In the "off season", if there is such a thing in the shooting world, I try and keep my skills crisp with rimfires. Sometimes it gets downright daunting reloading for a centerfire precision rifle. Enter the lowly, unforgiving, easy to shoot rimfire.
I say unforgiving simply because a rimfire at 50 yards using subsonic ammunition will highlight all of your shooting flaws, (at least for me that is).
A tiny bit too much pressure here, or a slight bit less bipod preload there, and your shot goes wide. It will definitely keep you on your toes, and you will find yourself begin to check off that internal marksmanship checklist.
The first part is the easiest. Picking the rifle. I have rarely come across a .22 rimfire rifle that wouldnt "shoot". Now, "shooting", is all relative really. Once you understand the capabilities of the hardware you are using, is when you strive to match its capabilities.
i.e. A classic example is the ubiquitous Ruger 10/22 carbine. This basic semi-auto rimfire has what I am going to call a base accuracy level of 2.5 MOA. So, at 50 yards, one could expect, with match ammo and good glass, and a good skillset, to shoot 5 rounds into 1.5 inches. This is not the rule however. I have seen what appears to be a box stock 10/22 with factory internals and barrel shoot 1 MOA (1/2). This I would consider the exception. These little carbines can be had for around $200. A good value given their aftermarket support.
At the other end of the spectrum we have something along the lines of a Cooper, Anschütz, Sako, Hammerli. Most of these rifles cost at least 10 fold of something like the 10/22, and their performance shows that. These rifles usually shoot AT LEAST MOA at 50 yards (1/2 inch), and most will shoot in the .2s and .1s with match grade ammunition, BUT!!!, if you DO NOT have the skillset, or glass, or gear, than you cannot reasonably expect a 2k plus dollar rifle to perform. This is true across the board including rifles/pistols/archery/slingshots/throwing knives, etc.
Ammunition is KEY!
Crap in, Crap out.
You should not expect any rifle to perform at a "match" level shooting bulk ammo with few exceptions. Yet I see people at the range shooting their nice CZ or Annie or (insert brand here) using bulk ammunition. Its not going to do the rifle, or yourself any favors other than getting a rough zero or plinking. And there is nothing wrong at all with plinking. Lapua, as well as Eley have introduced "bulk" ammo this year. When I say "bulk" ammo, I am referring to the way they are packaged, in large cardboard boxes with no dividers or trays. These "bulk" ammos are not at the same price point as what most people refer to as "bulk" ammo, and their performance proves it.
Knowledge is another factor.
How many people shun Wolf ammunition? I bet most people do not know that "Wolf Match Target" rimfire ammunition is loaded by SK and is the exact same thing as SK Standard Plus. For those of you that do know that, you might not know that SK Standard plus is the same as Lapua Club. Interesting huh?
There is a law of diminishing returns though.
While I can buy a brick (500 rds) of Wolf match target for around $60, a brick of Eley Tenex will cost you more than $200. Thats right people, about the same price as M193 5.56 for around the same amount of rounds.
Dont get me wrong, Tenex is tip top rimfire ammunition. Probably holds the most records. It is very very good ammunition that produces the least amount of flyers, but dont fool yourself and think your $150 Marlin is going to be able to make the most of it. Save your money and buy CCI Standard Velocity or something of the sort.
That leads me to this:
Budget 1: For the money, you cannot beat a Savage MkII series rifle. I have a 2017 model Savage FVSR represented below. It cost me $230 dollars OTD and wears a $50 simmons 3-9x40 scope. It comes from stock with a "heavy" fluted 16" THREADED barrel. The stock is free floated out of the box, and the trigger is pretty damned good (accutrigger). It will shoot with the best of them. It has a very good aftermarket. This is the rifle that, if I was on a budget, and could only afford one, this would be it.
Budget option 2:
While out of the box, it will not be competitive. It is just built too sloppy from the factory in order to accommodate various ammo types, i.e. Stinger. The chamber is too loose albeit the barrel is in fact a very nice hammer forged item. The trigger down right sucks, but for around $60 you can get around this with a Ruger BX trigger.
In a nutshell, if you like tinkering, and playing legos with guns, this is the one. It can get expensive though. A good match grade bbl alone will run you at least $150 (Green Mountain or Feddersen) and that doesnt include all the other things like trigger, buffer, stock, bolt work, etc. Conservatively I would say, in order to have a "match grade" 10/22, you will be into it well north of $500, not including the optics.
The 452 in particular. Unfortunately these are no longer made, and the NOS (new old stock) is down to the left hand variants, particularly the American version. This is what I purchased. Photos below. In my opinion, these are the best of the CZ rimfires (453s notwithstanding) and hand crafted quality. When CZ brought out the 455 it was bittersweet. Now, with the 455 series, you have the advantage of easy caliber swaps from 22lr to 17hmr in the same action and $140 barrel kits direct off their website. Where, to a purist they lost at was the handcrafted, deep gloss blued, hand fitted stocks and slick bolts. This was replaced with CNC receivers, CNC cut stocks and rougher actions. Regardless, they both are going to be probably the best bet for around $400 without having to go the lego route.
High priced/One and Done:
Out of the box this rifle will have a stellar trigger, fantastic barrel, and beautiful wood stock with hand fitted parts and be more capable than most shooters. With match grade ammo it will be a breeze to keep groups under 1/2" at 50. Again, 1/4" will be seen with top notch ammo.
If you have the money, skill, and glass, this is your starting point.
MY recommended "starting" rimfire ammunition on a "match" level will be either CCI Standard Velocity or Aguila Super Extra Standard velocity with the Aguila prime. I have been told, but not seen, that the Aguila has 2 different types of Super Extra. One with Aguila Prime and one with Eley Prime. I only have experience with the Eley prime, so ymmv.
CCI SV (Standard Velocity), from what I have learned is the same thing as CCI Green Tag that doesnt meet specified requirements. This at 1/4 the cost of CCI green tag. $38 a brick
Aguila Super Extra Standard Velocity. Certainly a mouth full, but seems to shoot a notch above (for me) CCI SV at around $30 a brick.
Wolf Match Target/SK Standard Plus/Lapua Club. A notch above the two above. Around $60 a brick. This stuff seems to be the fine line between "moderately priced" ammo and "super expensive" ammo. Again, the law of diminishing returns. If I were to recommend ONE ammunition to try right off the bat, it would be this.
There is a law here, and it is, "you get what you pay for"
Now, thats not saying you cant have good results with cheap optics. Not at all. It simply means that you will have an easier time accomplishing what you set out for with good glass, tracking, reticle, zero stops, etc.
A good, thin reticle works best for me. I will outline in photos below. Most importantly, when it comes to optics, is to either, get glass with an Adjustable objective so you can get parallax free at 50 yards (where the majority of .22s are fired at), or get a "rimfire" scope with a set parallax at usually 50 or 60 yards. Parallax is extremely important at rimfire ranges.
Do NOT depend on a "Lead Sled" or the like for any kind of precision shooting. These things are designed to mitigate the recoil of large, heavy recoiling rifles for the purpose of getting a zero. They WILL not serve you as a "benchrest". Trust me on this.
A front and rear bag, or a GOOD bipod and rear bag is what you are after.
Last thing and almost the absolute most important thing is:
DO NOT, WHATSOEVER, take the things you read on the internet as FACT. Including this post. This is just MY opinion and MY experience. Everyone has their own. 99% of the time, when people post up their groups, they are cherry picked to either make themselves feel better about their skills, or to prove some point to someone else that they are better than them. Take EVERYTHING with a grain of salt. Dont get discouraged because you cannot duplicate the same group size or same velocity as someone else. Just keep your nose to the grindstone and you will persevere. Its all about personal satisfaction. Unless you witness something with your own eyeballs, its not a FACT, just hearsay.
Today, after working 18 hours straight and with 4 hours sleep in the last 48, I decided to take the rest of the day off to go to the range. "Rimfire Day" is what I call it. No worrying about primer pocket or neck tension, bullet runout, seating depth, bullet ogive to lands, etc. Just relaxation.
I took 4 of my 7 rimfire rifles today. I brought with me Wolf match target, Aguila super extra SV, Winchester T22, Fiocchi TT sport, Federal Automatch, Federal Bulk 550, and Winchester SuperSpeed 40g.
Rifle #1 and the first groups on target is my CZ 455. It wears a Feddersen 16" Varmint bbl with a Form 1 suppressor that I built. It also has a Mueller 8-32x target scope sitting in an un-bedded Boyds At-One stock. I have added a Yo-Dave trigger spring kit to get it down to 1lb.
Rifle #2 is my old ugly 1977 10/22. It sits in a PMACA chassis with a Magpul MOE fixed carbine stock. It has a Ruger BX trigger with a "tuffer buffer" Hogue grip and Magnum Research "Ultra" Barrel and feaux Atlas Bipod. It wears a Sightron SII 6-24 AO scope with Fine duplex.