Though the pricey Cooper Model 36 Featherweight is a top rimfire choice, a budget model from Keng’s Firearms Specialties is worth a look.
In the April 1996 issue, we examined the head-to-head performance of three high-end .22 LR rifles for use in the NRA Smallbore Hunting Silhouette Rifle competition. Hunter-rifle silo shooters must use tapered-barrel, sporter-style rimfires with single-stage trigger pulls no lighter than 2 pounds to topple metal chickens, pigs, turkeys, and rams. Also, the rifles must make an 81/2-pound weight limit (with scope), and stay inside certain stock-configuration rules.
The trio of high-end products we tested were the Cooper Model 36 Featherweight, which carries a suggested list of $1,595 dollars; the Kimber Model 82C Classic, which widely retails for $785; and the Anschutz 1416D Classic, which also lists for $785. Of the set, we preferred the Cooper because it shot very accurately and showed superior mechanical assembly and feel. On the advice of silhouette competitors, we also tested the Keng’s Firearms Specialties NS 522, a Chinese-made import that sells for a suggested list of $299.95. Since it retails for just under $300, we didn’t include it in the earlier high-end matchup, but we were nonetheless impressed with the gun. Though it showed roughness in some areas, it shot very well, and for the limited use of silhouette shooting, we think it would make a good entry-level gun—moreso than the Kimber and Anschutz models, mainly because of price. In fact, we would call it a best buy; it was as accurate as the more expensive Anschutz and Kimber products and showed solid workmanship overall, we thought.
More detailed criticisms of the gun follow below:
KFS NS 522
We bought this clip-fed bolt-action .22 LR for nearly $500 less than the Anschutz and Kimber rifles. It has a blued 21-inch barrel with a 1-in-16 twist. It comes with swivel studs on the forend and buttstock. It weighed 71/2 pounds unloaded and without a scope and mounts. Rigged and ready for action, it weighed in just under the 31/2-pound class maximum. It measures 39 1/2 inches in overall length. Drop at the comb is 11/4 inches, and drop at the heel is 11/2 inches. Length of pull was 14 inches. The gun came with an dark-stained walnut stock. The grip and the rounded forend featured acceptable checkering that was functional, but not up to par visually with the Kimber and Anschutz guns. The receiver is drilled and tapped to accept scope mount bases.
The trigger is a single-stage model as required by the rules, and wasn’t adjustable for weight, sear engagement, or overtravel. We have fired 522’s with very good triggers, but they require about $50 of gunsmith polishing and setting to achieve competition-grade quality. The two-position safety is located at the left rear of the receiver. When the gun is on Safety (rearward), the bolt won’t open. Thus, to clear a loaded chamber, the safety must be disengaged to work the action. The hammer-forged, striated barrel is free-floated in the stock. The stock lacks a grip cap and has a black-plastic buttplate. We mounted a Bausch & Lomb 6- to 24-power Elite 4000 riflescope on the receiver using the Weaver bases and Tasco rings. This put the line of sight about 11/2 inches above the centerline of the bore, allowing about a 1/4 inch of space between the scope’s objective lens and the barrel. We also left the swivel studs in for this test, but they should be removed for competition.
Based on the data we collected, we can only say we were surprised with the 522’s accuracy across the board.
The gun shot R50 best (0.59-inch groups) at 40 meters, and fairly well (1.63-inch groups) at 100 meters with the same ammo. The KFS performed a little better overall with Federal Ultramatch, shooting 0.65-inch groups at 40 meters and 1.37-inch groups at 100 meters. Similarly, Tenex recorded 0.61-inch groups at the chicken distance and 1.63-inch groups at the rams.
The gun’s straight stock was easier to shoot than the Kimber, we thought. To get the gun butt to seat in the shoulder, we simply put the toe into the joint. Still, like the Anschutz and the Kimber, we would have liked more drop in the stock to allow the shooter to bring the gun up to an erect head position without stressing the rest of the position. It would be nice if the grip were longer to afford more grasping area by the trigger hand. When we brought the gun up to natural eyeline, the heel of the rubber buttpad wouldn’t touch the shoulder. Also, the finish became slick when the grip hand became sweaty. The gun, which is slightly muzzle heavy, was nicely balanced for silo shooting.
As it came from the factory, the trigger was fair. It had just a touch of movement before breaking at 3 pounds. The 1/4-inch-wide, grooved steel trigger shoe offered a positive gripping surface for the trigger finger, we thought.
In the crucial area in front of the trigger guard, we thought the KFS was uncomfortable. The magazine extends an eighth of an inch out of the magazine well, and the front edge of the magazine had two sharp corners that would dig into your hand or palm. The sharp magazine-release lever sits out front of the magazine. All in all, it is uncomfortable to shoot on top of the fist. If we were shooting the gun extensively, we would plan to hold it bridge style, using the 7/16-inch-wide, elliptical trigger guard.
The gun fired all the ammo brands we shot. The single-column steel magazine accepted rounds easily and went into battery and released smoothly and consistently. The action fed rounds from the magazine flawlessly.
Cosmetically, the gun was utilitarian. Its blue-black metal finish was even but not showy, and the walnut stock had little figure. The satin clearcoat job didn’t fill all the wood pores evenly. Unquestionably, the 522 was the ugly duckling in this test.
PS Recommends: In our view, the KFS NS 522 we tested is a solid shooter. It was more accurate than the Kimber we tested in April, and though it lacks some niceties like an adjustable trigger, it offers a free-floated barrel and a decent trigger for not a lot of yourhard-earned money.
Moreover, we know it can shoot even better than our initial tests showed. Lot-testing with several ammos (see cover story) showed that the 522 could print sub-MOA groups at 100 yards.
Thus, for hunter silhouette shooters on a budget, we can recommend the KFS NS 522.