I have been looking for a dedicated .22 Long Rifle (LR) small game rifle built along the lines of a target rifle. If I ever have to feed myself using a .22 rifle I want one that is heavier than normal for stability, is significantly more accurate than most factory rifles, has good optics and a good trigger, is easier to clean and maintain, can be cleaned from the chamber end of the barrel, fits my adult size well, takes a detachable magazine, has a conventional stock, and will always work. It must have practical accuracy as well as mechanical accuracy.
Firearms are tools. I wanted this one to be a great tool that will enable me to cleanly and ethically take small game such as rabbits and squirrels home for dinner. Raccoons, fox, marmots, bobcats, and coyotes should be within its capabilities with proper shot placement.
The choice of caliber is part of the appeal of this type of rifle. Ammo availability is very good, although prices have gone up recently. You may need to try several different brands of ammo since some rifles show definite accuracy preferences. Once you find the most accurate brand for your particular rifle you can stock up on that ammo. Even if your rifle winds up being picky about the most accurate ammo it should still shoot almost any ammo you come across, just not quite as accurately.
From a logistics standpoint, you can carry hundreds of 22 rounds in the space taken up by just a few big game centerfire or shotgun cartridges. Consider the weight of a single shotgun shell used to take one squirrel vs. the number of .22 cartridges you can carry for that same weight, each having the possibility of taking a squirrel. The .22 Long Rifle cartridge is time and field tested, relatively quiet, and the recoil is almost nonexistent. If needed it would be an excellent training rifle.
After a lot of looking, I could not find exactly what I had in mind. I had been thinking along the lines of a very accurate adult-sized bolt action rifle with a Match chamber and a solid way of mounting the scope. Having said that, I was not averse to a reliable semi-automatic rifle if it met the accuracy and scope mounting requirements.
I found that most bolt action repeaters came with standard chambers and could not easily be fitted with a Match barrel. I did find a few very nice rifles that looked great to me but the prices, even used, were simply too high. I learned that a true .22 Match chamber would not always accept some standard .22 ammunition due to the very tight and short chamber. This was a big negative to me and made me reconsider my requirements. A chamber somewhere in between a standard and a Match chamber would be a plus if it would work with most standard .22 cartridges.
I started to look at some semiautomatic rifles but the factory ones could not deliver all the features I wanted. I had shot a friend’s Ruger 10/22 with some success but had a few concerns about it. It did not meet a lot of my requirements out of the box but possibly could with a lot of easy-to-do upgrades. I started to investigate the 10/22’s possibilities.
It occurred to me that to get what I wanted I could simply buy a factory Ruger 10/22 and use it as a base to build on by upgrading most of its parts. A plus is that, although semi-automatic, its simple blowback action has always been very reliable. Unfortunately for what I had in mind, I would wind up paying for a lot of good parts that I would be replacing on the rifle, effectively paying for the whole rifle just to get the receiver. Also I have seen issues with mounting a scope base to the receiver, particularly when the mount, rings, and scope are heavy. My plans languished in the realm of indecision.
Then recently I saw an advertisement the new BRN-22R Stripped Railed Receiver from Brownells. By starting with a bare-bones receiver you can choose the components you want directly from the start. This is a newly manufactured receiver built just like a Ruger 10/22 but with a built in Picatinny rail. What a great idea to build a receiver with this feature! The integrated rails can’t shoot loose. There are no screws to strip, you have solid mounting of full size scope, there are no fragile tip off mounts, it is more robust, built to better tolerances, and gives more stability when you take the shot. My small game rifle was always planned to be a scope-only build. With the BRN-22R the built-in base is much stronger than the receivers that use screws to hold the scope base.
I contacted Brownells and discovered that they have all the parts to complete the receiver and build it into a custom rifle that met my perceived needs. After looking at their catalog and seeing the impressive assortment of parts for the platform and knowing their reputation for customer satisfaction I decided to buy all the parts from them and put them together myself. This also has the benefit of saving on shipping costs.
The selected parts are not the most expensive but are solid middle of the road components that meet my needs. Why these specific parts? Basically the choice was a budgetary balance of cost against value for my stated need. While this custom rifle would absolutely wind up being somewhat more expensive overall than simply buying a new factory rifle, no money would be wasted buying parts that would not ever be used. You may, of course, upgrade any item you like from my selections and I would encourage you to do so. Make it your rifle. You can change it later if you like.
As I researched further I found out that each BRN-22 Railed receiver is precision-machined from 6061 aluminum billet to exacting tolerances. Why machined instead of forged, like most commercial receivers? The short answer is that a machined receiver can be held to much tighter tolerances for a precise fit with other parts. After they are machined receivers get a hardcoat anodized finish like those on many AR-15 uppers and lowers.
One feature I really like is that there is a cleaning rod hole at the back of the receiver to allow you to clean the bore from the chamber end of the barrel. This is the best way to clean a rifle barrel and helps to prevent cleaning rod damage to the muzzle area and crown.
The receiver is compatible with most factory and aftermarket 10/22 parts, which is a big plus and basically is what allowed me to have what I want. It was easy to assemble this rifle using basic tools.
Note that the receiver has a serial number, and the federal government legally considers it a “firearm” whether it is purchased as a separate part or as a completed rifle. For this reason receivers must be obtained through a federally licensed dealer with all of the same paperwork as a new firearm. All other parts can be bought by you and shipped directly to your home.
A 10/22 heavy barrel was chosen, one of the excellent E.R. Shaw 10/22 unfluted stainless steel target barrels with a satin finish. The extra weight in the barrel works for me when taking the shot and is not too much to carry around. These barrels usually have a consistent 0.920″ diameter from the where it exits the receiver to the muzzle.
The heavy barrel is a stiffer barrel and generally gives better performance when hot than a thinner barrel. The rifle is noticeably muzzle-heavy compared to the factory rifle, once again a plus for me in the field. One of the things I like is that the added inertia of the heavy barrel keeps the firearm from moving as much when the hammer falls and the cartridge is fired, which basically helps the practical accuracy of the rig. I may epoxy bed the barrel at the front of the stock for even more rigidity.
This barrel is a 18″ barrel with a Bentz chamber. This length allows for full velocity from most .22 Long Rifle cartridges. Most competition-grade aftermarket 10/22 barrels have Bentz chambers. The Bentz chamber is a .22 Long Rifle chamber that was developed for semi-auto .22 rifles.
Bentz chambers are considered “Match grade” for semi-automatic rimfires. They are smaller in diameter and shorter in length than the standard SAAMI chambers but not as tight as the Match chambers found in many bolt-action target rifles. The Bentz chamber is just right, tight enough to gain superior accuracy but able to accept almost all standard .22 Long Rifle rounds. With a true Match chamber the bullet begins to engrave the rifling as it is chambered. The Bentz chamber does not do this, so it is more forgiving of mild dimensional irregularities than a true Match chamber.
Please keep in mind that not all .22LR ammo has the same exterior dimensions. Better and more expensive ammo is almost always more uniform than less expensive bargain basement bulk ammo. The exterior dimensions of inexpensive .22LR ammo may not even meet the SAAMI specifications. If it does not it may not cycle in a Bentz chamber. Note that the very high-velocity CCI Stingers are longer than standard .22 rimfire specifications and will not fit a Bentz chamber properly.
The bolt used is a Brownells 10/22 bolt assembly. A drop-in ready, billet stainless steel part, the assembly includes an extractor and a hardened firing pin. I used the matte stainless steel version. This custom bolt gives you headspace that is closer to the ideal than the normal factory bolt. This contributes to consistently holding the cartridge in the same relationship with the bore each time, which has a positive effect on accuracy. It also gives consistent firing pin strikes, which helps accuracy. In addition, the stainless steel will not rust, which is not an excuse for sloppy maintenance but a benefit nonetheless. And I find it is beautifully finished, a little gem in the rifle.
A good trigger is very much a practical accuracy requirement. The trigger does not have to be the lightest available pull weight but must be reliable. I have found that a consistent and manageable trigger is best for a field rifle. Note that the lightest trigger pull is not always the best. I chose the factory Ruger 10/22 BX Trigger which is a self-contained drop-in assembly and comes in with a 2.5- to 3-pound pull, perfect for what I have in mind.
(To be concluded tomorrow, in Part 2.)