We tested the $535 Model 77/22VHZ against a Cooper Arms Model 38 that cost three times as much, and the cheaper gun won. But both get our recommendation for varminting.
Performance often comes at a high price, and as shooters who are primarily concerned with how well rifles and pistols shoot, we’re willing to pay extra dollars for smaller groups. When an expensive gun clearly outshoots a less expensive gun, we will almost always recommend the product that wins, irrespective of the dollars. But what happens when the less expensive product wins against a pricier rival? In that case, as we found in a head-to-head match-up of two .22 Hornets from Ruger and Cooper Arms, we rejoice. Finding guns that shoot well for not a lot of money is a difficult and uncommon experience these days. And when a relatively expensive gun performs on par with a product that triples its suggested retail, then we sit up and take notice.
That’s what happened when we recently matched up .22 Hornet bolt actions from Ruger and Cooper. The Ruger gun, a $535 Model 77/22VHZ, shot within a tenth of inch of a Cooper Arms Model 38 that carries a $1,675 MSRP. Also, the Ruger functioned flawlessly, while we had trouble with the extractors on the Cooper. There were other things we liked and disliked about the two products, which is related in the material below:
How We Tested
We collected all our accuracy range data at 100 yards, shooting the guns from a solid concrete bench in a Ransom Master Rifle Rest and Protektor Bags. We shot 10 five-round groups with each gun, alternating guns every five shots to reduce problems associated with barrel heating. We used Leupold and Weaver 36X riflescopes during the accuracy testing. Also, we used a Nikon Field Spotting Scope to check our shot locations downrange.
The guns were cleaned and then fouled between each load tested. We cleaned the guns with Pro-Shot Solvent delivered by a Parker Hale Cleaning rod and jag. Also, we used 10-shot strings to collect our chronograph data, using both factory and handloaded ammo shot through the skyscreens of an Oehler 35P Chronograph.
We were able to find only four factory loads for the .22 Hornet. Remington offers a 45-grain pointed soft point (R22HNI) and hollow-point (R22HN2) rounds, and Winchester loads 45-grain soft points (X22H1) and 46-grain hollowpoints (X22H2). Since the factory loads were limited, we worked up our own, using James Calhoon’s custom 42-grain hollow-point bullets. We used a Dillon RL550 press with Redding dies to load our custom rounds, pouring in 11.5 grains of Accurate Arms 1680 powder into new Winchester brass we bought from Sinclair International. We used a Dillon D-Terminator Powder scale to measure the charges. We used CCI BR4 primers and set the OAL at a SAAMI-spec 1.723 inches. Fine-tuning this load by changing the bullet-seating depth, prepping case necks, and using other techniques could pull down the group sizes in both guns, we think. As it was, the handload shot 0.60-inch groups in the Cooper Model 38 and 0.77-inch groups in the Ruger.
Ruger Model 77/22VHZ:
A Good Value
To make the Model 77/22VHZ, Ruger took its successful Model 77/22 .22 Long Rifle action and lengthened the receiver, then barreled it for the efficient .22 Hornet centerfire round. Ruger offers three models in this caliber, the Model 77/22RH, which sells for $489, the Model 77/22RSH ($499), and our test gun, the 77/22VHZ, which has a suggested retail of $535. Our test gun came without iron sights. The 77/22RSH is the only model that comes with iron sights.
The metal on our Ruger test gun was stainless steel. The metal’s dark-satin finish reduces glare while keeping rust at bay. We think this metalwork is an excellent choice for a field gun suited to taking varmints. Our test gun had a 24-inch heavyweight barrel with an OD of 0.650 inch at the muzzle and 0.915 inch OD at the chamber.
The gun’s trigger pull was crisp at 3.75 to 4 pounds and showed no creep, but it had too much overtravel. Adjustments screws on this trigger aren’t available, so it would be helpful to have a competent gunsmith reduce the trigger-pull weight and install an overtravel stop screw.
The stock on our test gun was laminated wood in a two-tone tan color. It had a half-inch black rubber buttpad and satin stock finish. The action showed good wood-to-metal fit in the action area. We noted that there was space between the barrel and the stock in the barrel channel, except for a pressure point at the end of the channel. The action wasn’t bedded. Quick-detachable swivel studs were included. The overall length of the Ruger was 44 inches. It weighed 81/2 pounds with scope. Using the supplied 1-inch rings that mount to the receiver, we fitted a Leupold 6.5X to 20X riflescope on the gun.
The three-position safety was smooth and easy to work with the right thumb. It was located on the right rear end of the receiver. One removable rotary magazine, which holds six rounds, comes equipped with the gun. Though we thought the stock felt good in most shooting positions, we would like to see a slightly larger forend or a flatter bottom on the gun. That would help a shooter control the gun on a bench, a common situation when varminting. Length of pull on the stock was 13.75 inches.
The Winchester 46-grain hollowpoint shot the smallest five-round groups in the Ruger at 0.44 inches. Winchester loads averaged 0.98- and 1.04-inch groups respectively at 100 yards. Remington rounds averaged 1.23-inch and 1.49-inch groups. The Calhoon reload gave us our best average at 0.77 inches.Overall, the Ruger’s groups were only 0.08 inches larger than the Cooper’s clusters at 100 yards. We had one malfunction in the gun using Remington ammo. One round blew back some gas after the shot. When we extracted the round, we noticed the cartridge case had a flat primer and black residue on the headstamp that indicated the round was loaded a little hot.
Cooper Arms Model 38
The single-shot Cooper test gun is a custom-made bolt-action rifle. The receiver is blued steel with a heavy stainless-steel barrel. The muzzle OD measured 0.760 inches and 0.965 inches at the chamber. The rifle barrel itself and the receiver had a satin, non-glare finish.
We thought our test item was a very sharp-looking gun that showed a lot of attention to detail. We found the trigger pull to be crisp at 3 to 3.25 pounds, and it exhibited very little overtravel. The Cooper trigger is completely adjustable and can be tuned to break between 1.75 and 2 pounds.
The stock’s length of pull was 13.75 inches, including a 0.25-inch-thick Pachmayr rifle pad. The stock was A to AA walnut with a satin, nongloss finish. It was beautiful. Checkering on the pistol grip and a tasteful metal grip cap indicated that this was a custom-made rifle, as did the Cooper’s 38’s excellent wood-to-metal fit. The barrel was free-floated inside the barrel channel, and the front action area was glass bedded. The forend included a swelled, flat bottom, which made shooting in the Ransom Rest a joy.
Overall length of the Model 38 was 41.5 inches with a 24-inch barrel. The receiver came drilled and tapped, and included with the gun were Warne bases and rings. We used them to fit a Weaver 36X scope on the test gun. Its overall weight, with the scope, totaled 8 pounds.
We had some extraction problems with this gun. Consistently, fired rounds wouldn’t be bulled from the chamber when we worked the bolt. We called Cooper, and the company supplied a new extractor with a stronger spring.
We also experienced another problem with the bolt. When the bolt was in the open position, the firing-pin notch would rotate to the fired position, which meant we had to remove the bolt from the gun and manually reset the firing pin into the notch on the bolt. This is a major inconvenience that Cooper needs to resolve, in our estimation.
At the range, the Cooper 38 shot overall average groups of 1.03 inches with all five ammunitions. Factory groups ran from 0.78 inches for Winchester soft points to 1.68 inches for one of the Remington rounds. Our reload gave us a 0.60-inch average and a best-group size of 0.45 inches.
Performance Shooter Recommends
In real-world accuracy, we think the Ruger Model 77/22VHZ, which sells for at $535 MSRP, ranked on par with the Cooper Model 38 at $1,675. Though both guns would make excellent prairie-dog poppers, the Ruger is unquestionably the better value, in our view. We would buy it. The Cooper shot well and was great to look at, but the extraction and bolt problems shouldn’t have occurred on a high-end rifle, in our estimation.