Why So Few .22 Sporters?

A Look At The Last Nine Standing

Henry’s Small Game Rifle (top), here with a Carbine version,
features big-loop lever, Skinner aperture sight.

The black disk of scoring rings appeared as a dot in my iron sights. The 10-spot in its center was the diameter of fly line. The goal at the Olympic try-out 40 years ago: prone from 50 feet, hit 10s with all or nearly all of 60 shots. There was little room for error — the 9-ring could be erased by a single .22 bullet!

My rifle that day was an Anschutz 1413. It had drained me of $300, a frightful sum when college took most of what I earned milking cows at $1.25 an hour. The 1413 has since acceded to other Anschutz rifles. Its equivalent retails for 10 times its 1970 price.

This Volquartsen auto may not look like a hunting rifle
but its blue stock is easy to hold on target!

CZ’s 457 has a low-lift bolt and a new safety. It comes in a combo
with interchangeable .17 HMR barrel.

Wayne laments the passing of steel-and-walnut repeaters of his youth,
like this Remington 121 pump.

Things Change

However, an even more gruesome fate has befallen .22 sporters. The best aren’t just more costly — they’re all but gone. While with age I’ve adopted standards edging snobbery, the rifles whose passing I most lament weren’t designed for snobs.

The first hooked me on visits to the local hardware during school lunch breaks. The spanking new Model 67 Winchester behind the counter was tagged at $16.50. I’ll never have that much money!

My parents weren’t gun people so a farmer took pity and loaned me a Remington 121 pump with a Weaver J4 scope the diameter of a coat button. My hunting ground: a sheep barn 16 steps from a split-rail fence. The weight of a thigh-high manure pack inside the barn pressed hard against its rotting walls. Rats pausing in slot alleys between the boards did so at their peril.

Life lost its color when the Remington went away.

The 121 Fieldmaster dates to 1936, when it listed for $24.65. With George Garrison, Remington’s Crawford Loomis re-visited the Model 12 slide-action, a John Pederson rifle from 1909. The 121’s pistol-grip stock was a big improvement. The barrel was heavier and, at 24″, two inches longer than the 12s. The tube magazine accepted 14 Long Rifle cartridges, 16 Longs or 20 Shorts.

For shooters of discriminating taste, the Fieldmaster came in D (Peerless) and E (Expert) Grades at $78.55 and $122.40. An F (Premier) rifle fetched $152.75. Uncommon in all grades were 121s barreled to .22 Remington Special, interchangeable with the .22 Winchester Rimfire (WRF) for the company’s 1890 pump rifle. With “inside-lubricated” bullets — Remington’s a round-nose, Winchester’s a flat-nose — these cartridges had cases larger in diameter than those of the .22 S, L and LR with outside-lubricated or “heeled” bullets. Chambers for the later, longer .22 WMR, with its jacketed bullet, accept both oldies.

Post-war changes in rifle manufacture undercut the 121. Remington dropped the standard version in 1951, the higher grades three years later. The similar Winchester 61 slide-action .22, introduced five years before the 121, outlived it by a dozen. Production totals: 201,000 Model 121s, 342,000 Winchester 61s.

Traditional .22 rifles didn’t die suddenly. In 1964, as I left the rail by the sheep barn, Mossberg listed a dozen bolt-actions, three autos and a lever-action, all with walnut stocks. The Savage and Stevens clan had nine wood-stocked rimfires, including a slide-action, starting at $19.50. I’d later own an Ithaca X-5 autoloader, in walnut. Including popular sub-models, Shooter’s Bible listed 17 Marlin .22 rifles, bolt- and lever-action and autos. Three had “hardwood” stocks, the others wore walnut. High Standard’s Sport King quartet (a pump and autos) were walnut-stocked. So too, of course, Weatherby’s XXII autoloader.

At Remington, Model 40x and 513 target rifles featured walnut as did the 121’s progeny, the 572 Fieldmaster and Models 550 and 552 autos. But a new Nylon series was challenging old ways. Models 10, 11 and 12 bolt-actions, and the 66 autoloader and 76 lever-action, cycled reliably, shot accurately and weighed only 4 lbs. Their Zytel stocks were almost indestructible. Prices: $25.75 to $59.95.

Some of those brands have left us and dominance among the survivors has shifted. Winchester currently offers just two .22 rifles; Savage lists 161, counting all variations. Most rimfires these days wear synthetic stocks, commonly of cheap polymer. Machined steel parts gave way to stamped steel and are now fashioned of alloy or polymer! Steel-and-walnut .22s with centerfire heft are hard to find.

Why complain, if contemporary rifles function well and shoot accurately? Well, to enthusiasts, a .22 isn’t a tool. It doesn’t belong with brooms or bumper jacks. It’s a rifle! It hurls bullets at speed, with precision and kills small game. Inside the range limits of the .22 LR cartridge, even lightweight sporters are accurate. My McMillan-barreled Remington 37 nipped quarter-inch five-shot knots in 50-meter prone matches. The best production-line sporters — Winchester 52 and Remington 40x bolt-actions, high-grade Marlin 39 lever rifles and Remington 121 pumps — are lovely. Ace stockers have lavished their talents on rimfires. Passing up a Biesen-stocked 52 for $500 at a gun show ranks among my memorable blunders.

Still, like me, you probably know enthusiasts with dozens of centerfire rifles for every .22 in their racks. Such imbalance makes no sense, albeit the platoons of task-specific centerfire loads perpetuate the practice. For most of us, a .22 is more useful than any centerfire rifle. It’s welcome where loud, powerful arms are not. You can hone your marksmanship without flinching, and shoot in a local NRA league to test the results. You’ll refine field skills year round, hunting animals you don’t have to tag. And, while .22 LR ammo no longer costs a penny a shot, it’s much less expensive than any cartridge capable of being de-primed!

Recently, in a fit of curiosity, I combed current listings for .22 rifles of traditional bent — repeaters with wood stocks for adult use — and was heartened to find a few. By standards of my youth, they aren’t cheap; neither is their polymer competition. As .22s have long been considered understudy rifles, I sifted out those under 6 lbs. The surviving entries might not induce a swoon, or bring to mind .22s from the 1940s and ’50s. Still, those I’ve used have shot and cycled well. I look forward to time with others.

Yesteryear — CZ replaced this 455 with the 457. The 455’s
wing safety comes back (as here) to “off.”

A straight-pull rifle, the Browning T-Bolt in four versions (here a sporter) has a double helix magazine.

Just Nine …

Browning T-Bolt Target with Muzzle Brake: A 16 ½” bull barrel brings this straight-pull rifle to 6.1 lbs. Drilled and tapped for scope mounts, it has a tang safety, 10-shot “double helix” magazine, brake and checkered walnut stock with semi-beavertail forend. Price: $729; .22 WMR and .17 HMR at $779

CZ 457 American Combo: This 6.2-lb. bolt-action with new, low, 60-degree bolt lift has a 25″ hammer-forged .22 LR barrel and an interchangeable barrel in .17 HMR. They’re fed by detachable five-shot magazines. The thumb safety moves forward to “off” (opposite its 455 predecessor’s). The checkered stock is of Turkish walnut. Price: $725

Henry Small Game Rifle: Recent progeny of Henry’s clan of lever-action .22s, the 6.5-lb. SGR has a 21″ octagon barrel with brass bead front sight, a Skinner aperture on the grooved receiver. The safety is a quarter-cock notch on the exposed hammer. The 16-shot tube magazine is fed by a large-loop lever. The straight-grip walnut stock has a 14″ length of pull. Price: $580; .22 WMR at $680

Henry Pump Action Rifle: This 6-lb. exposed-hammer pump with quarter-cock safety has a 20″ octagon barrel with open sights, a receiver grooved for ⅜” scope mounts. The tube magazine holds 15 rounds; the straight-grip stock is of walnut. Price: $636; .22 WMR at $680

Howa’s M1100 (above), here with a synthetic target stock, now comes in walnut with more traditional lines.

Howa Model 1100: This 6.3-lb. bolt rifle from Legacy Sports International features an 18″ barrel, a 10-shot detachable magazine. Originally in a synthetic stock with a toe hook and steep “target” grip, it’s now available in walnut, with a more traditional profile. Price: $550; .22 WMR and .17 HMR at $562

Ruger American Rimfire Target: At 6.7-lbs., this bolt-action has a heavy, threaded, 18″ barrel, a tang safety, a one-piece Weaver-style scope base. It uses 10/22 magazines. The well-shaped stock of gray hardwood laminates is more “hunting” than “target.” Price: $619; .22 WMR and .17 HMR also at $619

Ruger American Rimfire Long Range Target: This 8-lb. bolt-action has a threaded 22″ bull barrel .860 in diameter, plus an installed receiver rail. Fire controls are the same as on other versions of the American Rimfire. The LRT has an adjustable comb on a target-style hardwood stock under a black-flecked, textured tan finish. Price: $719

Savage A22 Pro Varmint: This 7.1-lb. autoloader has a heavy, threaded, fluted 22″ barrel, a 10-shot rotary magazine, AccuTrigger and a rail for scope rings. Its prone-friendly Boyds hardwood stock wears a black textured finish. Price: $569; .22 WMR and .17 HMR at $739

Savage B22G: At 6.4 lbs., this bolt-action sporting rifle features a 21″ barrel with open sights, a 10-shot rotary magazine, a tang safety and AccuTrigger. The stock is of satin-finished hardwood. Price: $499; 22 WMR and .17 HMR at $519

Some of these rifles also sell in other forms (e.g. carbine barrels, synthetic or thumbhole stocks). Given my walnut and weight demands, some fine .22s — like Browning’s trim, slick-cycling BL-22 — did not make the grade. I owned a BL-22. A delight.

The field grows too, if you’ll brook four-figure prices …

Too pricey or an ace investment? Anschutz repeaters win matches. Here, a straight-pull .22 biathlon rifle.

Volquartsen offers a variety of stocks for its accurate, finely-machined
autoloaders. Here, a .22 WMR.

The Anschutz 1761 sporter is a 6.4-lb. bolt-action with a light single-stage trigger. Its stiff 20″ barrel wears iron sights. The checkered European walnut stock is of traditional profile. Price: $1,850. Anschutz has dropped its Model 64 action, long used on second-tier match rifles and popular repeaters — also on a classy sporter sold briefly by Weatherby.

Volquartsen lists super-accurate autoloaders with stainless and carbon-fiber barrels in .22 LR, .22 WMR and .17 HMR. Stainless receivers have integral Picatinny rails. The laminated and synthetic stocks come in traditional and futuristic profiles. These peerless autos come in many configurations and weights. Prices: $1,315 to $2,235.

Cooper Firearms of Montana started when enterprising Dan Cooper melded what he liked in top-shelf rimfire rifles with manufacturing processes he’d learned working at Kimber of Oregon, building the now-discontinued bolt-action Model 82. After Dan sold the Cooper shop, production leaned heavily to his centerfires. But the rimfire 57M, in Montana Varminter and Jackson Squirrel Rifle form, is still available. Checkered AAA Claro, with clean metal-work and fitting, bring prices to around $3,900.

And of course, you can shop for secondhand rifles from decades past.

The hollows left by the best discontinued .22 rifles aren’t easily filled these days — at least, not to the satisfaction of shooters old enough to remember them. Fortunately for an industry compelled to offer reliable, affordable, require little labor and no walnut, we’re not all that old!

Subscribe To GUNS Magazine

Purchase A PDF Download Of The GUNS Magazine May 2023 Issue Now!


The Benelli Vinci

I can still recall the considerable splash Benelli’s seriously unconventional Vinci shotgun made on its 2009 introduction.
Read Full Article
Remington Model 30

Our story begins back in the Boer War of 1899. In their skirmishes with the South African republics, and despite the sizable numeric differences in their...
Read Full Article
Bear Guns For...

The weather was turning when Two Pony and his partner set out to retrieve strays from a remote canyon. They got most of the animals headed downcountry...
Read Full Article