December 03, 2021
The concept of converting a high-powered rifle to .22 rimfire, temporarily—for plinking, practice, and pest control—has a very long, very checkered history. Over the last 100 years, just about everything has been tried, from barrel inserts to chamber plugs.
Frankly, not many have worked out too well. They’re either not accurate, limit you to a single shot, or are hard to operate. There’s always something.
About a year ago, Blaser announced its solution to the problem. The R8 straight-pull bolt action, which now has been around more than a decade and just gets better and better, is an ideal platform for a .22 conversion, since it already has interchangeable barrels, magazines, and breechblocks. The conversion kit includes those three parts, which fit any R8. You have, in effect, built yourself a brand-new .22 that is a no-holds-barred R8—and the R8 is one of the finest and most innovative rifles to come along this century.
For at least 50 years, a common complaint of .22s is that they’re cheaply made kids’ guns that don’t feel like a real rifle. Fortunately, Europeans look upon the .22 differently, and great gunmakers like Steyr and Anschutz make some .22s that are honeys. Alas, they are priced to match. The same guys who complain that .22s don’t feel like real rifles are, at the same time, unwilling to pay real-rifle prices to get one. Kimber learned that the hard way in the 1980s. At the time, everyone said they’d love to have a Kimber Model 82, but very few were willing to pay the $500 tab.
On the subject of money, the Blaser .22 conversion kit lists at $1,499. Not cheap, but remember, you’re buying a real rifle!
One outstanding feature of the R8 conversion kit is that the barrel has the standard Blaser integral scope mount, so it’s a simple matter to remove a scope from another barrel and fasten it onto the .22 rimfire. No worries about flimsy stamped-metal mounts or undersized scope tubes.
Because of the global pandemic lockdown, getting my hands on one of these kits took a long time, and this difficulty was compounded by the fact that I wanted the complete package—that is, a rifle in another caliber (.222 Remington) with the conversion kit included so that I could try it out in all its aspects of scope interchangeability, speed of conversion, and so on. When I requested this more than a year ago, there was not a single .222 in the United States, and it took months to unearth one in the recesses of the Blaser plant.
What I finally received was the whole package in a trunk-style carrying case, with fitted compartments for stock, barrels, scopes and mounts, breechblocks and magazine inserts, and the tools necessary to make it all work. Like everything from Blaser, it was carefully thought out and beautifully executed. After a little familiarization, I could carry out the complete conversion in under two minutes.
On the range, the .22 rimfire performed very well. At 50 yards, I tried 10 different brands of match .22 LR ammo, from Eley Biathlon to RWS Match to Federal Gold Medal, two Norma varieties, some S&K Match ammunition, and with pest control in mind, some CCI Mini-Mags. All loadings performed just about the same, with 10-shot groups measuring an inch and a bit.
There was not a single malfunction in feeding, extracting, or ejecting. Operating the rimfire R8 was as smooth and solid as, well, as a real rifle. I had two scopes mounted, switched them back and forth, and found they retained their zero. If I have one complaint, it’s that the .222 barrel has iron sights while the .22 LR barrel does not. Seems to me the reverse would be more appropriate. There are lots of uses for a .22 rimfire with iron sights.
Just for grins (it’s been a long lockdown), I switched the barrel with one on a .500 Jeffery R8, took ’em both to the range, and let everyone try a shot or two. Oddly enough, they all preferred the .22. Funny, that.