Wood is alive. Wood absorbs moisture. Wood warps. Wood breaks. Because wood is wood, its economically impractical to manufacture wooden gun stocks in quantity that will fit a barrelled-action precisely when the two are merely screwed together. Such precision and the accuracy it achieves can only be accomplished by the hands of a skilled stockmaker that means big bucks.
Synthetics are dead, dont warp, weigh about the same as wood and are far less susceptible to outside influences. While there are many kinds of wood, each with its own characteristics, there are basically two categories of synthetic materials used to manufacture stocks: fiberglass and thermoplastic.
With fiberglass, highly temperature-resistant epoxy and polyester resins are hand-layered in a form along with the reinforcing material. The form includes an exact pattern of the barrelled-action for which the synthetic stock is being made. Remington Model 700. Ruger Model 77. Winchester Model 70. Whatever. The cost of the resins is high, anywhere from $700 to $2,000 for a 55-gallon drum, and is reflected in the cost of the finished stock.
Thermoplastic, the material used in the majority of synthetic stocks, is injected into a mold containing the pattern of a given barrelled-action. Because they are heat- sensitive, thermoplastics react to high temperatures as much or more than wood reacts to water. In 100 degree weather, they can grow as much as 1/8 inch. Though bedding will not adhere to thermoplastic stocks, unlike wood, they are literally unbreakable.
With either synthetic, as long as close tolerances are maintained in producing multiples of a barrelled-action, one form or mold that is well maintained can turn out an equal multiple of stocks that will fit like a rubber glove. Theyll never be as handsome, or as valued, as wood, but tree huggers love them.
All of the stainless steel .22 Magnum bolt action rifles in this test come with synthetic stocks, making them weather and corrosion resistant. They are the Ruger Model 77/22 RSMP, the Marlin Model 882SS and the Savage Model 93FSS Magnum. Here is what we found when these rifles were tested side by side:
Ruger M77/22 RSMP
Although Ruger is best known for its handguns and semiautomatic rifles, this manufacturer also offers over a dozen different .22-caliber bolt action rifles. The Model 77/22 RSMP, also referred to as the All-Weather Rifle, is a .22 Magnum intended for hunting. This $481 model features a 20-inch barrel, an Integral Base Receiver and a detachable 9-shot rotary magazine. Its two-piece bolt has two locking lugs in the middle and dual extractors at the front.
We thought the Model 77/22 RSMP had by far the best metal work of the test. Its stainless steel barrel and action were uniformly brushed, while the bolt was given a medium polish. Minor casting marks were noted on the interior of the receiver, but there were no sharp edges or other inconsistencies. Metal parts had little or no play.
Most of our shooters thought the synthetic stock was ugly, but well constructed. It had a smooth grayish-black finish, an integral trigger guard and recessed sides at the rear. Fitting of the grooved inserts on the forend and grip, the stainless steel sling rings and the black rubber recoil pad was precise. Stock-to-metal mating was very close, especially around the receiver.
Regardless of the ammunition used, this Ruger worked reliably. Its bolt operated the smoothest and easiest of the test. Loading rounds into the rotary magazine wasnt difficult. When the magazine catch was depressed, the magazine readily slid in and out of the gun. But, it couldnt be inserted into the magazine well if the catch wasnt depressed.
In handling, the Model 77/22 RSMP was the most muzzle-heavy rifle tested. This afforded the best muzzle stability. Target acquisition and shouldering were smooth and natural. The rubber recoil pad comfortably fit the shooters shoulder and was very non-slip. Establishing a stockweld with good cheek and jaw contact wasnt a problem when using a scope. We felt the pistol grip was overly thin, but it and the flat-bottomed forend could be grasped solidly. Perceived recoil was the mildest.
Both of the controls worked positively. However, we found the low-profile bolt release on the left rear of the receiver to be difficult to depress without a screwdriver or similar tool. The manual safety was a three-position lever at the right rear of the receiver. It disengaged in the forward position, blocked the sear in the mid-position and blocked the sear and locked the bolt in the rearward position.
In our opinion, the ungrooved 1/4-inch-wide triggers movement was clean but about a pound too heavy for a rimfire rifle in this price range. Its pull had no slack and released smoothly at 4 1/4 pounds with moderate overtravel.
The open sights consisted of a blued front blade with a brass-colored bead and a folding rear blade with a white diamond under its U-shaped notch. This adjustable arrangement provided a good sighting reference at 25 yards or less. However, for accuracy testing, we equipped this rifle with a Burris 3-9X Mini scope using the integral bases on the top of the receiver and the rings provided with the gun.
All of our shooters considered this .22 Magnums accuracy to be very good. At 50 yards, five-shot groups averaged from 1.00 inch with Winchester 40-grain jacketed hollow points to 1.48 inches with CCI 40-grain jacketed hollow points.
Since the Model 77/22 RSMP had the shortest barrel of the test, it yielded the slowest muzzle velocities. But, the difference wasnt what we would call significant.
One of Marlins many rimfire rifles is the Model 882SS. According to the manufacturer, this $294 bolt action .22 Magnum is for shooters who thrive on nasty weather. It is equipped with a 22-inch barrel and a removable 7-round box magazine. The gun has a two-piece bolt with one locking lug, located at the base of the bolt handle, and dual extractors.
In our opinion, the Model 882SS workmanship was only average. Except for the lightly polished bolt, all of its stainless steel surface had an evenly brushed finish. The single-column magazine, the magazine well plate and the swivel studs had a matte nickel-plated finish. The interior of the receiver was covered with shallow tool marks. Moving parts had a small amount of play.
This Marlins black synthetic stock was good looking. It had an integral trigger guard and butt plate, molded checkering and a textured finish. The swivel studs were well installed. Overall, stock-to-metal mating was satisfactory. However, there was a lot of empty space around the trigger, the magazine and the safety.
At the range, the Model 882SS digested all of the ammunition we fed it without a hitch. Despite a minor amount of drag, the bolt operated freely. Our shooters thought the extractor, a piece of spring steel with dual prongs, was overly cheap for a gun of this price, but it never failed.
Filling the 7-round single-column magazine to capacity required only a modest amount of effort. Inserting and removing it from the rifle wasnt difficult, providing the guide sleeve on the back of the magazine was aligned with the guide bar in the magazine well. When flexed to the rear, the spring-steel catch at the rear of the well released the magazine.
Movement of the manual safety, a two-position lever at the right rear of the receiver, was fairly stiff. When pulled to the rearward position, it blocked the sear. The cocking indicator, a red dot on the top rear of the striker, could be seen only when the action was cocked. Although there was no bolt release lever, holding the trigger to the rear allowed the bolt to be removed from the gun.
This Marlin was the most evenly balanced rifle of the test. Muzzle stability and target acquisition were fairly good. Shouldering was smooth. The hard butt plate was less than comfortable, but it wasnt slippery. The raised comb afforded a good stockweld when using a scope. Although the forend and the pistol grip werent hand-filling, they were comfortably shaped. Recoil was moderate for a .22 Magnum rifle.
Our shooters felt the grooved 3/16-inch-wide triggers movement should have been cleaner and lighter. Its 4 1/2-pound pull had some creep, a mushy release and moderate overtravel.
For sighting, the Model 882SS had a bright orange plastic front blade covered by a removable hood. The step-adjustable rear sight consisted of a semi-buckhorn blade with plain face and a U-shaped notch. This system provided a decent sight picture. Since the top of the receiver was grooved to facilitate the mounting of a scope, we installed a Burris 3-9X Mini scope on this rifle using a set of tip-off rings that didnt come with the gun.
We considered this .22 Magnums accuracy to be above average. Its five-shot average groups measured from 1.10 inches at 50 yards with Federal 50-grain jacketed hollow points to 1.30 inches with CCI 40-grain jacketed hollow points.
Chronographing showed that the Model 882SS produced the highest muzzle velocities of the test with the CCI and Winchester loads, which was expected because it had the longest barrel. But, velocities were relatively low with the Federal ammunition.
Savage M93FSS Magnum
Savage rimfire rifles are made in Canada. The manufacturers Model 93FSS Magnum is a lightweight all-weather .22 Magnum bolt action rifle that retails for $175. It comes with a 20 3/4-inch barrel and a detachable 5-round box magazine. This models two-piece bolt locks up on the squared base of the bolt handle and has dual extractors.
This Savages fit and finish was, in our opinion, below average. All of its stainless steel parts, except for the lightly polished bolt, had a fairly uniform matte finish. Tool marks were noted on the underside of the bolt and all over the interior of the receiver. The trigger had a lot of side-to-side movement. The magazines floorplate was so loosely fitted that it came off a couple of times during testing.
We thought the black synthetic stock was plain and somewhat cheap looking. It had a smooth finish, molded checkering and an integral trigger guard. Swivel studs were provided. The plastic grip cap was well installed, but the plastic butt plate was unevenly fitted. Minor gaps were noted along the barrel and the receiver. The trigger, magazine and safety had a lot of space around them.
The Model 93FSS Magnums feeding, firing, extraction and ejection were 100 percent reliable. Some drag was noted in the bolts movement, but it didnt bind. Inserting all five rounds into the single-column magazine was a snap. The magazine system had the same type of guide sleeve and guide bar arrangement as on the Marlin Model 882SS.
Both of the controls worked smoothly. When the spring-steel magazine catch at the rear of the magazine well was flexed rearward, it released the magazine. The manual safety was a two-position lever at the right rear of the receiver. Moving it rearward to the engaged position blocked the sear. When the trigger was held to the rear, the bolt could be withdrawn from the receiver.
This Savage was the lightest rifle of the test by a pound. So, despite being somewhat muzzle heavy, it had the least stable muzzle and recoiled the most. Target acquisition was the fastest and easiest. Shouldering was also the quickest, but the hard butt plate was slippery. The straight comb allowed a stockweld with mostly jaw contact when using a scope. The forend seemed overly thin, but the pistol grip was the widest and most comfortably shaped.
Movement of the ungrooved 1/4-inch-wide trigger was typical of what can be expected on a low-priced rimfire rifle. Adequate, but not what we would consider to be satisfactory. The pull had some creep and a heavy 5 3/4-pound release.
The open sights consisted of a blued steel front blade with a bead-shaped top and a leaf-type rear blade with a U-shaped notch. This arrangement was step adjustable and provided an adequate sight picture. To aid in the installation of a scope, the top of the receiver was grooved. Using a set of tip-off rings that werent provided with the rifle, we equipped it with a Burris 3-9x Mini scope.
We considered this .22 Magnums accuracy to be more than satisfactory for a rifle that sells for under $200. Five-shot groups at 50 yards averaged from 1.10 inches to 1.40 inches.
Although the Savages barrel was 1 1/4 inches shorter than that of the Marlin Model 882SS, it velocities were only around 10 feet per second slower with two of the three loads. The third load was 36 feet per second faster.