5 Best .22 Rifles of All Time

5 Best .22 Rifles of All Time

Almost all of us have at least one .22, and many of us have several. Back in 1979 when I interviewed for my first job with Petersen Publishing, the late Howard French at Guns & Ammo asked a bunch of questions. One of them was, "Do you own a .22?"

Fortunately, I had a couple; he told me later that he wouldn't hire anyone who claimed to be a shooter but didn't own a .22. Exactly which .22(s) we own depends somewhat on budget, taste, and what hand-me-downs we might have. My mission here is to offer my picks of the five greatest .22s of all time.

I will tell you up front that I don't own one of each, but these are all great rifles that have had significant impact in the shooting world.

I'm curious to see if you agree.


Browning Semiauto .22

Designed by John Moses Browning in 1914, this slick little .22 celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. This alone would be significant, but Browning's SA-22 is just plain cool. It was not the first practical .22 semiauto; that honor goes to Winchester's 1903 (which later became the 03, and then the 63). However, the Winchester, though well-remembered, is long gone.

The SA-22 is still with us, and although always a fairly costly .22, more than a half-million have been sold. The SA-22 is extremely slim and trim and quite a bit different from most. The tubular magazine is carried in the buttstock, with loading through a port on the right side of the stock (as with the Winchester.)

Thus, quite uniquely, the Browning operates and ejects through the bottom of the action. This keeps empties out of the way, although there is some chance for a hot case to go down your shirtsleeve. The lines are clean and unencumbered, and the lack of a side loading port offers a lot of surface for embellishment.

As is customary with Browning over the years, numerous grades have been offered with engraving and spectacular wood, including the most recent Centennial edition with scrollwork, gold inlay, and an octagonal barrel'¦a fitting tribute to yet another of John Browning's lasting contributions.

CZ Model 452

Most folks just call it a Brno, and indeed there have been many variations. Manufactured since the 1950s, this is the workhorse .22 throughout much of the world. It is a simple, clean, inexpensive bolt action with detachable magazine. It's nothing special and, at least historically, nothing fancy.

But I can't tell you how many of these great rifles I've seen as 'œcamp guns' in remote parts of the world. The first time I ever used one was to hunt Cordeaux dik dik in Ethiopia. Since then, I've seen them all over Africa, ready for use on guinea fowl and francolin, and for snakes that wander into camp. Barrels are hammer-forged and accuracy is superb, but the real hallmark of these rifles is that they just plain work'¦forever.

The CZ .22s have not been as available in America as in the rest of the world, so this is a .22 that not a lot of you will be familiar with. But that's changing, as CZ-USA increases its footprint in this country. Elsewhere in the world, well, the CZ 452 or Brno has been a standby and a household word for more than 50 years.

Kimber Model 82

Well, there has to be at least one really special .22 in the mix. Kimber of Oregon was established by Jack Warne in 1979, collapsed in the early '90s, and reemerged as Kimber America, but, unfortunately, the Model 82 .22 has not been reintroduced.

So numbers manufactured were small, but the Kimber M82 still stands as one of the best-looking .22 sporters ever made. The M82 was a classic bolt action, typically with good wood, fine checkering, and excellent metalwork. What I like most about it, however, is that it has a 'œbig gun' feel, so I could put a real scope on it and practice — or hunt varmints and small game — and readily transfer the training to a centerfire.

Oh, did I think to mention that it was one of few .22 rimfires offered in left-hand bolt? There haven't been many — CZ and Anschutz come to mind — but those that are warm the cockles of my heart. The Kimber M82 has remained my personal favorite since I got it more than 25 years ago, and I doubt that will change any time soon. Maybe the current Kimber should bring it back?

Marlin Model 39

This marvelous lever-action .22 started life as the Model 1891, the first lever-action rifle chambered in .22. A year later they dropped the receiver loading gate in favor of a more user-friendly loading gate on the tube. In 1921 it became the Model 39, in 1937 the 39-A, and in 1983 the Golden 39-A.

Despite the changes in model designation, actual modifications have been so slight that the Marlin 39/39-A is considered to have the longest continuous production run in firearms history — from 1891 to the present. The reasons for this longevity are simple: The 39 is a great-looking rifle offering smooth, trouble-free operation and excellent accuracy.

The lever action is as American as John Wayne, and it works. Ours is a takedown version ('œours' because daughter Brittany took possession some time back, and I doubt I'll see it again). The side-eject 39 can be readily scoped, so it's actually as modern as tomorrow and still perfectly viable after nearly 125 years.

Ruger 10/22

It seems unbelievable, but Bill Ruger's slick little 10/22 was introduced in 1964, so we're celebrating its 50th birthday this year. In addition to established longevity, the 10/22 has become the most popular .22 rifle of all time, with sales now bumping six million!

There are very good reasons for this. Obviously, the action works (man, does it work)'¦but so does its unique 10-shot rotary magazine. In 50 years the rifle has gone through numerous models and variations, but the original version was and is a good-looking piece, an honest rifle with decent wood and nice metalwork. With so many 10/22s made, the rifle has spawned its own mini-industry of accessories: extended magazines, aftermarket stocks, and more.

I acquired my first 10/22 back in about 1965, and I wish I still had it. But the one I have now is at least equally as cool, a takedown model in stainless and black synthetic. And, of course, it works every bit as well as the one I had when I was a teenager. The 10/22 isn't just a rifle: It's an icon.

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