February 2010

Tactical-Style 22 LR Carbines: Ruger, S&W, Legacy Duke It Out

Smith & Wesson’s M&P 15-22 AR-15 rimfire reproduction and Ruger’s SR-22 AR-styled 10/22 are winners, our testers agreed. The Legacy Sports Puma Wildcat is an interesting wild card.

The evaluation of tactical or military-style carbines chambered for 22 LR doesn’t come as a surprise to our readers, who’ve been asking for a story on the topic for months. But we admit we’re surprised that the production of rimfire rifles in full-size carbine trim is such a big trend. So many different models are currently available or on someone’s drawing board, it’s going to take two or three more articles to cover the entire category. So let’s get started.

In this rimfire test we will look at two AR-15 derivatives and another carbine that more closely resembled a 1941 Russian machine gun. Our test guns were the Ruger SR-22R No. 1226 22 LR, $625; Smith & Wesson’s M&P 15-22 No. 811030 22 LR, $569; and the Legacy Sports Puma Wildcat PPS2250S 22 LR, $550. Certainly, training was the most obvious reason for our test guns to be built—but we wanted to know if they were fun, too.

How we tested was determined by the facility of each carbine to support open sights and/or a scope. The Legacy Puma was fit with open sights and a grooved rail machined into the receiver. The Ruger SR-22 and the Smith & Wesson M&P 15-22 each supplied rail support for mounting a scope or a set of clamp-on sights. A complete set of sights were supplied with the Smith & Wesson. But the Ruger was shipped with only a Picatinny rail atop the receiver. Before we could finish dialing up www.yankeehillmachine.com to order a set of AR-15 sights to be mounted on to the Ruger SR-22, we decided instead to use the Smith & Wesson-supplied sights and put them on the Ruger for recording shots of record from the 25-yard line. The accuracy totals would be more head to head, we reasoned, and we’d save $100. Just factor the lack of sights into your buying decision if you go with the Ruger.

We also mounted a scope on each carbine and collected accuracy data from the 50-yard bench. For this test we fired only the ammunition that proved most accurate. Our test rounds were Federal Champion 40-grain solids and Federal’s 36-grain hollowpoint Value Pack ammunition. But it was our third choice that turned out to be the sole ammunition utilized for our 50-yard session. The 40-grain lead roundnose CCI Green Tag ammunition was judged superior in all three guns. However, performance was very close regardless of gun or ammunition. That we were forced to split hairs to determine which gun was more accurate says a lot about the guns, and we might add, the category itself.

For our 50-yard session we mounted a scope on each rifle. In the process we determined that one advantage to these guns was they afforded an inexpensive way to try out different accessories and master new techniques. We had with us some unusual devices, such as Insight’s MRDS mil-spec dot scope and Leupold’s Mark 4 3.5-10X40mm LR/T scope. The MRDS was an upgraded version of a recreational design that offered improved windage and elevation adjustments plus an on/off switch. We wanted to know how well it functioned. The Leupold scope was used in an earlier test (November 2008). The letters LR/T signify illuminated crosshairs plotted as a Tactical Milling Reticle. This means the hash marks seen on the crosshairs can be used as holdover points as they apply to different-caliber ammunition and bullet weights. In addition, the reticle can be used as a grid to mathematically compute changes in elevation settings. This is called ranging. For the limited purposes of our tests the two most important features were the overall layout of its unique reticle. Approximately the outer half length of each crosshair was wide and bold. The inner lines both up and down were fine crosshairs, but the point at which the they met was left empty. Near targets are to be taken with the eyes somewhat relaxed to allow for a manner of wide-angle focus placing the target inside the bracket of the dark crosshairs. To record our 50-yard accuracy data we narrowed our vision to the void at the center of the reticle. The opportunity to perfect techniques necessary for using either the MRDS or the Leupold LR/T scopes effectively, while shooting inexpensive rounds of 22 LR ammunition, was one of the reasons we would own a rimfire carbine like these.

Our targets for the long-range session were Caldwell’s 12-inch Sight-in Target with Orange Peel capability. This was a 1-foot square with four circles surrounding a diamond. We liked the Orange Peel feature because hits were highlighted with an orange ring, but the hits didn’t obliterate the original point of aim. Roger Eckstine handmade the 25-yard target, the Reckstine Sight-In Target, to help the shooters visually bracket the sight picture, placing the tip of the front sight upon the center ring. High-volume work was spent shooting at Caldwells’s Shooting Gallery—a great toy for high-capacity rimfire weapons. The $280 Shooting Gallery is a self-resetting, self-contained moving [IMGCAP(2)]target system. It allowed us to "hull" without tiresome target changes.

Let’s find out how each gun performed.

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