Wildcat Winchester

It’s easy to keep this kitty clean

Combining outstanding design with affordability, the Winchester Wildcat
is a welcome addition to the world of rimfire.

One of the intriguing qualities of the annual Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trades (SHOT) Show is there’s always a surprise just around the corner. Browning’s man-on-the-scene, Paul Thompson, and I were working our way through the extensive Browning/Winchester exhibit when I came face-to-face with a Winchester engineer who had the pieces and parts of a new rimfire semi-auto rifle spread out all over a table. To say what I saw was remarkable is an understatement. I immediately made Thompson promise to loan me his office copy for a few days since shipments of the new rifle had not yet arrived at dockside.

No Litterbox Required

The new, little 4-lb. rifle has been christened, the “Wildcat.” Designed by Winchester, produced in Turkey and sporting a price tag of $249.99, the Wildcat has a very distinct pedigree with design features we have not seen before. It was as if an engineer had been given a blank piece of paper and encouraged to design a rimfire semi-auto to set the industry standard for easy-cleaning, plus be utterly reliable and very accurate.

As it turned out, the Wildcat is the easiest-to-clean rimfire semi-auto I’ve ever handled. Blowback, semi-auto rimfires are naturally dirty little beasts which readily accumulate lubricant, powder and lead residues in the action and in the barrel. The typical fouled bolt and fire control system are not readily accessible for cleaning and barrels, by necessity, must be cleaned from the muzzle. The new Wildcat addresses both problems.

The answer lies in one major assembly that can be removed intact from the Wildcat by merely pushing a red button at the rear of the receiver. The unit, described by Winchester as the “lower receiver assembly,” contains the bolt, trigger, fire control system and even the magazine well. Best yet, once removed, the hole at the rear of the upper receiver housing the magic red button readily accepts a cleaning rod, permitting the barrel to be cleaned from the chamber end, as it should be, to protect the crown.

Carrying the Wildcat cleaning procedure one step further, the unitized bolt assembly can be plucked from the lower receiver assembly, exposing the whole fire control system. So now it’s just a matter of spraying the works with a polymer-safe cleaning solution, digging around a bit with a brush to dislodge the gunk, wiping everything down, adding new lube where needed and slapping the Wildcat back together again.

“Over the bags, it handles well indeed while offhand it requires a firm, tight grip, pulling the little wand back into the pocket of your shoulder.”

Feed The Cat

When it comes to reliability issues, there is nothing more reliable than a Ruger-style rotary magazine so Winchester basically cloned the design and added a couple of neat features of their own. They also added an exterior, thumb-driven, ratchet wheel on the side of the magazine. When turned counter-clockwise, it eases the chore of loading 10 rounds by relieving spring pressure on the follower, plus there’s a transparent window enabling you to see the rounds being loaded. The Wildcat will accept standard Ruger rotary magazines but with one catch — the Ruger models will not hold open the bolt after the last shot while the Wildcat version will.

A really neat part of the Wildcat design is its magazine release system. There’s a conventional magazine release catch at the forward end of the magazine well, but do you see those grippy, red strips above the magazine well? Pulling those plastic strips rearward immediately drops the magazine. It’s a much handier and faster design than the conventional catch.

Pushing the red button enables the owner to remove the mechanics of
the Wildcat for a thorough cleaning.

The entire lower receiver assembly is easily removable for cleaning.

Sliding these grippy, red releases to the rear immediately ejects the magazine.

Set Your Sights

The Wildcat gives you a choice of sighting systems. There’s a versatile Picatinny rail molded into the polymer upper which accepts a variety of optics plus an integral, adjustable, ghost ring, peep sight mated with a conventional front post. Good optics bring out the best any rimfire has to offer and my choice was Gru-Bee’s svelte, 3/4″ tube 4x24mm Wolf Pup scope and rings. It complements the proportions of the sleek Wildcat and adds only 6 oz. to the 4-lb. weight of the gun.

The polymer stock of the Wildcat has some great ambidextrous lines. Obviously, it’s skeletonized to save weight, but there’s a surprise or two. The rear sling swivel stud is molded in place forward of the plastic buttplate while the front swivel stud and a short Picatinny rail are hidden nicely under a removable fore-end cap — a pretty slick design, I think. Another design feature I like is its target-style pistol grip. It’s a full “marksman” stock with a tight radius to fit smaller hands while better positioning the trigger finger.

Skinning The Kitty

Over the bags, it handles well indeed while offhand it requires a firm, tight grip, pulling the little wand back into the pocket of your shoulder.

At 4 lbs. 6 oz., the Wildcat is a real featherweight with a 5-lb., 2-stage trigger. You have to dominate it. This is where the Wildcat’s great pistol grip really shines plus the 18″ barrel has a bit of beef adding stability

At 50-yards, I tested 12 loadings, firing 5-shot groups. The top three were — Federal Auto-Match 0.64″; Aguila Rifle Match 0.83″ and CCI Standard Velocity 0.95″ all with zero malfunctions. An interesting aside is the latest Wolf Pup scope features two dots on the vertical crosshair serving as elevation compensating aiming points. With a 50-yard zero and firing standard velocity ammunition, the first dot down turned out to be a perfect zero for 100-yard targets.

With an affordable price point and innovative design, the Winchester Wildcat is a great performing rimfire rifle suitable for the whole family. It should be on your dealer’s rack by the time you read this.


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