January 11, 2021
When you’re old and jaded, it makes perfect sense to buy yourself an expensive .22 rimfire. Heck, go get yourself that vintage Model 52 Winchester, Anschutz sporter, or Grade VI Browning SA-22. You’ve been a dedicated lifetime shooter, and, by God, you’ve earned it!
But when getting a “first rifle” for a kid (or a beginner, for that matter), you may want to factor in cost. Most good “kids’ .22s” are going to eventually become “outgrown” in one way or another once their training missions are accomplished. But hopefully, they’ll end up with your kids’ kids. At any rate, I’ve selected several rifles costing less than $300 that’ll give excellent service to an up-and-coming shooter. All are of the bolt-action or semiauto persuasion. (Prices are subject to change.)
The amazingly popular 10/22 platform is likely the greatest rimfire semiauto success story in the history of .22 rifles because it’s simple, accurate, and reliable, with an almost unlimited capacity for aftermarket add-ons and modifications. Ruger offers a couple of variations on the “base model” Standard Carbine, which—at a $309 MSRP—sneaks past our $300 ceiling by a few bucks. What should save us from indignant emails pointing this out is the fact that most any “big box” sporting goods chain will beat that MSRP by a considerable margin.
The heart of the 10/22, of course, is its rotary magazine. It may fatten up the rifle’s middle a touch, but it’s about as bombproof as any rimfire feeding system anyone’s come up with. The company offers what seems like a bazillion variants, running up to premium-priced models. But the ones that will bite your wallet the least are the hardwood and black or gray synthetic-stocked Standard Carbines. Oh, and the gray one comes with a factory-installed base for Weaver scope mounts. If you like a shorter barrel than the usual 18.5 inches, try the 16.1-inch-barreled Compact.
Savage Arms’s major-player status when it comes to centerfire bolt-action rifles hasn’t stopped the company from staying innovative in the area of .22 rimfires. The semiauto Model 64 Takedown features a 16.5-inch barrel, 10-round detachable box magazine, and black synthetic stock. With a weight of 4.5 pounds and an overall length of 36.25 inches, it’s a natural for packing and comes with an Uncle Mike’s Bugout Bag to carry it in once it is taken down to two pieces. The Model 64 Takedown can be had in left-hand or right-hand configuration and has an MSRP of $249.
In terms of single-shot bolt actions, Savage’s Rascal Minimalist has plenty to recommend it. First off is an eye-catching laminate stock in Pink/Purple or Teal/Gray. It has a threaded 16.13-inch barrel and an overall length of 30.63 inches. It features Savage’s adjustable AccuTrigger and an adjustable peep sight. And since it’s a single shot, you’re not exclusively married to .22 Long Rifle; .22 Shorts and .22 Longs are welcome, too! The MSRP is $279.
This Brazilian-based company—a “long gun” subsidiary of Taurus—has a rugged, weather-resistant pair of .22 rifles that are very reasonably priced. The bolt-action RB22L1811 features a black polymer stock and a 10-round detachable box magazine. The standard sights setup includes a fully adjustable rear and a hooded fiber-optic front. The barrel length is 18.5 inches; weight is 5.3 pounds. The MSRP of the .22 LR is $185.53 (versions in .22 Magnum and .17 HMR are also available).
The other model is the semiauto RS22L1811. It features the same barrel length, magazine capacity, stock, and sight setup as its bolt-action stablemate. The MSRP is $146.82, and it can be had in .22 Magnum for $262.12.
This New Jersey-based gunmaker has been rightfully lauded for its vast and varied selection of U.S.-made lever-action rifles—rimfire and centerfire. But for our purposes, what we’re interested in is the company’s Mini-Bolt Youth .22. We’re talking a bolt-action single shot with a very cool-looking bolt reminiscent of the old Mannlicher-Schoenauer “ice cream spoon” configuration but proportionately longer and easy to reach. The length of pull is 11.5 inches, and the weight is 3.25 pounds.
The rifle features high-visibility Williams Fire Sights, which feature a pair of green fiber-optic dots in the rear sight, and one fiber-optic red dot on the front. It also accepts scope mounts. The color choices for the synthetic stock are Black, Muddy Girl, and Instant Orange. MSRP is $295.
Okay. We all know that Marlin’s historical claim to fame in terms of .22 rifles were the legendary lever-action 39A and 39M carbines. But even when shooters were drooling over those classics, Marlin has always had some pretty nice bolt-action and semiauto .22s in the stable.
For years I owned a .22 Magnum Model 783, and it was a superior varmint rifle out to 150 yards. It’s long gone from production, but here are a couple of good buys in today’s lineup. The first is the XT-22, a handsome hardwood-stocked bolt action in .22 LR. It has a seven-shot detachable box magazine, a 22-inch Micro-Groove barrel, and an overall length of 41 inches. If it’s still politically correct to refer to a .22 as “man-sized,” this one qualifies.
The XT-22 features an adjustable rear sight, a ramp front sight, and the company’s Pro-Fire adjustable trigger (markedly superior to my old Model 783). It’s drilled and tapped for scope mounts, and if it’s anything like the older Marlin .22s I grew up with, it fully justifies the use of optics. The MSRP is $243.78. For the same price you can have the XT-22VR that features a black synthetic stock and a heavy varmint barrel (no iron sights on this one).
The other two platforms I’ll touch on are .22 LR semiautos. The Model 795 has a 10-shot detachable box magazine, black synthetic stock, 18-inch barrel, and an open step-adjustable rear sight, It’s also grooved for scope mounts. A very nice feature is that the bolt stays open after the last shot. The MSRP is $192.17.
And, of course, there’s the classic Model 60 series that was first designed in 1960. Today, there are a couple of versions—all featuring 14-shot tubular magazines (.22 Long rifle only) under 19-inch Micro-Groove barrels. The synthetic-stocked M60SN base model goes for $204.91 ($221.27 with scope included), and different finishes and stock materials can drive the price up a bit past our $300 cutoff.
For decades, Mossberg’s rifle offerings were often overshadowed by the company’s innovations on the shotgun scene. But the company is definitely a contender in the “Top Gun for the Money” sweepstakes when it comes to rimfires.
A case in point is the International 802 Plinkster Scoped Combo. It’s a bolt action in .22 Long Rifle featuring a 4X scope, 18-inch barrel, and 10-round detachable box magazine. Yes, it also has excellent adjustable iron sights, but if you want to go the iron sight route, you could get it without the glass for $197. But that seems kind of silly when the Scoped Combo is only $209.
If your tastes run to semiautos and you’d rather not have to restuff a box magazine every five or 10 rounds, the Blaze 25-round Auto might be what you’re looking for. It features a 16.5-inch barrel, black synthetic stock, open adjustable sights, an absolutely feathery weight of 3.66 pounds, and an overall length of 35.74 inches. The MSRP is $217. If a 25-round magazine sounds excessive to you, you can get the rifle with a 10-round mag for the same price.
Keystone Sporting Arms is the home of one of the most “purpose-built” kid’s .22 brands: Crickett. The Crickett line also includes an Adult Rifle with a 13.5-inch length of pull and a price tag that ranges from $249 to $279. It comes in .22 Long Rifle or .22 Magnum and can be had with a natural walnut or pink laminate stock. The kid-size Cricketts feature an 11.5-inch length of pull and can be had in natural walnut, along with some fairly wild-patterned synthetic-stocked variations. They range in price from $167 to $286.
The Cricketts are all manually cocked, single-shot bolt actions. All feature an adjustable peep sight and very manageable triggers. The company also offers dedicated scope mounts, plus scopes and red-dot reflex sights—even a proprietary “Crickettinny Rail.”
Keystone also handles the bolt-action, single-shot Chipmunk line, having acquired it in 2007. Chipmunks are a standby in the entire “youth rifle” concept and have been since 1982. Prices for the standard Youth Rifle begin at $219.
The .22 LR Winchester Wildcat semiauto may be the last word on the composite/polymer “modular” concept. The lower receiver group can be removed from the upper by pushing a button. No tools are needed. The rifle features a 10-round rotary magazine (the release is ambidextrous) and will also accept aftermarket mags compatible with the Ruger 10/22. The barrel length is 18 inches; the length of pull is 13.5 inches. The semi-skeletonized stock is composite, as are the receiver and the trigger guard. The weight? We’re talking 4 pounds even! The Wildcat is Space-Age racy and sports an integral rail as well as iron sights. The MSRP is $249.99.
A Word on Actions and Sights
Of the bolt-action models I’ve covered here, a high percentage are single shots. Yes, we know how kids love to cut loose with a semiauto, but .22 ammo isn’t quite as inexpensive as it used to be, and a simple-to-operate single shot still has the “pole position” when it comes to a training rifle. Of course, once a kid has demonstrated an ability to hit things with one shot, turning him or her loose for a supervised “mad minute” is probably okay. Just don’t do it during an ammo shortage! I’ve raised a couple of kids myself, and I’m here to tell you that with a semiauto, your loading fingers will not outlast their enthusiasm for squeezing triggers.
Also, it’s probably a good idea to start kids off on iron sights, whether open or peep. There’ll be plenty of time later for scopes and/or red-dot sights. After all, going from irons to optics is pretty easy. Going from optics to irons? Not so much.