New whiz-bang cartridges come and go, but the .22 Long Rifle just keeps chugging along. It has been made since 1887 in a huge assortment of loads from subsonic to hypervelocity, and it is justly considered the most popular cartridge in existence. Long guns and handguns of almost every shape and configuration continue to be made for the .22 LR. One of the latest is the Wildcat autoloader from Winchester.
The Wildcat (which bears the same name as one of Winchester Ammunition’s great .22 LR loadings—read more about it in the special Quick Shot report beginning on page 56) has many new features that make it unique and practical. Winchester says the Wildcat is ultra-reliable and “purrs like a kitten.” That sounds good to me.
The Wildcat is manufactured by a company in Turkey called Istanbul Silah. While this name may not be familiar to American shooters, the company is a very successful international arms manufacturer.
I received one of the first Wildcats in captivity, and I must say its appearance grabbed my attention. It’s black all over, with several conspicuous red plastic control buttons and rails located in a number of places.
The Wildcat is unquestionably the most ingeniously designed gun I’ve seen in quite a while. That so many features are packed into such a low-cost rifle (MSRP is just $249.99) is amazing. The molded polymer stock has a matte black, textured finish, and the large cutout in the buttstock gives it a futuristic look. Underneath these dashing cosmetics lies a sophisticated and innovative .22 rifle. The Winchester Wildcat is no Hollywood make-believe rifle; it’s the real deal.
The hollowed-out buttstock helps reduce the weight of the rifle to a feathery 4.0 pounds. The stock, which Winchester calls the “upper assembly,” has a 10-slot Picatinny rail on its top for the convenient mounting of a scope or a red-dot sight (no 3/8-inch grooves here). On the bottom of the fore-end tip are two Picatinny slots for the attachment of a light, laser, bipod, or other accessory. There’s also a sling-swivel stud there. These fore-end features are hidden by a removable cover. The upright pistol grip has a slightly raised textured surface for a positive grip.
The stock houses the “lower receiver assembly.” It is a molded polymer unit that contains the fire-control mechanism and other action parts. Interestingly, the Wildcat uses a striker-fired design similar to a bolt-action centerfire rifle.
Winchester says this provides a faster locktime and a lighter trigger pull. Significantly, the tip of the firing pin is hemispherical. This produces a deeper rim indentation for more positive ignition.
The Wildcat’s trigger has about 0.1 inch of take-up. My gun’s trigger is really smooth, so the take-up doesn’t interfere with trigger control. There is almost no overtravel. The weight of pull on my test gun averages 5 pounds, 10 ounces. The manual push-button safety behind the trigger is hard to move in either direction, so accidental movement is highly unlikely. The safety is reversible, so it’s fully ambidextrous.
The rotary magazine holds 10 rounds and has metal feed lips that are more reliable and last longer and make the cartridges feed easier. One of the Wildcat’s neatest attributes is the “speed load/unload” feature that makes it super easy to insert cartridges into the magazine. Here’s how it works. At the right rear of the magazine is a little notched wheel, right where your finger will be when reloading. Just hook your fingernail in one of the notches and rotate it toward you for each cartridge. Presto! The rounds slide in under the metal feed lips as smooth as silk. It works just as easily when unloading.
The magazine also has a boltstop that locks the bolt open after the last shot is fired. Plus, there is a slide-lock button in the front of the trigger guard that allows you to manually lock open the action. Pressing the bolt release button on the left side of the upper receiver or pulling back on the cocking handle releases the bolt lock, and the action closes.
There are two magazine releases, and both are fully ambidextrous. A wide release bar is at the front of the rotary magazine, and two side-mounted rails with aggressive gripping slots are on either side of the magwell in the upper. Actually, these are all one part. Actuating either release drops the magazine, and it snaps back into place just as easily.
One 10-round magazine comes with the Wildcat, but the clever engineers at Winchester didn’t bother reinventing the wheel on high-capacity magazines. The Wildcat accepts magazines from various vendors that are compatible with the Ruger 10/22. The bright red control buttons are all easy to see and use, and all of them worked flawlessly throughout my tests.
The Wildcat’s button-rifled barrel is chrome-moly steel, is 18 inches long, and has the standard .22 rimfire twist of one turn in 16 inches. I took a peek down the barrel with my Hawkeye borescope and found no lumps, bumps, or extraneous tool marks that might degrade accuracy—it looked slick and smooth.
The Wildcat has a ramped post front sight that is 0.08 inch wide. It is secured to the barrel with a hex screw, so it is removable. The rear sight is a ghost-ring peep with a 0.01-inch aperture. It is fully adjustable for windage and elevation, and it is secured by a tiny hex screw. Two hex wrenches are clipped to the lower right side of the action unit. The smaller one is for the rear sight, and the larger one is for the stock screw in front of the magazine well.
Okay, here’s what may be the coolest feature of the Wildcat rifle. There is yet another “red button.” This one is at the rear of the receiver, uh, make that “upper receiver assembly.” Pressing this button drops the “lower assembly” that contains the entire guts of the action, trigger group, and magazine right into your hand for easy cleaning. Winchester says that “no tools are required, just your finger,” but I found that an unsharpened pencil worked much better. By the way, when you have the action out, notice the aforementioned hex wrenches clipped to the right rear side of the action.
Oh, did I say easy cleaning? Remember that big red button I pushed to drop the action? Well, now there’s a big hole there, exactly in line with the bore. You easily can insert a cleaning rod and clean the bore from the breech, which protects the barrel’s crown. Is this a neat idea or what?
Okay, so the Wildcat rifle is cool and innovative, but you probably want to know how it shoots. To find out, I installed a brand-new Simmons Pro Target 3-9X 40mm scope that is made for rimfire rifles and gathered up 13 different .22 LR loadings, ranging from 36-grain hyper-velocity ammo to various 40-grain standard-velocity loads. I fired three, five-shot groups with each load at 50 yards from a solid rest. The results are shown in the accompanying chart.
The little Wildcat rifle functioned 100 percent with all loads. Overall, the 13 loads averaged 1.94 inches. Top accuracy honors went to Browning’s Performance Rimfire load with a 37-grain fragmenting bullet. It averaged 0.90 inch with an average velocity of 1,216 fps measured 10 feet from the gun’s muzzle. Browning’s Hunting & Target 40-grain HP loading averaged 1.57 inches and had the highest velocity of any load I fired at 1,337 fps. Naturally, it produced the most muzzle energy: 159 ft-lbs. Remington’s High Velocity 40-grain PHP produced a group average of 1.26 inches.
As expected, some loads shot better than others, so I looked for trends in accuracy related to bullet weight, type, and velocity. But try as I might, I had no “aha!” moment, so you’ll just have to experiment with a variety of loads when you get your own Wildcat rifle. But, heck, that’s another reason to do more shooting!
All in all, the new little Winchester Wildcat autoloader purred like a kitten. Also, it’s packed with a lot of cool features, offers plenty of shooting fun for the money, and is darn good looking, too. Its futuristic styling and very low cost should attract legions of new shooters—and quite a few old-timers, too.
Winchester Wildcat .22LR Specs
- Manufacturer: Winchester Repeating Arms
- Type: Blowback autoloader
- Caliber: .22 LR
- Magazine Capacity: 10 rounds
- Barrel: 18 in.
- Overall Length: 36.25 in.
- Weight, Empty: 4.13 lbs.
- Stock: Synthetic
- Length of Pull: 13.75 in.
- Finish: Matte black barreled receiver, black and red stock
- Sights: Fully adjustable ghost-ring rear, ramped post front
- Trigger: 5.63 lb. pull (as tested)
- Safety: Two position
- MSRP: $249.99