The word "tactical" is increasingly used to describe just about anything black or that looks like it belongs in the kit of a special operations warrior. I'm not sure an object can be "tactical," which is an adjective best used to describe a maneuver or action. And as unlikely as it may seem, in this context anyway, a bunch of semi-auto rimfire rifles now carry the tactical label.
Regardless, tactical rimfires—semi-auto rifles designed for fast-action, high-volume shooting and made to resemble or emulate commonly used military firearms—are hot stuff. Translated to hillbilly, that means they're cool-lookin', fun-shootin' rifles.
"Many of today's shooters want rifles that have the cool factor," explains Jason Spradling, Remington press relations specialist. To an extent, I agree.
However, if a cool rifle was all you wanted, you could by an AR, AK or Steyr AUG/A3. Of course these guns and the ammo they require are expensive, so a logical choice is a rimfire copy—especially if you already have a tactical centerfire rifle. Because of the minimal recoil and noise from a rimfire rifle, the entire family can enjoy shooting it. Plus, if that rimfire is a close copy of a tactical centerfire, it's a great training tool.
Adam Blalock, CEO of Umarex USA, says the low cost of running this new category of rimfires is part of their appeal. "Tactical rimfire rifles aren't taking the place of traditional sporting rimfire rifles," he points out. "They've become additions that allow shooters more range time due to the economy of .22 LR ammunition."
In the interest of burning through a couple thousand rounds of .22 LR, I recently tested six new tactical rimfires. I had no intention of picking the best, because they are all very different. Most are designed to replicate a centerfire counterpart, but each has unique and interesting features. The goal was to establish accuracy potential and reliability. My 9-year-old son, Bat, test fired every rifle. Several adults also tried them to provide alternate viewpoints, and to establish the "cool" and "fun" factor of each gun.
Each was tested for accuracy at 50 yards with low-power optics or open sights, using three .22 LR loads: Remington 40-grain 22 Target, Winchester 40-grain Super-X Power Point and American Eagle 38-grain hollow point. Other ammunition, including at least 50 rounds of RWS 40-grain high-velocity hollow point, was also fired through each rifle.
Malfunctions were nonexistent with the RWS and Winchester ammo, and were rare with everything else. In all, nearly 1,800 rounds were fired with only 11 malfunctions across the board. This amounted to about 300 rounds fired, give or take, in each rifle.
American Tactical Imports GSG Kalashnikov Manufactured by German Sport Guns (GSG), the GSG Kalashnikov is a faithful copy of the most prolifically produced military carbine ever designed. The GSG Kalashnikov has the same nominal weight and industrial looks of an original AK-47. It is available with either a wood or synthetic stock, while the receiver and operating mechanism are made of steel.
Just like a real AK, the GSG Kalashnikov had an unfriendly trigger, and the rifle was just as reliable as its bigger comrade. With the gun being true to size and form, its weight and length were too much for my son to manage offhand. The crude open sights made precision shooting a trying endeavor, but the AK-47 was never designed to be a precision rifle. Contact American Tactical Imports: (800) 290-0065; www.americantactical.us
Kel-Tec SU-22 Based on Kel-Tec's SU-16CA rifle, which is chambered for .223 Rem, the SU-22 is just as innovative. Inside the polymer receiver, the rifle has a steel bolt that rides on steel guide rails. The rear sight is adjustable for windage and the front for elevation. Integral Picatinny rails accept various sights and under-barrel accessories.
If fun and economy were primary considerations, the SU-22 would be my pick. It was the least expensive rifle tested and offers a lot of options with regard to sights and accessories. By removing a pin at the rear of the action, the rifle can be folded up for compact carry. Even though trigger pull was a bit on the heavy side, Bat did his best shooting with the SU-22. I suspect it was because the rifle weighs only 4 pounds. Contact Kel-Tec CNC Industries: (321) 631-0068; www.kel-tec-cnc.com
Remington 597 VTR Remington takes its popular 597 semi-auto to the tactical arena with the 597 VTR. It's available with a fixed or adjustable AR-style stock and a tubular handguard. The VTR has a free-floated, 16-inch, heavy-contour barrel and a Picatinny rail that attaches to the grooved receiver for mounting optics.
Each rifle ships with a low-profile, 10-round magazine; a 30-round magazine is optional but wasn't tested. This rifle presents a profile similar to an AR, but controls are just like a 597. Contact Remington: (800) 243-9700; www.remington.com
Ruger SR-22 The SR-22 from Ruger was just released as the testing for this article was winding down, and I managed to squeak it in just in time. I'm glad I did, mostly because the SR-22 shot a lot better than the average 10/22 on which it's based. Other differences are a telescoping buttstock on a mil-spec tube; a soft Hogue pistol grip; a receiver with a Picatinny rail; a tubular, aluminum, ventilated handguard; a flash suppressor and a newly styled receiver.
The SR-22 will work with any factory or aftermarket 10/22 magazines. Picatinny rails and a myriad of other cool accessories like foregrips, slings and lasers are available direct from Ruger. Though similar to an AR in weight, size, feel and, to some extent, looks, the SR-22 does not share any functioning or control similarities with the AR platform.
The test rifle was exceptionally accurate. I fired three, five-shot groups with the RWS high-velocity hollow-point load for an average group size of .788 inches! Surprisingly, the rifle also provided about 90 percent reliability with Remington Sub-Sonic loads. Contact Ruger: (603) 865-2442; www.ruger.com
Umarex USA Colt M4 Tactical Rimfire Manufactured by Walther and imported by Umarex USA under the Colt trademark, the M4 Tactical Rimfire had the looks and feel of an M4 carbine. Externally, all the levers and pins are in the right places. Some, like the bolt release, are nonfunctioning.
The upper receiver removes from the lower just like any AR, but seeing as how the gun is blowback operated, inside everything is different. You cannot swap out the trigger, and the manual does not advise further disassembly. There is, however, a unique feature that lets you tune the recoil spring for different ammunition.
I would have preferred the ability to completely disassemble the rifle, which is one of the great attributes of a real AR. To clean it I had to spray the action with solvent and then spray the debris away with an air hose. As much as this bothered me, it did not seem to bother the rifle, which ran flawlessly. Contact Umarex USA: (479) 646-4210; www.umarexusa.com
Walther G22 The Walther G22 is a bullpup, which gives it a short overall length despite its 20-inch barrel. It most closely replicates the Steyr AUG, but it isn't an exact sibling. The rear sight is adjustable for elevation, and the front sight is drift-adjustable for windage. A carry handle with integrated Picatinny rail serves as a platform to mount optics, and an integral rail under the fore-end permits the attachment of accessories.
This rimfire is available in four configurations, with or without a laser and a 3-9x40 mm riflescope. It will not fire without the magazine installed. A spare magazine, which comes with the rifle, can be carried in the stock.
The G22 was the second most accurate and was a favorite of all reviewers, thanks to both its unique look and the fact that it can be ordered with a laser, riflescope and hard case. The 10-round magazines detracted from high-volume shooting. However, Bat liked shooting this rifle the best, even though he did not have the strength to operate the bolt. Contact Walther: (800) 372-6454; www.waltherarms.com