From Bleiker to Steyr, here are some unique small-bore rimfire rifles that shoot tiny bullets very, very accurately.
When the rimfire rifle bug infected my entire life four or five years ago, I couldn’t decide what precision long-gun to buy. So, I bought, begged, borrowed and almost stole nearly all of them.
In my safe right now, there are a few Anschütz rimfires, a pair of Bergaras, a half-dozen CZs, a couple Rugers and enough parts to build a couple more, a Tikka, a Sako, a few Savages, plus a Volquartsen, Zermatt RimX and two (down from four) Vudoo Gun Works custom jobs.
Not a day goes by that I don’t shoot one of these rifles, and it’s why my new Gun Digest book on smallbore rifles, Rimfire Revolution, has chapters on each of them.
Every major precision rimfire rifle system, be it a $300 Savage or a $3,000 Vudoo, has pros and cons. By tracing the history of each company, and rifle action design, the “why” of these rifles became clear to me. Whether it be a lone engineering working long hours to try a solve nagging feeding problems (Vudoo), or United States Marine Corps precision meeting Spanish steel (Bergara), or expert German design theory and practice applied to rifle barrels (Anschütz), the story of how a rifle came to be, how it works and who made them, are company histories that trace back in some cases to the Kaiser’s Germany, in others to internet forums, in others still to rural Iowa mom-and-pop gunsmiths.
I find it all fascinating as hell, and I think Rimfire Revolution captures some of that. In a way, I wrote the book I hoped to have when I started on this journey those four or five years ago.
Yet, there are other rifles out there, too, not from the current Big Nine of precision rimfire rifle builders. These I personally think of as the oddball rimfires. In the book, I more politely termed them “Other Notable Rifles.” Some are race guns made only for Olympic-style shooting, and European to the core call to mind F1 racers. Others still are dedicated, ultralight, small game hunters. If, like me, you know and have or have shot all the real players in the precision space, these oddballs might be just right for you. Me personally, my next .22 will certainly be one from this list.
Several other manufactures make rimfire rifles that are or could be considered precision shooting instruments. However, none of the rifles here have deeply penetrated the American market. For most, that's due to design.
Four of the rifles listed here are European race guns built for Olympic-style competition. Others are sporter rifles but have largely suffered from poor distribution. Others still are niche custom small-game rifles. None of these guns are inexpensive. The American rimfire market is changing, but price is still a major factor in most shooters' buying decisions. It's hard to sell all but the most dedicated on a walnut and blue Austrian rifle, for example, when they can get a proven German rifle for the same money or a comparable Czech rifle for half the price.
Bleiker Challenger II
This Bleiker is what a $10,000 single-shot rimfire rifle looks like. The Challenger II series by Bleiker is designed for three position and prone Olympic-style shooting. It comes in five models, the major difference being the five stock/chassis designs. All Bleiker rifles use Lilja Precision Rifle Barrels that are made in Montana. The action is notable for its extremely short bolt design. This brings the receiver closer to the shooter and requires less overall movement to reload and a lightning-fast lock time. For example, some shooters can cycle the action in a prone position without lifting their elbows off the ground.
Gold medalist Ginny Thrasher shoots a Bleiker and says positional shooting is about cultivating stillness. The action-back Bleiker design and short bolt throw help make stillness happen. The Swiss company brought home 13 gold, 14 silver, and 9 bronze medals in the 2014 World Cup and five medals and four new Olympic records at the 2016 games in Rio. They continue to excel in international competition, eclipsing most others. For several years, a Bleiker held the record for the most accurate rifle tunnel tested by ELEY in England.
Christensen Arms Ranger 22
The Ranger 22 brings a rimfire back to this Gunnison, Utah, high-end rifle builder's lineup. The Ranger takes 10/22 mags and comes with a TriggerTech Remington 700-style trigger. It’s not built on a Remington 700 footprint, nor is it a “full-sized” rimfire trainer, like other Remington-based hybrids. Instead, this Frankenstein of a sporter is a high-quality small-game rifle with a carbon-fiber stock and a carbon-fiber tension barrel. It's light, handy and because it's a Christensen, you can reckon it drives tacks. It comes with a sub-MOA at 50-yard guarantee and weighs just 5.1 pounds.
Cooper Firearms Model 57M Jackson Squirrel
Founded in 1990, Cooper Firearms of Montana makes modern bespoke rifles with classic good looks. The Model 57 was added to the lineup in 1999 and evolved by 2001 into the model 57M Jackson Squirrel rifle—considered by many the Holy Grail of a small-game rimfire rifles. Cooper guarantees sub-MOA at 50 yards, but most rifles come with test targets that show smaller groups than that. The barrel is 24-inch stainless and comes in .22LR, .17HMR, and .22WMR. The stock is a work of art in AAA claro walnut with a rollover cheekpiece, semi-beavertail forearm and hand-checkered grip in a crossover multipoint pattern. They run around $3,000.
Feinwerkbau KK 2800
Released in 2018, the KK 2800 is among the newest of the Olympic discipline Euro race guns on the market. Made in Germany, the action has been moved rearward like its competitors for less motion while cycling the action and a rear-from-center balance point. Like the Walther that came first, the bolt can be switched from left- to right-handed without tools. There are wood and aluminum stock models.
Swiss G+E has been making target rifles since the 1930s. The R3 Racer is their signature series small-bore positional rifle. In the endlessly adjustable aluminum chassis, it looks like a space gat, a rifle decade ahead of its time. It's aptly named but little used and little known stateside with no real distribution. They're Bleiker level expensive.
I have a soft spot for the Australian-made Lithgow LA101, imported to the U.S. until recently by Legacy Sports. It might be the most accurate .22LR available at a street price under $1,000. Maybe. Or at least mine is. (It's the most accurate rifle I've ever owned at that price point.) This full-sized rifle feels and runs very much like a Tikka T1x. The solid three-lug, rear-locking bolt with a 60-degree throw runs like glass. It's available in right or left-handed models with a hammer-forged, free-floated, medium contour varmint barrel. The synthetic stock isn't cheap Tupperware material, but it is not as ridged as the comparable Tikka. It takes CZ magazines. The trigger is nothing to call home about, but for $15, you can get a spring set from Lumley Arms, which brought mine down to a pleasing 1.5 pounds.
The problem with the Lithgow is the utter lack of aftermarket support in the United States. There are no stocks, chassis, triggers or anything else to tinker with or better personalize a precision rifle system. BScar makes a 25 MOA pic rail for it. (The model for it was my rifle, and I'm grateful he took the time to do the work.) They're shooters with Australian-made medium contour button-rifled barrels. It's well under sub-MOA at 50 yards, and on my first ELR outing, it handled 460 yards like it was no big deal.
New Ultra Light Arms Model 20 Rimfire
Melvin Forbes is a living legend, and every rifleman in American should know his name. He pioneered the now ubiquitous ultra-light mountain rifle in the 1980s, building stocks of Kevlar and carbon fiber with custom barreled actions that all hung together well under 5 pounds. The Model 20 Rimfire with the repeating action is squirrel hunter’s grail rifle, but he also makes single shots in benchrest stocks—so accurate is his work.
Steyr Zephyr II
This flashy Austrian rifle is tailor-made for the squirrel woods but has largely not caught on in the United States. Part of that could be its old school meets new school European looks. The walnut stock has a classic Schnabel forend with deep-cut modern fish scale checking. The bolt handle is a long, thin, butter knife design. The 18.7-inch medium weight cold hammer-forged barrel has eight-groove rifling and a 1:15.75 twist. The outside of the barrel has a hammered-in spiral design. It's unique. By all accounts, they're shooters out of the box, too. Distribution stateside has not been great. This makes them not as widely available as comparable Anschütz, Sako and CZ rifles. The comparatively priced Anschütz and Sako rifles have a much longer track record of good shooting, too. The CZs can be had for about half the price. There is not a real aftermarket for upgrades and accessories either. This is all a shame because, at 5.8 pounds, it could be an ideal bushy tail or ground squirrel rig.
Ultimatum Precision Deuce
British Columbia shop Ultimatum Precision is betting on a pair of 2s with the Deuce, their slick new contender in the rapidly expanding world of custom rimfire bolt actions. The Deuce is a three-lug design, with a 60-degree bolt throw, and integrated lug. It takes Vudoo magazines. The action will sell alone or with an International Barrels matched tube as a barreled action. The extractor is designed for an inverted cone breech. Metal in the barrel breach has been spherically removed around the chamber, so the firing pin will never strike barrel steel. The lack of extractor cuts in the barrel, plus the action's Savage-style barrel nut, means a shooter can headspace their rifle to whatever it likes best. An aftermarket of other barrels to choose from is expected. This design is sort of like a three-way lovechild between CZ, Vudoo, and Savage. Delays through all of 2020 have hampered production. As of this writing, I'm uncertain if they yet exist outside of prototypes and in-house testers. What’s known about it largely comes from SHOT Show 2020 and social media.
Made in Germany for positional and prone Olympic-style shooting, the KK500-M is an extension and upgrade over Walther's popular KK300 series rifles. The short receiver minimizes motion. The new three-lug bolt can be switched from left- to right-handed without tools. It has a 6 o’clock firing pin. It comes with a mechanical or electronic trigger. It's available in an aluminum chassis or laminate three-position stock. The rifle came out in 2016, and despite an initial parts shortage, it has been well received in international competition with medals to prove it. Now, if we could just talk Walther into making a repeater again.
Editor's Note:This article is an excerpt from Rimfire Revolution: A Complete Guide to Modern .22 Rifles, available at GunDigestStore.com.
More Rimfire Info:
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- The .22 LR: Mini, Mighty And Many
- The .22 LR And Its .22 Rimfire Cousins
- Cartridge Debate: .17 HMR vs. .17 WSM
- Ammo: Evolution of the Red-Hot .17 HMR
- The .22 LR For Self Defense: Good, Bad Or Crazy?