One of the greatest shots I ever made was with a bolt-action .22 Magnum.
This was one of those shots that stays with you forever — a great shot made in front of a witness. A shot to treasure and keep to make up for the ghastly ones — the ones that seared themselves into a blackened scar in your consciousness.
Those are the ones when the game ran off, the trophy escaped unscathed, the money shot cost you money and everyone watched you wither as the echo faded.
But this one — ahhh!
On a quiet Louisiana bayou with a buddy, I was armed with my new Marlin .22 WMR. I had disgraced it with a 4-power scope that probably came in a package deal with the rifle. Known as a “.22 scope,” it was cheap and not very clear glass.
But this was a long time ago, and back then no one thought of putting high-powered rifle scopes on .22 rifles. It just wasn’t done.
A water moccasin was swimming down the bayou, about 40 yards away. With my buddy watching, I rested my rifle on the top of a fence post and swung the crosshairs through the nose of the moving snake, about 2 inches in front of its snout.
At the sharp bark of the .22 WMR, the snake fairly danced around the top of the water, roiling in death throes while we whooped and high-fived.
I probably couldn’t do it twice, but that Marlin rifle was a shooter, consistently placing three shots inside of a dime at 50 yards — almost a match-striker.
I never could understand why gun writers demeaned the .22 WMR. It was hotter — around 2,000 fps as compared to the .22 LR, which tops out in the 1,200 to 1,300 fps range. The .22 WMR shot flatter, and in my limited experience it was every bit as accurate as any off-the-rack .22 long rifle — and better than most of them.
I have now officially found something better than that old, excellent rifle.
The regional Ruger distributor called to tell me he had one of the new .22 WMR Ruger “American” rifles in stock.
Ruger, ever innovative, took note of the immense popularity of their reasonably-priced “American” rifle, with its many cost-saving innovations that not only kept the price down but enhanced its accuracy. In a roll-out of the new rifle at the FTW Ranch in West Texas (www.FTWoutfitters.com), I consistently rang 12-inch gongs at up to 700 yards. I brought the rifle home after that — the only .30-06 I own — impressed with its accuracy.
Now we have the new Ruger American Rimfire in .22 LR, .17 HMR and .22 WRM. The major accounts manager at Lipseys’ Wholesale Firearms, Dan Caillier, knew my love of accurate rifles.
“You’ve got to try this thing,” he said. “Ruger has done it again.”
I picked the rifle up, and it looked exactly like the Ruger American high-power version; it just had a smaller hole in the end of the barrel.
I had a spare 3-9x40 Leupold, and set out to buy rings and mounts to attach it to the receiver.
I had read in an article there was a problem finding the proper-sized clamp-style rings (called “tip-offs”) to fit in the standard 3/8-inch groove machined into the rifle’s receiver.
But I have a secret weapon when it comes to mounting a scope. Pat Blake at Accurate Firearms (www.accuratefirearms.com) is my go-to guy when I have problems in that regard.
I had read height was a problem — getting the scope high enough to clear the rear sight. Ruger has what is called “high-radius” dovetail sights, and after a fruitless search elsewhere, I brought the rifle to Pat, who pulled out a set of Millett 1” Tip-Off Rings — part No. TP00705.
The rifle, I found later, is designed to take Weaver No. 12 bases, if that is what you prefer.
These excellent rings are windage-adjustable, clamp perfectly into the grooves, and offer a solid mount for the Leupold with its 40mm objective lens.
I was in business.
The new Ruger is innovative in a number of ways. Like its big brother, it boasts a steel bedding block that is molded into the polymer forearm. The bedding block matches steel lugs on the base of the receiver; when you tie the receiver into the polymer stock/forearm, it makes for a solid steel-on-steel connection that doesn’t move or warp, thus making for a very accurate rifle. Only one block is required in the rimfire because of the much lighter recoil.
The rifle is available in either 18 inch or 22 inches in all calibers, and each rifle comes with interchangeable buttstock modules that can lengthen or shorten length-of-pull and change the comb height. Low comb and high comb are changed out simply by removing the sling swivel, making it easy to sight either with the iron sights, or put on the high comb for a scope.
These modules are available in different lengths so the rifle can be adjusted for individual fit.
The magazine is the tried-and-true Ruger 10-22 rotary-box type. The trigger has a bladed design that blocks the sear, a solid safety feature. The trigger is also adjustable from 3 to 5 pounds.
The barrel is hammer-forged and target crowned. The bolt has a 60-degree throw for excellent clearance from the scope, and the bolt release is a simple push-button design mounted on the side of the receiver — it works exactly as you would expect it to work.
I first sighted the scope in with CCI Maxi Mag ammo on a 25-yard indoor range, and the targets — once I got the rifle settled in — blew me away.
At 25 yards I was consistently making ragged-hole three-shot groups. If this was not luck, this rifle was going to shoot exceptionally well at 50 yards, the standard sighting distance for .22 rimfires.
One of the things I paid attention to was the extraction. My old Marlin had an aggravating tendency to sometimes fail to extract; I had to keep a pocket knife handy to pry the rimmed cartridge out of the chamber when the extractor slid off the rim and left me with a stuck shell. The Ruger extracted with great vigor every time, throwing the empties well away from the receiver.
On my home range, the rifle was an absolute pleasure to shoot with the high-comb buttstock module. At a measured 48 yards, I shot a three-shot group that had two shots touching and the “flyer” was less than a quarter of an inch away.
Most riflemen and writers measure groups center-to-center. This group measured outside width just under a half inch. One-half inch is minute of angle at 50 yard.
I might have found my replacement squirrel and short-range varmint gun — for an amazing MSRP of only $329.
And I might finally have discovered that elusive, storied rimfire matchstriker — a rare beast, indeed, if it ever existed. This rifle, if you can hold it steady, will do it.