The term “tactical .22 rifle” is essentially an oxymoron. It’s unlikely that a single military or police force on Earth uses .22 Long Rifle arms for small-scale combat operations, at least as primary guns. Nevertheless, this burgeoning class of firearms has taken hold in recent years in the civilian market. With origins dating back to the ever-modular Ruger 10/22, perhaps the most accessorized gun on the planet, up through today’s AR-15 1ook-alikes, these guns have found a welcome place in the cabinets of varmint shooters, beginning marksmen, and of course those who like to shoot all day with inexpensive, readily available ammunition. And with a generous amount of features previously unseen on .22 Long Rifle semi-automatics, this new class of rifles is well-deserving of a closer look. Specifications and Shooting Results can be found as attachments at the very end of this article.
For brevity’s sake not every .22 rimfire conversion or .22 Long Rifle tactical-style gun could be covered. But a number of newer models that offer some unique options in a variety of packages were chosen, each with its strengths and weaknesses.
All of these are blowback-operated, semi-automatic, magazine-fed, dedicated .22 Long Rifle arms, and all incorporate varying degrees of polymer and light alloy components. It’s important to emphasize “dedicated .22,” since some .22 conversion kits do not include barrels suitable for .22 Long Rifle ammunition. Rather, they rely on use of the parent gun’s original barrel. The result can be excessive fouling and poor accuracy. Each manufacturer models its gun after a full-size, center-fire rifle or carbine. Picatinny rails abound, and most examples accept a variety of aftermarket stocks, grips and other accessories.
Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “Setting too good an example is a kind of slander seldom forgiven” In other words, it’s hard to beat the time-tested Ruger 10/22, much to the chagrin of other manufacturers. Ruger essentially combined the decades-old 10/22 action with a Nordic Components chassis to recreate the ergonomics and features (particularly the flash suppressor) of its SR-556 AR-style rifle. The M4-style, six-position buttstock and Hogue monogrip allow the same length of pull, drop-at-comb and grip angle of the SR-556, yet the controls are still 100 percent 10/22. These include the cross-bolt safety, charging handle, bolt catch and extended magazine release. The cylindrical, aluminum fore-end is drilled and tapped to accept Picatinny rails on the top, bottom and sides, and the rails are available from Ruger for about$15 each.
The gun exhibited exceptional accuracy, especially with the CCI Tactical ammunition; two of the five 10-shot groups were dime-size. The trigger was especially wide and comfortable, and it broke cleanly at about 6 lbs. As expected there were no stoppages or malfunctions. The gun’s 10-round, rotary magazine is known for its dependability; however, it has a relatively low capacity and it is time-consuming to load when compared with those from Colt, HK, ATI and S&W, all of which load rounds in staggered columns and feature load-assist buttons. There are speed loaders available for 10/22 magazines, however, and the gun accepts aftermarket, extended magazines.
For proponents who hold the 10/22 above other .22 Long Rifle semi-automatic systems, this gun should live up to expectations-of course, it falls short of being a proper AR-training gun. So it is essentially a cool, comfortable, highly accessorized 10/22-with the reputation for reliability, accuracy and adaptability it deserves.
Remington 597 VTR
All of these rifles are essentially competing with each other.
But because Remington released its original 597 to compete directly with the Ruger 10/22, it was interesting to see how the new 597 VTR stacked up against the SR-22. After all, the two were created on the same basic principle: take an existing .22 Long Rifle platform and turn it into an AR-style gun. Stoking the fires of competition can only result in better quality at a lower cost, so this author and gun buyer is happy to fan the flames.
The 597 VTR’s action is housed in the equivalent of a steel lower and aluminum upper receiver. The only controls are a charging handle, a cross-bolt safety by the rear of the trigger guard, and a right-side, horizontal-sliding magazine release by the magazine well. The magazine engages a bolt lock on the inside of the receiver, allowing the bolt, which rides on two guide rails, to remain rearward with the magazine removed. An aluminum quad rail fore-end is available, seen here, and the gun comes standard with a cylindrical fore-end with narrow finger grooves.
The 597 receiver is modified with a receiver extension tube 10 accept a commercial Pardus AR-style collapsible buttstock. A fixed-stock version is also available, as well as a version in A-TAC Digital camouflage.
The free-floating heavy steel barrel proved its worth on the range. The 597 shot as well -if not better-than the SR-22. The trigger broke cleanly at about 4 lbs., 8 ozs., and average accuracy was 1.41″ -the best of the rifles tested. The heavy barrel came at a cost, however, as the tested gun weighed more than 7 lbs.
The gun takes the latest standard 597, 10-round zinc-alloy magazine, which caused a couple failures to feed in the first loading. But after working the spring it functioned without stoppages during nearly 200 rounds of firing. Sometimes the magazine allowed only nine rounds to be loaded. Thirty-round, extended magazines are available through Remington Accessories.
Overall the gun performed quite well. It appeared to match or exceed the SR-22 in terms of accuracy, and despite early magazine issues it met the quality-standard for a well-made Model 597/AR-15 hybrid.
SIG Sauer 522 Classic
Only SIG Sauer makes .22 Long Rifle versions of the iconic SIG 550-series battle rifle, which is legendary for its reliability and accuracy. The harsh conditions of the Swiss climate and landscape gave impetus to the necessity for high quality standards in battle rifle production, which carried over to the civilian-version of the SIG 550 series, the SIG 556, and subsequently the new SIG 522. In fact, what is most striking about the new .22 Long Rifle version are the similarities between it and the 556: the true folding stock; the polymer handguards and pistol grip; the left-side bolt catch; the 60-degree ambidextrous safety selector; and the general profile of the gun accurately reflect the .223 Rem. version.
The only real difference in controls is the new ambidextrous magazine release found just above the trigger guard. Also, its upper receiver is extruded aluminum instead of stamped carbon steel, and the lower receiver is polymer rather than aluminum. The faux gas regulator was included for aesthetic appeal. Overall, the gun does justice to the original design in appearance and handling.
The translucent magazine holds 25 rounds, and 10-round versions are available. It functioned reliably and caused no stoppages or malfunctions during testing, but it unfortunately lacks the loading-assist button found on the Colt, S&W, ATI and HK magazines. It also fit poorly in the magazine well, rattling considerably both loaded and unloaded. Having a long first stage, the trigger was “squishy,” as our technical-savvy shooting editor described it, but broke cleanly on the second stage at 5 lbs., 10 ozs.
The company sells a red-dot scope, lights and lasers recommended for the gun. Also offered is a Tactical 522 with an aluminum quad rail, as well as a 20″ heavy barrel kit that can be easily swapped with the standard 16 1/2″ barrel. A target version of the gun is planned for release in the near future.
Reliable and accurate, the SIG 522 gets extra points for its coolness factor. It’s the only gun reviewed that comes with a true folding buttstock, and riding the coat-tails of the classic SIG 550 battle rifle only heightens its appeal.
This rifle was the most enjoyable to shoot. The original HK MP5 is in 9 mm Luger, so it didn’t seem too odd shooting .22 Long Rifle from the compact gun. Also, in keeping with the original MP5 design, the left-side charging handle locks into a notch in the fore-end, and there is something satisfying about slapping it downward and letting it slam forward to chamber a round. The rest of the controls also mirror the MP5, including the ambidextrous safety selector, as do the diopter rear-drum and fixed front sights. A magazine safety must be engaged for firing, and the bolt locks open after the last round is fired.
The gun appears and feels well-made, in keeping with the Germans’ reputation for mechanical prowess. The trigger pull was long and rough, however, and there was one failure to feed with CCI Select ammunition.
Colt Tactical Rimfire
Both the upper and lower receivers are diecast aluminum, a refreshing perk for those averse to the overuse of polymer. A noted strength of this gun is Umarex’s wide variety of aftermarket products, including flip-up and red-dot sights, speed loaders, flashlights, compensators, flash suppressors and lasers. Its magazine is similar to that on the S&W: Made of polymer with a load-assist button, it holds 30 rounds in a staggered column. Umarex USA also sells 10-,20- and 30-round magazines for $29, $35 and $40, respectively.
It looks and handles much like an M4, despite dissimilarities in controls. Accuracy was on the low-end with this version, but 21″-barreled versions are available.
HK 416 D145RS
The HK was the most comfortable-shooting, out-of-box gun of the AR-style group. This was in large part because of the five-position Crane SOPMOD-style buttstock and wide, proprietary pistol grip with a full palm swell. Like the Colt Tactical, the HK 4160 is made by Walther and imported by Umarex, has aluminum upper and lower receivers and accepts the same magazine. Disassembly is also mirrored: interestingly, unscrewing the flash suppressor relieves tension from the barrel/spring, allowing extraction of the rear takedown pin, after which the upper receiver pivots downward. Except for a 90-degree safety selector (instead of 180 degrees), there is no difference in controls.
The included front and rear detachable aluminum sights were also well-made, with a rear, rotating diopter drum with four apertures adjustable for windage and elevation. They come securely mounted on the integral upper-receiver and fore-end aluminum rails with Phillips-head screws.
There were no stoppages or malfunctions during more than 200 rounds of firing, including with high-velocity. The heavy trigger contributed to the poorer accuracy, but the gun functioned flawlessly and is a fine example of an AR-style .22.
Smith & Wesson M&P15-22
Of all the AR-style rifles reviewed here, the S&W was the only gun to feature controls and dimensions essentially identical to those of a typical AR-15. They all mimic those on the full-size versions, down to the 90-degree safety selector, the magazine release, the bolt catch and the charging handle. Even the steel bolt assembly is extracted from the rear of the upper receiver. Its light weight is due to the liberal use of polymer: The upper and lower receivers, including the receiver extension and six-position mil-spec buttstock, the Picatinny quad rail, the mounts for the front and rear sights, and even the charging handle and safety selector are all high-strength plastic. Strictly speaking this isn’t a weakness in design since we’re dealing with mild-shooting .22s, and the gun was easily the lightest of the AR-style rifles at 4 lbs., 8 ozs. Corners nick easily, however, especially on the fore-end rails.
The gun holds fairly tight tolerances, particularly between the well-indexed top receiver rail and the fore-end rail. It uses a proprietary, polymer magazine that holds 25 rounds in a staggered column, featuring a convenient loading-assist button for compressing the magazine spring -definitely a positive for all-day shooting.
It exhibited no stoppages or malfunctions, and its average accuracy fell in the middle of the pack at 1.71″. The trigger broke cleanly after a slight take-up.
The company offers extra, full-length, AR-size 25-round magazines; full-length, l0-round magazines (without loading-assist button); and short, l0-round magazines with a loading assist. The slot for the loading-assist button doubles as a witness hole for viewing round count. There are six basic versions of the gun, including those with Magpul accessories such as a stocks, grips and sights; fixed stocks for certain states’ compliance; and compensators. Aftermarket mil-spec grips and stocks also fit, in keeping with an accurate reflection of the AR-15’s modularity.
Mossberg 702 Tactical Plinkster
It’s inexpensive, it takes some getting used to, and despite some early misgivings the Tactical Plinkster worked surprisingly well. There were no stoppages or malfunctions, and even with its bottom-rung accuracy it held a decent average of 2.25″. Also, the trigger broke cleaner than those on a number of the higher-end guns. With a price of only $276 it’s well-under half the cost of some of the other guns reviewed here. So from an economical standpoint, the Mossberg has a rightful place in the line-up: It’s something well-suited for the discretionary spenders who want a gun that simply functions reliably.
The action is based on that of the standard 702, but the gun is essentially all plastic. And by “essentially,” this means besides the barrel, the trigger housing, the bolt, the safety and some Phillips-head screws, it was a challenge to find anything metallic. Even the rear peep sight and sight adjustment screws are polymer. This is also true for the carry handle, the faux charging handle, the receiver and the pistol grip, all of which are one-piece. The six-position buttstock is locked into the equivalent of a receiver extension, and a fixed-stock version is available. A hole in the carry handle allows the attachment of a rail or scope.
The only controls are the charging handle, the safety and the unusual magazine release. After firing the last round, one must pull the charging handle, depress the magazine release lever and pull the magazine downward to remove it from the gun. Again, it takes some getting used to, but it works. The 10-round magazine itself is made of steel, and a 25-round version is planned.
In general the guns performed well, despite some lower-end accuracy and the occasional failure to feed. Magazine design was also an issue, since plinking with .22s necessarily calls for continual loading that should be quick and simple. Manufacturing materials, shooting comfort, aftermarket options, reliability, accuracy, price points and personal preference vary considerably, so none of these guns can be called “the best.” And with the host of other .22 Long Rifle “tactical” guns out there, including an MP5-style from HK, and AR-styles from Kies, CMMG and Olympic Arms, among others, there are plenty to choose from for any .22 Long Rifle enthusiast-even if his adversaries are no more “tactical” than empty tin cans.
colttacticalshootingresults (112.4 KiB)
Colt tactical shooting results
rem597vtrspecs (107.5 KiB)
Remington 597 VTR Specifications
hk416d145rsspecs (111.6 KiB)
HK 416 D145RS
atigsg-522shootingresults (109.5 KiB)
ATI GSG-522 Shooting Results
mossberg702tacticalshootingresults (109.6 KiB)
Mossberg 702 Tactical Shooting Results
atigsg-522specs (115.8 KiB)
ATI GSG-522 Specifications
hk416d145rsvtrshootingresults (110.9 KiB)
HK 416 D145RS VTR Shooting Results
rugersr22specs (111 KiB)
Ruger SR-22 Specifications
col22tacticalrimfirespecs (107.6 KiB)
Colt .22 Tactical Rimfire
mossberg702tacticalspecs (111.4 KiB)
Mossberg 702 Tactical Specifications
sigsauer522specs (109.1 KiB)
Sig Sauer 522 Specifications
swmp15-22specs (110 KiB)
S&W MP15-22 Specifications
specsrem (194.1 KiB)
Remington 597 VTR Shooting Results
specsremlts (196.4 KiB)
Sig 522 Shooting Results