fps for the .22 LR and 2,700 fps for the Hornet, both with the same weight bullet. The .22 WMR is a pretty good compromise for those wanting more power than the .22 LR without going to the centerfire Hornet. Actual achieved velocity, we found, depends on the individual firearm.

The .22 Magnum has significantly greater performance than the standard .22 LR, though the hottest of the hyper-velocity .22 LRs, the CCI Stinger with its 32-grain bullet at over 1,600 fps, comes close to giving the WMR a run for the money.

The Test Guns
Our three heavy-barrel test rifles were the Ruger 77/22 VMBZ, the Marlin 882 SSV, and the Savage 93FVSS. All three bolt-actions had detachable magazines. None had iron sights. The Ruger came with stainless scope rings and integral bases. The Marlin had a grooved receiver for tip-off mounts, but no rings. The Savage came with two-piece Weaver-type bases, but again no rings. We fitted each with a Burris 3-9x Mini Scope.

Our Ruger 77/22 had a good-looking two-tone laminated, satin-finished wood stock with no checkering and a straight comb. The stock had blued steel swivel studs and a black rubber recoil pad that were well installed and provided a non-slip surface. The rifle was of stainless steel with a low-glare dark gray finish, just what the varmint-shooter doctor ordered. The 24-inch barrel was 0.66-inch in diameter at the muzzle. The rifle had a nine-shot rotary magazine that was not visible from the side, which gave the rifle clean overall looks. Length of pull was 13 3/4 inches, the longest of the three.

Click here to view the Ruger 77/22 VMBZ features guide

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Next up was the Marlin 882 SSV. The Monte-Carlo-style stock was of black fiberglass-filled synthetic material with an integral trigger guard and buttplate, and a lightly textured finish overall. The trigger guard was shaped to give more room for a gloved trigger finger. The stock had molded-in checkering, and the swivel studs and magazine well hardware were neatly installed. The 22-inch barrel measured 0.81 inch in diameter at the muzzle. The barrel and action were of stainless steel with a silver-white matte finish. The swivel studs, magazine well hardware and seven-shot magazine were nickel plated. Length of pull was 13 5/8 inches.

Click here to view the Marlin 882 SSV features guide

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Our third test rifle was the Savage 93FVSS with a 21-inch barrel that measured 0.80 inch in diameter at the muzzle. The stock was made of a black graphite/fiberglass synthetic, again with an integral trigger guard. The stock had a black plastic grip cap and a buttplate of similar material, though the latter was slightly undersize. This stock had molded-in checkering and had a smooth low-glare finish overall. There were no swivel studs. The barrel and action were of 400-series stainless with a brushed low-glare finish. The magazine held five shots. The Savage’s length of pull was the same as the Marlin’s: 13 5/8 inches.

Click here to view the Savage 93FVSS features guide

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First Impressions
The strikingly-attractive Ruger 77/22 VMBZ weighed in at 7 pounds. Although not a lightweight, it was hardly a heavy varmint rifle, which could easily weigh over ten pounds in common centerfire versions. The barrel was not free-floated, and we found a minor gap along the left side of the receiver. Overall, fit of the metal to the stock was rated as good. The metal-to-metal fit was decidedly above average, and moving parts had little or no play. We found some minor casting marks inside the receiver, but that could be expected on any investment-cast parts, even those made by the one of the best casting manufacturers in the world.

We feel the overall balance of the Ruger was the best of the test. It was muzzle-heavy enough to give very good stability, which promised good results in the field. The rifle shouldered well. It gave slightly slower target acquisition than the others, but it was more natural in feel. The rubber buttpad was very comfortable and held the gun securely in place on the shoulder. The stock afforded the most stable and comfortable cheeking, with good contact area for the face. The 1.70-inch-wide forend and hand-filling pistol grip gave us a good grasp, despite there being no checkering.

We measured the Ruger’s trigger pull at 4 pounds with slight creep, a crisp release and only minor overtravel. The trigger itself had an ungrooved 1/4-inch-wide face. The bolt, easily the most massive-looking of the three rifles, locked up on two lugs positioned midway down the two-piece bolt. Bolt operation was easily the smoothest and slickest of the test. The rifle fed and ejected perfectly, thanks to the dual spring-loaded extractors and the high quality of the magazine.

Getting the bolt out of the Ruger required depressing an insert at the left rear of the receiver. We had to use a screwdriver or similar tool to press it, and then the bolt could be withdrawn.

The safety was Ruger’s three-position thumb-lever with a center position that gave the option of cycling the rounds out of the magazine while blocking the sear. All the way back locks the bolt and sear, and forward is Fire. Thumb manipulation was easy enough.

The Ruger’s well-constructed rotary magazine was of black plastic with steel feed lips. There was a knack to removing or reinstalling the magazine, but once the knack was learned, these operations were a snap. The catch had to be depressed and held by the finger as the magazine was removed or installed. Bumping the catch wouldn’t let the magazine drop out of the gun, which could be a blessing if you’re clumsy...or a curse if you’re in a big hurry. Inserting rounds into it was not at all difficult. Marlin’s attractive-looking entry into this fray had a stock-to-metal fit we rated as average. The front 2/3 of the barrel was free-floated. The stock-to-receiver mating was faultless, but there was a lot of empty space around the trigger, safety and installed magazine. The metal-to-metal fit was also just average. Most of the moving parts had a small amount of play. We found numerous but minor tool marks inside the receiver.

The Marlin 882 SSV weighed 6 1/4 pounds. It was the most muzzle-heavy rifle of the test and gave the best on-target stability. The shouldering and target acquisition were almost as fast as, and more natural than, those of the Savage. The checkered face of the integral buttplate was truly non-slip, and fairly comfortable. The raised stock comb afforded a good stockweld with good contact for the jaw, and almost as good for the cheek. The rounded forend and somewhat slim pistol grip provided a solid grasp on the rifle. Felt recoil was a little less noticeable than the Savage’s. We felt the overall good looks of this rifle, with its well-proportioned stock, were somewhat spoiled by the protruding magazine.

The trigger pull was 4 1/2 pounds with a moderate amount of creep, a mushy release and some overtravel. Its 3/16-inch-wide face was grooved. The Marlin’s safety was a two-position lever located at the right rear of the receiver, and it blocked the sear in the rearward position. The operation was stiff and a bit hard on the thumb, but it worked okay.

Our Marlin’s bolt locked up at the root of the bolt handle. It operated a bit more freely than that of the Savage 93FVSS, but there was still some drag. Removal for cleaning was easily accomplished by lifting the bolt handle and then pressing the trigger, which freed the bolt. The extractor consisted of a spring-steel piece formed into two opposing prongs on the bolt face.

The Marlin’s seven-round steel magazine had a red plastic follower. The entire unit was solidly constructed. It inserted smoothly into the well, but didn’t fall freely when released. Releasing was accomplished by pressing on the spring-steel lever at the rear of the well. It wasn’t difficult to load rounds into the magazine.

We rated the Savage 93FVSS’s stock-to-metal fit as average. The bulky forend appeared a bit too long to our collective eye. The front 2/3 of the barrel, like that of the Savage, was free-floating, which promised to help accuracy. The stock-to-receiver mating was quite tight, but there was a lot of space around the safety, trigger and magazine. We had to rate the Savage’s metal-to-metal fit as below average. The trigger and inserted magazine had a large amount of play. The interior edges of the receiver were sharp and produced wear marks on the front portions of the bolt. We found numerous manufacturing tool marks on the bottom front of the bolt, and inside the receiver.

At 6 pounds, the 93FVSS was the lightest rifle of the test. It was less muzzle-heavy than the Marlin. This made target acquisition the fastest, but also the least natural. (It does little good to get on-target quickly if you can’t hold the rifle steadily enough to make your shot.) We found the buttplate so slick that it didn’t help hold the rifle securely against our shooters’ shoulders. The stock provided good jaw contact, but not good enough cheek contact. The forend was a bit too slim for our taste, but the pistol grip was fairly comfortable, and the molded checkering afforded a decent grasp. This rifle gave the heaviest recoil of the test, if the pop from a .22 Magnum can be deemed recoil. Still, it was the most noticeable.

Trigger pull of the Savage 93FVSS was 4 1/2 pounds with no slack, a consistent release and a lot of overtravel. The face of the 1/4-inch wide trigger was smooth. The Savage’s bolt locked up on the bolt handle root, essentially at the back of the bolt. The bolt face had two opposing extractors, just like the other two rifles. The bolt was about the same diameter as that of the Ruger, but this doesn’t mean a whole lot in terms of inherent strength or operational facility. It merely reflected manufacturing design. We found the bolt to have some drag in its fore-and-aft movement. Getting the bolt out of the rifle was accomplished by opening the bolt, holding the trigger to the rear, and then withdrawing the bolt.

The magazine release was a prominent spring-steel lever located at the rear of the magazine well. Pressing it rearward allowed the magazine to drop free. The five-round all-steel magazine was very easy to load, and went back into the rifle smoothly. It had a red-painted follower and a removable floorplate, this latter feature a great boon for keeping this important part of the rifle clean.

The Savage’s safety was a two-position lever at the right rear of the receiver. It blocked the sear in its rearward position. We found it worked easily and correctly when moved with the shooter’s right thumb.

All three rifles had ejectors fixed within their receivers. Ejection force was hence a function of how hard the bolt was moved rearward.

On The Range
Our test ammunition was 40-grain jacketed hollow points from Winchester (Super-X) and CCI (Maxi-Mag), and a 50-grain jacketed hollow point load from Federal (Classic). We bench-tested these rifles at 50 yards.

Marlin’s 882 SSV beat out the other two rifles with the Winchester Super-X, with an average group size of just under an inch. Ruger’s five-shot groups were an average of 1.20 inches, and Savage beat that with average groups of just over an inch. Most surprising was that the average velocity of this load out of the 24-inch Ruger barrel and the 21-inch Savage barrel hovered around the 1,900 fps mark, but the Marlin, with its 22-inch barrel, showed a velocity about 130 fps less, averaging 1,770 for this load. We can only suppose the Marlin’s Micro-groove rifling created less resistance for the load, resulting in less pressure and less velocity.

Click here to view the Performance Table

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The next test load, CCI’s Maxi-Mag, did the best in the Ruger. Groups averaged 0.75 inch, while the Marlin and Savage gave 1.13- and 1.18-inch groups, respectively. The velocity discrepancy was less here, but our Marlin again gave the lowest average bullet speed.

With the 50-grain Federal Classic load, the Savage led the pack with an average five-shot group of 1.05 inches. Ruger came next at 1.15 inches; Marlin gave a bit less, at 1.25 inches. The velocity loser was again Marlin, with 1,493 fps average compared to 1,578 and 1,582 fps for each of the other two rifles. Go figure.

One more comment on accuracy. The smallest group fired with the load featuring the heaviest bullet was just 1.00 inch, and all three rifles fired the exact same size smallest group. With the Winchester Super-X load, all three rifles again fired the exact same smallest group size of 0.87 inch. The absolute smallest group fired by any rifle was the Ruger’s 0.63-inchers, which it did for three of its five groups with this load. Clearly, the owner of a .22 Magnum rifle ought to test a variety of loads to determine what shoots best in that particular rifle.

There were no malfunctions with the Ruger or the Marlin whatsoever. However, the Savage gave us fits.

The Savage fired once, and then always misfired. We found the problem to be light firing pin strikes (see photo), which we attributed to an improperly fitted firing pin. We replaced the firing pin, and the gun then misfired six times: once with Federal, three times with Winchester, and twice with CCI ammunition. Clearly, this was not a problem with too-thick or too-hard cartridge brass. Because a new firing pin greatly reduced misfires but didn’t eliminate them, we concluded that the bolt also needed some work. At the very least, something was still not quite right with this rifle.

One must wonder if the Savage rifle would shoot better with all systems Go. One of our testers has learned that with some types of rifles and ammunition, firing pin strike can have a significant effect on accuracy.