Improving Upon An Icon
(Editor’s note: the rifle pictured above is an example of a Ruger 10/22 with several enhancements, notably a highly profiled US Shooting Team (USST) thumbhole stock and a free-floating bull barrel. This is merely one example of hundreds of possible custom configurations of the 10/22; a few others are the topic of this article.)
I’ve been writing articles for ScopedIn for almost five years now, and I recently realized that I’d yet to do a single piece on rimfire guns. High time for that to change, and no better place to start than the venerable 10/22 rifle from Sturm, Ruger & Co., of Southport, CT.
To call the 10/22 a successful product is quite an understatement. The 10/22 has existed since 1964, and is touted by Ruger as the most popular .22 LR shooter in the world. It is affordable, reliable, low maintenance and fun. It is probably also the most widely customized rifle in the world; countless companies make aftermarket components for the 10/22. It’s not uncommon, in fact, for a competitive shooter to purchase a 10/22, then immediately replace several components such as the barrel, stock and trigger.
In recent years, Ruger has begun producing premium versions of the 10/22, known as Target models. We thought it would be fun to see how Ruger’s finest stacks up against a “roll your own” version, so we compared the entry-level Ruger (known as the Carbine) against the Target model. We then did some spiffy upgrades to the Carbine, and tested its improvement. The results proved to be somewhat surprising.
As mentioned above, we used two Ruger guns in this test. The first was their basic Carbine model (#1103).
It’s amazing how much gun Ruger puts into this little package for a MSRP of only $277. For your money, you get a blued barrel, a solid hardwood stock and a trigger that really isn’t too bad. There’s nothing fancy or showy about the 10/22 Carbine, but if there’s a better entry-level deals on the market, I don’t know about it.
At the other end of the 10/22 spectrum is the Target line. For this article, we chose model #1241, which features a stainless barrel, a black laminate stock and a black-finished action.
At $549, it costs almost exactly twice the Carbine model. For your extra money, you get a hammer-forged bull barrel, a higher-quality laminate stock, and a better trigger assembly with a lighter pull. It is unquestionably far superior to the Carbine model, but how would it compare to a gun upgraded with world-class, third party components?
The Custom Equipment
Logic dictates that you’ll improve something the most by beginning with its weakest link. In the case of the 10/22, this is probably its trigger. I want to point out that the trigger really isn’t that bad, and is certainly fine for the vast majority of shooters. Serious target shooters and those interested in competition, however, will find it far too heavy, and the pull too long and not smooth enough.
I did some asking around and found a company called Kidd Innovative Design. Located in McQueeney, TX, the Kidds produce literally every component of a 10/22; you could build an entire rifle with absolutely no parts from Ruger. They’re also well-respected within the 10/22 world for their competition triggers. After discussing the project with Mary Kidd, we chose a two-stage model with 7 oz./14 oz. pull weights.
The KID trigger comes in single or double-stage configuration, several pull weights and choice of colors. Installation is a breeze: you simply drift two pins out, remove the old assembly, replace with the new assembly and re-insert the pins.
To be perfectly honest, this trigger took a little getting used to. I’m primarily a hunter and handgunner, and even my bench AR-15 has about a 2.5 pound trigger pull. I simply was not used to a trigger that would give way with so little resistance. After a while, though, I realized that I was at fault, for I was putting my finger on the trigger too early in the shot-taking sequence. With all my other guns, I could get away with it, but with a trigger so light, I needed to place my finger on the trigger as the very last step. This trigger, therefore, made me a better shooter. And, once I got used to it, it was an absolute pleasure to use. KID pre-tunes their triggers to what they feel are optimal settings. When I installed this unit and tried it, it didn’t even enter my mind to play with the settings. It was that good.
Another 10/22 component that is often upgraded is the barrel. The barrel on the Carbine model is everything you could expect in an economy rifle, and is deliberately spare on the metal to keep the gun lightweight. While handy for field use, this isn’t what one wants in a competition rifle. Enter the KID match barrel.
The KID match barrel features a .920″ diameter along its full length. It is available in three lengths and two finishes. You can also order a threaded tip if you wish to install a compensator or tuner (something the very, very serious .22 folks do).
Each barrel receives an 11 degree crown and the double ring logo at the muzzle.
I ordered the 20″ barrel, reasoning that if I ever chose to shoot high-velocity ammunition from this gun, a longer barrel could take better advantage of the heavier load.
Installing a barrel on a 10/22, like the trigger, is a trivial exercise. After removing the barrel band (in the case of the Carbine model) and the stock, each of which require loosening one screw, you simply unscrew the two allen screws and remove the V-block retainer, and pull the barrel free from the receiver. Installation is merely the reverse of removal.
For best accuracy, however, care must be taken when tightening the allen screws, as the 10/22 is pretty finicky about the torque you put on these screws. Ruger stipulates a torque of 28 inch-pounds (yes, INCH-pounds), and KID recommends only 10 inch-pounds. Failure to observe these specs can result in a barrel that is slightly misaligned with the receiver, which can have profound adverse effects upon the gun’s accuracy. While it’s probably OK to err by a few inch pounds, it’s essential that the two screws are given the same torque. Having one tighter than the other is going to be the kiss of death for accuracy. Getting these two screws properly and equally torqued is not easy to do…unless you have the right tool.
Seekonk Precision Tools of Seekonk, MA is a supplier of a wide variety of precision torquing instruments. I chose their TSQ-100 model, a dial-type gauge with 1/4″ drive.
The TSQ-100 is accurate and compact. The size of the gauge helps you avoid angling the gauge when tightening the screw, which could give an erroneous reading. I imagine that all serious 10/22 shooters have a tool like this in their box. You’ll also need a 5/32″ hex drive socket (in 1/4″ drive, of course).
The addition of a bull barrel necessitated a new stock that would accommodate it. In keeping with the article’s theme of going with the very best, we turned to McMillan of Phoenix, AZ.
McMillan is perhaps the finest supplier of synthetic stocks for the competitive shooting sports. I spoke with Dick Davis of McMillan, and we settled on their Sportsmans Team Challenge (STC) stock. The STC is patterned after an Anschutz stock, and designed to accommodate a 10/22.
The STC cradles a 10/22 action with a firm, loving embrace of fiberglass. So firm, in fact, that a bit of fitting (done with 220-grit sandpaper) was necessary before the action would slide all the way into the stock. Once fitted, though, it felt as solid as the Rock of Gibralter. The fore-end of the STC is broad and flat to give a nice firm fit to the rest, and it features a high cheek weld. It is quite possibly the most comfortable stock I own, and makes shooting the 10/22 a sheer delight.
Winchester T-22. This ammo was intended to be the control group for the test. It’s everything most .22 shooters look for in ammunition: reliable and cheap.
CCI Mini-Mag High Velocity. The only supersonic ammunition in the test, its intended usage is for applications that demand ultimate terminal performance, not pinpoint accuracy. Still, I thought it would be an interesting inclusion for the test.
RWS Target Rifle. This is RWS’s economy line. Touted for its consistency, it’s excellent for casual target shooting and practice.
RWS R 50. Widely regarded as the ne plus ultra of rimfire ammunition, the R 50 is as good as it gets.
Testing was performed on four configurations of rifle:
- a rock-stock Carbine model
- the Carbine model outfitted with the KID trigger
- the Carbine model with full customization (the KID trigger, KID barrel and McMillan stock)
- a stock Target model
Originally, I wanted to test each component individually, but I soon realized that it wouldn’t make sense to try to shoot the Carbine barrel fitted to the McMillan stock, as I wouldn’t be able to use the barrel band, and the thin barrel would be free to whip around all over the place. It wouldn’t have made for a meaningful test anyway, as no one would want to use a gun so configured.
All testing was done at 50 yards from sandbags on a heavy bench. Ten rounds of each ammunition was fired, and the group size was measured. Climatic conditions were cool but mild, wind was negligible, and altitude was about 600 feet above sea level. All shooting was performed with a Leupold VX-II 3-9x33mm Rimfire EFR riflescope. (The open sights on the Carbine model were never used.)
What you see in the table below are bona-fide results, with no “do-overs” to make the results look better. (One exception to this was the T-22 ammunition in the fully customized rifle, as after my first group, I discovered the scope had worked loose.) In two cases (noted in the table), I “felt” a flyer before I looked to confirm it. Group measurements with, and without, the flyers are provided.
Here’s a table showing the group sizes. If you want to look at an actual target, click on the cell corresponding to the group you’re interested in.
|Configuration||CCI Mini Mag||Winchester T22||RWS Target Rifle||RWS R-50|
|* double entries denote group size including/excluding flyer.|
|Carbine w/ KID trigger||3.75||3.06||0.72||0.92|
The only real mystery to me in these results is that the stock Carbine rifle outperformed the KID trigger using the “cheaper” ammunition. I have no explanation for this, and can only attribute it to random variation (and the fact that I was still getting used to this trigger in the early stages of testing).
- The Carbine model ain't half bad. Though clearly out-performed by all the other configurations, the Carbine model performed respectably, particularly with the subsonic ammunition.
- The Target model has nothing to be ashamed of. It is clearly head and shoulders above the Carbine in terms of accuracy. While not on a par with a fully customized rifle, it must be remembered that for the price of the upgrade items in this test, one could purchase both the Carbine and Target models, and have enough left over for some good ammo. For someone looking for most bang for the buck, the Target model deserves a serious look.
- High performance products do matter. There is no escaping the conclusion that the addition of high quality aftermarket components will dramatically elevate the performance of a 10/22. This tells us two things that experienced rimfire competitors already know:
- The 10/22 is an outstanding platform for customization, and…
- You get what you pay for. These pricey aftermarket parts really deliver.
- Ammo matters, too. It didn’t show up as vividly when tested in the carbine configurations, but the good stuff really shines in a high-quality rifle. And again, it’s worth mentioning that it would be unreasonable to expect the high-velocity CCI ammo to compete with the other stuff here. It’s simply intended for purposes other than ultimate accuracy.
I really enjoyed this test, and look forward to using these rifles for a variety of applications. I hope you found the information in this article useful as well. As always, I welcome any feedback.
Part of the reason that this article took so long to bring to print, is that after I thought I was finished, I discovered that I’d inadvertently damaged the wonderful McMillan stock that I’d used for testing. McMillan, in their infinite patience, replaced it, and I was able to do some brief retesting. I only bothered retesting the RWS ammunition, since I felt it could best take advantage of a well fitting stock. Here are the results:
|Ammunition||RWS Target Rifle||RWS R-50|
All I can say is…WOW! The fully custom gun, with a properly fitting stock and using high-quality ammunition, simply shoots fantastic. As tight as these clusters were, there’s no reason to think that these groups would have greatly opened up. I should also point out that I was shooting quickly and with less than full concentration; a better marksman surely would have produced groups that were even tighter.
So again, the choice is yours: for very little money, you can go with a carbine model and get good results. With a moderate investment, you can select the Target model and get very good results. Or, if you’re willing to spend some more money on truly premium components (and ammunition), you can become the envy of rimfire shooters everywhere. No matter how you choose, you can’t go wrong.