January 10, 2014
By Jonathan Case
Who would have thought a new bolt-action rimfire rifle could be a game-changer? I mean, everything is all about autoloaders nowadays, right? But a game-changer is exactly what the new Ruger American Rimfire series is, and it's positioned to become as dominant in the rimfire bolt-action world as the Ruger 10/22 has been for so long in the rimfire autoloader world. Maybe even more so.
Patterned after the bolt-action centerfire American rifle series Ruger introduced in 2011, the new American Rimfire rifles are available in six models, two each in .22 LR, .17 HMR, and .22 WMR. Each chambering is available both in a full-size, 22-inch-barreled version with a 13.75-inch length of pull (LOP) and a compact, 18-inch-barreled version with a 12.5-inch LOP. Each model comes with two interchangeable buttstock modules for the lightweight composite stock that provide a high-comb or a low-comb height option for scope or iron sight use. (These inserts are changed by removing the rear sling-swivel stud.) Plus, all four stock modules are completely interchangeable across all models, so you can get a long-pull insert to put on an 18-inch-barreled rifle or a short-pull stock for a 22-inch-barreled rifle. Each one costs just $19.95. The additional flexibility is pretty handy if that American Rimfire rifle is going to be used by both adults and youngsters.
Every feature designed into these new rifles is focused on utility, user-friendliness, and top performance. High on that list is that all American Rimfire rifles utilize 10/22-type rotary magazines. Well, in fact, they are 10/22 magazines and interchangeable, which means Ruger's high-capacity 25-round BX-25 and BX-25x2 magazines and the easy-load TriMag accessory will work just fine. The .17 HMR and .22 WMR American Rimfire versions utilize the same nine-shot 10/22-style rotary magazines as the bolt-action Ruger Model 77/17 and Ruger Model 77/22-RM, and the magazines for those two cartridges are likewise identical and interchangeable. Plus, all American Rimfire versions utilize the current 10/22-style extended magazine release for fast, smooth, free-drop magazine removal.
In terms of feel, the textured pistol grip on the American Rimfire's molded, one-piece, black polymer stock has dual palmswells and a nicely contrasting molded-in Ruger Red Eagle logo on the butt cap. The molded fore-end has hand-conforming, antislip dishing along each side. The fully ambidextrous safety is mounted on the tang, and the bolt will cycle with it in the "On" or "Off" positions. The 60-degree bolt throw offers plenty of scope clearance, and a receiver-mounted, push-lever bolt release lets you remove the bolt without squeezing the trigger, which is a safety feature not found on other bolt-action rimfire rifles. The whole package only weighs 6 pounds for the 22-inch-barreled versions, 5.38 pounds for the compact ones.
Another unique feature is Ruger's integral bedding-block system, which locks the receiver and full-length free-floats the hammer-forged, target-crowned barrel for remarkably consistent accuracy. Adapted from the same system originally developed for the centerfire bolt-action Ruger American rifles, the American Rimfire design is different from the centerfire design in that it employs one bedding block instead of two (the low recoil of rimfire cartridges doesn't require two). Two angled "lugs" on the tubular steel receiver are wedged against matching angled grooves in the steel bedding block that is integrally molded into the stock. It's steel-on-steel contact; no "torque" or precision tuning is required. Tight is tight. Nothing shifts, swells, shrinks, or moves.
Next on the list of user-oriented features is the trigger. It's very crisp and can be adjusted by the user from 3.0 to 5.0 pounds. It's the same Ruger Marksman Trigger developed for the centerfire American rifles. And though the "bladed" safety-bar design of the trigger might resemble other trigger mechanisms on the market externally, it is quite different internally. Unlike other designs, it locks/blocks the sear and not the trigger bar/lever itself, which is one of the design features that contributes to its remarkably clean break when squeezed.
And Accurate, Too
One thing that sets the American Rimfires apart from their centerfire brothers is that all the rimfire models have barrel-mounted, 10/22-style, adjustable V-slot "White Diamond" folding-leaf rear sights and green Williams fiber-optic front sights. I've grown very fond of fiber-optic front sights on rifles as my focal acuity has aged, and these sights stand out like a beacon. Unlike any other rifle model in Ruger's inventory, the American Rimfire rifles have 3/8-inch rimfire scope ring dovetail grooves machined into their receivers, which are also drilled and tapped for Weaver #12 bases (not included). And that last note brings us to the only bone I have to pick with the entire Ruger American Rimfires design. The "not included" part, I mean.
It's not that traditional (read, "old-fashioned") 3/8-inch "tip-off" mount systems are inherently less strong than conventional centerfire bases and rings. (They are, but it doesn't matter with light rimfire recoil.) The problem is that all 3/8-inch dovetails and rings are not created equal. There are low-radius 3/8-inch dovetails and high-radius 3/8-inch dovetails (Ruger). And there are also differences in the widths of those styles of mounts. It's not just a simple matter of dropping by Walmart and picking up a set of inexpensive 3/8-inch rings.
After trial and error with several combinations, I discovered that none of the rings I could find that would fit the Ruger grooves were high enough to provide clearance of my chosen scope's objective bell above the folded-down rear sight blade. And after realizing that most tip-off rings for .22 rimfires I could find were low rather than high, I gave up and ordered a set of #12 Weaver bases that would work with ordinary Weaver-type "centerfire" rings.
I discussed this with some friends at Ruger and asked why they just didn't include bases in the American Rimfire boxes like they did with the American centerfire boxes. Their replies went something like this: "The reason we put bases in with the centerfire rifles is because they don't have iron sights. So everyone that buys one is gonna need a full-size scope. But a lot of the people who buy the rimfires are gonna use just the iron sights, and a lot of others will be perfectly happy with smaller, lightweight tip-off .22 scopes. Why should they pay a higher price for their gun just so you can have your bases in the box?" Something was also said about setting up a page on the Ruger website with a list of 3/8-inch rings of different heights that will fit Ruger grooves, so scope-users wouldn't have to go through so much trial and error.
I guess my recommendation to shooters who want to install a scope on their American Rimfire rifles is to save themselves the hassle and order a pair of #12 Weaver Top Mount bases from Brownells, Bass Pro, or Midway at the same time they order the gun, particularly if they're getting the .17 HMR or .22 WMR versions. And my recommendation to Ruger would be to save itself dealing with customer complaints and questions by including the #12 bases with each gun anyway and recoup the cost by not running the machines that mill the tip-off grooves in the American Rimfire receivers in the first place. I think that solution would be a win-win for everybody.
I had the opportunity to work with preproduction review samples of all three chamberings of the American Rimfire for several months before their introduction, in both configurations plus some mixed configurations. In addition to their well-thought-out design, trigger quality, and smooth action performance, their raw accuracy from the beginning impressed me all out of proportion to their size and cost. Preparing a formal range review for this article, I selected a half-dozen popular loads for each caliber, fitted each rifle with a serious-magnification scope, and put them to the bench-rest test at 50 yards. The outcome is detailed in the accompanying chart.
In terms of the relative ammo performance, there were no real surprises. The .17 HMR was very consistent within the 17-grain weight category, with the only wildcard coming with the heavier bullet. The .22 WMR loads varied, as expected, primarily due to the differences in jacketed bullet configurations. And the .22 LR ammo results were what should be anticipated: the match-grade stuff shot best, the "hypervelocity" stuff not as well.
What was unexpected is how well the American Rimfire rifles delivered all the loads overall. A half-inch at 50 yards is minute of angle, and all four of the review rifles in all three chamberings nearly averaged that. I'm not usually accustomed to referring to rifles of this type as "minute shooters," butâ€¦.
Ruger's long-term plan is for the American Rimfire and the centerfire Ruger American rifles to be 100-percent built in its new North Carolina plant. They'd better be ready to make a bunch of them. I think Ruger President and CEO Mike Fifer just about got it right when he said, "The new American Rimfire series really ups the ante for performance in rimfire rifles." Think about it: All those features and all that premium accuracy performance at a manufacturer's recommended retail price for all versions of a mere $329. That's a lot of gun for not much cost. Yep. A real game-changer.
The American Rimfire rifles are available with either 22- or 18-inch barrels.
The American Rimfire bolt actions use Ruger's Marksman trigger just like the centerfire American rifles.
Every American Rimfire rifle comes standard with high-comb and low-comb stock inserts, which are attached using the rear sling-swivel stud.
The American Rimfire rifles are offered in .22 WMR, .17 HMR, and .22 LR chamberings, and they use the famous Ruger rotary magazines.
The bedding is the same steel-on-steel V-block design as Ruger's centerfire American rifles, but because the rimfires generate minimal recoil, only one bedding point is required.
I selected a half-dozen popular loads for each caliber, fitted each rifle with a serious-magnification scope, and put them to the bench-rest test at 50 yards. The outcome is detailed in the accompanying chart.