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Winchester's Innovative Xpert .22LR Rimfire Bolt-Action Rifle: Review

Building on the popularity of the Winchester Wildcat, Winchester's new Xpert .22LR bolt-action is a fun, 10/22-magazine-fed bolt-action rimfire that's great for new and experienced shooters alike.

Winchester's Innovative Xpert .22LR Rimfire Bolt-Action Rifle: Review

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It may not be the Gun That Won the West, but Winchester’s new compact .22 bolt-action is as cool and innovative as they come. Winchester, historically, was America’s ruling force in the world of bolt-action rimfires. From Model 54 hunting rifles and entry-level Model 75 Targets right up through the Model 52s that challenged Anschutz for world supremacy, Winchester had a bolt-action rimfire for every shooter from rag-tag country kids to cigar-smoking smallbore champions. Being an accuracy nut, a rimfire enthusiast, and a hopeless vintage rifle addict, I’m partial to Winchesters. The sleek, skeletonized Xpert 22 LR mini rifle is a big departure from the company’s long-barreled, walnut-stocked bolt-actions of yore, but it carries more than a century worth of design excellence and experience. Let’s take a look.

For Kids but Not Just

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Xpert rifles are of superlight construction but engineered to promote accuracy and precise shooting. The sample is fit with an Atlas bipod for accuracy testing, which nearly doubled the weight of the little rimfire. Dual extractors ensure reliable removal of fired cases. Note the locking lug just forward of the bolt handle.

At only 4.5 pounds and sleek as the proverbial kitten, the Xpert 22 LR is a kid’s dream .22. It’s light enough for my 8-year-old to manipulate like an old pro. That’s important, because it instills confidence and helps a kid engrain safe handling techniques. However, don’t get the idea that the Xpert 22 LR is just for kids. The Xpert fits adults, too. Add in the fast, easy-operating bolt and the compatibility with high-capacity aftermarket magazines made for Ruger 10/22s, and you have a versatile tool. Like most rimfire bolt-actions, the Xpert’s bolt locks up on a rear lug. It’s located right in front of the bolt handle. The base of the bolt handle itself serves as a secondary, or backup, locking lug. Bolt lift is short, and bolt stroke is short. Result? Effortless speed. A petite but proper tactical type bolt knob graces the end of the bolt handle. Small hands and large will find it fits comfortably.

A discrete bolt release button is located in the left rear of the receiver, enabling easy removal of the bolt for cleaning or servicing. The safety is a two-position rocker-type affair located at the right rear of the receiver. It does not lock the bolt closed. Like many, the Xpert’s bolt is a multi-piece affair. Up front, the polished steel bolt face sports two extractors and a “hemispherical firing pin” said to improve reliability. The extractor is a fixed steel blade — just the way I like my extractors. The Xpert action is fed by a magazine made by Winchester but of the Ruger 10/22 type. That’s a good thing. What’s vastly different about the Xpert is the magazine release or, more accurately, releases. You can drop the magazine by fingering the small lever located between the mag and the front receiver bolt. Or you can squeeze the serrated red sliders on each side of the stock between thumb and fingers and just pull rearward. The magazine will eject into your palm. And yes, I do mean eject; it pops out under spring power. There’ll never be any desperate clawing needed to get this magazine out.

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Stocks feature ergonomic, near- vertical grips and skeletonized butts to reduce weight. A sling attachment point is cast into the toe of the stock. Front sights are a simple, square- topped post incorporated into a ramp-type base.

There’s one other very important feature to the Xpert 22 LR action: It’s fit with Winchester’s outstanding M.O.A. trigger. Unlike so many rimfires of old, which tended to have heavy, gritty trigger pulls, the Xpert has a crisp 3-pound, 6-ounce pull. It’s not just nice, it’s a profound advantage. Kids especially will appreciate how easy it is to achieve a good clean trigger release while holding steady on target. Up front, the Xpert has an 18-inch barrel with a matte black finish. It’s rifled with a 1:16 rate of twist, has a Bentz-style chamber that enhances accuracy, and the muzzle is finished with a target-type crown. Atop the barrel are iron sights — like every good rimfire should have. The front is a simple, sturdy blade incorporated into a ramp. The rear is a U-notch with a face serrated against glare. It’s adjustable for both elevation and horizontal point of impact. If you’re a scope kinda shooter, the receiver is drilled and tapped for scope mounts.

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Accuracy with the Xpert was outstanding with iron sights and middle-age eyes. This 25-yard group was standard with CCI ammo.

As innovative as the Xpert’s action is, the stock is right there with it. Made of glass-filled nylon (read, tough), it’s configured for accurate shooting. This means the grip is nearly vertical and positions the shooting hand torque-free and the trigger finger in comfortable, correct alignment with the trigger. The forend falls easily into the palm and has finger grooves on each side to provide a secure grasp. Its tip features several Picatinny rail-type slots, enabling easy attachment of a bipod or a weapon light. Each rifle comes with a rail cover already fit, so it looks and feels smooth. Just pop the cover off to access the rail. To maximize accuracy, the barrel is freefloated. Aft, the stock is configured to provide a good cheekweld (when shooting with the iron sights) and is skeletonized to reduce weight and — let’s be honest — to look cool. It works.

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Xpert models are compatible with Ruger and aftermarket 10/22 mags. Magazines are removed by using the release lever in front of the magwell or the sliding latches in each side of the stock.

The heel of the stock is beveled to prevent it from catching in loose clothing and hanging up when mounted quickly. A sling swivel stud is molded into the stock at the toe, right next to the lightly serrated buttplate. Up front, another stud is molded into the Picatinny rail. We’re reviewing the standard $320 Xpert here, but we’d be amiss not to mention the several cool line extensions. There’s a Suppressor Ready version, which features a 16.5-inch barrel with a ½-28 threaded muzzle for $350. There’s a True Timber Strata camo version at $360. And possibly the coolest is a Forged Carbon Gray Suppressor Ready version for $400. It features a 16.5-inch threaded barrel, black stock, and gray Perma-Cote finish.

Xpert Rangetime

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Scope bases may presumably be purchased from Winchester in the near future, but they’re not listed on the company website yet, and there’s not one included in the box. That was my only gripe about the Xpert 22 LR. I’d have liked to accuracy-test the little rimfire with a scope aboard to see what it’s capable of. Middle-age eyes and iron sights would have to do. Armed with a selection of .22LR ammo, ranging from standard-velocity target stuff to speedy hunting loads, I headed to the range. Because the Xpert offers easy bipod compatibility, I attached an Atlas, rested the toe of the stock on a bunny-ear sandbag, and went to work on the 25-yard target.

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Even with the short sight radius and open sights, all five loads tested averaged less than ¾-inch groups at 25 yards. CCI’s speedy 32-grain Segmented HP proved surprisingly accurate for a light, multi-piece projectile designed more for impressive terminal performance than precision, averaging .53 inch. And SK’s Standard Rifle match ammo turned in a tidy .49-inch average with four of the five shots in each group often tearing one ragged hole. The single errant bullet that often opened a group from .3 to .6 or so was surely my fault. Had I been using a scope, groups would have been even better. With clinical accuracy testing accomplished, I stepped away from the bench and shot casually, running through the Xpert’s ergonomics and trying to make it malfunction by operating the action slow, fast, and upside down. No dice; it ran like a well-oiled machine. At an entry price of $320 suggested retail — and less on dealer’s shelves — the Xpert undercuts most of the popular .22 carbines on the market. It’s good quality, modern, and an ideal training tool for young guns preparing to hunt big game with a centerfire bolt-action. It’ll shoot tidy groups at the range or keep up with rabbit populations when fit with an aftermarket magazine. There’s just nothing to not like about the Xpert.




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