In my opinion, there is no "perfect" survival gun, but most people would agree that some form of .22 LR rifle would be highly useful. Light, easy to carry and economical, they excel at harvesting small game and can get the job done on larger stuff if you know what you're doing. So when I decided to review three different rifles chambered in .22 LR and geared toward survival use, I was interested to see not only how they would perform, but also how they would stack up against each other.
My intention was to pick three semiautomatic takedown rifles: Henry Repeating Arms's AR-7 Survival rifle, Ruger's highly popular 10/22 takedown and Marlin's Model 70PSS. Unfortunately, I was unable to get a sample of the Marlin, so I replaced it with something out of my own collection, a custom-stocked Crickett bolt action. Here is a model-by-model look at the rifles.
Henry Repeating Arms Co. AR-7 Survival Rifle
The oldest and by far the most interesting of the three is the Henry Repeating Arms AR-7 Survival rifle. A classic design from the fertile mind of Eugene Stoner, it dates all the way back to 1958. The AR-7 carved a niche for itself and was commercially successful, and 57 years later it not only remains in production but also continues to be a practical piece.
That said, the AR-7 has not always had the best reputation. After ArmaLite sold the design, it was produced by a number of companies before Henry acquired it. Some of those previous rifles had a spotty reputation, so I wasn't sure what to expect. What I didn't expect was for the box in which it arrived to be so small. Inside was a black synthetic stock, and stored inside this sealed and water-resistant container was a 16.1-inch barrel, the receiver and two eight-round magazines. The entire 3.5-pound package is just 16.5 inches long.
To assemble, just pop off the buttplate and remove the components. Insert the receiver into the cutout in the stock and twist the captured retaining bolt (finger tight will do). Next retract the bolt slightly and insert the barrel into the receiver while aligning the pin in the barrel with the corresponding cutout in the receiver. Assembled, the overall length is just 35 inches.
The barrel has a rifled steel sleeve inside a lightweight ABS plastic outer shell. The bright orange front sight is adjustable for windage, and the rear sight is an aperture that is adjustable for elevation. An optics rail is machined into the top of the receiver. The simple blowback action utilizes a fairly heavy bolt assembly to feed rounds, and the bolt handle slides into the bolt to reduce width for storage.
The safety is mounted at the right rear of the receiver and is easy to manipulate, and the magazine release is located at the front of the oversize trigger guard. The single-stage trigger is heavy but quite crisp.
I didn't expect to like the AR-7. It's a strange-looking gun with no fore-end and a fat butt. But it quickly won me over with its light weight, quick handling, monotonous reliability and decent accuracy. The AR-7 is not a match gun, and it will never win any awards for its fine lines, but it's just as capable of putting meat in the pot today as when it was designed 57 years ago. Plus, the way it goes together and comes apart is just neat.
Before I began formal testing for this article, my church's youth group put on its annual range day where we shoot .22s. I took the three rifles to the event to see what the young shooters thought. I was surprised when the AR-7 came out on top, and I know at least one parent later purchased one.
I checked the AR-7's accuracy from the bench with Wolf Match Gold, Remington Golden Bullet, Federal Value Pack and Aguila SE Subsonic, loads that were used for all three guns. Four five-shot groups were fired with each load at 25 yards. As seen in the accompanying chart, Aguila's SE Subsonic posted the tightest five-shot group in the AR-7- 0.60 inch- and the best average.
To check the AR-7's consistency, I fired another five-shot group using the Wolf load- removing and reinstalling the barrel between each shot. This grouped to the same point of impact but opened up slightly to 1.3 inches.
The rifle was nicely zeroed as it came from the factory. Magazines were easy to load, inserted with a simple upward push and locked securely in place. The bolt retracted smoothly, and rounds fed without issue. The trigger, though, is like shifting from first to second in an old deuce and a half. It's heavy and takes some getting used to, but once you get the hang of it, it's fine.
The AR-7 acquired a poor reputation during the years it was produced by Charter Arms, so I decided to put more rounds through it than the other rifles- about 1,500 rounds in total. Out of those, I had a dozen failures to eject with Aguila's Super SE Subsonic, but all the rifles had issues with that load.
I like the AR-7 quite a bit. It was my pick of the three rifles tested. If you don't like the factory look, there are a number of accessories available for it, including different barrels, stocks, magazines and more. Suggested retail is $290.
Ruger 10/22 Takedown
Ruger's 10/22 is one of the most popular .22 LRs ever introduced. Produced in the millions, it has been a hit since its introduction in 1964. In March 2012, Ruger introduced the 10/22 Takedown. As the name suggests, this model differs from the original by incorporating an easily removed barrel assembly. A push and a twist pop out the barrel. This dramatically reduces the length for storage, and the Takedown has become popular with those who appreciate its ability to be split in half and stored neatly away.
The model I received for review was No. 11112. Its features include a black synthetic stock and a 16.6-inch barrel. The barrel has a threaded muzzle and is fitted with a flash suppressor. Why a flash suppressor? Because it can be easily removed and replaced with a sound suppressor.
The sights are a gold bead front and a U notch rear. The gun ships with a scope rail that bolts to the top of the receiver. This installs easily and allows standard Weaver or 1913 rings to be fitted. Unfortunately, it is just high enough to block access to the iron sights. The standard sights are a bit small and hard to see for my middle-age eyes, so I mounted an old Nikon 1.5-6X scope for testing.
At first glance the Takedown looks a bit strange because of the noticeable gap between the stock and the fore-end. However, it feels good in the hands and shoulders nicely. My review sample was marked "50 Years 1964-2014" on the receiver and had a specially marked bolt- all 10/22s produced last year carry these embellishments in honor of the gun's half-century mark.
The 10/22's controls include a cross-bolt safety in front of the trigger guard; paddle-style magazine release; blade bolt release; and a right-side bolt handle. To take down the gun, slightly retract the bolt and push forward on the barrel release lever located underneath the fore-end while twisting the barrel assembly clockwise. Once it's unlocked, the barrel can be pulled straight out of the receiver. Reinstalling the barrel takes even less time: Just insert it and twist.
While the 10/22 Takedown doesn't store inside its stock, it does come with a relatively small pack for storing and transport of the 4.6-pound, 36.7-inch (OAL, assembled) rifle. The pack is also large enough to allow other important items to be included in with it.
The Ruger was more comfortable to shoot than the AR-7 because it has a nicer trigger, and groups were also easier to shoot with the Ruger. (The scope obviously helped.). Accuracy was acceptable. Wolf's Match Gold provided the tightest groups; the best five-shot group measured 0.5 inch.
I did note pressure on the barrel shifted point of impact slightly. The shift was small but noticeable- although I don't think you would see the same shift if only the iron sights were used. I fired a five-shot group using Wolf's Match Gold load while removing and reinstalling the barrel between shots. This opened up to 1.3 inches.
Reliability was 100 percent with every load except the Aguila. Just as with the AR-7, this load didn't quite have enough oomph to provide reliable operation. The other three loads ran flawlessly, and more than 1,000 rounds were fired. This model is handy and comfortable, and it's easy to see why it has become so popular. Suggested retail is $419.
Standing in for Marlin's Papoose was my slightly customized Crickett bolt action. A simple design, the Crickett has garnered a cult following among backpackers, hikers and preppers looking for an ultralight and foolproof .22 rifle they can customize.
Usually viewed as a children's training rifle, the Crickett is a small single-shot bolt-action rifle. After inserting a round into the chamber and closing the bolt, the striker must be manually cocked before shooting. The standard model comes with a short 12-inch length of pull, a 16.1-inch barrel and a 30-inch overall length. Factory weight is just 2.5 pounds.
I purchased my Crickett used for $75. It was then slightly customized by friend and colleague Todd Jaderborg, who writes for Be Ready! He's an avid outdoorsman who loves to build things.
In this case he removed the factory stock and fabricated a new one using a simple piece of PVC pipe. The PVC pipe stock had a wooden dowel epoxied into one end, which was then inletted for the rifle's action. He fabricated a new trigger guard and added a cap to the butt.
The result is simple yet effective with a 12.5-inch length of pull and 31-inch overall length. His modifications reduced the weight to just 2.2 pounds. The tube stock provides storage for ammunition and survival gear. To access the storage, just pop off the rear cap. Plus, by removing one screw, the barreled action is easily separated from the stock to greatly reduce the length for storage. The 20-inch barreled action and slightly short stock can then be tucked away in a pouch until needed.
Although a bit unconventional looking, the Jaderborg Crickett performs well. I'm small-framed, so the gun's diminutive size and short length of pull is not an issue for me. I shot the same loads through the rifle to check accuracy, and the best single group went to the Federal 36-grain hollowpoint at 0.70 inch with the factory aperture iron sights. Practical accuracy was quite good, but the rifle proved a bit finicky at extraction and ejection. The Wolf and Federal loads functioned flawlessly, but the Remington and Aguila loads occasionally failed to extract.
The Jaderborg Crickett is a fun little gun to shoot and capable of putting meat in the pot. People have been building custom rigs on the Crickett for years. If you're interested, a quick search of the Web will turn up many how-to articles. It would make a fine backpacking or hiking gun.
That said, if I were to do it again, I would choose a Savage Rascal over a Crickett. With its safety and superior trigger, the Rascal would be a better starting point. But I have to say if my life were on the line and I needed my .22 for defense, I would greatly prefer a semiautomatic.
Survive & Conquer
Just understand that .22 LRs tend to be very picky when it comes to ammunition. Don't just buy any load and expect it to function perfectly while providing sufficient accuracy. Do some testing to ensure your rifle likes what you're feeding it. And while the .22 LR is a marvelous little cartridge capable of doing impressive feats, you need to place your shot exactly. But if you do your job, this 1887-vintage cartridge will reward you with meat in the pot.