Gun Digest

How To: Mastering Carbine Basics With A .22 LR AR

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Scale down to a .22 LR AR for mastery of the basics and cost-effective training.

How the .22 LR AR will help you master your carbine:

One of the best calibers ever created is the .22 LR rimfire. It’s fun to shoot, affordable — and you can have almost any style firearm you want in .22. Every gun owner needs a good .22 LR, and the AR is one of the great firearms of all time, so pair the two with a .22 LR AR and you’ve got shooting bliss.

The .22 LR is available in a variety of types. You buy bulk ammo for plinking, and match ammo if you’re working on marksmanship. With a .22, you’ll need to experiment until finding the right ammo for your gun.

In addition, the AR’s ergonomics are perfect, with all the controls exactly where they should be. With the variety of accessories available, the AR can be set up to fit anyone, and almost any application. Combining the .22 rimfire and the AR gives you the best of all worlds: The .22 LR AR is fun, easy to shoot and a perfect firearm for every gun owner.

Most of us learned to shoot with a .22, so we all know how it works. Walk into any store that sells ammo and you’ll be able to buy a variety of .22 ammo. (There’s only been one time in my life when .22 wasn’t readily available, and that seems to have been a fluke.)

The .22 LR is also cheap to shoot. You can buy plinking ammo by the box, brick or bucket for about eight cents a round. Match-grade ammo — for added accuracy — will cost around 45 cents a round. Regardless of the application, the cost is going to be significantly less than any other caliber. For example, 5.56 in 55-grain ball ammo is running 30 cents a round in this part of the country. This makes the .22 LR an excellent round for fun, training and practice.

Eugene Stoner was a genius. One of his greatest works is the AR-15. He made the AR easy to use for both right- and left-handed shooters. It’s lightweight, which is always a plus, and the recoil from the .223/5.56 is easily managed — another advantage of Stoner’s influence. The AR quickly rose in popularity, which created a huge surge in design and production of aftermarket accessories.

S&W’s 15-22 can be modified to suit your needs or tastes. The stock and grip are easy to swap out, and with Tacticool22’s handguard kit, you can change handguards — mounting any type of handguard you get, from factory to aftermarket.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a left- or right-handed shooter; it’s an intuitive, easy to use rifle. You can configure an AR for any application. Manufacturers took notice of the AR market and began producing models in a variety of calibers. One of the best is the .22 LR version.

A Classic Combo

The .22 LR AR versions vary according to how closely they resemble the real thing. My favorite is the S&W 15-22. Shooting and manipulating the 15-22 is very close to the full-caliber AR. The 15-22 weighs about 4½ pounds — vs. 6 pounds for my defensive carbine — the charging handle doesn’t come back as far as a “real” carbine, and the mag is shaped a little different, which isn’t a concern. Other than that, all the controls are exactly the same. This makes it a great platform for introducing new shooters to the fundamentals of safety, marksmanship and manipulations. Then it’s an easy transition from .22 to a full-size AR — which comes in an extensive variety of calibers.

The .22 LR AR is also a good idea for experienced shooters and provides an affordable option for training and practice. I’m a big believer in consistency, so I wanted a .22 AR that matched my defensive carbine, which is a Shootrite Katana, built by MHT Defense.

This meant modifying my 15-22. As .22 ARs became popular, aftermarket companies stepped up to provide accessories for them. I used a Handguard Conversion Kit from Tacticool22 to mount a PRI handguard to the 15-22, and attached a Magpul MOE adjustable stock. The front sight is a steel A2 tower — modified to fit the S&W 15-22 barrel — and the rear is a Daniel Defense A1.5 rear sight. The 15-22 has the same grip — a DuckBill Tactical Grip — same red-dot sight and the same sling as my Katana. The S&W 15-22 is almost a perfect match to my regular work carbine, except it weighs less and it’s much cheaper to shoot.

Train To Perform

Learning requires repetition, and the brain — where all the learning takes place — doesn’t know whether you’re shooting a .22 or a full-size caliber. The fundamentals are all the same. To shoot accurately, you aim, hold, press and follow through — recovering from the recoil, reacquiring the sight picture and resetting the trigger.

A .22 AR set up like your defensive carbine allows you to practice skills and tactics at a reduced cost. There are small differences — the mags are a little longer, and the gun’s charging handle doesn’t cycle back as far as a real AR — but these are minor. Remember, it takes repetition to learn, and the .22 is an affordable way to get those reps.

With a .22 LR, you can get in more repetitions cheaper. The same applies to skills like moving and shooting, using cover and manipulations like reloading. “But,” you ask, “what about recoil?” Use your normal stance and mount, shoot, and then, like any other firearm, concentrate on recovering from the recoil as opposed to trying to control it. If you try to tense up in anticipation of trying to control the recoil, it’s going to affect your accuracy regardless of caliber. The .22 LR is more than ideal for new and experienced shooters.

At one time, practicing with a .22 LR meant using a weapon that was radically different from what you might normally carry or shoot. Today, you can practice with a .22 AR — which is going to be very close to what you normally use. You’re learning just as much, maybe even more, and it’s not costing you nearly as much as shooting larger calibers all day long.

The .22 LR is ideal for introducing new shooters to the AR platform. Plus, for me at least, there’s a nostalgic connection to the .22. I, like a lot of you, learned how to shoot using the .22. Today, when shooting the .22, it always takes me back to great days on the range with my dad.

The .22 is hard to beat. The AR is my favorite rifle. A .22 AR is the best of both worlds.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the February 2018 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

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