By Clair Rees
Most centerfire rifles I own are practical hunting tools. Because they must survive saddle scabbard wear and inevitable nicks and dents as they're lugged through the woods, these rifles forego figured walnut in favor of workaday synthetic stocks.
My rimfires are a different story. Used mostly for plinking and hunting squirrels and rabbits, they're not subject to the same kind of abuse.
That means I can justify buying high-quality bolt .22s I'm proud to show and own. This is where I indulge my taste for hand-checkered knurled walnut and deeply blued, high-gloss steel.
Sure, these rifles cost more, but economy isn't everything. You've gotta kick up your heels every now and then.
There are a number of custom-quality factory .22s to chose from. That wasn't true a quarter-century ago. When Winchester discontinued its classic Model 52 bolt rifle back in 1980, the only top-grade production .22s still available to American shooters were the truly excellent German-made Anschutz models a few lucky sportsmen might discover at local sporting goods stores.
That same year, Kimber of Oregon began turning out American-made .22 rifles several steps above the run-of-the-mill bolt rifles offered by other makers. The Model 82 Kimber was well received, but financial difficulties halted its production. Under new ownership, Kimber Mfg. Inc. later introduced an improved design: the Kimber .22 Classic.
The .22 Classic has set a new standard in rimfire rifle design. It wears a Mauser-style bolt with a full-length claw extractor and a two-position wing safety, a la the Winchester Model 70. The action is pillar bedded, and a beefed-up firing pin prevents damage if you dry-fire the rifle.
I was lucky enough to get one of the original Kimber Model 82s soon after they were introduced. I spent a long weekend in Oregon shooting ground squirrels with the sleek little rifle, which proved highly accurate. Years after the original Model 82 was discontinued, I added a new Kimber .22 Classic to my collection. There's now a more affordable Hunter version with a clear stock finish.
The Kimber .22 Classic and even classier Custom Classic and Super America models sport hand-rubbed oil finishes. If you like laminated stocks, Kimber Pro Varmint and SVT rifles are available. While these two rifles are exceedingly accurate, laminated stocks lack the cachet of checkered, figured walnut. I recently spent a couple of weekends plinking at squirrels with the new .17 Mach 2 versions of those guns. If anything, the .17 Mach 2 rifles were even more accurate than the .22 Long Rifle Kimbers I've used.
Bottom line? Today's Kimbers are exceptional bolt rifles any shooter would be happy to own, use and brag on.
I also own two Anschutz .22s. The first was a Model 1710D I received from Dieter Anschutz in the mid-1980s. This top-grade .22 is built around the Model 54 match action. That action has won more Olympic medals and world accuracy records than all other .22s combined. The rifle also looks great, sporting a handsomely figured Monte Carlo stock with rollover comb. It's one of the most accurate rifles I've ever owned. With a good scope and the right match ammunition, it will punch ragged one-hole five-shot groups at 100 yards. This is one of my most highly prized possessions.
My other Anschutz .22 is a Model 1418D KL featuring a wood-to-the-muzzle Mannlicher-style stock and the less costly but still excellent Model 64 match action. I tested this little rifle for a magazine article a few years ago, and couldn't bear to send it back. I'm a sucker for full-stocked carbines, particularly one of Anschutz quality.
This handsome little rimfire sees lots of service in the Utah desert. Last month, I toted it through several acres of sagebrush that was home to unbelievable numbers of long-eared jackrabbits. Its 51⁄2-pound heft made the little carbine ideal for a long day under the blistering sun. The rifle's full-length stock and European-style skip-a-line checkering makes the Model 1418D KL really stand out from other rimfire bolt rifles. I've yet to take it afield without attracting a few curious shooters. That's another thing about high-grade .22 bolt rifles - they really do stand out!
Anschutz .22 sporters are available in surprising variety. Prices start at around $700 and top out at more than double that amount. Olympic-grade Anschutz target rifles are considerably more expensive.
Cooper is another manufacturer of truly premium rimfire rifles. During the mid 1990s, the company bought some 250 Model 54 Anschutz-barreled actions and lovingly installed them in high-quality stocks that were uniquely Cooper. A new Cooper-designed trigger guard was added, the barrels were free floated and the actions glass bedded. The project was called "Anschutz USA."
I was fortunate enough to get my hands on one of these wonderful, limited-run rimfires. It's still in my safe. In 2001, Cooper developed the Model 57-M, a rimfire repeater with three rear-locking lugs. This rifle combines the extraction system of the Winchester M52, styling similar to that of the former Kimber of Oregon M82, and the firing system of the Anschutz M54 Match action.
Cooper barrels feature a 1:16 twist, and are air-gauge-inspected and certified. Firing Federal Gold Ultra Match UM-1 ammunition, each Model 57-M must shoot 1/8-inch five-shot groups at 50 yards before it's shipped from the factory. The Model 57-M is offered in .22 Long Rifle, .17 Mach 2, .22WMR and .17HMR chambering. A variety of stock styles and designs are available.
In 2004, Remington joined the premium rimfire rifle ranks by announcing the Model 504. Excepting the very limited numbers of Model 40-X single shots made only on special order in Big Green's custom shop, Remington temporarily exited the bolt-action .22 business by discontinuing the Model 541-T in 1998.
Remington obviously targeted the premium .22 market with its new Model 504. When Remington sent me a sample to test, I noticed how closely it resembled my bolt-action Kimber .22. Both rifles sported classic stocks, although the Kimber's grip was longer and less abrupt. Other differences included a lighter satin-finished walnut stock on the Remington and laser-cut checkering that was somewhat coarser than the 20-lines-per-inch borderless pattern the Kimber wore.
While appearing similar to other high-grade rimfires I own, the Model 504 is an innovative all-new design. Instead of being conventionally threaded and screwed into a machined receiver, the Model 504's barrel features a smooth shank that fits inside a split receiver ring, then clamped in place by a Torx-headed bolt. An Allen-head setscrew provides proper indexing.
Theoretically, this should make interchanging barrels a quick, easy process, allowing you to fire .22 LR, .22 WMR, .17 HMR and .17 Mach 2 ammo from the same rifle. Remington hasn't made this an available option yet, although the Model 504 and new-for-2005 heavy-barreled Model 504-T are offered in .22 LR and both .17 rimfire chamberings.
When I mounted a Kahles 2-7x scope and took the Remington to my desert shooting range, it delivered excellent accuracy - 3/8-inch five-shot groups at 50 yards with both Winchester standard velocity and Federal Gold Medal
The Model 504 is one of the least expensive "custom" .22s I know of. It listed for just over $700. You can still order Model 40-XB, XC and XBBR target rifles from Remington's custom shop, but these 10-plus-pound single shots are strictly for punching paper. Many shooters don't know about it, but the Model 40-XR sporter continues to be available. This is a special-order-only item for which you'll likely have a long wait, but the wait may be well worth it. The 40-XR is a true custom rifle in every sense of the word. These costly sporters are very rarely seen, and owning one gives you some serious bragging rights.
While the Model 504 Remington was very reasonably priced, the most costly rifle of the bunch was Cooper's Model 57-M Custom Classic (which I had on loan and unfortunately didn't own). This superlative example of gunsmithing art sported a gloriously figured stock of AAA walnut. The imported ebony fore-end tip, hand-carved shadow-line cheek piece and special-order skeletonized steel buttplate drove the rifle's price well beyond the two-grand mark. The Model 57-M Standard Model sold for roughly half as much.
Unlike some of the rifles mentioned, the Model 57M Cooper can be ordered with a wide variety of true custom-rifle upgrades. In addition to those already mentioned, the list includes a Nieder buttplate, skeletonized grip cap, inletted sling swivels, checkered walnut stock (also available in different grades), case-color-hardened scope rings, checkered bolt handle and other neat but costly goodies. You can order a Cooper Classic (or buy one off the shelf if your dealer happens to stock them) for $1,295, or put in your order for whatever your budget will stand.
That's a great thing about "custom" .22s today. You can find well-made Remington, Anschutz or Kimber sporters on your dealer's gun rack. Or you can go whole-hog and order a more expensive Anschutz with a Model 54 match action, a high-end Kimber or a fine Cooper rifle with all the bells and whistles. There are "custom rifles," and there are "custom rifles." You can find a well-crafted .22 to fit almost any budget.
Reprinted from the November 2005 issue of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine. Subscribe today to have GunHunter delivered to your home.