Regular readers will know that Better Half and I are gearing up for attending an Appleseed shoot in the somewhat near future, and one of the interesting challenges put to me by my wife was to build or buy the lightest .22 rifle I could find; after all, a person’s energies should be focused on making the shot, not fighting the rifle. After talking about the various pros and cons of each platforms, we decided that semi-automatic was the way to go, and I happened to stumble across the Magnum Research Magnum Lite .22LR platform, and specifically the "Tactical Black Rifle" model (since it comes with the sling points already mounted and an adjustable stock).
Well, let me put it to you this way – the rifle has sufficiently impressed me that I am trying my best to talk Better Half into letting me snag one of my own (hey, the logistics of only having one platform to support if something fails makes perfect sense!), and if that is not enough of a vote of confidence, it will have to do until I can do a comprehensive review. And as for the requirement, even with a purpose-built .22 bullet drop compensating scope (which might or might not be the same as this one), it still measures in at only 4 pounds 12 ounces, fully loaded – a bit absurd, if you ask me (it still lacks a sling and appropriate swivels, but those should not push it over 5 pounds).
Anywise, this was not a post about the rifle, but rather feeding it. I headed to Coal Creek Armory to sight in the aforementioned new optic yesterday, but also to answer a question of my own: do I shoot well enough to warrant the difference in costs between “Target” grade ammunition and “Match” grade ammunition?
For the purposes of this experiment, I was shooting at 25 yards in an indoor range (no wind, aside from the air-exchange system which runs shooter-to-target, and should not affect things too much) with the rifle resting on the lane shelf and the scope set at 9x magnification (which is just wonderful at 25 yards, since you can call your own shots immediately). I sighted in the scope using Winchester Super-X ammunition, and then moved on to the real test material: Federal Premium .22 Long Rifle Target ($3.79 for 50 rounds at Brownells) and Federal Premium .22 Long Rifle Match ($9.99 for a box of 50 at Brownells).
They both have 40gr projectiles, a muzzle velocity and energy of 1080fps and 104ft*lbs each, and a 100 yard velocity and energy of 930 and 880 fps and 77 and 69 ft*lbs respectively; I can only assume this somewhat radical drop-off in energy is attributable to the “Match” ammunition’s 0.093 ballistic coefficient, versus the 0.138 coefficient in the “Target” grade rounds. I cannot say as though I know why a lower ballistic coefficient would be better (larger coefficients indicate more aerodynamic bullets that can fly farther and are less prone to wind drift and other such problems), but there it is.
Likewise, as you can see above, the two bullets are rather different – the “Target” round on the right retains the plain-lead appearance of 90% of .22 ammunition in the world, complete with the wierd little grooves around its circumference, while the “Match” round on the left is significantly smoother and darker overall. However, the “Match” round was apparently not “smooth” enough to Federal – they actually put some kind of lubricant or oil or something on the bullets, making them quite slick and difficult to handle. I suppose this reduces fouling in the firearms they are shot out of, but I had to wipe my hands clean every time I loaded a magazine before I could dream of actually getting a solid grip on anything – not exactly an ideal situation. (On the plus side, the lube made removing the lead deposits from my fingers quite easy – hopefully the same can be said of the rifle’s bore.)
So how did it shoot? Well, here are the side-by-side (or at least top-by-bottom) comparisons:
As the quarter shows, the red bullseyes are about an inch, to give you an idea of the groupings. As with before, I called all those fliers an instant after I jerked the trigger rather than squeezing it; the rifle is a marvel for not wearing down your arms, but damned if you have to be a little ginger with you handle it while shooting.
My own failings as a target shooter aside, I honestly cannot see a tremendous difference, on average, between the “Target” ammunition and “Match”, which, no doubt, are due to those particular failings. The honest truth is that I simply do not shoot well enough to warrant the 3x cost of the latter, and I am likewise in no position to determine if there is any quantifiable difference between the performance of the two; I certainly hope there is, given the higher price. Unless you are accustomed to creating one very small hole in your target at 25 yards (rather than the rather largish, ragged thing I tend towards), your money would be better spent on buying more ammunition with which to practice in order to get good enough to be able to determine the difference.
Now, the interesting thing, however, is the comparison of the “Target” and “Match” ammunition against the Super-X stuff I used initially:
I dare say the spread on the Super-X rounds was slightly larger than that created by the others; however, by the same token, it is copper-plated and “high velocity” (1255fps), the latter difference duly noted by its more-significant retort and the occasional sparks from the rifle’s ejection port. Is the slightly wider spread enough to really matter? Well, that depends on your application, but when I will be plugging targets at a simulated 400 yards, I dare say I am willing to eat the small difference in cost (Winchester Super-X runs about $3 a box at Brownells).
[Update] As was pointed out to me in comments, I neglected to mention the failure rate of the ammunition I was shooting. In the “Target” and “Match” cases, I put 50 rounds through the rifle, and in the Super-X’s case, I fired about 60. The Super-X had one Failure to Eject (a classic stovepipe), and the “Match” round had one Failure to Feed (though that could be due to me not inserting the round in the magazine properly due to the excessive amounts of lube). Of course, 50 rounds is nowhere near an acceptable sample population, so we will be putting at least a few hundred (if not thousand) rounds of our chosen ammo through the Magnum Lite before Appleseed. [/Update]
In the end, there is one common truth in all of this – you cannot buy your way to being a better shooter, except by purchasing ammunition and practicing. Oh, sure, the quality of rifle in extreme circumstances will make a difference; for example, a HiPoint is never going to be as accurate or as reliable as a Glock or something similar. But unless you have invested hours and days and weeks of trigger time into improving your performance, dropping megabucks on specialty ammo or uberbarrels may not be worth it.
But that is why we practice. And that is why Better Half are going to attend Appleseed clinic until such time as we attain the coveted Rifleman patch. And maybe one day my skills will make the supposed difference between the ammunitions relevant.
For now, though, we are probably going to go with the “Target” ammunition, and use the money saved to shoot the crap out of some paper.
(Of course, this is all assuming Better Half does not out-shoot me; I have more trigger time than her, but she has been known to shoot the pieces of the pieces of the clays she just annihilated.)