In this head-to-head bolt-action test, the Ruger 77/22-R outshoots and has more features than Remington’s 541-T.
Hunting small-game animals like squirrels and rabbits demands accuracy and reliable performance in guns that shoot the .22 LR cartridge, and there are many guns that fill the bill. In a recent shopping search, we located a host of guns that would likely make good hunter rifles, exhibiting minute-of-angle accuracy at 50 yards. Those guns ranged from $175 for a Marlin Model 25 to $700 for a Kimber single shot. But we wanted neither the top of the ladder or the bottom; instead, what we were looking for were rifles that would satisfy an adult hunter with their accuracy and function, but still not cost an arm and a leg.
Those points made us settle on the $399 Ruger 77/22-R and the $399 Remington 541-T. The Remington 541-T is already a favorite hunting rifle because it combines light weight with a reputation for accuracy. Like the 541-T, the Ruger 77/22-R has a strong lineage on the centerfire side, and we wondered if the rimfire 77/22 (which the R in its name designates) would function as well as the company’s full-bore game rifles. Also, we were curious if the shorter 20-inch barrel on the 77/22-R had any effect on accuracy or velocity when compared to the 24-inch tube on the 541-T. It’s a common belief among hunters that shorter rifle barrels produce lower velocities, and we decided to see if that adage held for rimfires.
All range accuracy data was collected at 50 yards from a solid bench using the Hughes Products Ballistic Bench Shooting Bag. Average accuracy data was a compilation of five-round groups, and we shot 10-shot strings through an Oehler 35P at 10 feet to collect chronograph figures. The guns were cleaned with Pro-Shot Lead & Powder Solvent and then fouled between each load tested. Here’s how the two rifles performed.
Ruger Model 77/22-R:
Short Barrel, Big Results
Ruger’s successful 77/22 series contains several models chambered for the .22 Long Rifle round. The Ruger Model 77/22R, which we tested, had a smooth, tapered barrel without iron sights. The 77/22-RS has iron sights, and there are other configurations and barrel weights available. The 77/22-R catalog number 7002 has an MSRP of $473, but our gun retailed for $399.
The most important facet of a gun’s performance is where it puts the rounds. The 77/22-R shot all our test ammunition under 1.5 inches at 50 yards. The best average group size came from CCI Mini-Mag at 1.07 inches. The overall average ended up at 1.22 inch, slightly better than the Remington 541-T.
With a lead in accuracy, we looked to see if the Ruger’s 20-inch barrel lost anything in velocity. If there was a large disparity, it could mean the difference between a rabbit toppled or a rabbit lost. However, the Ruger shot two of the five ammos we tested faster than the 541-T, and the other three brands showed about 1-percent velocity variations.
Features and finish, then, would decide which gun won the test. All metal on our test gun was blued, and the top of the receiver carried a matte finish, which reduced glare off the metal, a helpul feature on a field gun. Our test gun had a 20-inch tapered barrel with an outside diameter of 0.540 inch at the muzzle and 0.920 inch at the chamber. The trigger pull was creepy at 4.25 to 4.5 pounds and had too much overtravel. Adjustment screws on this trigger are not standard, so the shooter would need to enlist the help of a gunsmith to reduce the trigger-pull weight to around 3 pounds and install an overtravel stop screw.
The stock on our test gun was American walnut with a satin, nonglare finish that resembled hand-rubbed oil. It featured machine-cut checkering. A 0.5-inch-thick black-rubber-pad added to the buttstock gave the gun a 13.5-inch length of pull, about right for most shooters wearing hunting clothing. The barrel was not free-floated, and there was a 0.5-inch pressure point at the end of the barrel channel. We found no bedding between the receiver and the stock, which we would add to (hopefully) improve the gun’s accuracy in variable temperatures and humidity. Quick-detachable swivel studs were included, a big edge the gun held over the Remington. Another savings: The Ruger came with standard 1-inch rings that attached to the receiver’s integral mounting system.
The gun comes with one removable rotary magazine that holds 10 rounds. It sits flush with the bottom of the forend stock, which provides a comfortable place to rest the shooter’s palm, fingers, or fist.
Our Remington 541-T test gun, catalog number 29824, has a suggested retail price of $455. However, our sample actually retailed for $399. A number of cosmetic touches are reminiscent of centerfire products in the 700 BDL line: an American walnut stock with satin-polyurethane-finished stock, a black forend piece, machine-cut checkering on the forend and pistol grip, and a plastic buttpad and grip cap. The gun weighs 5.5 pounds without base and rings.
As we noted above, the 24-inch-barrel Remington 541-T ran slightly behind the Ruger in accuracy. Groups averaged from 1.28 inches with Federal American Eagle to 1.62 inches with Winchester High Velocity. The gun’s overall average was 1.36 inches. Another positive was its trigger, which broke crisply at 4.75 to 5 pounds with very little overtravel. Moreover, this trigger is completely adjustable and can be tuned down to break at 2 pounds.
That said, we also had problems with the trigger, along with other areas. At the bottom of the trigger shoe, a sharp edge caught the fingers of some testers, causing discomfort when we shot the gun a lot. A trigger with less curve and a slightly wider blade would take care of this problem. The barrel was not free-floated and did not have a pressure point. Free-floating the barrel, bedding the action, and installing a pressure point would improve the accuracy of this firearm, we believe. Sling swivel studs were not included, which is a big negative on a hunting gun. If you add the studs yourself, plan on spending $20 to $30 more just for the hardware. If a ‘smith does the work, figure on $50 to $60. The receiver is drilled and tapped, but we had to purchase Weaver bases and rings for $30 to mount our test scope.
Compounding these oversights, operationally the Remington had problems. The bolt opened with a gritty feel and didn’t display the smooth operation found in other Remington rifles we’ve tested. This rough, grinding feel was from the camming surface on the bolt body and the cocking piece on the firing pin. These two surfaces need to be smoother to eliminate the bolt-function problem. If you hire this work to be done, tack on still another $30 to bring the Remington up to snuff. The plastic five-round magazine, when locked in place, had too much up-and-down movement. If the shooter’s hand or another surface hit the magazine as the bolt closed, the bolt hit the back of the magazine and would not close on the last round in the magazine. At this point, the last round sat straight up in the magazine and failed to feed. Also, the magazine protruded from the bottom of the stock, offering an uneven surface on which to rest the gun.
Guns, Gear & Game Recommends
• The Ruger 77/22-R showed what we think are valuable characteristics in a small-game rifle. The integral scope base and accompanying rings, smooth operation of the bolt, and quick handling make this gun worth the money, in our estimation. However, the trigger does need to be worked to offer the optimum field performance.
• Based on the results we collected with our sample gun, we don’t recommend the Remington 541-T. Its bolt was rough, the magazine caused feeding problems, and it didn’t shoot quite as accurately as the Ruger. Also, providing a scope base, rings, and swivel studs would jack up the actual cost of the 541-T another $75 to $100. That’s money better spent elsewhere, in our view.