Polymer-framed guns, subcompact big bore semiauto pocket pistols, man-portable semiauto .50 BMG rifles…even though we live in a world of amazing marvels, the fact of the matter is these types of guns didn’t exist until a relatively short time ago. Either manufacturers didn’t have the technology to make them or the gun buying public wasn’t interested.
The .22 Long Rifle conversion kit for the AR-15, or rimfire versions of it, have been around almost as long as Stoner’s blueprints for the rifle, but the kits haven’t been nearly as popular as they are today. The current popularity of AR-15 style rifles, combined with the high cost of ammunition, also has caused a surge in popularity of rifles styled like their centerfire big brothers but chambered in the ubiquitous .22 LR. These are advertised and marketed in a variety of ways, from “trainers” to cool-looking blacked-out versions of your favorite .22.
For this article I obtained AR-style .22s from three of the biggest manufacturers around. During testing I found that even though all three are black .22s, these rifles were very different and really aimed at (or at least suited for) completely different types of shooting.
For testing and evaluation, not only did I enlist several of my friends but also my two sons, ages 13 and 9. As “tactical” as some of these rifles are, the fact is that many of them are being bought and used by people too young to vote, or those slight of build, and their opinions can be very insightful.
Remember when semiauto .22s (other than the Ruger 10/22) were notoriously unreliable? Such is not the case anymore. That said, the Ruger 10/22 is still the standard by which semiauto .22 rifles are judged, and for good reason. It is simple, reliable and enough aftermarket accessories exist
for them to fill the state of Rhode Island.
The SR-22 is basically a 10/22 attempting to peg the needle on the cool meter. All black, it has a six-position collapsible AR-style stock, pistol grip and ventilated fore-end. The exterior aluminum receiver seems to be cosmetic only: two pieces of aluminum affixed to a standard 10/22 receiver on the inside.
The rifle comes with a signature Ruger flash hider, and the receiver has a top rail to mount the optic of your choice. A fixed-stock version without muzzle device is available for sale in states that have restrictions on such things.
While it has definitely been painted with a tactical brush, the SR-22 is still a 10/22 as opposed to a .22 LR-chambered AR-15. The controls are purely 10/22, and it comes with the 10/22’s 10-round rotary magazine. If you are looking for a cheap way to refine your skills with an AR-15, the SR-22 perhaps isn’t for you because the controls are different. That said, it is still a heck of a lot of fun to shoot, and it definitely does not look like your grandpa’s squirrel gun.
Apart from mag capacity (more on that later) the only complaint my youthful testers had with the SR-22 was the weight. Between the thick receiver and the metal fore-end the rifle tips the scales at 61⁄2 pounds but felt heavier because a lot of the weight is out front. This wasn’t a problem for the adults, but I noticed the weight even before my youngest son made a comment. My only complaint is the rifle’s traditional 10/22 controls, which I’ve never been a fan of.
One thing that all of these rifles we tested have in common is a multi-position adjustable stock, which I think is indispensable when it comes to not just young shooters but adults as well. I’m over six feet tall, but with an adjustable stock I can comfortably shoot the same gun as my children.
The main complaint most people have had with 10/22s is the 10-round magazine. Not its reliability—its capacity. Rimfires are fun and cheap to shoot, and we live in America, where more is always better. Aftermarket high-capacity magazines have been around for the 10/22 for quite some time, but their quality has never been consistent. Therefore I was very happy to see the new BX-25 from Ruger—a factory 25-round magazine designed for the 10/22 by the same people who make the rifle. Halleluiah.
The 10/22’s rotary magazine feeds the cartridges into the chamber at a 30-degree angle, but most aftermarket magazines didn’t. The BX-25 inserts the cartridges into the chamber at the same angle as the proven 10-round rotary magazine, is easily disassembled and retails for only $30. At the moment this magazine is not provided from the factory with any rifle.
Let’s take a look at the S&W M&P15-22 MOE on page two.
S&W M&P15-22 MOE
Smith & Wesson made big news just a few years ago when it introduced a .22 Long Rifle version of its .223 M&P-15. This rifle was interesting for several reasons. Both the upper and lower receivers were made of polymer, as opposed to aluminum, and Smith & Wesson advertised it as having the same controls as a standard AR-15.
Of the three rifles I tested for this article, I have the most time behind the S&W 15-22. The controls are identical to those found on .223-chambered AR-15s, and except for the magazine and ejection port, the rifle from five feet away is indistinguishable from a centerfire rifle. The safety, charging handle, mag release—all operate the same as on a standard AR-15.
S&W has enjoyed huge success with this design and now offers it in many different versions, including a pistol and the model I tested, the S&W M&P 15-22 MOE, which comes with a Magpul MOE stock, pistol grip, trigger guard and flip-up sights. I tested the black version, but S&W sells one with flat dark earth MOE furniture.
Because the controls are exactly the same as on a centerfire rifle, the 15-22 alone of the three rifles I tested would be an excellent inexpensive trainer for military or law enforcement personnel.
While the rifle is not cheap, the ammo is, and a department could save huge amounts of money in ammo costs alone getting new officers familiarized with the AR system. While there have been very well-made .22 LR conversion kits for ARs for decades, dedicated rimfire training rifles can solve a lot of logistical problems for departments.
The rifle comes with a quad-rail fore-end, and even though it is polymer it will still take standard rail covers or mount flashlights or other accessories designed for Picatinny-style rails. At 51⁄2 pounds the rifle feels quite light, and one of the reasons for that is its balance.
The 15-22 comes with a well-designed 25-round magazine that is easy to load, even for kids, and the rifle itself is more than accurate enough to do anything a .22 can do.
Of the three rifles I tested, this one was the hands-down favorite of the adults because it has the exact same controls as a .223 AR-15.
The kids liked it because not only did it feel the lightest, it looked just like the ARs they shoot in their Call Of Duty video games. Plus, they learned to shoot on a single-shot bolt-action .22, so a semiauto with a 25-round magazine is heaven on earth. The kids couldn’t stop smiling, and the only problem they had was keeping the magazines loaded.
The S&W M&P 15-22 MOE’s suggested retail is $609, but depending on options, accessories and camo patterns, the 15-22s retail from between $499 for the basic version and $769 for the Performance Center model. The M&P 15-22 is not a cheap design, and the MOE version is a few dollars more, but it truly lives up to the Smith & Wesson name, and you get what you pay for.
Let’s take a look at the Mossberg Tactical .22 on page three.
MOSSBERG TACTICAL .22
The Mossberg Tactical .22 splits the difference between the Ruger SR-22 and the S&W M&P 15-22. The Ruger is a basically a 10/22 made to vaguely resemble an AR-15, while the S&W is a polymer-framed AR-15 that happens to be chambered in .22 LR.
Exactly what the name of this rifle is a bit of a conundrum—Mossberg in its catalog and on its website call it the Tactical .22, but the receiver is labeled 702 Plinkster. I have also seen the rifle listed for sale as the Mossberg 715 or 715T. Linda Powell at Mossberg cleared it up for us.
“Initially we introduced the rifle as the Mossberg International Tactical .22. However, this series of tactical rimfire rifles will now be referred to as a family of Tactical .22 Autoloading Rimfires with the initial offering of the 715T Carry Handle,” she told Rifle Shooter.
The Mossberg is obviously built to resemble an AR-15 but is not likely to be mistaken for one if you have any experience with the design. With an adjustable M4-type stock made by ATI, carrying handle, 18-inch barrel, long quad-rail fore-end and pistol grip the Mossberg superficially looks like an AR-15A2, but the controls are very different.
The safety is a crossbolt in front of the trigger guard. The magazine release is an ambidextrous lever on the side of the magazine well. The charging handle is just for show and doesn’t move. The “forward assist” is just a jutting lump of plastic.
The Mossberg has A2-length non-removable sights and a polymer Picatinny rail attached to the top of the carrying handle. It is actually the lightest of the rifles we tested at five pounds, but it felt a little heavier than the M&P 15-22 because of the longer barrel—more weight was out front. Like the M&P, its receivers and fore-end rails are polymer.
The Mossberg comes with a 25-round magazine that I couldn’t get more than 22 rounds into. I don’t know if it was because the magazine spring was new and stiff or what, but neither I nor any of my volunteers was able to load it to capacity. However, we found it to be completely reliable. Once inserted into the gun the magazine has the same profile as a standard AR-15 magazine, but the portion inside the magazine well is a skinny, traditional single-column design.
The Mossberg was a bit of a contradiction. It had some of the best features of any of the guns, as well as the worst. First off, it is the least expensive, by far. This is a very good thing. And it had the best trigger of any rifle we tested, breaking at just a five-pound pull.
A brief glance at the accuracy tables might make you think the Mossberg was less accurate than the other rifles, but the truth was I used the Mossberg’s iron sights when shooting it for accuracy, whereas I mounted a 1-4X Hi-Lux CMR scope on the other rifles when shooting groups. Two-inch groups at 50 yards with iron sights off sandbags is darn accurate for me. Why didn’t I use the scope? Because mounting it on the provided Tapco rail I couldn’t get the rifle on paper past 10 yards—the rail was that far off to the right.
Also, the bolt locked back on an empty magazine, but dropping the magazine with the mag well mounted release lets the bolt fly forward, which is odd. It is possible to lock the bolt back by pushing in on the bolt handle. The Mossberg’s pistol grip was integral to the receiver and not replaceable, unlike the other two guns tested.
Knowing that the longer fore-end and 18-inch barrel is not what is in fashion these days with the AR-buying public, Mossberg just recently announced a new CAR version of its Tactical .22, which has a 16-inch barrel tipped with a flash hider, flattop receiver and detachable iron sights. While the non-traditional controls haven’t changed, this model—called the 715T Flat Top, according to Linda—is sure to be more popular with the AR crowd.
At $276 MSRP the Mossberg is less than half the cost of the other two rifles. Mossberg has always been known for reliable firearms at an affordable price, and the Tactical .22 continues that tradition.
Each of the three rifles we tested proved itself to be reliable and just plain fun to shoot, and my satisfied volunteers and would recommend any of them.
Like most .22s I’ve every heard of or shot, each gun had definite preferences in ammunition, so you’d be well-served to try a variety of ammo in your rifle. And again, even though the rifles were “black” .22s, each was substantially different in style and function, so depending on what you’re looking for in a rimfire black gun, one of the three should meet your criteria.