It’s no secret that I’ve been assembling a 22 target rifle suitable for competition and training use. I’ve been posting articles debating the merits of a competition 22 rifle as a stand-in for larger centerfire rifles when it comes to long-distance training and practice. Well, it’s now time to throw back the curtain on what I’ve built.
This article is an overview of my project, which members of the community colloquially dubbed the “Noisy Cricket.” I’ll be posting separate reviews for each of the major components, so this article is really about the thought process that went into my parts selection and what you might do differently for yourself should you want to build up a 22LR competition rifle.
Setting the Scene
Using 22LR for competition and training isn’t a new phenomenon at all. Smallbore shooting has been part of the NRA and Olympic shooting for longer than I’ve been alive. In fact, one of my favorite winter Olympic events is the biathlon, which mixes cross-country skiing with 22lr target rifles.
Everyone already knows that the little rimfire is a great marksmanship training aid.
However, nearly all the traditional 22LR competitions take place at relatively short distances. Most are shorter than 50 meters, with some of the exceptions going out to 100. In the last few years, though, I’ve noticed a pretty significant shift.
The Precision Rifle Series (PRS) and National Rifle League (NRL) are the two main competition bodies focused on what I call action precision shooting. It has all the elements of long-range shooting out to 1000 meters and beyond, but also involves a fair bit of moving around, building improvised positions, and generally having a blast.
Unfortunately, not everyone has access to ranges and matches that can realistically put on these kinds of events. This is especially true on the more densely populated east coast.
NRL22 and the rise of the little guys
The leagues and shooters soon realized that he costs involved with this type of shooting were getting out of hand. Getting started and becoming competitive was only getting more expensive as companies responded to the rising popularity of the sport with more gadgets and fancier rifles.
They also realized that there were huge swathes of the population who were either priced out of the game or were simply not able to participate at their local range. In response, the NRL devised a sub-league known as NRL22.
This league focused exclusively on competition 22 rifles fired at shorter distances. But instead of sticking to less than 100 meters, as traditional rimfire competitions do, these matches stretched out to 300, 400, and 500 meters. Using a 22LR at these distances requires the same kind of skillsets and techniques as using a 30 caliber rifle at 800 to 1200 meters.
This form of 22LR competition is gaining a lot of popularity for all of the reasons you would expect. Ammunition is significantly cheaper to buy and practice with, but there’s also an element of challenge. It’s kind of like when I used to ride motorcycles, and old guys used to say it was more fun to ride a slow motorcycle fast than to ride a fast motorcycle slow.
Competition 22 rifles make things fun by using a ballistically poor cartridge at distances it was never meant to do. So let’s talk about the rifles.
The Scoop on 22LR Competition Rifles
There have always been three ways to get into precision-oriented 22LR rifles. The first, and most expensive, is the same kind of 22 target rifle used by Olympic athletes around the world. Those rifles reach into the $4,000 to $6,000 range and have a very specific audience with deep pockets and backing.
The second route is factory-built 22LR match rifles that emulate their centerfire cousins. This increases the size of the rimfire action and using the same footprints of the most common actions like the Remington 700. These rifles open up a world of aftermarket stocks and accessories. More than any other, this is typified by Vudoo Gun Works. They are probably the most common factory match rifle the winner circles of NRL22-style matches. But they are also still expensive at $3,000 to $4,000 for the complete rifle.
Other companies are jumping in to the market as well. Bergara’s B-14R follows Vudoo’s led and created their rimfire action to follow the same Remington 700 footprint as their centerfire rifles. Anshutz, the known for their Olympic rifles, also produces some factory-built PRS-style guns in the $1800 price category as well.
The third route, and by far the most common for everyday folks like me, is starting with fairly basic rimfire bolt action rifle and modifying it to match-worthy status.
Up until very recently, CZ dominated this path with the 455 and now 457 series. Unbeknownst to me, CZ built up quite a following with rimfire shooters and aftermarket suppliers for this very purpose. It is this third path that I chose to go with my 22LR competition rifle project. So let’s break down the through the process.
Selecting a Competition 22 Rifle
I had a budget of around $1200 in mind before I even started out. That budget included both the optics and the rifle itself, and while was not an insignificant amount, it was nowhere near enough to jump up to one of the factory-built 22LR target rifles from Vudoo or Anschutz.
I also had it in my mind that I wanted to use an aftermarket chassis system. The main reason for that is, “just because.”
My main bolt action rifle, Project Gungnir, sits in a traditional composite stock by Manners. I really like the feel of it, but I’ve always been curious about rifle chassis.
In my interview with Mike Keenan about PRS shooting, he spoke very highly of several chassis manufacturers. I also know how much work has gone into getting my Manners stock configured the way I want with bedding and sling points
Chassis systems avoid a lot of that work and let you quickly mount up the action and go shoot. So whatever rifle I chose, it had to work with an aftermarket chassis system. More on that later.
I’m not going to lie, selecting the “right” rifle to start with was difficult for me. I tend to obsess over small details that are very likely irrelevant in the real world. My main criteria came down to the following:
- Accurate factory chamber and barrel
- Compatibility with common chassis systems
- 60-degree bolt throw (or similar)
- Excellent factory trigger
- Reliable feeding and ejection.
CZ 457 vs Tikka T1x as a 22 Target Rifle Base
My initial impressions of the T1x were very positive. Its machine work is top rate, with a nice feel to the bolt and trigger. The factory plastic stock is plenty stiff, though not confidence-inspiring. That didn’t matter since I was using a chassis anyway.
I measured the trigger at 3.4 lbs out of the box, but it safely adjusts down to around 1 lb if you desire. It’s crisp single-stage trigger is the same one found in the T3x line. I don’t think I’ll have any reason to replace it in the future. If I did, though, the T1x is compatible with T3x aftermarket triggers.
Something that is a bit of a bummer is that it doesn’t seem like the T1x was built with easy-to -change barrels in mind. The barrel mounting system looks simple enough with three large set screws, but reports are that actually removing them is a bear.
I’ll save the rest of my thoughts on the rifle for an actual review. Stay tuned.
Optics are an interesting question for a 22LR competition rifle. You might think that the shorter ranges translate to smaller scopes with less magnification. The truth is that you have almost exactly the same requirements as a full-size PRS rifle.
Since NRL22-style matches take place at much shorter distances, match directors use correspondingly small targets. Sometimes they’re as small as a quarter of an inch. So you’ll still want a solid magnification range to 20x and beyond.
Being a precision rifle optic, I wanted it to be first focal plane. Being able to spot shots and quickly apply holdovers is a big deal in this game.
Another key factor in 22LR target rifle optics is how close the parallax adjustment can focus in. I considered slapping my Steiner P4xi 4-16×56 on the rifle, but the closest it can focus is 50 yards. The shooters I talked to while planning this project all suggested something that can do 25 yards or less because of the smaller targets at relatively close range.
Both the Athlon Ares ETR and Meopta Optika6 that I reviewed were great optics, had focused down to the desired 25 yards, but they were also outside of my budget. Burris has a new scope coming with the RT Long Range series that has my interest, but it wasn’t on the market yet.
Lucky for me, Vortex recently released the Strike Eagle 5-25×56. It has all of the desired features, and even focuses down to 15 yards. I managed to grab one at a discount and mounted it with a set of 34mm Vortex precision rings and an Area 419 30 MOA scope base.
Again, an official review is pending. My first impressions are quite good, though.
Competition 22 Rifle Chassis
Aftermarket stocks are all over the place. I really like the look and feel of traditional stocks, but I didn’t want to go to the expense of getting a really good one and modifying it. Chassis systems offer an economical way to improve performance while adding some appreciated modularity.
I struggled with this decision before selecting the Oryx. But I think either would have worked fantastically well.
The Bravo has a very healthy accessory menu to tailor it to many uses. If I build up another bolt action, and i probably will, the Bravo is at the top of my list. There are two reasons I didn’t select it, though. First, I really wanted to try a pistol-gripped bolt action chassis. Second, the Bravo is a lighter 2.9 lbs compared to the Oryx’s 4.2 lbs.
Were this a multi-use field rifle, the lighter weight would have won the day. But since this is a match rifle, weight is my friend.
The Oryx chassis is essentially a solid block of machined aluminum with polymer panels attached to the sides for ergonomics. It accepts AR-15 grips and has a handful of accessories.
So far, I’m happy with it save for a few minor quibbles that I’ll save for the full review.
Putting it All Together
So now you’ve got the quick and dirty of my new competition 22 rifle. I tried to walk you through each of the major decisions I had to make, why I made them, and some quick initial impressions.
The hard truth, though, is that there are any number of ways to go about doing this yourself. My way is certainly not the “best” and has a lot more to do with wanting to experiment than anything else.
I’ll report back after a few solid range sessions to wring it out, as well as provide more thorough reviews of each major component I selected.