Everyone should own a great .22 rifle.
For years, I enjoyed shooting .22 rifles for fun. Whether “plinking” at indiscriminate targets of opportunity, hunting small game or match-target shooting…a .22 rifle has always been fun for me. However, in the past ten years, I have drifted away from shooting .22’s and moved on to the bigger “stuff”.
Over the past six to eight months, I have become reacquainted with my old love of the .22 rifle. Why I ever quit is anyone’s guess? My Father’s old Stevens bolt action .22 was always my favorite plinking rifle. While not a model 52 Winchester, the old Stevens sure did shoot like one, at least to me. It seemed like I could never miss with that rig. This time around was different. I wanted to see just how close I could shoot a group at a distance and with some “new” gear.
The Super Match
While my favorite Stevens .22 is a nice rifle, I knew that it wouldn’t easily accept a scope that was needed to help these older eyes. So, I knocked the dust off of the Olympic-grade Anschutz, model 1413 Super Match, .22 caliber rifle and began shooting some groups at 50 yards. This rifle was made as their top-of-the-line .22 caliber target rifle. It has the famed model 54 action, adjustable trigger, fully adjustable stock, etc. In my opinion, it is one of the best of its kind for shooting tiny groups…if you can do your part.
I noticed that almost all of the groups were under a 1/2″. Though this is what most other rifles in that class were doing, I started thinking about how to stretch things out a bit.
To 100 yards we go…
I was soon to find out, whatever I thought I knew about shooting .22’s at 50 yards didn’t apply at 100 yards. If you don’t watch the wind conditions while shooting standard velocity ammunition, a flyer is soon to appear spoiling an otherwise excellent group. I fired numerous five-shot groups at 100 yards, with 3-4 rounds touching…only to be ruined by a stray flyer. Sometimes it was the loose nut (me) behind the rifle. But, many times I missed the change in wind conditions because I was so focused on sight alignment and trigger control.
Can you see?
Also, I learned that I needed more scope magnification if I expected to consistently shoot tiny groups. Starting with a 14X Unertl, I soon switched to a 20X Unertl scope. I discovered that using more power helped with shooting tighter groups for longer periods of time…all due to reduced eye strain.
Some may ask, “Why the old-school, external adjustment scopes?” Well, to be honest, I like the looks of the ’64 vintage Anschutz target rifle with the external adjustment scope. However, the real reason is that the receiver is not drilled and tapped for a “modern” set of scope bases that are in use today. On this rifle, only the barrel is drilled and tapped for scope bases used with external scopes like the Unertl, Lyman Super Target Spot, Fecker and others. Not wanting to add any extra holes in the rifle, I chose to stick with the Unertl style scope and I’m glad I did.
The 20X Unertl scope functioned as expected. The fine crosshairs made shooting small groups possible because I was able to see a finer aiming point. In addition, the extra scope weight helps hold the gun in place under recoil…granted there is little of that due to the already heavy rifle weight. The adjustments worked perfectly! It’s easier to mount than the more modern scopes that are in use today.
Next, I searched my ammo stash to find all of the .22 match-grade ammunition I had in my possession. I tested ammunition from Federal, Wolf, Lapua, Eley, Winchester, CCI, Remington and others. While many of the “known” standards in .22 match ammo are good, I found there are a few new players on the block that are holding groups as tight as the rest of them. Federal Match, Wolf Match Extra and Winchester Standard Velocity all had groups that were just as good (if not better) than Eley Tenex and Lapua Midas+…AND were one-half to one-third of the cost. (See chart for further details.)
After shooting numerous groups, I discovered (more correctly, re-learned) a few things about .22 ammunition. In a nutshell, I learned that velocity matters. Standard velocity ammo, around 1,080 fps, almost always shoots more accurately than high-velocity ammunition. Bullet weights at 40 grains that are made of soft lead shoot the best across the board. Also, the barrel needs to be “seasoned” with anywhere from 5-15 rounds of the same type of ammunition before you can get the most consistent group sizes. I can’t explain exactly why…I can only tell you that it happens.
More “flyers” were noted in groups just after switching ammunition brands. After a few five-shot groups, the flyers that were due to ammunition/bullet lube went away. There’s always a loose nut (me) behind the rifle that does a great job of making his own flyers without help from any outside sources.
Last, every rifle is unique unto itself, especially when it comes to ammo preferences. Ammunition that shoots well in one rifle, may not shoot well in another. Test each rifle and ammo combination you have. Do not assume that my accuracy results will be the same as your own.
|Ammunition||Min Group||Max Group|
|Federal Match, OLD, order # 900, 40 grain LRN||.606″||.724″|
|Federal Match, NEW, order # 922A, 40 grain LRN||.757″||.871″|
|Federal High Velocity, 38 grain HP, plated*||1.520″||1.468″|
|Lapua Midas +, 40 grain LRN||1.267″||1.163″|
|Eley Tenex, 40 grain LRN||.805″||.834″|
|Winchester Standard Velocity, 40 grain LRN||.998″||1.006″|
|Winchester High Velocity, 37 grain HP, plated**||1.226″||1.324″|
|CCI Standard Velocity, 40 grain LRN||1.761″||1.652″|
|CCI Green Tag, 40 grain LRN||1.508″||1.347″|
|Remington Standard Velocity, 40 grain LRN||1.684″||1.879″|
*Gauged and sorted by rim thickness
**Not gauged-compare with Federal H.V.
A 1964 vintage Anschutz, 1413 Super Match, 22 long rifle, was used for testing. The rifle had a 27 1/2″ heavy barrel, with a 20x Unertl 2″ AO Varmint scope. All groups were two, five shot, groups with all flyers included in measurements. The rifle was fired from bench rest at 100 yards. The weather was clear at 93 degrees.
Rim thickness…Does it matter?
There has been much written in accuracy publications about the gauging and measuring of rim thickness diameters in .22 ammunition. So, I tested some Federal, 38 grain, plated hollow point, high-velocity ammunition. I had hopes that this “lower” grade ammo would show a larger improvement…that is if rim thickness was truly an issue? I was not impressed.
After gauging and measuring this Federal H.V. ammo into four different lots of rim thicknesses down to .001″ of an inch, I found that it didn’t make a substantial difference in group size. At best, one can only expect to save themselves less than .010″ in a five-shot group size…at 100 yards! Obviously, you can obtain a better return on your investment in time by starting with the purchase of higher grade .22 caliber ammo. Or, just test various types of ammo until you find the best brand for your rifle and application.
.22’s in 1932…What is old is new again?
When I was halfway through this learning project, I remembered a reprint of a book on .22 shooting that was given to me by a friend. Searching through my library, I found “.22 Caliber Rifle Shooting” by C.S. Landis that was first printed in 1932. I read the book, and to my amazement, Landis’ experiences were not much different than mine…86 years later.
Landis found that ammunition was the #1 factor in accuracy, with good sights being second in line and a good trigger pull being a close third. He preferred some weight to his rifles with the Winchester model 52 heavy-barreled version being his favorite for target shooting. Landis, also, preferred the Fecker brand external adjustment scopes – the 10-to-12 1/2X, 1.5″ objective being his choice. Interestingly, the only higher powered scope listed in his book was a 16X Fecker. Having shot several 1930-50’s vintage model 52 Winchesters, I can understand why he liked them.
In case you are wondering what group size Landis was getting in 1932, here’s the breakdown: .70″ at 50 yards, 1.50″ at 100 yards and 4″ or less at 200 yards. Landis was using a Winchester model 52, with Winchester Match ammunition, with a scope. In regards to the 100 yard groups he notes, “This is unusual accuracy-very unusual”. In context, I take this as very good accuracy by 1932 standards.
While shooting at targets and getting amazing groups is great fun, I always like a little competition. My shooting partner, who we’ll call “Mike”, likes a little challenge himself. Mike is an excellent shot and also shares some of my same interests in shooting .22’s at distance. He began to put together some excellent shooting rifle and scope combinations. Mike tested CZ, Anschutz, Winchester, Kimber, Remington and Steyr brand .22 rifles…just to name a few. Also, he prefers the external adjustment, Lyman Super Target Spot scopes, in 25X.
Next, Mike and I began to have a few friendly bets on who had the best groups. This led to, “Who’s buying lunch?” So far, it’s Jim 3…Mike 2. I need more practice. Waiter, check please!
Back in the Saddle
After all of this, I have re-discovered the joy of shooting .22’s again. Just this past weekend, my family and I went to the range for some informal target practice. Instead of bringing out the big guns, I brought my son’s .22 rifle and two more of my own. While we were not all shooting at 100 yards, we were hitting everything at 50 yards and having a fantastic time doing so.
If you haven’t shot that long-forgotten .22 rifle (that has been in the back of the safe) in years, you owe it to yourself to wipe off the dust and clean the barrel. I have found that .22 caliber ammunition is cheap, has little recoil and minimal report when fired. New shooters love them! Maybe you will find that shooting .22’s can be fun for the experienced rifleman…even at 100 yards.
Until next month, when I see you on the .22 range.
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