A huge percentage of the growth in the shooting industry over the past decade has been in the so-called tactical market. The shooting sports are always adding new blood. But while most of the new faces have traditionally belonged to sons and daughters of lifelong hunters who are taking up the sport, more recently growth in other segments of the shooting public, particularly in various tactical-related fields, have more than made up for the fact that growth in the hunting sector has cooled.
Many of these new shooters are interested in self-defense and competition, and the tactical market’s cool- and fun-looking guns and gear make plinking more fun than ever for new shooters and grizzled veterans alike. The wide range of tactical guns chambered in rimfire .22LR offer nearly limitless fun and practice for shooters from all walks.
Rimfire shooting has, of course, been a staple in backyards and at shooting ranges for decades. The affordability of the ammunition, the relatively inexpensive guns to shoot it, and the lack of intimidating recoil and noise means that a lot of shooters take their very first shots with a .22, and they’ll likely continue using a .22 throughout their shooting career.
Tactical .22s Like Their Big-Bore Brethren
As the tactical market has matured over the past few years, the initial onrush of gun makers to develop and produce mainstream ARs and other tactical guns in standard calibers — most often .223 and 5.56 — has slowed as shop floors have filled with seemingly similar guns. Now manufacturers are expanding their lines to include a wider variety of guns in a wide range of calibers. While heavier calibers for big-game hunting and cartridges designed to take advantage of suppressors are popular, so are guns built for the good old .22LR for the same reasons as ever. It’s cheap (when you can find it), it’s easy to shoot, and everyone can have a lot of fun pulling the trigger all afternoon — whether it’s for enjoyment, practice or competition.
When someone mentions the word “tactical,” the first thing that comes to mind is, of course, the AR-15 pattern rifle. This platform has served the U.S. military for decades and has been the belle of the ball in the civilian market for more than 10 years. As innovations in the military sector and by manufacturers working to turn a tactical workhorse into a do-it-all commercial gun have multiplied the AR’s utility, the rimfire market has come right along with it.
AR-based .22 rifles are extremely popular and make an excellent addition to the gun cabinet, as they can use most of the same accessories and even many of the same parts. This means that after a gun owner has upgraded an AR, the rimfire model might be able to benefit by getting an upgrade using the accessories and components replaced on the big gun.
An excellent example of an AR-15 .22 is the M&P15-22 from Smith & Wesson. Based on its line of M&P Modern Sporting Rifles, Smith & Wesson set out to design and produce a line of rifles with operating controls identical to those of the full-size guns. The M&P15-22s feature 16.5-inch carbon steel barrels and adjustable A2-style front sight posts. The rear sights are adjustable dual aperture units, and the top tactical rail makes the mounting of more advanced optics a breeze. The barrels are threaded and the stock is an adjustable six-position carbine model. This rimfire black rifle is available in base black, but the M&P15-22 is also available in a variety of catchy and functional camouflage patterns, including Realtree APG, Harvest Moon orange, purple platinum and pink platinum. State-compliant M&P15-22 models are also available for sale in some of the more restrictive states, including California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland and New Jersey.
Additionally, Smith & Wesson offers an M&P15-22 MOE model featuring Magpul Original Equipment upgrades. The M&P15-22 MOE replaces the stock front and back sights with Magpul’s spring-loaded flip-up MBUS sights and the pistol grip and stock with Magpul MOE units. A QD sling swivel attachment point is also included. Perfect for training or competition, the M&P15-22 MOE is available with either black or tan furniture.
The Model 715T Autoloading Rimfire Rifles from Mossberg have the look and feel of an AR in a lightweight, fun-to-shoot rimfire package. The 715T Flat Top Red Dot Combo includes a 1x30mm red-dot with red or green illumination that is adjustable for windage and elevation and has flip-up lens caps. Models featuring the popular Muddy Girl camo and Mossy Oak Brush camo are available in addition to the standard black. Also available is the new 715T Flat Top Duck Commander, with Realtree MAX-5 camouflage and Duck Commander branding. It’s generally offered with 25-round magazines, A2 flash hiders and adjustable carbine stocks, but state-compliant models drop the flash hider, use fixed stocks and come with 10-round magazines that have the same visual profile as the full-size 25-rounders.
The Gen II Mfour-22 Carbine from Chiappa Firearms is a rimfire-based version of the company’s full-sized Mfour AR-style rifle. It is built around polymer upper and lower receivers and mimics the Mfour in every way possible. It has a 16-inch barrel with an A2-style front sight post. The upper receiver has a flat-top rail and comes with a removable carry handle with integrated adjustable rear sight. The rifle uses reinforced polymer in the receivers for additional strength and characteristics very similar to aluminum and has standard AR-style charging handles. The Chiappa Mfour-22 is available in all black or with desert tan stock, pistol grip and handguard. They come with 28-round mags unless limited to 10-round by state restrictions.
More Than The AR
Though it might sometimes be difficult to tell, the word “tactical” does, in fact, refer to more than just the AR-15. The gun that reportedly was used to shoot Osama bin Laden was reportedly an HK416, an AR-looking Heckler & Koch rifle used by some special operations units. A rimfire replica, the HK416 D145RS, is built in Germany by Carl Walther and has a match-grade 16-inch barrel, metal upper and lower receivers, adjustable stock and a rotating rear sight just like the real thing. Like all tactical rimfires, it uses blowback operation rather than the full-size gun’s piston.
The HK G36 from Walther Arms is a replica of the H&K G36, the German military’s standard rifle. Its lightweight polymer design features a folding stock and a Picatinny tactical rail for accessories. It has an ambidextrous external safety, adjustable rear sights and fixed front sights. It has an 18-inch barrel, an adjustable rear sight, ambidextrous safety and side-folding stock.
The ARX160 .22LR from Beretta is a tactical .22 replica of the Italian military’s standard rifle. It has an 18-inch barrel, a side-folding telescopic stock, ambidextrous safety and mag release, flip-up front and rear sights, and integrated sling swivel. The charging handle can be switched from left to right. It has magazines available with 5-, 10-, 20- and 30-round capacities.
The AK-47, in use for decades around the world and showing no signs of losing popularity, has its own rimfire replicas. The BLAZE-47 rifle from Mossberg is available in a number of models, all of which are based around a lightweight polymer receiver and a 16.25-inch blued barrel. They incorporate an adjustable fiber-optic rear sight and are available with either 10-round or 25-round magazines. A standard wooden stock and furniture are available as well as black synthetic with an adjustable M4-style stock (fixed length of pull for restricted states).
The HK MP5 A5 is a tactical .22 rimfire replica of the H&K MP5 submachine gun used around the world by military and law enforcement agencies. It’s licensed by Walther Arms and uses a fixed faux compensator to reach 16 inches and minimum barrel length restrictions for civilian rifles. It has an adjustable rear rotary sight, front HK-style sights with interchangeable posts, standard MP5 sling attachments and a retractable stock. It is available with 10-round or 25-round stocks.
Step Back In Time
A final category of tactical .22s worth noting is the historic replica. Though guns such as the AK-47, the MP5 and the M4 carbine seem like they’ve been around for so long that they’re already classics, the historic replica tactical .22 puts famous or infamous guns long out of service into the hands of today’s shooters.
The German Sports Guns GSG MP-40, imported by American Tactical Imports, is an all-metal recreation of the Nazi machine pistol from World War II. Like the MP5 replica, the MP-40 uses a faux supressor to keep it legal for civilian shooters, extending the barrel to 17.2 inches. It uses an original-style Bakelite polymer support under the barrel and comes with a 28-round magazine (10-rounders available where needed). It ships in an old-world-style pine crate.
Another historical gun from WW2 that gets the tactical .22 treatment is the German StG44 Sturmgewehr, the world’s first assault rifle. The replica, also built by GSG and imported by ATI, is the GSG Scheisser STG-44. It is built fairly close to the original German specs, with a 17.2-inch barrel, wooden furniture, and beefy all-steel, 9.4-pound weight. It’s a not an exact clone of the original, and many of the details are molded on, but with original StG 44s nearly impossible to find and even tougher to afford, this rimfire replica makes a great plinker and is sure to be a conversation starter. It comes with either 25-round or 10-round mags. Like the GSG MP-40, the GSG STG-44 ships in a wooden crate.
Though it seems that .22LR is as tough to find these days as anything, there must be millions of rounds stockpiled in the homes of shooters across America. While everyone will want to save some for a rainy day, the draw of so many great tactical .22s will keep the stockpile from getting too big. The guns are just too cool and too fun to shoot to stay in the cabinet for too long.