July 2009

22 Magnums: Marlin’s 983S Bolt Gun Is a Magnum Bargain

Our match between a Henry Model H100M lever action, a Marlin Model 983S bolt action, and a Ruger 10-22 semiautomatic resulted in both an accuracy and cost edge for the Marlin.

The high demand and short supply of ammunition in recent months has left many rifle shooters scrambling for alternatives to their centerfire firearms. While rimfire rounds may not be the complete answer to the problem—some types of rimfire ammunition in also in short supply—the popularity of the less expensive bullets is growing.

Those shooters interested in a little more punch for the dollar are turning to 22 Magnum offerings. With more knock-down capability than a Long Rifle round and selling for at about half the cost of common centerfire ammunition, the magnums seem to be a good choice.

22 Magnums

Stretching dollars to get a bigger bang for the buck is becoming even more widespread as shooters stock up on 223 rifle ammo and various handgun cartridges. Many shooters are downsizing from centerfire rifles to rimfire rifles to spend less on ammunition while being able to shoot more in the field and at the target range. We look at three rimfire rifles that pack a punch—22 Magnums in a bolt action, lever action and semiautomatic—to see which firearm would be a good choice for bargain-minded shooters. From left are the lever-action Henry Model H001M, $420; the discontinued-in-2006 semiauto Ruger Model 10-22, which is selling used for about $600, and the bolt-action Marlin Model 983S, $320.

We selected the 22 Magnums because they can satisfy the plinking desires of firearm enthusiasts without breaking the bank; and they offer varmint-stopping punch for shooters interested in bagging small game. We selected three different actions of 22 Magnum rifles for our test, including one model that was recently discontinued and has become something of a sought-after collector’s item. Each of the rifles has a dedicated fan base, with some favoring the old-style lever action; some siding with the normally more accurate bolt action; and some interested in the rapid-fire power of a semiautomatic.

The three rifles in our test were the lever-action Henry Model H001M, $420; the bolt-action Marlin Model 983S, $320; and the discontinued (2006) semiauto Ruger Model 10-22, which is selling for about $600 on several gun-trading websites. Despite the continuing drain on ammunition supplies because of volume purchases, there are still many different varieties of affordable 22 Magnum ammo available at most sporting-goods outlets.

We selected three types of ammunition for our test of the three rifles to check out the effectiveness and grouping of different loads. Our test ammunition included CCI Maxi Mag TNT 30-grain hollowpoints with an average muzzle velocity of 2,200 fps; Remington Premier Magnum Rimfire 33-grain Accutip-V rounds with an average muzzle velocity of 2,000 fps, and Winchester Supreme High Velocity 30-grain jacketed hollowpoints with an average muzzle velocity of 2,250 fps.

Our testing consisted of firing groups of five shots with each rifle at targets set up 50 yards down range, utilizing a Nikon ProStaff 4X scope. All shots were fired from a solid rest on an Uncle Bud’s Bull Bag at Birchwood Casey Shoot-N-C 12-inch targets. We also fired a few test rounds with the open sights of each rifle, with the details listed below. Here’s our test report:

Henry Model H001M Lever Action 22 Magnum, $420

The nostalgia factor comes into play with the Henry lever-action rifle—who doesn’t wish for the old days when a rifle and a horse were a cowboy’s best friends?

We liked the feel of the Henry right out of the box. The action was smooth, and although we would have preferred a slightly shorter throw (90 degrees was required) to load a round into the chamber, we experienced no functioning problems. In addition, the out-of-the-box trigger pull was a nice, crisp 3.75 pounds—welcome when most factory pulls are in the 5-pound range.

The Henry was the lightest of the three test rifles, tipping the scales at 5.75 pounds, with a 19.25-inch barrel and an overall length of 37.25 inches. These factors made the lever action a light, quick, and easy-handling rifle.

However, we found that light and quick, at least in this case, did not result in improved accuracy. While the scoped rifle produced one five-shot group of about three-quarters of an inch, most of the test groups were quite a bit larger than that.

The range of group sizes on targets set up 50 yards downrange with the Henry was from a low of 1.3 inches to a high of 2.25 inches. Not bad, but not quite good enough for hitting targets like small varmints consistently.

22 Magnums

One of the reasons to shoot rounds like the 22 WRF Magnum is that the ammo is less expensive than other popular loads, such as 223 Rem. For example, CheaperThanDirt.com priced the CCI Maxi Mag TNT 30-grain hollowpoints at $13.14 per box of 50 rounds, or 26 cents a shot. Remington Premier Magnum Rimfire 33-grain Accutip-V rounds sold for $17.40/50, or 35 cents a shot; and Winchester Supreme High Velocity 30-grain jacketed hollowpoints, $12.97/50, also 26 cents a round. A box of Federal 223 full metal jacket boattails at CTD were $19.49/20, or 97 cents a round.

Results with open sights were also disappointing. The average group without the scope was about 3.4 inches across, probably because of the light weight of the rifle. Because several of our test-team members were veteran shooters who don’t have the advantage of young eyes, we experienced a little difficulty maintaining a good sight picture with the black rear sight and black front sight. A little gold or white paint on the front sight would help solve that problem. There were no malfunctioning problems with any of the test ammunition, other than one dud Winchester round. That malfunction was with the ammunition and not the rifle.

Our Team Said: This rifle was favored the most by the members of the Old West nostalgia crowd, as the light, quick lever-action was easy to handle and was a pleasure to shoot. Still, we were disappointed in the Henry’s accuracy, both with the scope and with the open sights. We would suggest that Henry shooters experiment with different types of ammunition to find the rounds that produce the best accuracy, and invest in a little gold or white paint to make the front sight more visible.

Marlin Model 983S Bolt Action 22 Magnum, $320

The two-toned stock and stainless action and barrel really makes this rifle stand out in the rack, giving it a plus for eye appeal. Even with its 22-inch barrel, the bolt action still weighed in a right at 6 pounds—with a good heft and balance. The Marlin is designed more in the style of a centerfire rifle than the other two in the test, and we found that factor resulted in better accuracy.

The Monte Carlo stock added to the big-rifle feel of the 22 Magnum, and the rubber recoil pad, while not required for the tiny punch of the magnum, was appreciated because it helped produce a good shoulder fit.

22 Magnums

Although the action was smooth and easy to use, we were disappointed in the size of the loading port on the tubular magazine. The port was slightly smaller than the 22 Magnum ammunition and was a fumble point for some of the members of our test team.

It should be noted that the Marlin was the easiest of the trio to load as a single shot—a big plus if an experienced shooter is planning to use the rifle as a training tool for a beginner.

Both with and without the scope, the Marlin’s accuracy was impressive. The five-shot groups with the various ammunition ranged from a low of 0.75 inch in diameter to a high of only 1.5 inches. Even with the open sights, the average group was 1.9 inches. We are confident that by working with different ammunition, the Marlin could become a nail-driver.

We were slightly disappointed in the trigger pull of the Marlin, which measured 5.75 pounds and probably made an impact in the accuracy testing. A trip to the local gunsmith to have the trigger tweaked to somewhere in the range of 3 to 4 pounds would be our recommendation. As with the Henry, there were no functioning problems with any of the ammunition. The Marlin seeming to favor the Remington 33-grain rounds.

Our Team Said: With its big-rifle feel and impressive accuracy with all the test ammunition, we liked just about every feature of the Marlin. The only minor problems were with the loading port and the out-of-the-box trigger pull—neither of which was considered a deal breaker.

Ruger Model 10-22 Semiautomatic 22 Magnum, $600

All of our test team members had experience with 10-22s of some version or another, so we came to the test table with a good feel for the handling ability of the rifle. We had high expectations and were generally not disappointed.

Perhaps the most popular model of 22-caliber rifle to be introduced to the American market—or at least the most accessorized—the Ruger 10-22 is a functioning, high-quality shooting tool. The 22 Magnum version of the 10-22 was discontinued by Ruger in 2006 and has become one of those sought-after shooters by firearm enthusiasts.

Without a doubt, the Ruger is capable of both rapid-fire plinking and small-game dispatching, featuring an 18.5-inch tapered barrel and an easy-to-feed nine-round rotary magazine that fits flush with the receiver. Carrying one or two extra magazines for sending lots of lead down range is a popular habit among many Ruger owners.

With its adjustable, fold-down rear sight and high-blade gold bead front sight, the Ruger is easy to put on paper. The average open-sight group of five shots was right at 2 inches in diameter, and as noted with the other rifles, we are sure those open-sight groups would shrink with a little ammunition experimentation.

After installing the scope (Ruger rings are required), we tested the Ruger’s accuracy at 50 yards and were a little disappointed in the grouping. The smallest group was 1 inch in diameter and the largest was 2.25 inches. The rifle seemed to favor the CCI Maxi Mag 30-grain hollowpoints, which is not a bad combination for dispatching varmints.

Like most of the 10-22 models, our test rifle featured a curved metal buttplate, rather than a rubber or plastic recoil pad. The buttplate is a love-it or hate-it feature on the Ruger, and our team was split right down the middle. The feature seems to be a matter of personal preference about whether it provides a solid shoulder fit. The best judge is the individual shooter.

Concerning the handling of the Ruger, particularly in the area of loading and unloading, the 10-22 reigned supreme in our match-up. We really liked the rotary magazine feature and would recommend that a spare or two be carried on any shooting expedition.

Following the pattern of the other two rifles, we experienced no malfunctions at all with the Ruger.

As noted earlier, the 22 Magnum version of the Ruger 10-22 might be a little hard to find, as some of the owners replaced the 22 Magnum barrels with barrels that would accommodate 17 HMR ammunition. The price range for the Ruger on various web sites ranges from about $550 to about $650, depending upon the condition of the used firearm.

However, if a shooter is looking for a rifle that will send a lot of lead down range in a hurry, without busting the bullet budget, the Ruger would be a good choice.

Our Team Said: The easy-to-use rotary magazine and the handling ability of the short, solid Ruger were big pluses for our test team. This is a very fine semiautomatic firearm that should find favor with the rock-and-roll crowd. However, we were a little disappointed in the accuracy of the rifle, both with open sights and scope. Although some Ruger fans may disagree, the paper-punching performance combined with the Ruger sporting the highest price tag of the three test guns resulted in us giving it a lower grade than the other two 22 Magnums.

Henry Model H001M Lever Action 22 Magnum

Marlin Model 983S Bolt Action 22 Magnum

Ruger Model 10-22 Semiautomati c 22 Magnum

ACCURACY AND CHRONOGRAPH DATA

GUN TESTS REPORT CARD SUMMARY