How to Pick Your Long-Range .22 Rifle for Competition
There’s a lot that goes into setting up a competition-worthy .22 rimfire rifle – action type, trigger, magazines, stock, bipod, accessories, you name it. You could start from scratch, but we’ve got a well-weathered expert willing to share his hard-earned experience in the field.
You can learn the hard – expensive – way. Or you can get a rundown on the comparisons between the guns and gear available right now to set off on the right foot. We sat down with Dave Luu, founder of the Mid-Atlantic Rimfire Series, to discuss the best things you can do to ensure you’ve got a competition .22 ready to punch precision holes at long ranges. Let’s dive in.
What Action Should You Get?
The action you choose will be the mechanism that drives your rifle on the range. These are the beating hearts of precision rifles, and they fall into two basic camps – bolt-action and semi-automatic rifles. But what are the advantages and disadvantages of each?
Bolt-action rifles have long been championed for their superior accuracy and reliability. They allow you to positively control the chambering and ejecting of your .22 rounds, which are well known for causing jams. But that comes at some costs. Bolt actions tend to be slower to load and shoot in the field, and that is a prime consideration for competition shooters.
At the same time, manipulating the bolt requires extra movement and causes many shooters to break their shooting position and cheek weld slightly. This forces them to reset before their next shot. While bolt actions are an excellent choice for competition .22 rifles, they can also take more practice. Solid dry-fire training can help fix these problems.
There are those who believe semi-auto rifles are just less accurate than bolt-action rifles. But with the right barrel and ammunition, they can certainly still perform very well at distance for competition. Since they use the blowback of each round to cycle the bolt and reload the rifle, they also cut down on the need to move to chamber a round. This can lead to faster and more accurate shooting.
Reliability is really the key concern that stands out for our expert shooter. The .22 rimfire round is known for occasionally causing jams in semi-automatic guns. It is also known for being a fairly “dirty” cartridge, which requires good cleaning to ensure the action continues to perform properly.
Barrels, Bipods & Stocks
Barrels are probably the second most important consideration to make when picking your rifle. They help you control how accurate your gun will shoot, and off-the-shelf barrels tend to vary quite a bit for quality control. Custom barrels offer more consistency in both the barrel you are getting and the shots you are going to take on the range.
Many people spend a lot of time worrying about twist rates for center-fire rifle barrels, but the twist rates for most .22 barrels right now are 1:16. Barrel length, on the other hand, can vary quite a bit. From experience, the best results tend to come from barrels between 16 and 20 inches.
At 16 inches, you can get close to the maximum energy out of most .22 cartridges. That is about as short as you will want to go for most competition .22s, while going to 20 inches doesn’t offer much difference for your velocity.
However, going with a longer barrel may give you a better balance for your particular rifle. Thicker barrels also offer you more stability while shooting, but they add weight when you are moving around or navigating obstacles. For .22s, it’s really just compromising between the two for your needs.
Bipods are critical for accuracy when shooting in competition. But you never really know exactly what position you may need to shoot from, so be sure you get a robust and adjustable bipod.
You’ll need to consider the ability to shift the bipod for elevation and even position on the rifle. A proper rail system can really help here, and the ARCA rail system performs very well in the field.
Be sure to consider the “footprint” of your action and the type of stock you want. Different action types have lots of different stock options. Consider that before you buy a gun you want to upgrade the stock on. Also, consider the adjustability of the stock if you have any need to fine-tune the stock later down the road.
Triggers & Mags
Many people might tell you that the lightest trigger possible is the best for competition, but that’s not necessarily true. What you are really looking for is a trigger that is consistent and safe, especially if you are new to the sport. Super light triggers increase your chances of a negligent discharge if you are inexperienced, and it is best to first consider safety and trigger feel.
Unfortunately, this takes some hands-on experience. There are two-stage triggers that provide some take-up before you hit the second-stage wall. Single-stage triggers, on the other hand, are basically already at the wall when you go to shoot. Avoid heavy triggers, because they can throw off your accuracy downrange. You also might consider using a flat trigger, which can provide a more consistent trigger pull from shot to shot.
For competition shooting, a gun only really works as well as the magazines that feed it ammunition. There are a lot of options out there. As a rule, you want a magazine with a minimum of 10 rounds. Though, it’s rare you will need more than 15-round magazines for a shooting stage.
Start by researching not only the rifle but the magazines that are available. You're looking for guns that are known to have reliable mags, but you also want rifles with mags that fit your comfort level for loading.
Many prefer the wider mags for AR-style .22s, while others are fine with the smaller mags used in CZs or Ruger 10/22s. Smaller mags can take more practice to load into the rifle quickly, so just make sure you train to build muscle memory for your particular rifle.
We’ve really only scratched the surface. So make sure you watch the full video in this article for demonstrations and more details on the guns, gear, and accessories that have proven successful in competitions.
If you’re new to competitive shooting, .22 rifles really are one of the best ways to get into the sport. They offer a lower price point to get into competitions than the more expensive centerfire rifles, and they also allow you to shoot at more ranges that don’t offer those 1000-yard distances to host an event.