September 2001

Ruger 10/22 Upgrades: More Money Means More Accuracy

We tested four variants of the Ruger 10/22 rifle from Magnum Research, Clark’s, Briley, and even the Sturm, Ruger factory and found four different ways to make one hole.

We liked the Ruger TNZ's slightly lighter barrel
contour and spiffy stock.

We asked a panel of custom gunsmiths what it takes to build a winning customized rifle based on Ruger’s 10/22, and all offered the aside, “It’s hard to build a bad one.” Surely not, we thought. There’s got to be a dog out there that simply costs too much for what it delivers—mediocre accuracy, weird design, balky trigger. We were sure we could find faults and pick nits enough to say, “You don’t need to spend $500 or more on this puppy.”

But after we tested Ruger 10/22 upgrades from Magnum Research ($600), Clark’s ($630), Briley ($1,100), and Sturm, Ruger ($600), we can only say there are legitimate differences that separate these guns, but we wouldn’t be shy about parting with a few hundred bucks to buy any of them.

The major differences we found were what each aftermarket maker, and Ruger itself, wrapped around the basic 10/22 action. Case in point: Ergonomics of four rifles were radically different in stock configuration, weight, and barrel type, to name but three factors. Moreover, we saw quite a price spread when we added the custom Briley 10/22. Briley’s Sporter model with wood stock normally sells for $850, more in line with the others, but with the installation of a special trigger designed by gunsmith Tony Kidd, we paid an extra $250. Would it be worth it? Here’s what we thought.

Range Session
For break-in and fouling shots we used Remington High Velocity jacketed ammunition. To record accuracy and chronograph data, we chose three lead rounds manufactured by Eley, Ltd. Of England but marketed by Remington. They were, Club Extra in an orange box, Target Rifle in the mustard yellow box, and Match Extra Plus in a black box, each with a green stripe bearing the Remington name. Each of these cartridges was topped with a 40-grain bullet. A single Tasco 8-32X44 World Class Scope was used on all four rifles, and we limited our shooting to 50 yards.

We quickly found the Tasco might be more scope than is generally used on a rimfire rifle, and its overall length and wide front lens presented mounting problems for three of the test guns. With the exception of the Briley rifle, we shimmed the rear of the scope mount to solve elevation problems.

Click here to view "Accuracy and Chronograph Data."

A Ransom Rifle rest was used to stabilize the forend and sandbag bunny ears secured the butt. Using elevation and windage adjustments on the Ransom mount we dialed in the preferred point of impact and endeavored to press the trigger with as little interference as possible. Five five-shot groups per ammo made up the accuracy totals. Each rifle’s bore was cleaned with Hoppe’s No. 9 and lubricated with BreakFree between loads. We then fired five shots of the jacketed ammo to foul and warm the barrel to a reasonable operating temperature. All four rifles were given a full day of shooting that concluded in the bench rest shooting and then a transfer of scope to the rifle scheduled for the following day.

Maintenance and scope mounting were performed on a Midway Gun Vise (order #607-786, $45.99 from Midway, [800] 243-3220). Conditions at the range varied from a steady 20-mph breeze to outright gusty. The only malfunctions we experienced were credited to faulty magazines, wherein the rounds became stuck in the mag and failed to rise. For convenience we had purchased several extra Ruger magazines. Not keeping track of which mags were the originals, we had no way of knowing whether the faulty magazines arrived with the guns or were purchased afterward. We have heard of magazine woes like this before, and after isolating the offending mags, we could find no reason to trace the problem back to the rifles.

Magnum Research Magnum Lite, $600
At 50 yards we managed average group sizes of 0.5 inch with the Eley red box ammo and 0.6-inch groups with the remaining two cartridges—slightly behind the Briley Kidd gun, which shot 0.5 inch across the board. The Ruger TNZ averaging 0.6 inch with all three. In the right hands we suspect each of these rifles could split hairs, for which Sturm, Ruger’s action should take a bow.

Click here to view the Magnum Research Magnum Lite features guide

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With accuracy results so close, we turned to features to decide which rifle might be best. In the case of the Magnum Research entry, its most obvious upside is lightweight construction that should prove nearly impervious to the elements. The stock is black rubber with a pebble finish at the grip and on the forend. Described as over-molded by its manufacturer, (Hogue, [800] Get-Grip), this stock is widely available separately. If you do not like its tacky texture, you will like its profile, which each of our test shooters felt was neutral enough to adapt to nearly any shooting style. This stock is very close in profile to the original Ruger stock as found on the Clark rifle. We think it works a little better on this rifle because the muzzle is so light.

That lightness is a result of the barrel, a 1:12 twist stainless steel liner surrounded by carbon fiber. The fiber is capped at each end with stainless steel and a compensator at the muzzle. The porting on a rimfire rifle may seem trivial, but it was easy to discern just how destabilizing even a .22 LR shot can be when shooting from a rest. The Magnum Lite jumped less than even its heaviest-barreled competitor from Clark’s. If you do not think a .22 rifle jumps on recoil, try firing a bolt-action model after shooting a typical 10/22 or other semi-auto. The heavy bolt directly opposed to the shot takes up more recoil than you might think. In view of its low overall weight, the compensator on the Magnum Lite is a welcome addition. Shorter by at least 4 inches, this 16-inch barrel still provides plenty of rotation without adding the weight of a steel bull barrel. Thus, the Magnum Lite is neither muzzle heavy nor a burden to tote: An ideal camp rifle. At 4.4 pounds, it is at least 2 pounds lighter than our other rifles.

In terms of heat dissipation, we were surprised how much heat was transmitted to the outer surface of the barrel after only a few shots.

Other positives included its dark cosmetics. The flashy looking Lite should enjoy many “that’s cool” sales from counter customers. Only the Magnum Lite was shipped without some sort of scope mount, but at least the top was drilled and tapped.

Ruger TNZ, $600
In our view, the TNZ is simply an attempt by Ruger to take back a portion of the market they helped to create. What does the TNZ have to offer over the stock 10/22? To begin with, it incorporates heretofore custom features such as a fully floating barrel. Not only is the forend separated from the barrel, but it’s ventilated as a result to hasten cooling. The barrel is heavy, but the rifle does not hold like a bull-barreled model. In fact, we feel this contour is the best compromise between an ultra-lightweight rifle like the Magnum Research model and a heavy barreled target model.

Click here to view the Ruger TNZ features guide

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The TNZ’s stock is more than a thumb-through model, with a well big enough to accommodate almost anyone’s hand. As a result, the balance and ability to point are exceptional. One of our staffers was reminded of a lesson about toting lumber. Grab it in the middle, and it will pick itself up. The TNZ’s center of gravity allows the shooter to lift and point the gun with little effort.

The laminate stock is cosmetically well matched to the mechanical parts, and we feel this coordination keynotes this rifle’s performance. There is no sense of aftermarket adaptation. The action, as far as we could tell, was left stock, or very near so. The trigger pull weighed in at 4.75 pounds, the heaviest in the test, and was the gun’s main shortcoming.

Ideally, when we test from a bench the only thing left to do is press the trigger. At this point every facet of trigger operation becomes magnified until the finest degree of takeup is noticeable. Even a 1-pound trigger like the Briley’s advanced custom rifle was not an automatic break.

Standing and firing is another matter. Despite the heavier trigger, the TNZ still allowed for the accurate steering of the sights. At 50 yards from our bench rest, the TNZ averaged groups measuring only 0.6 inch firing every test round.

One of the characteristics found on all Ruger 10/22 rifles we would like to modify is the slide release, a thin piece of metal that must be pressed to hold the slide and then pressed again to release it. This lever can be stubborn to release, and while you struggle the edge of it will all but cut into your finger. In this test, only the pricey Briley featured a release that was easy to use, with a radiused edge.

Atop the TNZ is a small scope mount, which most shooters will replace with a full-sized Weaver. A mechanical safety is seated just ahead of the trigger guard, off when flush with the right hand side, on when flush with the left side. The open stock makes this rifle much closer to being ambidextrous than its competitors, right-side ejection not withstanding.

The trigger is adjustable for overtravel, but the action would have to be removed from the stock to reach the overtravel screw. However, we found no reason to change this factory setting.

Clark Custom Guns 10/22, $630
The modification of Ruger pistols and rifles for serious target work became popular through the work of the late Jim Clark, Sr., and his relationship with Bill Ruger. Stateside after World War II, Jim senior was able to learn enough gunsmithing to put his own ideas into motion. He knew the difference between accurate and inaccurate because he relied upon his shooting prowess to make extra money at the weekend carnivals not far from where he was stationed in California.

In the hands of son Jim, Jr., and daughter Kay, Clark Custom Ruger 10/22 conversions come with guaranteed 1-inch groups at 100 yards. Unfortunately we didn’t have a windless tunnel, or even a breezeless environment to challenge this. Our day with the $630 Clark rifle was punctuated with gusts that may have put this rifle at a disadvantage. However, we did print a number of 0.4-inch groups at 50 yards with both the Remington Eley red and yellow-box ammunition. Averages factored out to 0.6 inch. With one exception, this rifle also produced the highest velocities overall. This model features a walnut stock and contoured plastic buttpad. The stainless steel bull barrel is mounted without separation from the forend and is finished with ripples rather than fluting. The safety, magazine and slide release are stock. The trigger has been refined to a crisp 3.25 pounds with no hint of creep or grit.

As much as we like a true wood stock, we felt the need to raise the comb height on this gun. We may have had better results simply by raising the comb to make it easier to index the scope. Reliability was 100, but we felt this rifle preferred jacketed rounds to the leadnosed cartridges we had chosen.

Due to its muzzle-heavy feel, this rifle appeared to weigh more than the others. Mounting this rifle and maintaining an accurate hold with it can be strenuous. You will note that the Briley rifle is actually heavier than the Clark rifle by some 11 ounces. This could be due to the Briley’s stock, which brings better balance to the rifle.

Oddly, the Clark Custom Guns 10/22 provided more timely feedback to the shooter than either the Ruger TNZ or the Magnum Research Magnum Lite. We found it easier to call shots with the Clark and Briley rifles.

Briley Sporter, $1,100
Despite its hefty price tag, this is a regular production model available from Briley. The basic Sporter costs only $600 when delivered with a Hogue rubber stock in place. The wooden-stock version we tested, which we think improved hold to the point where we would rather not do without it, adds $250. Then, for an additional $250 Briley installed a trigger group designed by Tony Kidd that feels like a Remington 700 trigger with a long two-stage movement.

Click here to view the Briley Sporter features guide

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Is the extra cost worth it? Perhaps, if your shooting has reached a level where you need to purchase the best to improve your scores. The Briley shot the best overall averages with two of the three ammos, and tied for best with the third. We even landed several 0.30-inch five-shot groups. On average we could say that the extra money was worth at least 0.1 inch.

Obviously the accuracy work was topnotch; moreover, its ergonomics were just right. We felt the stock on the Briley gun fit us well while standing. But the biggest advantage was the trigger. If the other triggers were adjusted to only 1 pound like the Briley’s, would we have shot them better? Likely so. However, it is not always possible to modify a semi-automatic trigger to a light position without it failing to ignite the round or even resist the urge to let go prematurely.

The Briley Sporter includes several other upgrades as well. We had to shim beneath the scope mounts to achieve the proper elevation on every rifle besides the Briley. Extending the top strap mount and pushing the scope base forward solved the mounting problem on this gun.

Also, the original slide release has been rebuilt from wider stock, fashioned to a gentler contour and finished smoothly. The magazine release was lever operated, which eliminated needing two fingers to release the switch and having to cant the gun to operate it. Just push the lever forward and the magazine falls into your hand. This certainly gives you an advantage in a timed-fire event. As mentioned before this was the heaviest rifle in the test, but since we found it easy to make a solid connection at four points (cheek, forend, butt, and grip) it did not seem unwieldy.

Gun Tests Recommends
Within certain limitations, we would buy all four of these guns, but we recognize that different segments of the market might be best suited for each one, as we suggest below:

Magnum Research Magnum Lite, $600. Buy It. You might spend the most time shooting this rifle because it is accurate, stylish, compact, and weather resistant. Youngsters or women would seem to be likely candidates for this gun, as well as anyone who needs portability.

Ruger TNZ, $600. Buy It. We liked the hold on this one the best, and we feel it has the most potential as well. Buying directly from Ruger can also be a plus. If a stock 10/22 isn’t accurate enough for you, then the TNZ will be.

Clark Custom Guns, $630. Buy It. We would recommend this one for the more experienced, or rather the more developed, shooter. With simple modifications to fit the individual shoulder and cheek, this heavy-duty rifle should endure and excel.

Briley Sporter, $1,100. Conditional Buy. While the other rifles may be relative bargains, $1,100 is not expensive for a top-quality rifle. If you’re a competitive smallbore shooter, this gun will get the job done. The trigger is excellent. Its accuracy was best of the test. Our sole reservation about the gun is cost, but if that doesn’t deter you, then Buy It. And enjoy.