Smallbore Bolt-Rifle Showdown: Ruger, KFS, Remington, Kimber
In this head-to-head test, the 77/22R and NS 522 take a back seat to Big Greenís 541-T and Kimberís nifty 82C Classic.
Nearly all shooters follow the same trajectory when they are learning to use firearms as youths: They generally start with a play popgun, progress to a BB gun, and then, depending on their training and their parents’ confidence in them, eventually receive their first real gun, a single-shot .22 LR rifle. As a result, anyone who has taken these steps to full-fledged gun ownership holds a lifelong affinity for the rimfire rifle, since it often ushers them into the gunpowder fraternity.
Of course, with age and experience handling firearms, the shooter invariably becomes more picky about the guns he wants to own, regardless of what pull-back-hammer rifle he began shooting with. He likes a consistent trigger, reliable accuracy, and for some, good cosmetics. Blessedly, there are many rimfires which satisfy at least two and sometimes all three of these requirements, as a recent Gun Tests evaluation of four .22 LR rifles showed. We recently acquired and fired a quartet of very able rimfires from four manufacturers, and though we had our favorite, it isn’t an overstatement to say that many shooters could throw darts blindfolded at pictures of the $399 Ruger 77/22-R, the $399 Remington 541-T, the $785 Kimber Model 82C Classic, and the $299.95 KFS NS 522 and find a gun that suited them. These guns, which have a price spread of around $450, illustrate the bounty of solid products available to the shooter who wants a quality rimfire. They also show how upgrades in certain areas add sizable dollars.
As loyal Gun Tests readers know, we form opinions about what guns we prefer in these matchups—even when the race is close—and in this case, we give a big thumbs-up for the solid but not stolid 541-T, which showed the best combination of performance and price, in our judgment.
Gun Tests Recommends: The Remington 541-T shot as well as the more expensive Kimber, had an easy-to-adjust trigger, featured good handling characteristics, and didn’t break the bank at $399. This is a great rimfire pick.
Our Remington 541-T test gun had a suggested retail price of $455. However, our sample actually retailed for $399. It contained a number of cosmetic touches reminiscent of centerfire products in the 700 BDL line: an American walnut stock with satin-polyurethane-finished stock, a black forend piece, machine-cut checkering on the forend and pistol grip, and a plastic buttpad and grip cap. Sling swivel studs were not included. The receiver was drilled and tapped, but we had to purchase Weaver bases and rings for $30 to mount a Bausch & Lomb test scope.
Foremost among our requirements for a .22 LR bolt gun is how well it shoots. Since gun experts often hone their skills year-round with soft-shooting .22s (to keep ammunition costs down and flinching to a minimum), there’s no point in trying to stay sharp with an inaccurate gun. We’re careful to note that we shoot a limited amount of brands in our tests, and our results don’t necessarily reflect the best—or worst—groups a gun can shoot. However, we do shoot enough lots to assess a gun’s overall performance compared to its competitors using the same ammos, and we draw our conclusions about accuracy and function from those head-to-head data. All range accuracy data was collected at 50 yards from a solid bench using the Hughes Products Ballistic Bench Shooting Bag. Average accuracy data was a compilation of five-round groups, and we shot 10-shot strings through an Oehler 35P at 10 feet to collect chronograph figures. The guns were cleaned with Pro-Shot Lead & Powder Solvent and then fouled between each load tested, in accordance with established competition rimfire practice.
In these tests, the Remington 541-T shot its best groups with Federal UltraMatch, spitting five-shot clusters averaging 0.55 inch in size and a best group size of only 0.36 inch. The 541-T’s performance with Lapua Scoremax, Fiocchi Super Match, CCI Green Tag, and Eley Silhouex, Eley Tenex, and RWS R50 didn’t come within 0.20 inch of the Federal brand’s mark. The barrel was not free-floated and did not have a pressure point. Free-floating the barrel, bedding the action, and installing a pressure point would help improve accuracy of this firearm, in our opinion.
The Remington 541-T had a good trigger, which broke crisply at 4.75 to 5 pounds with very little overtravel. Moreover, this trigger was completely adjustable, and we tuned it down to break at 2 pounds. That said, we also had problems with the trigger. Some of our testers noticed a sharp edge at the bottom of the trigger shoe, which caused discomfort when we shot the gun a lot. A trigger with less curvature and a slightly wider blade would take care of this problem, in our view.
The Remington 541-T’s bolt opened with a rough, grinding feel caused by the camming surface on the bolt body and the cocking piece on the firing pin. These two surfaces needed to be smoother to eliminate the bolt-function problem. Also, the plastic five-round magazine, when locked in place, had too much up-and-down movement. If the shooter’s hand rested on the magazine when the bolt closed, the bolt hit the back of the magazine and would not close on the last round in the magazine, causing the round to point straight up in the magazine and fail to feed. Also, the magazine protruded from the bottom of the stock, offering a poor surface on which to rest the shooter’s left hand.
Kimber Model 82C Classic
Gun Tests Recommends: The Kimber 82C Classic, $785, was functional and beautiful and more important, was also the most accurate gun in the test, albeit by a whisker. If you can afford it, you’ll likely be happy with this product.
The Kimber Model 82C Classic, a clip-fed bolt-action .22 LR, cost $785. It had a blued 22-inch barrel with a 1-in-16 twist. It came with swivel studs on the forend and buttstock. Rigged with optics, it weighed 7.5 pounds. The gun came with a beautiful claro walnut stock. The grip and the rounded forend featured deep and sharp 18 lines-per-inch checkering. The receiver was drilled and tapped to accept Warne two-piece scope mount bases (WAR5091). There’s also a coil spring–actuated, independent bolt stop, a polished-steel grip cap, and a red rubber buttplate. We mounted a Bausch & Lomb 6- to 24-power Elite 4000 riflescope on the receiver using Weaver bases and Tasco rings. This put the line of sight about 1.5 inches above the centerline of the bore. The gun came with swivel studs. Cosmetically, the Kimber gun was beautifully finished. Its bluing was immaculate, and the walnut stock was nicely figured. The flawless satin clearcoat job had the even sheen of a hand-rubbed oil finish. Unquestionably, the Kimber was the most visually attractive firearm in this test, distantly followed by the Remington and Ruger, with the NS 522 bringing up the rear.
The Kimber Model 82C Classic preferred Eley Tenex, shooting 0.53-inch groups with that ammo at 50 yards and a best group of 0.43-inch. These accuracy readings were in marked contrast to the gun’s factory proof target, which showed that it shot 0.40-inch groups with R50 at 50 yards. The 82C’s barrel was free-floated in the stock, and the action was pillar bedded, which likely helped the gun’s accuracy. The company says its 82C barrels are air-gauged match-grade tubes which are screwed into the receiver. The bottom line on accuracy showed the Kimber had a wafer-thin edge in accuracy over the 541-T and the Ruger, and a slightly larger advantage over the KFS gun.
In this quartet of guns, the Kimber clearly had the best trigger set-up. As it came from the factory, the 82C’s trigger was nearly competition ready. It had a crisp break at 2.5 pounds. With the barreled action out of the stock, we turned one screw on the trigger to take the pull down to the 2-pound lower limit for silhouette shooting. It would have been just as easy to adjust the weight down further, should the shooter so choose, or higher, if the shooter wanted to make the gun “safer” in terms of adding more force before the gun fired. We noticed that even at heavier weights, we could adjust the trigger so that creep was eliminated and the sear-engagement break was clean and positive. Also, the 3/8-inch-wide, polished steel trigger shoe offered a positive gripping surface for the trigger finger, we thought.
We recorded half a dozen misfires with the Kimber when R50 was used. In all these instances, the firing pin didn’t strike the rim of the cartridge hard enough initially. Recocking the bolt and pulling the trigger again did fire the rounds, however. The single-column magazine accepted rounds easily and went into battery and released smoothly and consistently. The action fed rounds from the magazine flawlessly.
Despite accolades we gave the gun, we thought the Kimber Model 82C Classic’s straight stock—which made the lines of the gun attractive—impeded shooter performance. To get the gun butt to seat in the shoulder, we had to pull the rifle back, which made the trigger hand sit too far forward on the stock. Also, it felt like the grip should be about half an inch longer to afford more grasping purchase by the trigger hand. It also needs more drop in the stock to allow the shooter to bring the gun up to an erect head position, we thought. When we brought the gun up to natural eyeline, the heel of the rubber buttpad would not touch the shoulders of some shooters. To make shoulder contact, we had to roll the shoulder forward and up. Also, the satin finish was slick when the grip hand became sweaty. The gun, while balanced properly for offhand field shooting, was too light out front for light-gun silhouette shooting, in our view. We did like the gun’s soft, tacky rubber buttplate, however.
In front of the trigger guard, we thought the Kimber’s 7/16-inch-wide, elliptical trigger guard was comfortable to shoot bridge style or on the palm. Also, the magazine sat flush in the magazine well, and the front edge of the magazine-release button sat nearly flush, making the gun fairly comfortable to shoot on top of the fist.
KFS NS 522
Gun Tests Recommends: The $299.95 KFS NS 522 lacked an adjustable trigger and was unattractive, in our view. But it did shoot consistently. If you can’t afford the Remington for $100 more, you’ll likely be happy with the way this gun shoots.
For the shooter who must watch his dollars, the KFS NS 522 purports to provide match-quality performance in a no-frills package. This clip-fed bolt-action .22 LR had a blued barrel and came with swivel studs on the forend and buttstock. The gun came with an dark-stained walnut stock. The grip and the rounded forend featured checkering that was functional, but not up to par visually with the other guns. The receiver was drilled and tapped to accept scope-mount bases. The stock lacked a grip cap and had a black-plastic buttplate.
Cosmetically, the gun was utilitarian. Its blue-black metal finish was even but not showy, and the walnut stock had little figure. The satin clearcoat job didn’t fill all the wood pores evenly. Unquestionably, the 522 was the ugly duckling in this test. For our testing, we mounted a Bausch & Lomb 6- to 24-power Elite 4000 riflescope on the receiver using Weaver bases and Tasco rings. This put the line of sight about 1.5 inches above the centerline of the bore, allowing about a 0.25 inch of space between the scope’s objective lens and the barrel.
Unlike the other guns, the KFS NS 522 performed ably but not remarkably with several brands of ammo, shooting 0.68-inch groups with Eley Tenex, 0.73-inch groups with RWS R50, and 0.75-inch groups with Federal Ultramatch. These readings suggest the 522 either shot to the limit of its capability, or that it seemed to shoot many rounds pretty well, and that it could do even better with exactly the right lot. The gun’s hammer-forged, 21-inch blued barrel was free-floated in the stock, which likely contributed to the gun’s consistency.
In our experience, trigger-pull execution is second only to a rifle’s action/barrel quality in determining performance. But besides assessing trigger-pull quality in the gun as it comes over the counter, we also take into account how much facility the gun provides for improving its trigger easily, safely, and cheaply. Fully adjustable triggers like those found in competition rifles are best because they allow the shooter to customize his trigger’s release quality for weight, creep, and sear engagement. Less desirable triggers offer no adjustment short of replacement or extensive tuning by a gunsmith.
As it came from the factory, the NS 522’s trigger was fair. Its trigger was a single-stage model not adjustable for weight, sear engagement, creep, or overtravel. It featured just a touch of movement before breaking at 3 pounds. Its 1/4-inch-wide, grooved steel trigger shoe offered a positive gripping surface for the trigger finger, we thought. We have fired 522’s with very good triggers, but they require about $50 of gunsmith polishing and setting to achieve the best quality.
As we further examined these guns, we noted problems and positives in how well a variety of shooters handled the products at the range.
The KFS NS 522 gun’s straight stock was easier to shoot than the Kimber, in our view. To get the gun butt to seat in the shoulder, we simply put the toe into the joint. Still, we would have liked more drop in the stock to allow the shooter to bring the gun up to an erect head position. Also, it would have been better if the grip were longer, providing more stock surface for the trigger hand. As well, we noticed the finish became slick when the grip hand was sweaty. In our view, the slightly muzzle heavy gun was nicely balanced for silo shooting, but didn’t handle as well in a field situation. In the crucial area in front of the trigger guard, we thought the KFS was uncomfortable.
The magazine extends an eighth of an inch out of the magazine well, and the front edge of the magazine had two sharp corners that dug into the hand or palm. And the sharp magazine-release lever sits out front of the magazine. If we were shooting the KFS gun extensively, we would plan to hold it bridge style, using the 7/16-inch-wide, elliptical trigger guard. The gun fired all the ammo brands we shot. The single-column steel magazine accepted rounds easily and went into battery and released smoothly and consistently. The action fed rounds from the magazine flawlessly.
Ruger Model 77/22-R
Gun Tests Recommends: Like the NS 522, the $399 Ruger 77/22-R performed ably. It had a smooth bolt, was accurate, and felt great on the line. But it lacked easy trigger adjustability found in the Remington. Thus, for the same money we would give the nod to the 541-T.
At the next price level we found the Ruger Model 77/22-R, part of Ruger’s successful 77/22 series, which contains several models chambered for the .22 Long Rifle round. The Ruger Model 77/22-R, which we tested, had a smooth, tapered barrel without iron sights. The 77/22-RS has iron sights, and there are other configurations and barrel weights available. The 77/22-R had an MSRP of $473, but our gun retailed for $399. All metal on our test gun was blued, and the top of the receiver carried a matte finish, which reduced glare off the metal. Our test gun had a 20-inch tapered barrel with an outside diameter of 0.540 inch at the muzzle and 0.920 inch at the chamber.
The stock on our test gun was American walnut with a satin, nonglare finish that resembled hand-rubbed oil and featured machine-cut checkering. Quick-detachable swivel studs were included, as were Ruger-supplied standard 1-inch rings that easily attached to the integral mounting system on the receiver. The gun came with one removable rotary magazine that held 10 rounds.
The Ruger 77/22-R shot well with the UltraMatch, notching 0.59-inch groups on average and a best group of 0.50 inch. However, the best group we shot with the Ruger came with Eley Silhouex, a tight 0.40-inch hole. Its barrel was not free-floated, and there was a 0.5-inch pressure point at the end of the barrel channel. We found no bedding between the receiver and the stock, which we would add to (hopefully) improve the gun’s accuracy.
The Ruger 77/22-R’s trigger pull was creepy at 4.25 to 4.5 pounds and had too much overtravel for our tastes. Adjustment screws on this trigger are not standard, so the shooter needs to enlist the help of a good gunsmith to reduce the trigger-pull weight of 2 pounds and install an overtravel stop screw.
The Ruger 77/22-R’s 10-round rotary magazine sits flush with the bottom of the forend stock, which provides a comfortable place to rest the shooter’s palm, fingers, or fist in the standing position. This section of the gun is superior to the others, in our view. The Ruger’s stock-drop characteristics are very similar to the Remington’s and the gun essentially handles the same, save for the Ruger’s finish. We thought the 77/22-R’s satin finish wasn’t as slick as the Kimber and Remington’s glossy coating.
Gun Tests Recommends
The sizable price spread of these guns reflects how small changes in their makeup can affect what they cost—and what you can expect to get for your dollars.
On the surface, the best buy in this test is the $299.95 KFS NS 522. But a more critical look at the gun showed that it lacked some crucial components, such as an adjustable trigger, and its cosmetics are strictly third-world. But it does feature a free-floated barrel, which helped it shoot consistently, if not superbly. In our view, it brings just enough to the party for us to say that if you can’t afford to step up $100, you’ll likely get years of adequate, trouble-free work out of the gun.
The $399 Ruger 77/22-R showed what we think are valuable characteristics in a sporter rimfire. The integral scope base and accompanying rings, smooth operation of the bolt, accuracy, and a great feel on the line make this gun largely worth the money. But in our view, it falls short in the trigger area, which we believe is crucial, especially when it competes head to head against the Remington so directly in price, weight, and function.
Based on the results we collected, we recommend the $399 Remington 541-T. It shot groups on par with the much more expensive Kimber, and it featured many of the niceties found on the 82C. It needs to have its barrel free floated, we believe, and its bolt needs to be smoothed out, but otherwise it would be a great pick.
We very much liked the Kimber 82C Classic, but who wouldn’t for the stiff asking price of $785, almost $400 more than any other gun in this test. But those dollars add functionality and beauty that some shooters appreciate. The gun was solidly built, looked great, and showed topnotch internal attention to detail (including pillar bedding, free-floated barrel, massive, stiff receiver, and adjustable trigger). It was also the most accurate gun in the test, albeit by a whisker over the Remington and Ruger.
In essence, what this test of .22 sporters shows is how seemingly minor changes provide incremental gains in gun performance, and it’s up to you to decide what level of accuracy, trim, and components you’re willing to pay for.