27 January 2024

No One Makes a Traditional, High Quality .22 Rifle in the US Anymore

 I've been enjoying my Smith and Wesson model 17, that you can read more about it here but started thinking about getting a rifle to pair it up with. I don't know what I would get but I know that I want it to be just as nice and high quality as the S&W. The deep and high polish bluing on the barrel, frame and cylinder are gorgeous. A rifle to match needs to have the same deep, beautiful bluing and pretty wood stocks. That shouldn't be all that hard to find right? What options are out there? Let's setup some parameters. First is the styling. High polished, blued steel and wood stocks. That's easy enough but I'd like it to be US made. That's all we're looking for. A perfect match to what Smith and Wesson did with the model 17.

If we think over the old US brands like Remington, Winchester, Browning and Savage, if the brand is making rimfire rifles, none of them are US made. For example, Remington has not yet started making a rimfire rifle since the return from the bankruptcy. Winchester and Browning brand rimfire rifles aren't made in the US. The Winchester Wildcat is made in Turkey but I can't confirm if that's the case with the Xpert or the new Ranger lever action. Browning's .22 rifles, other than the Buck Mark, are made by Miroku in Japan (they are well made by the way). Mossberg's .22 rifles are made in Brazil. 

Screens shot of the Browning website

The Buck Mark rifle doesn't fit into our category as it's not a high polish bluing. It's also not traditionally laid out. So make that one more requirement. Basically, we're looking for something like either a US made Browning T-Bolt or a current production Marlin 39A. Neither of those exist currently.

Browning's T-bolt Sporter straight pull rimfire (from their product page)

Well as we have seen, the T-bolt is made in Japan. The Marlin isn't made anymore sadly. CZ, who makes one of my favorite rimfires, the 457, is operating in Czechia (formerly the Czech Republic). You would think then that Savage, of all the old guard, are still making these rifles in the US, right? Negative. The rimfire rifles are made in the home of the maple leaf, Canada. Well, shucks. 

Who else is left? Ruger and Henry are the only big names with rifles that match the criteria. They are, as of January 2024, the only two big manufactures of rimfire rifles making the guns here in the USA, or so I thought. Smith and Wesson, Christensen Arms, Volquartson, Vudoo Rifleworks, Keystone Arms, TPS, Keltec and other are making .22 LR rifles in the US. I had plum forgot outright until I started thinking it over. None of them have the deep bluing and wood stocks I'm looking for. 

That blows my mind. 

Alright then. What's wrong with the Henry or the Ruger? They're inexpensively made. They are not on the same "level" as the Smith and Wesson is. I'm not saying the Henry's or Ruger rifles are bad. I have both the H001 and Ruger American Rimfire. I enjoy both rifles. 

The Henry has the aesthetic I'm looking for but if you do a close inspection of the parts and how the rifle is made, the Model 17 revolver is a wildly different product. The inside parts of the Henry are a sort of internal frame. The actual receiver is not a finely polished and machined part. It's also not the part you see. The outside part where you put the scope is actually a shell. In the image above, the two screws seen on the rifles side are two of five screws that when undone, allow access to the inside of the rifle. It slides up and off. The engineering is clever and helps keep costs down but it's not the same machined quality like the Smith and Wesson revolver is. 

Ruger is doing sort of the same thing with the American Rimfire. My current RAR had issues with the sights indicating issues with quality control. I could make mine work but a gunsmith would have to fill in the holes where the front and rear sight go then re-blue and change the stock entering into the world of custom guns. I would have to replace the synthetic stock. While the rifle is accurate, again, it's just not the same as the Smith and Wesson revolver in terms of quality and craftsmanship. My 10/22 is also not the same quality as the Model 17. 

I started asking around and so far, no one has come up with an answer other than find a used Marlin 39A or similar older gun. I won't say that a firearm has to be expensive to be good. That's just not true but you do pay for quality guns. 

I haven't decided on a companion rifle yet but I do know that the Marlin 39A over the last year or so, has become a sort of bucket list gun for me. My biggest worry is that the Marlin 39A has become a sort of unicorn gun, mythical maybe, to many in the gun community. Ever since the Remington bankruptcy, Marlin stopped making those rifles. If you want one, it's going to be used. You may end up paying over $1000 for a rifle that you have to put money into. Thankfully, Gun Broker has many options for the 39A but I'm looking into other options. Remington used to make a really nice rifle called the 547 in their custom shop. It would be nice to see Remington get back to work but when I talked to Remington, they didn't have anything they shared coming up, so no rimfires from Remington just yet. I'm also looking around for custom makers but I wonder if Marlin will bring back the 39A before I actually can afford something. 

Speaking of custom options, I think I found one. Parkwest Arms announced recently that they are going to release a made to order bolt action .22 LR called the SD-22. There aren't many details so far. The images they posted on Instagram show a case hardened receiver which is a fine alternative to the deep bluing. Currently, the barrel appears to be a matte finish but I'm pretty sure you'd be able to request a polished blue. I spoke with Jason at Parkwest Arms and confirmed a few details. The base price of the rifle is $5995. The receiver and bolt are completely made in-house and can be ordered in right or left handed. For mounting a scope, the rifle includes Talley bases. The wood stock is an absolutely stunning Claro walnut that's been hand rubbed for a shiny oiled finish. It includes a 1/2 inch recoil pad. There is also checkering included. 

The barrel on the SD-22 comes from Shilen uses a sport contour with a Bentz chamber. That specific chamber keeps things accurate while still being able to use most ammunition sold on the market. Usually its geared toward semi-auto rifles. 

To achieve what I am looking for, I would add the high polish option and 1/2x28 threading. The polishing is an additional $975 and the threaded in $175. I'm looking at around $7200. If you were interested in the case hardening, that's an additional $795. There is an entire list of additional options. 

If you are interested in the sort of rifle I'm looking for but want what is likely the highest quality .22 LR rifle made in the US with traditional furniture, you need to talk to Parkwest Arms. Sadly, that price tag is currently outside the price point of what this would be homesteader can afford. I was looking for something the average Joe can afford. 

Anyway, this was less about me buying something than it is about the loss of US manufacturing. Then again, that's old news. 

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