The Louisiana maker’s $175 blued .22 LR tube nosed out $285 Volquartsen and $350 Briley fluted stainless models.
In case you hadn’t noticed, Ruger’s 10/22 autoloading rimfire rifle has come of age. Check any gun-supply catalog and you’ll find pages of aftermarket goodies for the little sporter, and the equipment is by no means cosmetic. It’s all guts. There are replacement hammers, firing pins, triggers, stocks, and barrels for the Ruger .22 LR receiver, all of which are designed to make the autoloading receiver either shoot better or shoot faster. It is no exaggeration to say the 10/22 may be the most heavily accessorized rimfire rifle of its time, and it might also be true that the Ruger may currently draw the most extensive aftermarket support of any rifle.
That said, it can be difficult to choose from this cornucopia of steel, titanium, and plastic to find items that really make the 10/22 spit tacks. However, any accuracy upgrade will eventually turn to the barrel, because without a good tube, a shooter will never get all he can out of the product. We decided to test three aftermarket models against the factory-supplied barrel to see what differences in accuracy and function there are—and to figure out which one we want to buy. In the first of many examinations of these products, we tested a Clark Custom Guns blued 21.5-inch match-contour barrel, which carries a suggested list of $175 dollars; a Volquartsen Custom Ltd. 20.25-inch fluted stainless compensated product, which widely retails for $285; and Briley Manufacturing’s 21.5-inch fluted stainless product, which lists for $350.
Of the set, we preferred the Clark overall because it shot somewhat more accurately than the others for substantially less money. Following are more detailed criticisms of the barrels.
Ruger Factory Barrel
Our Ruger 10/22 .22 LR came from the factory with the company’s standard tube: a blued 18.5-inch barrel with a 1-in-16-inch right-hand twist. The barrel weighs 1.75 pounds when detached from the receiver. The contoured barrel’s outside diameter at the muzzle measures 0.559 inch and 0.919 inch at the receiver. It has a SAAMI sporter chamber measuring 0.2293 inch in diameter.
But it is not the barrel which most shooters covet on the 10/22. It is the action. The 10/22’s trigger housing contains the entire firing mechanism, and it uses a high-speed swinging hammer to ensure a short lock time. The receiver itself is a modular unit made of lightweight aircraft-grade aluminum. The barrel is inserted into the front of the receiver and is held in place with a V-block. By loosening two Allen-head bolts that hold the block in place, which joins the barrel to the action, the shooter can remove the factory barrel and replace it with better steel. Once blocked together, the barrel and receiver are joined to a stock with a single action screw located at the front of the receiver.
We cannibalized our 10/22 shortly after we bought it. The little gun, which sells at retail for around $200, lost its hardwood stock immediately and was fitted with a McMillan competition fiberglass model. For some time, the gun was fitted with a Shilen drop-in barrel, but the Shilen’s crown had become damaged. While we were having the barrel shortened and recrowned, we investigated the accuracy of the original barrel and the other drop-ins.
Ruger’s factory barrels don’t have a good reputation for shooting accurately, but our tests suggest that’s a bad rap. The factory tube shot most ammo groups in the 0.6-inch range, only slightly more than the expensive Briley model. Syl Wylie, Ruger’s marketing director, said that in developing the company’s new 10/22 T heavy-barrel target rifle, Ruger engineers tested several aftermarket barrels to see how well they shot in comparison to the standard-contour factory barrel. “We found out that there wasn’t as much difference as some people think,” Wylie said. Moreover, the comparatively loose chamber size didn’t cause a single ammo to malfunction—a recurring problem with the choked-down aftermarket chambers.
PFS Recommends: There are many things to praise about the Ruger factory barrel, the biggest one being its cost—it’s included in the price of the gun. Though it doesn’t have the sex appeal of the other models and didn’t shoot quite as accurately, it was by no means a dog. Our suggestion is this: If you want to upgrade your 10/22, be sure to lot-test the gun with a variety of ammo. You may find an ammo it likes enough for your purposes (such as the Eley Tenex in our test), which can save you hundreds of dollars. In our view, it is certainly worth the time and effort to thoroughly test your barrel before using it as a boat anchor.
Briley Stainless Fluted Barrel
Our Briley replacement barrel, made from a Lothar Walther blank, came with a spiffy cosmetic treatment: the polished stainless steel, 21.5-inch barrel had six bead-blasted flutes. The flutes were deeper and broader than on the Volquartsen model, which probably accounted for the Briley product weighing slightly less than the Volquartsen item and 0.7 pounds less than the Clark barrel. It has a 1-in-16-inch right-hand twist. The barrel’s outside diameter at the muzzle measures 0.921 inch and 0.921 inch at the receiver. It has a modified match chamber measuring 0.2243 inch in diameter. It was not drilled and tapped to accept a scope base.
The Briley barrel easily fit in the action during installation and required no machining. We experienced only intermittent ammo malfunctions with the barrel, all of which were jams when the spent hull didn’t clear the action during extraction. One reason for that could be because the barrel had a slight chamber-entrance radius lacking on the other guns. Also, malfunctions on all the aftermarket barrels might be alleviated with longer break-in periods.
The Briley barrel shot half-inch groups at 50 yards with Federal Ultramatch, Eley Tenex, and RWS R50 ammo. It shot groups averaging three-quarters of an inch with Lapua Dominator. Jon Custard, customer service manager for Briley, said he believed our testing didn’t show the full accuracy potential of the product, particularly with the Lapua ammunition. He said Briley accuracy tests showed the company’s barrel usually shot 0.375-inch groups with Lapua. He added that if a customer wasn’t happy with the performance of a Briley barrel, the company would swap barrels with the customer or offer a full refund. “We believe our barrels will perform better than the tests indicate, and we’ll stand behind them,” he said.
PFS Recommends: The $350 Briley tube didn’t shoot quite as accurately as the other aftermarket products, but it shot somewhat better than the standard factory barrel. We would pick the barrels from Clark and Volquartsen over the Briley tube based on the accuracy testing we performed.
Volquartsen Stainless Barrel
Our Volquartsen replacement barrel, also made from a Lothar Walther blank, was a polished stainless steel, 20.25-inch model. It had six bead-blasted flutes that were shallower and narrower than on the Briley model. This likely accounted for the Volquartsen product weighing slightly more than the Briley item even though the barrels’ external dimensions are only thousands of an inch apart. It has a 1-in-16.25-inch right-hand twist. The barrel’s outside diameter at the muzzle measures 0.924 inch and 0.926 inch at the receiver. It has a modified match chamber measuring 0.2240 inch in diameter. It was drilled and tapped to accept a scope base.
Initially, the Volquartsen barrel didn’t slip in the action easily, requiring us to work it into the receiver. Once the barrel was in the receiver, however, it became easy to remove. We experienced several ammo malfunctions with the barrel, all of which were jams when the spent hull didn’t clear the action during extraction. That’s probably because the tighter chamber dimension caused some drag on the hulls as they were being extracted.
The Volquartsen barrel shot sub half-inch groups at 50 yards with Federal Ultramatch, Eley Tenex, and Lapua Dominator ammo. It shot groups averaging slightly more than half an inch with RWS R50. It shot one of the best groups of our test—0.26 inch—with Lapua Dominator.
“One of the reasons our accuracy is consistent,” said Scott Volquartsen, “is that the Walther barrels are made to our proprietary specs, and I don’t know if that’s true of the other companies. Also, Tom [Volquartsen] handles all the chambering, and he’s very exact about how he cuts the chambers.”
We didn’t notice any benefit the compensator delivered in reducing muzzle flip, but the bulk of our testing was done off a Ransom rifle rest, which would minimize recoil-related barrel movement.
PFS Recommends: The $285 Volquartsen tube didn’t shoot quite as accurately as the Clark Custom aftermarket product, but it shot well below the 1 MOA guarantee Vol-quartsen offers and noticeably better than the standard factory barrel and the Briley barrel. We recommend the Volquartsen tube.
Clark Custom Blued Barrel
Our Clark replacement barrel, which like the Briley and Volquartsen tubes, was made from a Lothar Walther blank. It was fashioned from matte-blued chrome/moly steel and measured 21.5 inches in length. It had no flutes like the Briley and Volquartsen models. This likely accounted for the 3.7-pound Clark product weighing more than any other barrel in the test, even though its external dimensions are within thousands of an inch of the other products. It has a 1-in-16-inch right-hand twist. The barrel’s outside diameter at the muzzle measures 0.922 inch and 0.921 inch at the receiver. It has a modified match chamber measuring 0.2234 inch in diameter. It was not drilled and tapped to accept a scope base. The Clark barrel slipped in and out of the action easily.
Unquestionably, the Clark tube shot the best. It recorded the best groups with three ammo brands (Federal Ultramatch, 0.32 inch; RWS R50, 0.40 inch; and Lapua Dominator, 0.24 inch). Also, it compiled the smallest all-ammo average—0.35 inch. Though this last average is not a realistic indicator of how the barrel fires any specific ammo, it does suggest that the Clark will probably shoot most brands well. Depending on your accuracy requirements, this means you would probably need to do less lot testing to find an ammo that performed well in the Clark barrel, which can save you time and money.
On the downside, we experienced many ammo malfunctions with the barrel, all of which were jams when the spent hull didn’t clear the action during extraction. We thought the barrel’s tight chamber was probably the cause, but Jim Clark Jr. said that was only one factor to look at. “On all the barrels we install, we tune or replace the extractor,” he said, noting that the company also offers an aftermarket 10/22 extractor.
As a result, you might have to lot-test ammo for accuracy and extraction to ensure a Clark-barreled 10/22 operates reliably, especially in timed Sportsman’s Team Challenge events.
PFS Recommends: The $175 Clark Custom Gun’s tube shot more accurately than the other aftermarket products for less money, which makes it our top pick in this test. However, we want to emphasize the trade-off: The gun’s chamber will probably need to be scrupulously clean to allow consistent extraction, you may need to have extraction/ejection work done. We recommend the Clark tube.