Tricky Trio of 22 Autoloaders: Marlin Tops Remington, Ruger
Marlinís Model 60 pleases us, and Remingtonís 597 SS was right up there. But Rugerís laser-sighted 10/22 left us clutching our wallet and wondering if its technology was worth it.
The 22 autoloading rifle is an American icon. Many a youngster had one for his first rifle, and while they may not be ideal for that service, they are unquestionably handy rifles for any serious outdoorsman. They can also be excellent training pieces for just about anyone interested in serious shooting.
We found three semiautomatic 22 LR rifles at the local gun shop. They were the Marlin Model 60 with tubular magazine and hardwood stock ($179), the Remington 597 SS with stainless barrel and synthetic stock ($283), and a Ruger-made 10/22 Model 1163 LZ distributorís special, available through your dealer, with camo stock and laser sight ($526). The tricky laser got our attention. We couldnít resist a good hard look at what it had to offer, other than a scary price tag.
Although two of the guns would accept tip-off scope rings and two were drilled for traditional scope bases (the Remington had both), we chose to shoot Ďem with the iron sights provided. One of our reasons was to help us assess the laser sight on the Ruger. Would it prove to be useful in dim light, or against a questionable background where iron sights or even a scope would be hard to use? We intended to find out if that was a useful addition to the rifle, or just another sales gimmick.
We tested with three types of ammunition: Winchester Super-X Power Point HP, Aguila Supermaximum Hyper Velocity (yes, thatís really the name) solid point (flat nose), and CCI Mini Mag round-nose ammunition. Here is what we found.
Marlin Model 60 22 LR, $179
We immediately took to this wood-stocked little rifle, which we found selling for $143 retail. The feel was solid, and we liked the thought of shooting a relatively warm-stocked hardwood stock in cold weather. Our suspicions were correct. This was the most comfortable stock on our shooterís faces. Our first surprise was that this rifle held 14 rounds, and you could get 15 into it if you wanted.
The stock was birch, slab-sawn, with a walnut-like finish. Birch is an excellent choice for gun stocks, and can have attractive grain. This one was fairly plain. The wood finish was impeccable, smooth and slick and offering excellent protection against nicks and dings. There was no checkering. The styling was classic, with the addition of a hump on the butt to get your face higher if you wanted to use a scope. The iron sights presented a really good sight picture. The front blade was flat on top and the rear, though a U notch, had a wide, flat top so elevation was not a question. The width of the U notch was just right for the size of the front sight. The rear was adjustable via the ancient spring-and-wedge system for elevation, and by drifting for windage. We had to make slight adjustments to both, for our eyes. The flat-topped front blade had a square whitish insert that caught the light and provided a much better picture than if it had been simply plain black.
The steel barrel was polished well and blued without excess glare. It plugged into a black-matte, alloy receiver that had grooves on top for a scope, but was not drilled. The trigger guard was polymer with a matte black finish. The magazine tube was blued steel, with a brass inner tube for the cartridges. A twist opened it, and as in days of old, you poured your fresh rounds into the magazine until it held no more. A tug on the bolt handle chambered the first round. Practicality told us that with a chambered round we didnít want to open that magazine and put in a 15th round, because doing so would expose our hand to the hot muzzle.
The rifleís safety was a cross bolt behind the trigger, in the back of the guard. We donít like these, but there you have it. It worked well enough. After the last shot the bolt stays partly open, and we liked that. A bolt stop permits closing it if desired, or you can lock the bolt open any time you want by pressing forward on the bolt-stop lever.
On the range we found loading the rifle very easy. All operations worked to perfection, and the rifle performed flawlessly throughout our test shooting. The trigger pull was consistent and clean at 5.6 pounds. We thought it was the best trigger of the trio. Our groups were all between 1.5 and 2 inches, with occasional bursts of brilliance that we believe would easily justify a scope. We saw many groups with four of the five shots well under an inch, at 50 yards, with a fifth spoiling it. We suspect this was our fault, not the rifleís. This rifle was the only one that tolerated the extremely high velocity of the Aguila ammo, making several groups well under 2 inches. Velocity was 1450 fps out of this rifle, which is stepping right along.
Remington 597 SS
No. 26565 22 LR, $283
This rifle seemed to be designed for the right-handed shooter, though the stock was entirely ambidextrous. The design is also available with blued barrel for an incredibly low $188; blued with scope for $229; in a laminated-stock, heavy-barrel version ($337); and with laminated stock and stainless barrel ($348). Another of the many versions in multiple colors (including pink) is a thumbhole-stock version called the 597 TVP with heavy stainless barrel and scope rail for $532. Many more may be seen at the company website (remington.com).
This was an exceptionally clean-looking rifle. Its finish let light into all its dark areas, which helped the overall clean look. The light-gray stock looked like costly Kevlar, but was not. The free-floated barrel was matte stainless, and plugged into an alloy receiver having a similar finish. The barrel, receiver, and stock were entirely glare free. Though the iron sights were blued, they were also matte finished. Likewise the plastic trigger-guard and butt-plate finishes were dull. This rifle simply didnít shine, and thatís all to the good. The non-glare matte finish was excellent in the field, just what you want for serious use. The finishes would also fight weather over the years.
We found the stock to be extremely hand filling, and highly attractive as well. We thought this was by no means a youthís rifle. The dimensions were pure adult. The forend was wide and comfortable, and the pistol grip was also on the large side. There was no checkering, but it didnít seem to need it. The stock had a slightly pebbly surface, rough enough to keep the gun from slipping when wet. The butt plate was checkered to help hold the rifle in place on the shoulder. We noticed the butt plate seemed slightly loose, so we carefully pried it out. Whether by design or by accident there is a nice storage area inside the stock that could probably be put to good use by the clever outdoorsman.
Remington went to the extent of Teflon-nickel-coating some of the guts, like the bolt and sear-engagement parts, to ensure smoothness and long life. The bolt was noticeably slick and clean in its movement. We liked the fact that the bolt stays open after last shot, an excellent feature shared by the Marlin, but conspicuously missing from the Ruger.
The iron sights were matte blued, and attached to the barrel with screws. The front was a round-top bead with a large white dot, which was highly visible. The rear was one of the common U-notch sights, a bit too small for best use but fully functional and adjustable. The sights required lots of movement to the left and some added elevation to get the shots centered. Windage was easily changed with a screwdriver. An Allen wrench was needed to loosen the sightís clamping action to change elevation. We liked the sight setup, though we wanted a wider gap in the rear blade, and would have preferred a flat top to the front post.
The trigger guard and integral magazine well were polymer, and worked very well for their tasks. The magazine release button was slick and handy. The mag held ten rounds, but we had the devil of a time getting the last one in. The safety button was behind the trigger guard like that on the Remington 870 shotgun. We donít know of anyone who likes this setup, but if you have an 870 youíll know where to find this 22 rifleís safety. As with all three guns, a press toward the left displays a red ring if you turn the gun upside down, and that lets you fire.
The trigger pull was just over six pounds, and somewhat variable from shot to shot on this new rifle. It settled down as more rounds went through the rifle, and became stable by the end of our testing. We thought it was a decent trigger, though a bit on the heavy side.
On the range, after we got the sights where we wanted them, we found the Remington easily made sub-two-inch groups at 50 yards with the CCI Mini Mags. It didnít like the Aguila ammunition whatsoever, often flinging one or two of a five-shot string completely off the paper. We know not where they all went, but found one of them some nine inches out of the main group. The wayward shot landed head on. Velocity was a stunning 1645 fps out of the Remington, highest speed of the three rifles. We saw several groups of three shots around an inch, but we had fired five, and the other two were simply not there. This is not a condemnation of the Remington by any means. Clearly the high-speed Aguila ammunition is not for every rifle.
Ruger 10/22 Camo
Model 1163 LZ 22 LR, $526
This rifle appears on the Ruger website (www.ruger.com) only as a distributorís special. A call to Ruger got us the information that this rifle was commissioned by the big distributor AcuSport, and a call to AcuSport confirmed they have them in stock as of this writing. Your dealer ought to be able to order one from any of the AcuSport outlets nationwide. (www.acusport.com)
What we have here is a camo-stocked Ruger 10/22 with a laser built into the forend. As weíve all seen on TV, the red dot is the visual kiss of death for the bad guys. But as any rifleman can tell you, the idea of using a laser on a sniper rifle is ludicrous. When stealth is the idea, donít advertise your presence. And the same can probably be said of a laser on a 22 rifle. If you point a red dot at yonder rat, will he stand still for it? Maybe, though many of us doubt it.
The camo finish on this rifle was excellent. It covered everything, including the barrel, trigger guard and butt plate. Only the bolt and its handle, iron sights, trigger, magazine, and laser body were not coated with the camouflage covering. We put the rifle on top of some springtime ground cover and nearly lost it, itís that good. The stock had good prominent checkering on pistol grip and forend. There was a button on the left side of the forend, where the right-handed shooterís thumb, or leftyís index finger, normally fell. Press the button and the laserís red dot shoots out from the front of the forend. As we found, the laser can be easily adjusted with a tiny Allen wrench to correspond with your iron sights. Why would anyone want this? Well, iron sights and even a scope will often not show a clear aiming point in questionable light. But that laser surely will. The other side of the coin is that you have to be sure of what youíre shooting at, and the laser will not help you do that.
So, how well did the Ruger look and perform, the laser notwithstanding? The workmanship was just fine, as is common with Ruger firearms. The safety was again a cross bolt, but at the front of the trigger guard, which we liked more than the setup on the other two rifles. The stock butt gave out a loud, hollow sound when rapped, that didnít seem quite right to us. The sights were the standard Ruger folding rear, with large white diamond, adjustable for elevation with a tiny screwdriver and by drifting for windage. We had to knock it to the right significantly to get it on the paper, but elevation was okay. The front bead gave us the common lousy American sight picture, and the rear blade was so far down in its mount that there was not much of a flat to judge elevation. The front dot had a gold bead, and that helped us see it in odd light. The rifle was drilled for scope mounting, but there were no tip-off grooves. The time-proven Ruger ten-shot magazine came out with a hefty push and pinch, a movement that will bust the fingernails of some, and please the dickens out of others.
On the range we found the Ruger got its best accuracy with the Winchester HP stuff. Best groups were right at an inch. Like the Remington, the 10/22 didnít like the Aguila ammo, putting it (all five, with no missing flyers) into groups close to four inches. We didnít care for the trigger pull here. It averaged 5.8 pounds clean, but despite the wide trigger, the pull felt heavier than it measured. We see why there are after-market trigger assemblies sold for the 10/22. We adjusted the laser to our sights and then tried groups of three fast shots, using first the sights and then the laser. The iron sights proved to be faster for our shooters, who are trained to look at the front sight. The use of the laser required the shooter to focus on the target, which to untrained shooters seems logical. But thatís not the way most guns work, and we thought this system would take considerable time for us to become accustomed to. Also, the light amplified the shake aspect, which some of us found disconcerting. There was no practical difference in accuracy, in these 20-yard offhand tests.