Ammo: Good, Bad and Ugly

I’ve had some interesting experiences recently with various brands of ammo in 10/22s and similar rifles. Here are my (subjective and opinionated) notes:

Good: Norma Tac-22 works great in my match 10/22. At a CMP-RS shoot in April, in 40-degree weather, my Eley Target would not feed. The cold hardened the wax bullet lube so that it would jam. But the Norma was noticeably oilier and while a bit messy, functioned perfectly and shot quite accurately.

Good: Browning has a hyper-velocity, 40-gr. hollow point round with an advertised muzzle velocity of 1435 fps. I tried some in my rifle and in a Ruger MkII pistol. It fed great and you can both hear and feel the extra power in the round. From the pistol, I tested shooting the 8″ plate rack at my club, and my usual target round (CCI Standard Velocity) would not knock the plates down. Then I ran the Browning – one shot, one plate down, every time. Unlike the CCI Stinger it has a standard-length case, so it should feed properly in any chamber that isn’t match-grade tight. I haven’t tried it on varmints yet, but it occupies the middle ground in power between Minimags and .22WMR, and I bet that with its hollow-point bullet it’s hell on groundhogs.

Bad: Those Remington Golden Bullets are so popular, even though they often are not the best bargain on price. I’ve had Appleseed students who experience terrible feeding problems with them, but when we switched to a better grade ammo their rifles worked fine. Often the bullets were a loose fit in the case and the force of semi-auto feeding caused the cartridge to bend at the case mouth. Yesterday I was cleaning an Appleseed loaner rifle and the first wet patch was covered with little bits of gold-colored metal that had flaked off the bullets. That can’t be a good sign.

Ugly: I had a customer in the shop last week who said he had a squib with Winchester M-22 ammo. The bullet had almost reached the muzzle, but he had to poke it out with a dowel. This past weekend at least one Appleseed after-action review reported multiple case blowouts with the same brand. I don’t trust the stuff.

You don’t have to be an ammo snob, and you don’t have to shoot $.13/round ammo for plinking and practice. But certain names appear consistently in reports of malfunctions, so choose even your plinking ammo wisely.

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CMP Rimfire Sporter AAR

Saturday I drove up to the Berwyn Rod & Gun club in Bowie ,MD for my first Rimfire Sporter match of the year. First, thanks to Mike Cacic, who did a fine job as match director. I am working to get my club’s board to approve hosting CMP-RS matches here in central Virginia  this year, too.

Rimfire Sporter is a very fun way to enjoy shooting in a low-key but competitive environment. The course consists of six stages including slow and rapid fire in each of prone, sitting and standing positions. Prone and sitting are shot at 50 yards; standing is at 25.  It took about two hours to shoot the match, at a relaxed pace. With a 9-ring that is 3.5″ across (7 MOA at 50 yards), it’s pretty easy to shoot a decent score which makes it satisfying for anyone who can shoot Appleseed Rifleman. But to be competitive you need to shoot above 580 of the possible 600 points (at the national level, above 590). The 10-ring is only 1.75″ wide (3.5 MOA) and the X-ring is .875″ (1.75 MOA) wide. I am aware of only one perfect score on the match so far nationwide.

This was my first rifle match since last Fall – insane work hours and cold weather kept me mostly off the range during the past three months. I took it as a chance to sweep out some mental and physical cobwebs, and to set a benchmark for my training this year. Here are my notes:

  1. I had to stone a new OEM hammer as all my 10/22s have triggers below the 3-lb minimum pull weight. It took about an hour at the bench on Thursday to get a perfectly crisp, 4.5-lb trigger. I use Brownell’s ceramic stones which cut slowly but leave a nice, polished finish. That pull weight didn’t matter much with a good, firm grip. It felt the same as a match trigger on an AR. (Service rifle minimum pull weight is 4.5 lbs.) I plan to buy a trigger group and have Brimstone give it a 3.25-lb Tier 2 trigger job, and will review it when it’s done.
  2. Although a few days earlier weather forecasts called for a warm, sunny day, it was hardly above freezing most of the morning and the sun didn’t come out until noon. The sweatshirt I as wearing as an outer layer was too loose and bulky for the sling to stay in place. In the slow-fire stages I had to re-tighten it on every shot and it never felt solid. I’ll need to find a better warm garment.
  3. Another problem caused by the cold was hardening of the bullet lube in my Eley Target ammo. My sighter stage was abbreviated due to malfunctions. I changed to Norma Tac-22 which has a greasier lube (more like lard or tallow) and kept both magazines and the box of shells in my pants pockets. There were no more malfunctions after that.
  4. I was at a distinct disadvantage shooting with my aperture sights against scopes in the T class. In the O class (0pen sights) you can’t have a peep rear sight. I may mount a Nikon Pro-Staff Rimfire scope, or a vintage 4x if I can find a good one,  for the next match to see how much difference it makes. I suspect it will be significant.
  5. “Fussing the shot” in the slow-fire stages made me worse. I actually had higher scores in the rapid-fire stages than in the corresponding slow stages. Just get the sight on the target and take the shot. This is easy if you have a solid NPOA, which will improve when I accomplish this next point:
  6. It’s time to get in shape. I shot fine in prone but sitting and standing were just not comfortable, especially sitting. I need to lose at least 20 lbs as quickly as possible, stretch daily, and get into the weight room at least twice a week. You may not think of shooting a rifle as much of a sport, but if you want to shoot competitive scores you have to be an athlete.

If you want to have a fun time and improve your shooting, especially if you want to take your Appleseed training to a higher level, try Rimfire Sporter. You can find the nationwide match schedule here: Upcoming Rimfire Sporter matches link.

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How Creative Can You Get?

How about a 10/22 replica of a P-51 Mustang fighter plane from WWII? Posted over on RimfireCentral.com, this is one of the neatest 10/22s I’ve ever seen. It should be a great shooter, too, with performance modifications to a very high standard.

What ideas do you have for making your 10/22 something special? As this rifle shows, the sky’s the limit.

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Adjusting the 10/22 Peep Sight

On the Appleseed lines recently, I’ve seen many owners of the Design Contest Winner, the Collector’s Edition II, and the M1 Carbine model who don’t know how to adjust their rear sights. The 10/22 owner’s manual is no help – it only covers adjustment of the blade sight on the standard carbines and rifles. Ruger should add a page to the manual for these models.

The 10/22s with the peep sight use the Mini-14 rear sight. It is adjustable for both windage and elevation. Here’s how:

WindageThe rear aperture is held in place by two set screws. Using a 5/64 hex key, loosen the screw on the side where want the sight to move. Then, tighten the screw on the other side until the aperture is held tight again. There are no clicks and partial turns are ok. One full turn of the screw equals about 5 minutes of angle (5 MOA) or 5 inches at 100 yards. Remember, you want to move the rear sight in the same direction that you want your point of impact to move.

Elevation: Loosen one of the windage screws – only one. This allows the rear aperture post to turn freely. Then turn the rear aperture post by half-turns. To raise the point of impact, turn it counter-clockwise. To lower the point of impact, turn it clockwise. One full turn of the post equals about 1.25 MOA. Then tighten the windage screw that you loosened.

It would sure help if Ruger put this information in the box. But now you have it.

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Another Reason I prefer the 10/22…

over the Marlin 795:

In an Appleseed shoot this weekend we had two different Marlin 795s suffer OOBs (out-of-battery discharges), one of which resulted in a bullet lodged in the barrel. Fortunately nobody was hurt, and there was no permanent damage to either rifle.

In each case, the cause was a dirty chamber that prevented the round from seating fully. Even though the bolt was not fully in battery, the hammer hit the firing pin and ignited the round.

This can happen in the Marlin 95 because the firing pin is in the bottom of the bolt.

795 receiver bolt spring handle

But it can’t happen with a 10/22, which has its firing pin in the top of the bolt. In the 10/22, if the bolt isn’t fully in battery, the hammer will be blocked by the lower rear edge of the bolt and will not be able to drive the firing pin into the cartridge rim.

hammer and bolt 2

Many 10/22 owners complain of light primer strikes and failures to fire. We know that the cause in the vast majority of cases is owner negligence – failing to keep the chamber clean. But at least these malfunctions don’t risk blowing up the rifle. Just another example of why Ruger’s design of the 10/22 is so great.

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Fine Points of the Seated Position

Many of us shoot 3-position events, whether in Appleseed or in CMP Rimfire Sporter. Here are some insights that will help you refine your sitting position. I think these will both make you more comfortable and raise your scores. If have haven’t read it already, do look through the Prone article (here), as some of the points below are based on the same principles.

Body angle to line of sight: You want to put your body at an angle such that when the rifle butt is in your shoulder pocket the stock is right next to your neck, under your cheek, so you can drop your head naturally onto the comb with good sight alignment. This is usually a bit more than the angle used in prone. If you have to lean your head sideways to reach the stock, you don’t have enough angle and your shoulder pocket is too far from your neck, as seen from the target. Also, if your support elbow is not under the rifle, you probably have too little angle.

Lean from the hips, not the waist: This is the single biggest-impact, most important point in this article. It is also the one that most beginning Appleseed shooters get wrong.  When you lean at the waist, your entire upper body is too high off the ground; the spine doesn’t have as much range of motion as the hips; and you are crushing your diaphragm against your abdominal organs.

All kinds of bad things happen when you curl your back, leaning at the waist to try and put your elbows on your knees: you can’t reach the knee with your trigger elbow; your neck is craned back to make the head upright enough to see through your sights; you may even be looking through the top of your glasses rather than the center; your breathing is constricted; your center of gravity is too far back so you feel unbalanced and can’t relax (in fact, you are unbalanced). Also, the recoil of a centerfire rifle will push you out of position, which could even be dangerous if you lose control of the muzzle.

All kinds of good things happen when you lean from the hips: the shoulders are lower because the lean is hinged from the hips so the entire spine is lower; your neck and head are in natural position because the entire spine is angled, not just the top half; breathing is easy because the diaphragm is not squeezed; your center of gravity is closer to your knees so that gravity makes you stable. Recoil doesn’t topple you; it pushes you into the ground like a tent peg.

To illustrate this, hold your forearm and hand straight up. Your wrist acts as the hips, and your first knuckles are the waist. Keeping your hand vertical, curl your fingers toward the palm. See how the fingertips are almost horizontal, but they are still much higher than your wrist? Now straighten your fingers and keeping your hand straight, bend at the wrist. Notice how little angle is required to lower your fingertips to the same point relative to your wrist.

How do you make sure to lean from the hips? Simple: when you first sit down, put your trigger hand on the ground and stick your butt out. Your upper body will naturally lean from the hips. Try to keep your back straight as you bend; then very little waist bend will be needed to plant your elbows solidly on the fronts of your knees. Your back will be slightly rounded, but you won’t look like Quasimodo. Depending on your build, it may also help to loosen your belt a notch (or two).

Knee height and leg support: You can’t hold your knees up using the adductor muscles. Even before you feel the strain your legs will tremble. The legs have to rest naturally. What if you are very flexible and your knees just flop to the ground? Answer: Use your boots as support for your legs, resting your outer shins on them. To get the right knee height, adjust how close your boots are to your ankles. The boots act as fulcrums for the levers of your shins. The constant is that your feet are on the ground. If your feet are too far apart, the fulcrum is close to your knee and you can’t get much height. If the boot is closer to your ankle, the leg angle is higher and so are the knees.

If you are using the open-leg position, be sure to extend your feet, ideally with the soles of your boots flat on the ground. Trying to hold your toes up with the shin muscles will set everything to trembling.

“Natural point of magazine”: Where to put your magazines?  We see shooters lose time fumbling for their mags in stages 2 and 3 of the AQT. During prep, drop your trigger hand naturally to the ground. Wherever it lands is where you want to put the mags. This is the “natural point of magazine” (term coined by Viriginia Appleseed Instructor Misawa). Orient the mags so that your hand grasps them just the way you want to hold them when you drop it. Figure out what works best for you, then do it consistently every time you shoot. The less minutia you have to think about, the easier it is to maintain your Rifleman’s Bubble and focus only on the target and front sight.

Relax: Just as in prone, if your position is right, you can relax your body and gravity will help you stay in position. If the position is uncomfortable, there is probably something wrong.

Be in shape: It’s a harsh fact, but the more there is of you between your spine and your navel, the harder it will be to assume a good sitting position. Sitting also requires good joint flexibility and stretched lower back, hip adductor muscles and hamstrings. If you really want to be good at this position, you will need to practice it regularly and exercise the muscles on which it relies. The crossed-ankle and open-leg positions can accommodate physical limitations, but they are less stable and therefore less accurate than the classic sitting position.

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Ruger 10/22 v. Marlin 795

The Marlin 795 (together with its tube-fed cousin, the Model 60) is probably the second most common rifle seen on Appleseed lines, and is the 10/22’s biggest competitor in the market. The two rifles are very similar in purpose: Inexpensive, light, reasonably accurate semi-auto rifles. But Ruger and Marlin definitely take different paths to end up with similar performance. I recently acquired an older Marlin and have had a chance to compare it with our 10/22s.

Here’s a look at some of the differences (in OEM configuration, without modifications):

Marlin Ruger
Barrel fitment Cross-pinned Screwed-in retainer block
Last Shot Bolt Hold-Open Yes No
Auto bolt release Yes No
Scope mount 3/8” groove on receiver Screw-on rail
Magazine 10-round stick 10-round rotary
Magazine disconnect Yes No
Extractor Double Single
Length of pull 13.875” 13.5”

You don’t get a big variety of models with the Marlin: Just the basic rifle, in either black finish or stainless steel. If you want something special, whether it’s a compact size, target bull or heavy taper barrel, wood stock or different colors, you will be looking at 10/22s.

There are some very good action upgrades for the Marlin, specifically triggers and spring kits, which can make it more pleasant to shoot. But nothing close to the cornucopia of high-quality aftermarket goodies available for the 10/22.

Shooting Impressions

In terms of reliability and accuracy, the two rifles are very close. The Marlin might even be a fraction more accurate at 50 yards. The Marlin’s trigger has a very long take-up, probably because the trigger itself is attached to the trigger guard, which is separate from the action. But at least on this Marlin, the pull weight is about the same as on a 10/22 at around 7 lbs. The bolt release lever works with a simple push, which is much more convenient than Ruger’s locking release mechanism. The dual extractors remove unfired rounds effectively even if the chamber is dirty. Because of the magazine disconnect, you can not dry-fire the Marlin unless a magazine is in place – so you’d better be 100% certain that the mag is empty.

Cleaning and Maintenance

Here’s where the different action designs between the Marlin and the Ruger become important. Simply, the Marlin gets dirtier than the Ruger and it’s a PITA to clean.

One key reason is that in the Ruger, the magazine well is separate from and forward of the trigger group. When the bolt cycles back, the trigger group remains covered by the bolt and stays clean. The Marlin’s mag well is part of the action assembly and there is a large gap behind it. Soot and unburned powder are blown deep into the action, which gets very dirty and gritty quickly.

795 receiver bolt spring handle

The photo above shows (bottom to top) the Marlin 795 receiver, guide rod and spring, bolt, and bolt handle. Note that the lug for the guide rod is in the middle of the receiver – this prevents drilling a cleaning hole in the back of the receiver as many 10/22 owners have done.

Field-stripping for basic cleaning is similar between the two: loosen the action screws to remove the stock (first removing the trigger guard on the Marlin), remove the trigger assembly, then pull the bolt back and remove it. The bolt guide rod in the Marlin sits in a hole in the center of the bolt, rather than alongside as in the Ruger.  Because of this, the rod and spring are separate rather than captured in a subassembly. The spring is much longer than the rod, and you must be careful not to kink that spring when reinstalling the bolt or you’ll buy a new one.

795 trigger group top795 trigger group right side795 trigger group bottom

Photos above, top to bottom: Marlin 795 action group viewed from top, left side, and bottom.

1022 Trigger parts795 Trigger parts

The photos above show the fully disassembled trigger groups of the Ruger (top) and Marlin.

The Ruger’s trigger group design, from an engineering perspective, is efficient and elegant. The injection-molded trigger housing (cast aluminum on pre-2008 models) contains all the parts which are held in place by four pins. The trigger/disconnector/sear are in a nice subassembly, as is the hammer strut/spring. The Marlin looks like a Rube Goldberg machine, all stamped metal parts (except the hammer), pins and springs. The trigger and safety are attached to the trigger guard. The action group is an assembly of separate parts attached to cross-pins, all held together by two stamped plates fastened by several e-clips. The Ruger uses simple coil springs which are protected or captured. The Marlin’s sear spring and disconnector spring have odd shapes and won’t work right if you get them kinked while removing them.  The hammer spring is not captured in a subassembly. You need to make a special tool (using a paper clip) to keep it compressed during reassembly of the action. With practice, you can put it all together in about ten minutes. But it’s still a PITA to do.

Because disassembling the Marlin action is so much fun, most owners advise not taking it apart for cleaning, but to spray it down with solvent or brake cleaner, maybe hit it with a toothbrush, and blow it out with compressed air. I tried that method and it does a poor job of cleaning. The sticky soot and powder need to be scrubbed and wiped off each surface. The gunk that collects in corners and between the metal parts is what hurts functioning, and it won’t come out with mere spraying and superficial brushing. I suppose an ultrasonic cleaner would work great – how many of us have one lying around?

The Marlin’s polymer bolt buffer is part of the action assembly. Over a few years, it will dry out, become brittle, and break, dropping pieces into the action which then malfunctions. (I have personally had to replace two of these on friends’ rifles.) A replacement buffer costs around $20. For the 10/22, you can get a Kidd or a urethane buffer from a number of suppliers that lasts forever, for about $6.

The bottom line: While the Marlin is a good-shooting rifle, from a total ownership satisfaction perspective I MUCH prefer the 10/22.

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