May 2012

Military Replica Rimfire Rifles: Mossberg, Citadel, and ISSC

We liked the Mossberg 715T, a suitable smallbore stand-in for an AR-15. The Citadel M-1 22 Carbine took us on a good trip into the past, but the ISSC MK22 was the better replica, we said.

One reason to produce rimfire replicas of military weapons is to help familiarize the shooter with how each gun operates at a fraction of the price of buying and feeding the corresponding centerfire model. If this isn’t fun enough, then consider the history and the innovation that each rifle offers the shooter ahead of simpler rimfire designs. We last tested military-replica semiautomatic rimfire rifles in the February 2010 issue (“Tactical-Style 22 LR Carbines: Ruger, S&W, Legacy Duke It Out”), with the majority of the roster being taken up by the AR-15 design. In this test we will evaluate only one such rifle, Mossberg’s $276 715T Tactical 22. Our second replica rifle represents a bygone era and the third a modern design. Our old-timer was the $399 Citadel M-1 22 Carbine made in Italy by Chiappa. The $609 German-made ISSC MK22 Desert Tan rifle with folding stock was a replica of the SCAR (Special Operations Forces Combat Assault Rifle). Both the MK22 and the M-1 Carbine are imported by Legacy Sports International of Reno, Nevada.

Mossberg’s $279 715T was fun and one of the least expensive training rifles you can buy. Some of the AR-15 features were faux, but the trigger, sights, and the six-point adjustable stock worked well. It also came with a carry handle mount. We were able to shoot tight groups just as well with the “iron” sights as did with a 4X scope in place.

For accuracy tests, we fired from the 50-yard line with support from the Caldwell Tack Driver sandbag rest. Test ammunition was the same 40-grain assortment we used the April 2012 test of more traditional semi-automatic rifles. Two rounds featured copper-plated bullets. They were CCI’s Mini Mag and CCI’s AR Tactical 22 ammunition. We also fired Federal’s Auto Match rounds, which launched a lead solid bullet. We also tried a variety of hollowpoint ammunition to assess versatility, but elected to fire shots of record with our roundnosed selections so we could compare results directly with our earlier tests.

Each one of our test guns arrived with open sights. In fact, the MK22/SCAR offered two aiming solutions in one set of fold-down sights. We wanted to know how well all of these sight packages worked. In addition, each rifle offered a way to mount a scope. We wanted to know how efficiently this option could be accomplished and its effect on accuracy. We began our accuracy tests using only the supplied open sights. Then, we mounted the same variable power 1-4X power scopes used in last month’s rimfire rifle tests. Firing only the most accurate round per each gun, we then recorded additional 5-shot groups from the 50-yard bench. All three rifles fired at least 300 rounds over three days of testing with no more maintenance than an occasional spray of Rem Oil into the chamber and on the bolt. Let’s see how they scored.

Mossberg 715T Tactical 22 37204 22 LR, $276

The designation 715T is new for 2012, and as of this writing our Mossberg No. 37204 is still listed only as a “Tactical 22” with adjustable stock and 25-round magazine. Actually, the four available AR-15 style semiautomatic are divided into groups of two as per the application of a fixed or an adjustable length buttstock. Whereas we might expect the fixed stock model to utilize a traditional full profile buttstock Mossberg’s item numbers 37200 and 37206 simply remove adjustability from the six position stock. The subdivision in models from this point is whether or not the rifle is shipped with a single 10-round or 25-round magazine.

The 715T is primarily a synthetic (polymer) reproduction of an AR-15 style weapon surrounding Mossberg’s 702 Plinkster action. The first page of the owner’s manual refers to the 702 Plinkster with no mention of the 715T or Tactical 22. On page 13 instructions begin for disassembly of models without AR-style stocks and with AR-style stocks. From page 14 onward, illustrations are of the 715T rather than the 702. We find no fault in this, just as Ruger offers a similar line built on the 10/22 design.

The Mossberg 715T was somewhat of a composite of AR-15 features. It had a carry handle with scope mount supplied. Barrel length was 18 inches, which is the minimum in terms of being considered a rifle instead of a carbine. The fore end handguards were of the longer rifle variety. This made the barrel look stubby, extending only about 2.7 inches past the gas block. The handguard was fit with rails on all four 90-degree planes. One benefit of the rails could be mounting a red dot scope to co-witness with the sights. The carry handle offered an A2-style rear sight that was adjustable for windage and elevation, but there was only one aperture. The front sight, seated inside the standard triangular gas block, was molded to look as though it could be turned for adjustment, but it was in fact solid. Other parts that were static and molded as one with the receiver were the pistol grip and faux charging handle. But the sling loop was free to rotate on the barrel inside the struts of the gas block.

All three of our test rifles operated from single-column magazines. They belonged to (left to right) the Citadel M-1 22 Carbine, the ISSC MK22, and the Mossberg 715T. Both the ISSC and Mossberg magazines offered higher capacity and a sliding stud to help compress the spring for loading additional extra rounds. The Mossberg magazine was supposed to hold 25 rounds, but we could only load 17. The Citadel M-1 22 M1 copy was the only rifle to come with two magazines, each holding a maximum of 10 rounds.

The 715T operated from a single-column 702 Plinkster magazine. The bottom of the 715T magazine was encased in a molding to make it look like the body of an AR-15 magazine. The area below the magazine well was also molded to look like a segment of an AR-15 magazine to complete the profile and maintain the illusion. The magazine release was a lever instead of the typical AR-design button. Movement was downward for release. The safety was a crossbolt design located at the upper front corner of the trigger guard, which showed through the receiver, offering one more clue that this rifle was not actually an AR-15.

Throughout our tests the Mossberg 715T required little or no maintenance. The bolt would lock back upon empty, but each time we removed the magazine the bolt would close. For this reason, chambering a round always began with the bolt closed. Whenever this became difficult we sprayed the bolt to help it move more freely. This occurred three times, twice on day one and once on day two of our tests. No failures to fire or failures to feed during actual shooting occurred. We saw no need to take down our Mossberg for cleaning, but from what we read in the manual, removing the tactical stock, fore end and “receiver shell”, as it is referred to, appeared to be the bulk of the work. With the removal of two pins, the trigger-housing assembly can be pulled from the action. From this point all that was left was to remove the charging handle and the bolt.

Our 25-round magazine was a combination of the steel-bodied 10-rounder with space for the remaining 15 rounds encased in the faux AR-15 magazine body below. It proved to be a simple matter to depress the follower or topmost round with the thumb to load rounds 1 through 11 or 12. After that the magazine spring can be depressed by pulling down on the pressure-release stud located on both sides of the magazine. When the going gets really tough, the supplied loader was helpful, but we still needed a third hand to pull down on the spring. We never got past 17 loaded rounds, but we didn’t have any malfunctions either. Overall, we felt we’d rather have multiple 10-round magazines than struggle with loading the 25-rounder. Not only would that make loading easier, but also the shorter magazine would make shooting from a bench rest more convenient.

To fire shots for record we worked the trigger with a carefully controlled press. This technique always dissects the trigger pull in ways that unmasks any imperfection that may go unnoticed when operated with the power and conviction of rapid fire. The trigger had some creep and take up, but it wasn’t rough. We moved the trigger along until it felt like it had gathered all the strength it could muster. With our eyes settled on the rudimentary but clear sight picture, we prepared for letoff, convincing ourselves to look through ignition and follow through. The Mossberg 715T rewarded us with the best accuracy overall in our tests. All rounds produced an average group size measuring less than 1 inch center to center but our tightest groups were achieved firing the CCI AR Tactical ammunition. In fact, we were able to shoot the smallest single groups of the test measuring about 0.4 inches center to center, not only when aiming with a 4X scope but when using the “iron” sights as well. Variation in size between the largest measured groups of AR Tactical ammunition was about 0.6 inches when using the supplied sights. By using a scope were able to shrink the margin to about 0.3 inches. Different conditions, different place, different shooter. But this single result outshines all three guns fired in our April 2012 tests.

Our Team Said: Admittedly, the Mossberg 715T had a plastic feel that was unavoidable given that it was merely a plinkster in AR-15 clothing. While it won’t teach every aspect of handling an AR-15, it will afford you the opportunity to perfect your skills from any shooting position including prone. The trigger was not unlike many basic service models, and the sight picture was a clear enough compromise between the typical large and small apertures. Any further list of shortcomings paled in the face of the 715T’s accuracy and small price tag. We may need to take a serious look at the Plinkster to determine how much the shooter friendly ergonomics of the AR-15 platform had to do with our results.

Citadel M-1 22 Carbine No. CIR22M1W 22 LR, $399

Recently, we’ve heard that demand is growing for M1 Carbines by homeowners who don’t want to deal with the recoil of a shotgun but need a handy weapon that is more effective than a handgun. This sounds much like the reasoning behind the original request for its development, initially referred to as the United States Carbine, Caliber .30, M1. Aside from its utilitarian appeal the M1 offers a colorful history. The design was still in process when its inventor, Jonathan “Ed” Browning (brother to the more famous John Browning), passed on in 1939. Winchester actually hired an ex-convict by name of David Williams to help finish the project. Williams had reportedly been working on a short-stroke gas piston design while serving a sentence for moonshining. Some accused him of murder, too. Ultimately, the design of the M1 as adopted in 1941 was the result of a team effort, but the movie Carbine Williams starring James Stewart, added to the mystique. Ultimately, the M1 was adopted in various forms including a folding skeleton stock for paratroopers and with select fire capability (M2). For new production rather than surplus, we recommend visiting www.Fulton-Armory.com (Grade: A, Gun Tests December 2009).

The Citadel M-1 22 Carbine (note the addition of the hyphen by the manufacturer) was a reasonably faithful reproduction of the M1 Service Carbine. It weighed in at 4.5 pounds, exactly as listed on the www.LegacySports.com website. As illustrated in our December 2009 article, the original service models weigh, on average, about 5.3 pounds. Our rimfire model offered a comparable walnut stock but operated with an alloy receiver, a plastic trigger guard, plastic barrel band, front sight, and rear sight assembly. (A synthetic-stocked version, No. CIR22M1S, $349, is also available). There was an alloy sling loop on the left side of the barrel band. The matching point of connection was the relief in the buttstock. The bolt was steel, of course, and so was the buttplate. The steel barrel arrived with some oxidation on its surface — enough that it rubbed off on our fingers. We coated the barrel with BreakFree CLP, and the problem went away. Functionally, we experienced no malfunctions of any description during our tests of the Citadel M-1 22 Carbine.

The Citadel was the only rifle in the test to arrive with a second magazine. Both magazines were constructed with a plastic body and held 10 rounds in a single column. Release was by pressing a crossbolt from right to left. We found the release to be a little out of the way and awkward to operate. Its placement just didn’t leave any good options for pressing the release and removing the magazine. The safety lever was located at the upper front corner of the trigger guard on the right-hand side. Together with the magazine release, this gun greatly favors the right-handed shooter. We liked the forward rotation of the safety, but we were wary of pulling the lever back to safety off with the trigger finger. The lever moves sharply to the rear, and it’s easy for the trigger finger to slip off on to the face of the trigger. What made it safe was the heavy 7.75-pound trigger pull, which we think should prevent nearly any type of unintentional discharge. Hand position on the stock favored offhand shooting, but we still felt that the square cut of the pistol grip caused there to be a lot of space between the inside of the firing hand and the stock. From the bench, the angle caused some of our staff to suffer cramping of the wrists.

The bolt action operated with an open top. This made it easy to keep the weapon clean. We wondered if we’d ever need to, but takedown as per the owner’s manual consisted of only two steps. Loosen the barrel screw and remove the barrel band. Then remove the fore end, barrel group and the upper. The bolt stayed open on an empty magazine but would slam shut when the magazine was removed. But the bolt could easily be locked back by pressing down on the stud found on the top surface of the bolt. Detent was supplied by simply pressing the stud downward into a notch machined into the top of the receiver. Rudimentary as it was, this worked so long as the gun wasn’t dropped or struck. Warranty, according to the owner’s manual, was confusing, with some of the gun guaranteed for life with an option for full replacement within a 90-day time period. Warranty repair is handled by Chiappa’s Dayton, Ohio office.

Barrel length was the original 18 inches, but overall length was about 0.7 inches less than the centerfire model. Elevation adjustment consisted of sliding the rear aperture up and down a calibrated ramp so sight radius varied from about 21.3 inches to 21.8 inches. Movement was located via a ball and spring detent that, as we found out, would not take too much abuse. There was also a windage-adjustment knob on the right-hand side with click settings at every one-quarter turn. We liked the sight picture, and our open-sight groups averaged little more than 1.0 inches at 50 yards. Actually, results were surprisingly consistent especially with the lead bullets of the Federal Auto Match ammunition. Using only the open sights, we shot groups that varied between 1.0 inches to 1.2 inches across.

After mounting a scope we were able to improve the gap between smallest and largest group to about 0.8 inches and 1.1 inches, respectively, center to center. But we think we could have done better if we had been able to find an optimum way of mounting the scope. The issue was we had to mount the scope high enough to clear the stock and still offer the shooter a solid, consistent cheek weld. The traditional way to mount a scope on an M1 is “Scout” style, utilizing a forward mount and long-relief scope. But each of the adaptations we found that replace the top piece of the fore end with a Picatinny rail required some sort of modification be made to the rifle. This would be of course referring to an actual G.I. model. So, we weren’t sure of ourselves in ordering that type of component. Instead we simply loosened the set screw on the rear sight unit and pulled it out of its dove tail. This left us with an 11mm mount to which we directly attached a set of rings.

Our Team Said: We found the Citadel M-1 22 Carbine very satisfying, despite whatever shortcomings could be attributed to the original design or its rimfire adaptation. We liked the sights, but mounting a red-dot scope on a forward rail would probably make this one of our all-time favorite rifles. If we had a centerfire M1 Carbine, we’d still want to have this gun, too. We think the training was realistic, and the overall appeal and utility of the original design was maintained in this highly functional replica.

ISSC MK22 Desert Folding Stock Rifle No. ISSC211003 22 LR, $609

Our tests were conducted at a public range, American Shooting Centers in Houston, during regular business hours, so we had chance to gauge public reaction to each test rifle. The ISSC MK22 garnered the most reaction hands down. Whereas the SCAR rifle is scarce and the MK22 lesser known, we fooled a lot of people. A visit to the www.FNHUSA.com website showed us that the MK22 was very close in appearance, weight, and size to the SCAR rifle. The weight of the SCAR was listed at 7.25 pounds. The MK22 weighed about 10 ounces less. Given both rifles utilize polymer, alloy, and steel construction, much of the difference in weight could be due to the operating system of the SCAR described as a gas-operated short-stroke-piston design. Barrel length of the MK22 was one-quarter inch shorter, but was muzzled with a longer flash hider than the SCAR. Other variations from the SCAR rifle included less adjustment to the buttstock, a front sight mounted on the top rail instead of the barrel, and more space on the rails along the right side. Optional features available for the ISSC MK22 included 10-round or 22-round magazines, a black finish versus desert tan and a fixed rather than folding stock. According to the specifications list at www.LegacySports.com, the deciding factor in cost was finish. Black MK22s were listed at a suggested retail price of $577.

From shipping box to range, the MK22 needed only minor assembly. The buttstock was separated but all that was needed was for the hinge pin to be tapped into place. In addition to left- or right-side installation as per the SCAR, the MK22 offered three different positions on each side. This was the patented UCAS, or Universal Cocking Adaptation System. The purpose of such versatility was to accommodate operators whose frontal area would be populated with a bulky load of battle gear. Installation meant simply pushing it into place. A good tug will remove but it was easier to use a punch to overcome the spring loaded detent. There were three different detent studs each one accessible from the right or left side. Details like this are another clue regarding the MK22’s higher price. The last attachment was a pair of hinged sight units. In the down position a pistol style set of three dot notch and post type sights were visible. Locked into the upward position the shooter was treated to an aperture sight in the rear and an AR-15 style post-and-ears unit up front. The rear aperture had a dial adjustment for windage. The front post could be turned to adjust elevation but there was a lack of detent so it couldn’t be secured in any position except fully locked down. However, the notch and post sights were dead on and easy to read so we decided to use them to record shots of record.

Like the SCAR rifle the MK22 had an impressive list of features. They included an adjustable length buttstock with push button release that changed length of pull from 12.5 inches to 13.8 inches. The comb could be raised or lowered. One last button on the buttstock allowed the stock to be folded and locked against the right-hand side of the receiver. Overall length with stock folded was about 27 inches. The fitting at the rear of the receiver supplied two of its five total sling loops. Both the safety and the magazine release could be operated from either side of the weapon. The lower Picatinny rail and both side rails offered about 6.5 inches of usable length. There was a 1.5-inch rail located below the gas block. The top rail measured 16 inches. But the rail was actually composed of three separate sections measuring about 5 inches in length bolted down from above. Our one supplied magazine was about the same size as a 30-round AR-15 magazine. Its polymer construction was robust, reminding us that if this rifle costs a little more, at least its construction rivals that of its centerfire counterpart. The magazine had a pull-down tab that worked with precision and was probably more expensive to make than some complete magazines. To wit, extra magazines cost $64 regardless of color or capacity. The magazine body was calibrated for 22 rounds, but we found it would hold more. But when loaded to its maximum capacity of 23 rounds, the pull-down tab ultimately aligned with the 18-round hash mark. The MK22 also offered a disconnect feature, wherein the trigger would not operate without a magazine in place. Whereas we measured the trigger pull to provide about 7.0 pounds of resistance, it didn’t feel nearly that heavy. The trigger on the MK22 offered a consistent take up and a break that was neither hard nor soft. Its break seemed to happen progressively, like a good double-action pistol.

Instructions for takedown amounted to a single step on page 19 of the manual. That was, remove the two pins that secure the lower end of the polymer receiver body, pull it from the action, and you are done. The two screw heads located on the left side at each end of the receiver actually cap the pins and hold them in place. With the body removed, there was access to the bolt assembly and chamber as well as the hammer. Further disassembly was limited to authorized repair only.

At the range, the MK22 seemed to prefer hollowpoints, specifically Winchester’s new 333 rounds (Load No. 22LR333HP). But from the bench using the pistol-style open sights, our best results were achieved firing the Federal Auto Match lead solids. The average group size computed to right at about 1.0 inches. At first we had a little trouble chambering the lead solids. Ultimately, we found that the key to smooth operation had less to do with the type of ammunition and more to do with making sure the top round in the magazine was properly angled upwards. Actually, this was the same concern we have with most high-capacity magazines built for all kinds of semiautos, including AR-15s and AK47s. Slapping the back of the magazine against our open palms to properly seat the rounds was nothing out of the ordinary, and we daresay good training.

Results from the bench firing the Auto Match ammunition with a 4X scope in place reduced the variation in group size to 0.6 inches across to 0.9 inches, respectively. Back in the shop we removed the scope to find that the individual rails where the scope had been mounted were loose. We tightened the Allen screws that kept them in place. Could this shifting, although minor, have distorted the consistency of our aim? If we had mounted using only individual rings directly to the rail we might say yes. But we had mounted our scope with a secondary riser base from Brownells that likely clamped out any variation between the segments of the rail. We also noticed that the buttstock, once unfolded, was not rock solid, but given our shooting position, we doubt this was an issue either. Overall, we felt this rifle was not as well suited to using a traditional optical scope. We think the ISSC MK22 would be at its best with a 1X dot or reflex scope mounted forward on the rail.

Our Team Said: Based on the experience of our test shooter who has spent significant time firing both prototype and production SCAR rifles, the MK22 did indeed offer insight into what it is like to operate its actual counterpart. The sheer weight of the MK22 places it in the realm of “reality” closer than most other rimfire replicas. Compared to other rimfire replicas we’ve tried, the Ruger SR22 shared the same weight compliment but didn’t operate like its AR-15 disguise. To date, Smith & Wesson’s M&P 15 has impressed us the most in that regard. But the ISSC MK22 may well offer the most of what many feel this category should be selling. That is what it’s actually like to operate a modern battle rifle.

Mossberg 715T Tactical 22 37204 22 LR

ACCURACY AND CHRONOGRAPH DATA

Citadel M-1 22 Carbine CIR22M1W 22 LR

ISSC MK22 Desert Folding Stock Rifle ISSC211003 22 LR

Gun Tests Report Card Summary