Autoloading .22’s are lots of fun and can be lots of gun. They tend to run you broke on ammunition because of the lure of easily and quickly firing off the entire magazine. In fact, this might be one reason to own a semiauto .22 that has a limited number of rounds in the magazine, say five to seven rounds. This limitation tends to force the shooter to make every shot count, much as the fellow with a six-shot muzzle-loading revolver is reluctant to shoot quickly because of all the work needed to make the gun ready to go again.
Be that as it may, self-loading .22’s offer lots of shooting fun, but unfortunately many of them are not all that accurate. They would be more fun if they could hit the center of the target as well as they can burn up ammunition quickly. The accuracy problems often lie in the barrel, which leads some shooters to replace the factory original with a custom or heavy match barrel. Some clever manufacturers have anticipated this and have brought out heavy-barreled versions of their semiautomatic rifles, and sometimes the barrels are of higher grade than the ordinary one. This tends to make for happier shooters. The heavy barrel leads to steadier holding, and a more accurate barrel makes shooting a delight because of the increased number of hits, even when shooting very quickly.
All of the above begs the question of the need for such a rifle. What exactly can one do with such a firearm? There is, of course, plinking: busting tin cans informally has always been lots of fun, all the more when one can perforate the target with many holes very quickly. There are formalized competitions that call for rapid-fire accurate shooting with .22 LR rifles. (The Chevy Team Challenge comes to mind.) There is also the perceived need of hunters who want to take such a firearm afield, and though the heavy barrel undoubtedly adds weight, the finished rifle isn’t too outlandishly heavy to pack all day, particularly in light of its increased performance over the standard-barreled version.
It is as if one falls for the genre, buys first the standard-weight gun, shoots it until he realizes its limitations, then matures enough (and this can happen overnight — though reading about them in Gun Tests can quickly catalyze the transformation to maturity) to realize that a heavy-barreled version would be a better bet, whereupon he ditches the old one and buys the new bull-barreled .22 LR of choice. Thus our shooter achieves .22 autoloader nirvana.
Being fully mature ourselves, we wrung out three heavy-barrel semiautomatic .22 LR rifles to show you what each has to offer. For this evaluation, we tried the Marlin 7000, the Savage 64FV and the Ruger 10/22T.
The Marlin 7000 was a somewhat odd-looking rifle because of its relatively short barrel, coupled with a stock that had a relatively long pull length of 14 inches. Its detachable box magazine held ten rounds. The stock was made of a black fiberglass-filled synthetic, with a smooth finish and molded-in checkering. The plastic trigger guard was removable. The stock featured a black rubber recoil pad, plastic pistol grip cap and blued steel swivel studs. All were well installed. The receiver was made of an aluminum alloy, matte-black finished. The 18-inch barrel measured 0.81 inch in diameter at the muzzle and had a brushed blue finish. The stock had an elevated comb and a Schnabel-style forend that we thought looked good, but was a bit too slim. (Europeans ought to love it.) The rifle features a FAL-like bolt control lever that we’ll describe a bit later. There was a two-piece Weaver-style scope base included with the rifle. There were no metallic sights on this rifle. At 5-1/4 pounds, it was the lightest rifle of this test.
Our Savage 64FV had a synthetic stock of classic appearance, and it was smoothly finished in dull black. It had an integral trigger guard and molded-in checkering. The black plastic buttplate and pistol grip cap were adequately installed. There were no swivel studs or sling rings provided; neither were there scope rings or iron sights. The 21-inch barrel measured 0.81 inch in diameter at the muzzle, and it had a brushed blue finish. It was mated to a steel receiver having the same brushed blue finish. The overall appearance of this rifle was pleasing, except for the protruding ten-shot detachable box magazine. Pull length was 13-1/2 inches, and the Savage weighed 6 pounds.[PDFCAP(2)].
Nice though the Savage looked, the appearance of the Ruger 10/22T nearly knocked our eyes out. The stock was dazzling in contrasting wood laminates, almost garish in its satin-finished appearance. The rifle featured Ruger’s proven rotary magazine that held ten shots. The 20-inch barrel measured 0.92 inch in diameter at the muzzle, and it had a striated exterior surface, the product apparently of hammer forging, similar to that found on the very costly Steyr rifles. Either you like this or not, right off the bat. The barrel finish was shiny blue, which, by the way, generally provides longer bluing life than brushed or bead-blasted surfaces, according to one of our experts on metal finishing. The aluminum receiver and trigger guard were finished in matte black. The stock had a black rubber recoil pad and blued steel sling rings that were well installed. The stock had no checkering, but we didn’t feel it was needed. Pull length was 13-7/8 inches on the straight-combed buttstock.[PDFCAP(3)].
Again, no iron sights or rings were provided with the 10/22T, but there was a tip-off mount adapter and the receiver was drilled and tapped for it. The only negative item that we found, right away, was that the Ruger weighed 7-1/2 pounds, far more than most small game hunters would want to carry afield.
We put Burris 3-9x Mini scopes on all three rifles for our tests.
Fit and Finish
We thought the Marlin 7000 was about average in its stock-to-metal and metal-to-metal fitting. The barrel was not free-floated, and there was a medium-size gap at the rear of the receiver and a small gap around the rear of the trigger guard. There was some play in the magazine when it was locked in place, and there was a moderate to small amount of play in the majority of the moving parts.
The Savage 64FV’s inletting was adequate, as was the metal-to-metal fitting. However, the gap on the right side of the barrel was twice as large as the gap on the left side. No big deal because the barrel was free-floated. We thought there was plenty of extra and unneeded space around the safety lever and trigger, and it’s through gaps like this where dirt can enter and gum things up. There was moderate movement in the moving parts, including the bolt and the magazine when locked in place.
Ruger did an above average job on their fitting of our test 10/22T. The unusual barrel was not free-floated, which was a bit surprising. We found a small gap on the left side of the receiver and at the back of the action, but everywhere else this rifle was tightly fitted. Most metal parts fit other metal parts very well, with minimal or no play. The exception was the bolt handle, which seemed to have a lot of play but worked well. There were no sharp edges, wonder of wonders (Ruger rifles are well known for having sharp edges), and no tool marks.
Controls and Triggers
Marlin equipped the Model 7000 with a 5-1/4-pound trigger. Its pull had minor slack, a clean release and little overtravel. The trigger itself had a grooved 1/4-inch-wide face. The bolt was the smoothest operating of the test, and also had the largest cocking handle. (Remember those gloves in cold weather?) One of the neatest features was the bolt release/lock lever, located on the right forward portion of the trigger guard. Pulling back the bolt and pushing up on the lever locked the bolt open. After reloading the magazine and putting it back into the gun, pressing down on the lever released the bolt to fly forward and chamber a round—a very similar method (though on the opposite side) to that of the great FN FAL centerfire battle rifle. The bolt automatically locked open after the last shot, unique among the three test rifles, and a really professional touch. The bolt release/locking lever worked well and smoothly.
The Marlin’s manual safety was a crossbolt located at the rear of the trigger guard. When pushed to the right, it engaged and prevented firing by blocking the trigger. It disengaged when pushed to the left. The crossbolt worked smoothly. Another safety-related feature was a magazine disconnect device, which made it impossible to fire the gun with the magazine removed. Getting the magazine out of the Marlin required pressing rearward on a spring-steel catch located at the rear of the magazine well. It worked well.
Our Savage 64FV had an alarmingly heavy trigger pull of 7-1/2 pounds. It had lots of slack, a very heavy release and minor overtravel. The face of the trigger itself measured 1/4-inch wide, and its surface was smooth. Retracting the bolt required the most effort of the three test guns, though it moved smoothly enough.
The Model 64FV had a two-position safety, located at the right rear of the receiver. When pulled back, it blocked the trigger. Operation was positive. There were no other safety devices, and the rifle could be fired with the magazine removed. Getting the magazine in and out required rocking a spring-loaded lever, located at the front of the well, forward until the magazine could be removed. We found the magazine difficult to load for the last two rounds. By the way, none of our test rifles’ magazines had loading buttons to ease loading. On this rifle, it would have helped. One other Savage control bears mention. The bolt could be locked open manually by retracting the bolt and pushing the cocking knob inward. Pulling the knob out let the bolt run forward.
Controls on the Ruger 10/22T were quite simple. Although the magazine catch was at the rear of the well and needed to be pushed upward to unlock the magazine, removing the magazine from the rifle required a pinching motion with the fingers in front of, and behind, the rotary magazine. All ten rounds loaded easily. The safety was a crossbolt placed at the front of the trigger guard. When pressed to the left, it permitted the gun to be fired. The bolt lock/release was a metal blade at the front of the trigger guard. Pressing inward on the bottom of that blade and retracting the bolt locked the bolt open. Pressing in at the top of the blade and slightly retracting the bolt allowed the bolt to fly forward.
Our Ruger’s trigger required a 3-3/4-pound pull to break. It had a small amount of slack, a crisp release and minor overtravel. The face of the trigger was smooth, and 3/8-inch wide. We felt a minor hitch when retracting the Ruger’s bolt, but it actually required the least effort to cock.
Handling and Feel
The light Marlin 7000 was very fast, the fastest of the three, in shouldering and target acquisition. Most of our shooters liked its slightly longer pull length. They also thought the rifle had enough muzzle heft for adequate offhand stability, in spite of its light weight. The recoil pad was comfortable, but just about all shooters wanted a less-pointed toe. (This can be accomplished by the individual with a moderately coarse file followed by sandpaper.) We thought the raised comb permitted good cheek and jaw contact for comfortable and easy shooting. Although the forend was slim, it ought to be just about right in cold weather when wearing gloves.
We must say, the locking open of the Model 7000’s bolt after the final shot was something our shooters came to know by feel; so, without even looking, they could tell when the gun was empty. This was a mighty nice feature, and we wished the other rifles in this test had it. Just about all semiauto handguns have it, and the shooter accustomed to that feedback on his autoloading handgun will appreciate it on the Marlin.
Our test Savage 64FV weighed 1/2 pound more than the Marlin (and a full 1-1/2 pounds less than the Ruger) and had good offhand stability. We thought the speed of shouldering and target acquisition were satisfactory. The hard buttplate was reasonably comfortable, though it was a bit slippery. The straight comb provided good jaw contact, but not enough contact for our shooters’ cheeks. We thought the comb was actually too low for scope use. However, there were no iron sights on the rifle, so a scope was needed. The rounded forend and relatively slim pistol grip provided a good grasp on the rifle.
Ah, yes, that heavy Ruger. Most of its weight was in the barrel, so it was quite muzzle heavy. This gave the rifle very good offhand stability. Getting this heavy .22 to the shooter’s shoulder was slow, as was target acquisition. However, once the target was acquired, the rifle stayed there very well. The rubber buttpad was comfortable. The length of pull (13-7/8 inches) was about ideal for all shooters. This rifle’s wide oval-shaped forend and wide pistol grip provided a very good grasp, in spite of the absence of checkering. The straight comb was okay on facial comfort and fit. We were sure the weight of this rifle would make it excel at some kinds of shooting, but would surely not help make it the best hunting .22 around.
Because of its light weight, the Marlin produced the most noticeable muzzle jump of the three guns tested. However, we thought recoil was completely controllable and inconsequential. There were no malfunctions of any kind during our testing of the Model 7000. Accuracy was, in our opinion, more than acceptable. We shot Federal Gold Medal Match, Winchester T22, and Remington High Velocity ammun-ition during our testing. The Marlin liked the Federal match load enough to put all its shots into an average five-shot group size of 1.55 inches at 100 yards. Not many production .22 LR rifles will consistently beat that, and usually not by much. The worst performer in the Marlin was the Remington High Velocity load, with an average group size of 2.70 inches, again at 100 yards.
Our shooters thought the muzzle jump of the Savage was about average, but we had some minor functioning problems. There were three failures to eject, all with the Remington ammunition. No other malfunctions were encountered with this gun. The Remington load produced average five-shot groups in the Savage 64FV of 3.30 inches at 100 yards. The best groups, again with the Federal match ammunition, were 2.20 inches. This was quite simply not bad at all. Compare that with what you’d get from a standard-weight barrel from just about any maker and we feel these groups would significantly beat them. Still, this rifle’s accuracy wasn’t as good as either of the other two guns in this test. The heavy trigger pull certainly didn’t help.[PDFCAP(4)].
The 7-1/2-pound Ruger gave the least muzzle jump, as expected, and recoil was almost nonexistent. There were no functioning problems of any sort with the Model 10/22T. Accuracy was the best of the test, with the Federal match ammunition providing average five-shot groups at 100 yards of 1.23 inches. Not many centerfire rifles will match, much less beat, that. Again the worst grouping was with the Remington load, at 2.10 inches. We noted that the velocity of this Remington ammo was from 1,250 to 1,300 fps, and it had the highest standard deviation, while the velocity of the match ammo was from 1,090 to about 1,130 fps, hovering at or just under the speed of sound. For top accuracy with most 22 LR’s, the slower and more uniform the better.
We felt Marlin’s Model 7000 was a winner. It was light enough to be packable—and perhaps too light for serious competition use, but that, after all, is a pretty specialized use for a .22 rifle. Some of us weren’t real happy with the overall looks of the rifle. But, it worked smoothly, provided decent accuracy, was easy to operate, and didn’t give us any problems. We really liked the stay-open bolt on the last shot, and the easy-to-use bolt release lever. The $219 Marlin was a fun gun, and a workhorse that would be at home in many diverse situations. We liked it the best of the test.
In our opinion, the Savage 64FV needed desperately to have something done about its trigger. A pull of 7-1/2 pounds was just too much. However, at only $149, it costs $70 less than the Marlin, and it would fill lots of bills. It looked, to some of our eyes, good indeed. Its fit and finish were a bit loose here and there, but this gun did work adequately for lots of purposes.
The Ruger 10/22T looked like a million dollars. However, its price tag of $393 seemed to be about a million dollars compared to the other two guns. You could buy two Savages and have nearly a hundred dollars left over, for that price. Or you could buy 1.8 Marlin 7000s for the same price. Some felt the Ruger was worth it, but the majority of our testers didn’t think so. The Ruger was a specialized gun, too much so for general use, in our opinion, though we liked its looks and the cleverly done barrel.
If we wanted a competition gun we’d go with the Ruger, hands down. Only a few custom makers, such as Jim Clark and Tom Volquartsen, build better heavy-barrel match rifles, and they cost lots more than the factory-made Model 10/22T. However, for a utility gun that you can use for competition if you’re not really driven, the Marlin Model 7000 gets our nod. The cash savings are significant, and you’ll get lots of shooting and use out of the Marlin.