It's been over 50 years since Bill Ruger introduced his semi-automatic, rotary box magazine-fed rimfire: the 10/22. For those of you new to the 10/22, I suppose a little introduction is necessary. The 10/22 was basically a semi-auto .22 rimfire about as popular as any other until Ram-Line company introduced their polymer high-capacity (20, 30 and 50 rounds) magazines for it. Suddenly, the 10/22 was a lot more exciting than its tubular magazine-fed competitors. Enabled by this increase in capacity, a number of companies introduced polymer folding stocks, ventilated handguards and other “dress-up” accessories. Things were going along fine until September 13, 1994, when President Bill Clinton signed the “Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act” into law. This act, which included an “assault weapons ban,” essentially ended the party for sexed-up 10/22’s by effectively put an end to the availability of scary-looking accessories and high-capacity magazines.
The cat was already out of the bag though, 10/22 enthusiasts were not about to give up their tinkering. True, folding and pistol grip stocks were now illegal, as were the flash-hiders, barrel shrouds, bayonet lugs and all those other fun accessories, ridiculous as they might be on a .22. The owners, however, were growing up, and their tastes were maturing. Rather than capacity and militaristic styling, accuracy and precision were becoming the new pursuits. What choice did we have if we didn't want to violate federal law?
The main accuracy shortcomings on factory 10/22’s were, and still are, the triggers - notoriously creepy and heavy, and the barrels, which are relatively loose chambered to promote reliable feeding and extraction. The market was soon satisfied by kits that enabled any do-it-your-selfer to reduce trigger pull to a crisp 2.5 lbs, and heavy “bull” barrels with tighter Bentz match chambers capable of ½” groups at 50 yds with quality ammunition. The plain-Jane factory stocks and polymer folders gave way for thumbhole and adjustable “match” stocks. Interestingly, after the 2004 expiration of the Clinton-era “assault weapons” ban, the interest in high-accuracy 10/22’s was complimented by a re-introduction of high-capacity magazines and other kit to make them look O.A.F. That, at least, has been my perspective as a 10/22 owner and enthusiast since about 1990.
10/22 Aftermarket Improvements
Of course, the engineers at Ruger would probably say “there’s nothing wrong with the way we make them at the factory,” but that hasn’t stopped a number of companies from manufacturing precision replacement parts for the 10/22. When it comes to modifications for accuracy, the question to ask yourself if you venture down this road is: just how much accuracy is enough? The point of diminishing returns sets in relatively early, but that hasn't stopped some folks (myself included), from spending small fortunes pursuing the Nth degree of potential accuracy.
There are still some gunsmiths who specialize in modification of factory triggers, and some of them do great work. Unfortunately for them, the accessory market has provided several viable alternatives to skilled trigger work. My go-to trigger-lightening method has always been the Volquartsen drop in ultra match hammer and sear set, coupled with an overtravel adjustment trigger of some make, such as Power Custom’s titanium trigger. This drops pull weight down to approximately 2.5 lbs with minimal overtravel and a crisp break. Another option for lightening pull is to completely replace the trigger group with offerings by Kidd, Jard and others. I actually managed to score a Jewell trigger group with a pull weight in the ounces. These are not made anymore and if you ever come across one, NEVER disassemble it. Getting one back together is reportedly impossible. Innovations continue to hit the market that provide marginal improvements in trigger pull and crispness.
There are too many excellent drop-in barrels to mention, but I will say one trait they almost all have in common is that they are heavy. Depending on the primary intended use of the rifle, a little added inertia might not be a bad thing. If this is a rifle to be carried for hunting or survival, weight is not your friend. If you want heavy-barrel accuracy in a light weight package, you may want to check out the graphite or carbon-fiber sleeved barrels by Magnum Research or Volquartsen. Tactical Solutions makes an aircraft aluminum sleeved barrel that is excellent quality and comes anodized in a variety of colors. It is also available with ½“ X 28 thread for suppressors. Tactical Solutions barrels are pretty much my preferred choice these days.
It is generally accepted among rifle enthusiasts that for best accuracy, it is necessary to free-float the barrel. This is not strictly advisable on 10/22’s as the thin aluminum receiver really isn’t designed to support the weight of a heavy barrel hanging out in space. Most aftermarket stocks make contact with the barrel. Some aftermarket stock makers equip their stocks with a “bump pad” in the end of the forearm to minimize contact but still support barrel weight. This doesn’t seem to have a detrimental effect on accuracy and may even improve it with a sufficiently rigid stock. For those who absolutely have to try to free-float the barrel, you will need one of the aftermarket receivers available in stainless steel, designed to accept barrels that thread in, rather than the standard slip-fit barrels that are held in place by a “V-block.” The disadvantage of these is that they require machinist or gunsmith fitting rather than easy do-it-yourself barrel swaps. I have done this on a few rifles, with successful results, but after spending a small fortune on squeezing the last bit of accuracy out of the 10/22, take my word for it, the small accuracy improvement doesn’t justify the additional expense.
Most high-accuracy aftermarket barrels oversize the shank slightly for a tighter fit in the receiver. This prevents the v-block from deflecting the barrel downwards. If you have an issue with this, aftermarket adjustable V-block replacements that can compensate for barrel tilt are available. When inserting the barrel shank into the receiver, particularly if it is a tight barrel, avoid twisting it in place, as sharp edge of the extractor groove can act like a cutting bit and start shaving aluminum out of your receiver. It's best to gently tap tight barrels in place with a rubber mallet and a little grease.
I really like the Hogue rubber over-molded stocks for 10/22’s. While they may not be the best choice for hair-splitting accuracy, for a light-weight field rifle, they are my first choice. They are large enough for adult proportions, have positive grip and are very durable. The rubber absorbs vibration well, so for suppressed guns; it cuts down the resonance that you can get with heavy wooden stocks.
Once upon a time, when I was on a no-expense-spared crusade for the ultimate in 10/22 accuracy, I designed a stock and had it custom made out of carbon fiber and fiber glass. At the time, “ambidextrous” offerings in 10/22 stocks were limited mostly to a few, very plain examples. It took a while, but I finally found someone willing to work with my design. Suspiciously, in the months that followed, a number of companies released stocks that shared a number of the features of my design, but, as they say: “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”
Since the expiration of the “crime bill,” some folding stocks and pistol-grip stocks are making their way back into the market, as well as chassis style stocks that take AR accessories. Even Magpul has finally joined the party.
Other Aftermarket Parts:
One thing every 10/22 owner should keep in their range bag is a few spare extractors, plungers and springs. I buy the tool steel “sharp claw” extractors by Volquartsen and Clark Custom and keep a few handy. This is particularly important if you are shooting a 10/22 magnum or one of the .17 variants that tend to blow extractors out occasionally.
Aftermarket firing pins aren’t strictly necessary, but I replace all mine with tool steel firing pins.
Polymer recoil buffers may cut down some wear and tear on the receiver, but more than anything they quiet down bolt “clack” a little, which is nice on suppressed guns.
Extra power recoil springs and aftermarket bolt handles can help add some reliability to tight-chambered guns by giving the bolt a little extra push on the return to seat stubborn rounds.
No magazine is more reliable in the 10/22 than the standard Ruger rotary-feed box magazines. The problem with them is that they just run out of fun too fast. I have tried about every high-capacity magazine made for the 10/22, even the expensive, all-aluminum Tactical Innovations magazines. My advice to you if you want more than 10 rounds is to pick up a bunch of the Ruger BX-25 magazines. I have found them to be the most reliable high-capacity magazine available for the 10/22.
Kits are available to change the 10/22 to function reliably with .22 shorts and I have modified 10/22’s and 10/22 Magnum variants to fire both .17 Mach II and .17 HMR respectively.
When .17 HMR and .17 Mach II were originally introduced, several of us pioneered the idea of shimming 77/22 and 77/22 magnum barrels to fit 10/22 actions.
This was successful and worked just fine for years and thousands of rounds. One fine day, Hornady announced that the .17 HMR was NOT to be fired in semi autos. Soon thereafter, I started experiencing case ruptures, rims blown off and other high-pressure issues. While I have no proof, I strongly suspect .17HMR powder, case thickness or metallurgy was changed. This is a very dangerous condition that has prompted me to retire the .17 barrels from any of my 10/22’s.
Some aftermarket stock and barrel makers had toyed around with quick-takedown kits for the 10/22 with varied results. It was only a matter of time before Ruger released their own version. For a lightweight survival rimfire, it really can’t be beat. There is nothing wrong with the Ruger factory takedown stock, but aftermarket stocks for the takedown model are starting to be released as well, AGP Arms being one fine example.
There is no shortage of quality rimfire optics, so here’s my opinion: if you are scoping an “accuracy” gun and don’t mind spending a buck or two, I recommend the Weaver V16 with Ballistic-X reticle. You can’t go wrong with this scope. It has plenty of magnification for a rimfire, clear glass, finger adjustable turret-style knobs, and an adjustable objective to bring things into sharp focus from 7 yards to infinity.
For survival guns, the factory iron sights are more or less adequate, but adding a receiver-mounted peep sight and a hooded, HK-style front sight definitely improves sight picture.
One thing I really need to mention in the area of optics is the use of night vision on 10/22’s. Because these can be so quiet when suppressed, it might be worth considering putting something together that is not only quiet, but essentially invisible, at least at night. A first or second generation night-vision optic for less than $1000 on a suppressed 10/22 makes for a pretty sweet package.
Granted, using such a configuration for hunting may be illegal in some locales due to the use of suppressor and/or night vision. That said, such a weapon is a silent night-time game getter and predator manager capable of hitting within a 4” circle out to 100 yards. Just be aware that many of the first generation units are pretty worthless without using an IR illuminator of some kind, and most of the IR illuminators emit some faint visible light. As digital night vision technology improves, rimfire suitable optics offering impressive performance are gaining in popularity, such as the units by Pulsar that are both night and day capable.
Care and Feeding:
For loose factory barrel chambers, CCI’s Stinger is a nice round. Stingers have a slightly longer case length than typical .22 LR. They attain greater velocity, but aren’t advised for match chambers because the elongated case can get stuck on the rifling leade and cause malfunctions or throat damage. For field use in Bentz Match chambered guns, I recommend the CCI Velocitor because it launches a 40grain hollowpoint in excess of 1400 FPS. That’s pretty good for a rimfire. If your chamber doesn’t feed thick bullets like the Velocitor well, consider the Remington Viper or Yellow Jacket. These are truncated cone bullets moving at 1500 FPS. I have had great success with these rounds on everything from rabbits to raccoons. If you have a suppressed rifle and need subsonic ammunition, I strongly recommend the RWS 40 grain subsonic rounds and Eley subsonics. They are quality made hollowpoints that are very consistent and I have never had one go transonic. Some folks really like the Aguila SSS (Sniper Sub Sonic) round. This cartridge launches an elongated 60 grain round-nose bullet from a .22 short case while generating enough pressure to reliably function most semi-autos. There are only 2 problems with them. First, the twist in most .22 barrels is inadequate to stabilize the 60 grain projectile, so there is a risk of baffle strike in suppressors, particularly with shorter barrels and pistols. The second problem is that the short case extracts very quickly, so I have always experienced excessive breech noise when using these in a suppressed semi-auto.
The more you increase the accuracy potential of your 10/22 with tight chambers and match-tuned parts, the more critical it is to keep things clean to keep them running. The action should be cleaned out periodically with a solvent and liberal application of compressed air or an action blaster spray of some kind. In order to protect the crown, I use the following "pull-through" cleaning method:
1. Cut a strand of 30lb test fishing line at least 3-times as long as the barrel.
2. Feed one end from the breech to the muzzle. When the loose end protrudes from the muzzle, use a rubber band to secure a few inches of it outside the barrel.
3. On the breech end, tie some cleaning patches about 4 inches to 8 inches apart. If the barrel is relatively clean, you only need 6 patches. If the barrel is particularly dirty, I would tie 8 to 10 patches. Use simple square knots.
4. Place a few drops of cleaning solvent or CLP on the first patch (the one closest to the breech), and leave the next one dry. Alternate wet/dry/wet/dry but leave the last patch on the string dry.
5. Slowly pull the line through the bore, being careful not to drag it against the crown - pull it straight out.
6. The barrel should be clean. If you are dealing with particularly heavy leading, use a foaming bore cleaner first or maybe a few passes with a brush on a coated rod.
7. If you start pulling and the line jams (or worse case - snaps) because you used patches that were too large, etc... you will usually know it right away. Simply pull the line back out of the barrel by the breech end.
Once in a great while, I will take the rifle apart to clean inside the trigger group. It doesn't usually need to be disassembled to do this: use a few squirts of a cleaning agent, let sit, then blow the parts dry with compressed air or action blaster. If you use action blaster, be sure to re-apply a light oil after cleaning to protect and lubricate the moving parts.
In final comparison, let us consider the level of accuracy that is achievable with the 10/22 as well as the level of accuracy is practical with the 10/22.
The main limitation is the inconsistency of .22 rimfire ammunition - no matter how good it is. The slow velocity and low ballistic coefficient means that the atmosphere is going to have a profound effect on the projectile. Even a standard factory 10/22 should hold about a 1 inch group inside of 50 yards with decent ammunition. Add a match barrel and trigger and 1/2" or less groups are realistic. The .22 LR isn't exactly a 100 yard cartridge, sure it will get there, but power and accuracy loss make it useful for very little at distances beyond that. If you plan on shooting at those distances with it, stick with high-velocity ammunition and have realistic expectations. While you can get 1.5" groups at 100yds out of the 10/22 for less than $1000 in my experience, shaving off that last half-inch and getting MOA accuracy at 100 yards - well, that will cost you a lot more.
It is possible to shave down group size by throwing money at the project, but once you get around the $1,000 mark, the next step for any significant accuracy improvement is a big one, and pretty unnecessary for a .22. Ask yourself how useful or practical a $3500 .22 rimfire is unless you are competing in the Olympics with it? It's your money, but if I could make a recommendation, spend that extra dough on ammo, training and practice time. Those things are far better accuracy improvers than any part or accessory you could purchase.