I remember the first Ruger 10-22 carbine I came across.
Home on leave from the 82nd Airborne at Fort Bragg, N.C., in the early 1970s, I took my father’s brand-new Ruger .22 rifle to my grandparents’ dairy farm in Tangipahoa Parish.
I was a little surprised my father had bought the rifle — he really wasn’t into guns like me. I guess he saw it, and the new and innovative 10-shot rotary magazine intrigued him.
Walking underneath a large hickory tree next to one of the pastures, I started popping individual nuts off the limbs at various heights with the iron sights on the gun.
As the nuts continued to ricochet off into parts unknown, I became more and more impressed with the accuracy of this little gun, and decided I had to have one.
Within a year, I had my first Ruger 10-22. Mine was one of many thousands sold since the introduction of the design in the mid-1960s.Since then, this rotary-magazine carbine, made purposely to look and feel like the popular Caliber .30 M-1 Carbine used during World War II, has become one of the biggest selling rimfire rifles in the world.
Easily replaceable parts make the 10-22 an experimenter’s dream.
Tim Brunett, a retired lieutenant with the Louisiana State Police, has a jones for accurate rimfires, and introduced me to the vast and ever-expanding cult that has grown up around this ubiquitous little rifle.
“It is easy,” he told me, “to build a highly accurized 10-22 without using a single Ruger part.”
The basic parts and accessories from a list of manufacturers seems endless, and boggles the mind.
“I like Green Mountain barrels,” he said. “There’s a popular gun forum called ‘rimfirecentral.com’ that discusses every feature of .22 rimfire shooting. You can pick up a lot just reading the comments, and it seems the general consensus is Green Mountain gives the most bang for the buck in barrels.
“You can spend more on Volquartsen, or Kid,” he said, naming two high-end parts manufacturers, “but the difference comes down to tiny fractions of an inch.”
Of course, there is that accuracy thing.
Like the audiophile pursuing the purest sound possible, the accuracy freak keeps honing, adding, buying, experimenting to reach the elusive one-hole shot — a .22 that will shoot a ragged hole at 50 yards with multiple shots.
“That’s the ultimate,” Brunett said. “Generally, you’ve really accomplished that with a rifle that will group inside a dime-sized circle at 50 yards. And there are so many factors that affect accuracy, it’s a never-ending quest.”
He has three 10-22s that bear resemblance to Bill Ruger’s original design only in the fact they are semi-automatic .22s with a rotary-box magazine. None of the three could be touched in component cost for under $600.
Perhaps his favorite, and least noisy in the gaudiness of its attire, is a rifle with a Boyd Evolution Ambidextrous stock — a hollow-formed laminate stock that will fit either right- or left-handed shooters.
This rifle carries a 16.5-inch Green Mountain fluted stainless barrel with a chromed and striated Kid bolt.
He also personally replaced parts of the trigger mechanism with drop-in components that lightened and tightened the trigger pull.
“I’m not the expert some of these guys are,” he said, “and so many things affect accuracy — from your rest, your glass, the ammo the rifle likes — but this little rifle, I can get into three-quarters of an inch at 50 yards.”
Ammo is another fascinating subject in accurizing these rimfires.
Brunett broke out a couple of ammo cans filled with an array of high-end .22 shells ranging from $4.50 a box of 50 up to $18 per box.
“The $18 stuff was a little bit of a surprise,” he snorted. “I ordered some of the Lapua Midas in the silver box without paying a whole lot of attention to the price. When it came in and I saw the total, I checked the line on the cartridges. It was pricier than I realized.
“I can’t really say it shoots better than some of the other stuff. At that price, you tend to shoot conservatively, and it’s questionable if it gains you that much improvement over the $4.50 stuff.”
Practically all high-end target .22 ammo is standard velocity, and is manufactured to much higher tolerances than the chain store box carton variety. But Brunett goes even further.
Like most accuracy nuts in pursuit of the perfect group, he records his groups, and notices lot numbers on manufacturer’s boxes. He also has a tool known as a “rimfire rim thickness gauge” with which he can measure the diameter of the cases for uniformity and proper sizing to fit within the finely machined chambers of the .22s. As with all guns, the better fit in the chamber, the better accuracy at the other end.
He offered another tip for those who want accuracy, but want to reach out a little farther with their rimfire shooting: “I like CCI Mini Mags for accuracy if (you) want hotter stuff. Everyone on the forums seems to agree they are excellent lower-priced ammo.”
I’ve been to rimfire matches where people had spent countless hours, and well over $1,000 to build competitive 10-22s that would produce the ever-elusive one-hole shot.
As with all hobbies, such a pursuit can become all-consuming, but the results of such expenditures and work can be truly astounding. And the shooting these guns can offer is the pleasure these aficionados constantly work to achieve.
Rimfire shooting is less intrusive in terms of noise than other shooting sports, and there is a whole sub-cult of these shooters expounding on the qualities of suppressors that reduce the noise even further, making the ranges where they are fired even less of a noise nuisance.
It’s easier to set up a rimfire range with less land, less backstop, less everything. With the inherent accuracy potential, it’s easy to see why .22 shooting is exploding in the shooting world — and with the easily modified and improved Ruger 10-22 clones, it’s easy to understand why these are among the most popular designs on the market today.