Good ol’ .22 LR. Simple, easy, reliable and nostalgic. This caliber will always give me fond memories of my childhood when my father taught me how to shoot when I was 12 years old. Good for learning, plinking, competition and everything in between, you really can’t go wrong with a .22 LR rifle. My dad did well by teaching me how to shoot with a .22 and I’m sure other parents have done the same.
Enter the Winchester Wildcat—a lightweight plinking machine that could just be the key to many new memories for individuals young and old. However, the Wildcat will instill memories with a bit more modernity and flare. The look, feel and takedown all add up to a contemporary rifle fit for various functions.
For starters, the gun itself has a sleek and avant-garde appearance. With a modular composite stock, the rifle is extremely light—light enough for a child learning to shoot. Skeletonized, the ambidextrous polymer stock presents not only something different in looks, but also aids in weight reduction. Front and rear sling eyelets are molded into the stock and “Wildcat” is inscribed on the lower part of the buttstock, further enhancing the gun’s aesthetics. This cat makes its presence known and not only in looks.
Function is key, of course. How the Wildcat operates may be more impressive than its looks. For instance, the Wildcat can be taken apart without any tools. The lower receiver is removed by pushing a single button located at the rear of the upper assembly. It’s quick and doesn’t require extensive work nor special tools. Neither does reassembly. The lower receiver slips right back in. In addition, located on the left side of the receiver behind the breech are vents allowing gas to exit on firing. What is also handy about the lower receiver is a pair of Allen wrenches, one for adjusting the rear sight and the other for removing the stock, are stored in the lower-receiver assembly, making them hard to misplace. We all know how small parts can easily go missing. Additionally, with the lower receiver out, cleaning is done by inserting the cleaning rod through the rear access port to brush out the bore and chamber from the breech end, thus protecting the barrel crown.
Located on the left side of the upper assembly is the bolt-release button. It is a red trapezoid and not hard to find. I particularly liked the release button and found it rather an enjoyable feature as it isn’t as large and bulky as releases I’ve experienced on other rifles. Of course, the bolt can also be released by pulling back on the cocking handle. After it is spent, the magazine activates the bolt-stop system to lock the bolt open (if the magazine is functioning properly), but the slide-lock button is found on the front of the trigger guard and is red as well. I personally didn’t like the location, as I’m more accustomed to it being on the left side of the gun, but it isn’t necessarily a hassle. In addition, for added security, there is a safety on the rifle, which is reversible for left-handed shooters.
When loading the rifle, the magazine inserts into the mag well without too much difficulty, but over-inserting, or seating the magazine too far into the mag well, is a possibility if you have a faulty magazine, as this happened to me once during testing. Over-insertion caused the magazine to get stuck inside the mag well, requiring disassembly to get it out. Just be sure all parts are seated properly. However, if the magazine does get stuck, takedown is stress-free as mentioned above.
Though provided with one 10-round rotary magazine, the Wildcat will also accept a variety of aftermarket offerings compatible with the Ruger 10/22. Having more magazines is always a good idea and, sadly, the one that came with the gun I tested did end up failing, which most likely was the cause of the over- insertion. When working properly, the magazine provided can be removed by either the release tab just forward of the magazine (its red, V-shaped design points you in the direction of the tab) or using the fully ambidextrous side-mounted rails. Additionally, the provided magazine is equipped with a small capstan wheel at the rear. It can be rotated counterclockwise to move the magazine follower for loading and unloading.
Furnished with a fully adjustable ghost-ring sight and a ramped-post front sight, the Wildcat also has a Picatinny rail to mount your own optic, which I did for testing purposes. Likewise, another rail is present on the underside of the forearm tip, allowing you to attach a bipod, sling mount, light or other accessory. When accessories are not attached, an included rail cover is provided to protect your hand from the rail’s edges and corners.
Overall, testing went well with three different loads, including the Winchester Wildcat 22 LR round. The best group was shot with match-grade ammunition. A pistol-style grip allows for good purchase on the rifle when shooting. The trigger is not as smooth as one would like, but breaks at an average of 4 pounds, so not too heavy. What is different about the Wildcat is that it uses a striker-fired design rather than the traditional hammer-fired. Winchester states that the striker-fired design provides faster lock time and a lighter trigger pull. Furthermore, the firing pin has a hemispheric shape rather than a chiseled shape like most .22 rimfires. This provides more reliable ignition with .22 LR ammo.
With all features easily located and simple to operate, this new rifle is sure to grab your attention the first time you hold it. Whether a new shooter or experienced, everyone can appreciate a light plinker chambered in a caliber that is as nostalgic as apple pie.