A blowback-operated rifle needs a heavy bolt, an appropriate recoil spring, a stock, a barrel, and a feed device, and you have an affordable firearm. They are among the most uncomplicated firearms. Since Winchester introduced the Model 1903, Americans have enjoyed the 22 LR self-loading design. For plinking, marksmanship training, small-game hunting, and some types of competition, the 22 rifle is a great choice. The 22 rifle is a staple of American life. Many have successfully been pressed into service as defensive firearms, and the new rifles are better than ever in this role. Winchester, for instance, introduced the Wildcat rifle recently, and we have to admit it is a thoroughly modern rifle with a host of innovations. We wanted to test the Wildcat against some likely competitors, so we chose the Rossi Rimfire Rifle RS22L1811-TH 22 LR, $159; and the stalwart Ruger 10/22 Carbine 1151 22 LR, $235; to go up against a Winchester Wildcat 521100102 22 LR, $245.
We elected to fire each rifle with 200 cartridges plus the loads chosen for accuracy testing. We chose the Remington Thunderbolt and Winchester Wildcat ammunition for most of the range work. Each is a high-velocity 40-grain LRN loading. We also used the Fiocchi 38-grain HV for accuracy work. We began by firing the rifle at small targets at 25 yards and using the Winchester Wildcat ammo in rapid fire at silhouette targets. Here’s what we found:
Gun Tests Grade: A (OUR PICK)
We waited more than a year and a half to obtain the Wildcat, despite its introduction in 2019. They were scarce. An interesting feature is that the rifle uses a striker-fired ignition. When applied to handguns, the striker has given us faster lock times and greater reliability. The firing pin itself is a deviation from the old chisel type and is designed with a hemispherical point. Under magnification, the point is unique among 22-caliber rifles we have examined. Because the priming compound in 22 rimfire ammunition is the source of many malfunctions, this is a valid improvement. The rifle doesn’t use a primer itself, but priming compound is distributed in the cartridge case rim. The rim is crushed against the chamber lip by the firing pin, igniting the priming compound and the gun powder.
|Overall Length||36.25 in.|
|Barrel||Blued steel, 18.0 in. long, 1:16 twist|
|Overall Height||3.75 in.|
|Weight Unloaded||4.9 lbs.|
|Weight Loaded||5.1 lbs.|
|Stock||Gray composite, plastic buttplate, composite sling swivel studs|
|Stock Length of Pull||13.75 in.|
|Trigger Pull Weight||5.5 lbs.|
|Front Sight||Ramped post|
|Rear Sight||Adjustable ghost ring, Picatinny top rail|
Elsewhere, the rifle receiver appears conventional at first glance. The bolt features a nicely extended handle. The stock is polymer. The receiver is a housing containing the moving parts. The trigger group and skeletonized trigger guard are a good fit. The parts fit together well even after a dozen or so field strips.
The field-strip process is interesting. By pressing a visible red plunger in the back of the receiver inward and tugging downward on the trigger guard, you may remove the action housing out the bottom of the stock. This allows cleaning the barrel from the rear, normally a difficult thing to do with a 22-caliber automatic rifle. An interesting feature is that the bolt handle folds out of the way as the firing group is pressed out of the receiver. This hinged bolt handle is a neat trick. When the rifle is re-assembled, the handle moves back to its original position. The action is easily cleaned by a simple blast with aerosol cleaner, and the shooter shouldn’t skimp on this process, because 22 rimfire ammunition uses famously dirty gun powder. The ability to clean the piece easily should make for greater long-term reliability. It is interesting to note that two Allen wrenches are clipped to the action and accessible once the action is removed. One fits the rifle stock, and the other may be used to adjust the rear sight. This is well thought out.
A boon to folks who like to stock up on magazines is that the Winchester Wildcat magazine is compatible with Ruger 10/22 magazines. During the test, we used both 10-round Winchester and Ruger magazines, and the Ruger BX-25 magazine, without any feed difficulty. A steel tab on the Winchester-made magazine locks the bolt open on the last shot. There is also a small wheel that aids in holding the spring as the magazine is loaded.
We liked the stock design of the Winchester Wildcat. There are lightly done ribs on the stock and near the firing grip that offer good purchase. The Winchester features an aperture rear and plain black post front sight. It would have been good to have a bit of lighter material on the front sight, but the sights are good examples of all-round aimers suitable for most any chore. Raters were split on the sights, with some liking the Winchester sights for accuracy and others the Rossi for clarity. The Ruger was at the bottom of the scale. There is enough real estate to mount a red dot or optic. You will need a Picatinny interface with some scopes.
The barrel is 18 inches long. The weight of the rifle is a very nice 4.9 pounds unloaded. This makes the Wildcat an excellent choice as a truck gun or knock about shooter. It is almost feathery. Near the front of the stock is a three-slot area for mounting lights or lasers. This is a nice touch if the rifle is to be used for personal defense or a nocturnal pursuit such as raccoon hunting, if legal in your area. There is a piece supplied with the Wildcat that covers the forward accessory rail. We have no photos of this because we lost it early in the game. Sling swivels studs are molded into the stock. We like the molded in red areas for the magazine release, two of them. One is conventional and one is a larger rail on each side set into the stock above the trigger guard. It makes magazine changes much easier. The bolt release, also molded in red, is rated more ergonomic than the Ruger. Trigger compression is heavier than we like at 5.5 pounds, but useful. The Wildcat’s trigger felt neither lighter nor heavier than it was, and it wasn’t difficult to manage. The Rossi’s trigger broke at 5.4 pounds and felt lighter. The Ruger trigger was the best of the three with a 4.75-pound compression.
During the range work, there were no failures to feed, chamber, fire, or eject. General accuracy was good. Due to the sights and overall good handling, the Wildcat gave the best rapid-fire results. In accuracy, the Winchester shaded the other rifles by a small margin. The best single result for a five-shot group at 25 yards was 0.9 inch with the Fiocchi load.
Our Team Said: We liked the Winchester Wildcat the best of the three rifles. If it holds up in the field, and there is no reason it should not, this is going to be a desirable rifle for years. At the time of our test, the Wildcat seemed a scarce commodity, but supply seems to have gotten better. We think this rifle is a winner.
22 LR Range DataWe fired groups from an MTM K Zone gun rest from a braced benchrest firing position at 25 yards. We fired strings of three five-shot groups for each load in each gun. We measured velocities by firing over a RCBS Ammomaster Chrono-graph at 10 yards.
|Fiocchi PSD 38-grain High Velocity||Rossi RS22||Ruger 10/22||Winchester Wildcat|
|Muzzle Velocity||1269 fps||1244 fps||1258 fps|
|Muzzle Energy||136 ft.-lbs.||131 ft.-lbs.||133 ft.-lbs.|
|Smallest Group||1.65 in.||1.25 in.||0.90 in|
|Average Group||2.20 in.||1.60 in.||1.30 in.|
|Winchester Wildcat 40-grain CPRN||Rossi RS22||Ruger 10/22||Winchester Wildcat|
|Muzzle Velocity||1211 fps||1238 fps||1222 fps|
|Muzzle Energy||130 ft.-lbs.||136 ft.-lbs.||133 ft.-lbs.|
|Smallest Group||2.0 in.||1.40 in.||1.50 in.|
|Average Group||2.4 in.||1.80 in.||1.80 in.|
|Remington Thunderbolt 40-grain LRN||Rossi RS22||Ruger 10/22||Winchester Wildcat|
|Muzzle Velocity||1221 fps||1248 fps||1253 fps|
|Muzzle Energy||132 ft.-lbs.||138 ft.-lbs.||139 ft.-lbs.|
|Smallest Group||2.30 in.||1.65 in.||1.25 in.|
|Average Group||2.60 in.||1.85 in.||1.60 in.|
Value Guide 22 Rifle Rankings (Various Actions)
|Henry Pump Action Octagon H003T 22 S/L/LR, $500||Jul. 2022||A||Our Pick. Most accurate rifle of the trio. Smooth in operation and felt substantial in hand.|
|Taurus Pump Action Rifle M62R 22 LR, $400||Jul. 2022||A||A Winchester Model 62 knockoff that is fun to shoot. Worth owning if you can find one in good condition.|
|Rossi Gallery 22 RP22181SY 22 LR, $270||Jul. 2022||A-||Best Buy. We liked the updated look of the Gallery and found its accuracy to be good. Fun rifle for plinking.|
|Bergara B14R 22 LR, $950||Jun. 2022||A||Our Pick. The Bergara was ready to perform right out of the box. Heaviest, most accurate, most expensive.|
|Christensen Ranger 22 22 LR, $830||Jun. 2022||A||Were we to grade this quartet strictly for hunting, the Christensen would win running away.|
|Tikka T1X 22 LR, $519||Jun. 2022||B+||Best Buy. The most pedestrian of the rifles tested in this group, the Tikka would be suited for hunting afield.|
|Ruger Precision Rimfire 8401 22 LR, $480||Jun. 2022||B||Lots of features that should bring a smile to the face of competitive shooters. Would like to see more accuracy.|
|Henry Golden Boy Model H004 22 S/L/LR, $500||Feb. 2022||A||Our Pick. The Golden Boy Henry shines. It is heavy and has a very smooth operating lever.|
|Rossi Rio Bravo RL22181WD 22 LR, $300||Feb. 2022||A||Best Buy. Bravo to the Rio Bravo. The test rifle was accurate, lightweight, and had a smooth-cycling lever.|
|Chiappa LA322 Standard Carbine 920.383 22 LR, $290||Feb. 2022||D||The LA322 had several failures to feed and showed some soft firing-pin hits.|
|Browning BL-22 Grade I 024100103 22 S/L/LR, $700||Sep. 2021||A-||Our Pick. The fit and finish were superb, and that is reflected in the cost. Accuracy was the best of the three.|
|Henry Classic Lever Action 22 H001 22 S/L/LR, $386||Sep. 2021||A-||Best Buy. The Classic 22 Lever Henry is well made, fun to shoot and inexpensive. Accuracy was good.|
|Taylor’s & Co. Scout RIF/2045 22 LR, $594||Sep. 2021||A-||Styled after a resized Winchester Model 1873. We liked the option of adding an optic. Silver finish is striking.|
|Savage Model 64 Takedown 40207 22 LR, $212||Sep. 2020||A||Best Buy. Basically a Model 64 barrel and action attached to an abbreviated polymer stock.|
|Ruger 10/22 Takedown 11100 22 LR, $372||Sep. 2020||A||Our Pick. This has all the performance the iconic 10/22 is known for in a compact package.|
|KelTec Model SU22CA 22 LR, $373||Sep. 2020||A-||While not a true takedown rifle, the folding stock on the SU-22CA makes it easy to stow and go.|
|Smith & Wesson M&P 15-22 22 LR, $500||Mar. 2020||A||Best Buy. The Smith & Wesson M&P 15-22 operated as we wanted and shot well. It won’t break the bank.|
|Walther Arms HK416 D145RS 578.03.01 22 LR, $583||Mar. 2020||B||If you’re looking for an M27 clone, this one is worth thinking about.|
|Anschütz MSR RX22 22 LR, $900||Mar. 2020||C||The Anschütz RX22’s trigger wasn’t the best, its buttpad fell off repeatedly, and no one liked its open sights.|
|ISSC MK22 ISSC211000 22 LR, $270||Mar. 2020||F||Showed ongoing failures to feed and extract. The blems on the sides of the receiver put us off.|
|German Sport Guns GSG-StG44 GERGSTG44 22 LR, $330||Feb. 2020||A||Our Pick. The action had very similar stampings to what you would find on the historical firearm.|
|Walther Arms Colt M4 Carbine 5760300 22 LR, $350||Feb. 2020||B||The Walther Arms Colt 22 LR M4 looks almost identical to the standard-issue Colt centerfire rifle.|