A Case for the Pipsqueak .22lr AR-15

Great guest post today from a Vietnam Veteran, career firearms instructor, and friend. He makes the case for purchasing a .22lr AR-15. See what you think.

But before we get there, special thanks to BePreparedNow.net for their ad purchase. Visit them and use coupon code “shtf” for a 10% discount on your order.

– Ranger Man

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You’re prepared for the worst. You have a black rifle, several hundred rounds, spare magazines and an assault case. Possibly, you’ve bolted some accessories on to your AR-15 so all contingencies will be covered. But, here’s a thought: Can you actually shoot this thing?

Drilling cans at 20 yards is fun. Tiny groups shot from sand bags at 100 yards are fulfilling. But, how do these activities translate to the real reasoning behind your purchase? And, can you really afford to burn up several hundred rounds of .223 within a short period. Heck, do you even have access to a spot where that amount of noise will be tolerated? A friend recently bought 500 rounds of foreign, steel-cased .223 ammo. He “only” paid $120 for it. He’ll go through a few 20-round boxes now and then, being careful not to blast through his whole stash at once. Just about all of his shooting will be inside 100 yards and his targets won’t know how fast the bullets are going. The things he’ll be aiming at are likely to be bigger than aspirin tablets, which beg the question; couldn’t you do most this with a .22?

Well, as it turns out, you probably could – and for a whole lot less money. A Federal 525 Pack at Wally World will net you change from a $20 bill. Crunching some numbers and depending upon how often you shoot, a .22 rim-fire version of your Ninja rifle could conceivably pay for itself in short order. With some planning, we might even consider this extra shooting “training”. Worse case, it’ll be a whole bunch of fun. It’s possible to fire .22 Long Rifle ammunition through an AR-15, using several options.

Conversion units: The .224 diameter bore of a 5.56mm/.223 is awfully close to a .223-diameter .22 Long Rifle. Using replacement bolt assemblies it’s possible to quickly insert a .22 conversion unit simply by pulling the rear disassembly pin, separating the upper/ lower receivers and withdrawing your bolt. The rim-fire units will drop right in, feeding from a special magazine that locks into the center-fire well. It’s quick and simple, although accuracy may not be guilt-edge due to the slightly oversize barrel and quick rifling twist. Many 5.56mm barrels run 1×7 through 1×9, whereas a .22 normally has 1×16 rifling. Regardless, you’ll need to re-zero, too. Also, lots of shooting may foul your gas system, although plated bullets supposedly reduce lead accumulations to some extent. The big advantage is cost which should be south of $200.

Dedicated upper receivers: Pulling both disassembly pins, we can swap out upper receivers and shoot cheap ammo to our heart’s content, using a complete .22 LR assembly with its rim-fire magazine. Cost will be higher than a simple conversion kit, but leaded gas systems won’t be a concern and accuracy may be better. A few things to watch out for: Most designs won’t lock open on the last shot and function may be a problem with match triggers. On a positive note your rim-fire upper can have its own aiming system, so re-zeroing won’t be necessary. The same familiar lower can be used with either upper, too. Prices start above $300, running to S500 or beyond.

Complete rifles: I chose this route when S&W began selling .22 AR-15 clones. Cost isn’t a whole lot higher than a dedicated upper and function is identical to the real McCoy. Unlike other new toys, I was on auto-pilot during the first range session, thanks to similar controls and overall design. The S&W M&P 15-22 is mostly polymer but seems well thought out. You’ll get a quad-rail for accessories, flat-top receiver, QD sights, collapsible stock and the same easy push-pin disassembly. Cleaning is a snap thanks to a simplified bolt without a gas system. Two deleted items are the forward-assist and dust-cover. S&W designed the lower receiver so that it won’t accept any center-fire uppers; however pistol grips, triggers and after-market stocks will fit. In other words plenty of latitude is available for customization.

Actually, I’ve had two S&W M&P-22s. The first, pictured above, was an early specimen without a flash-cage. Accuracy was mediocre and I blew the extractor out while firing Winchester .22 Xperts. Retrieving a magnet I keep on the range for such purposes, I was somehow able to recover all 3 small parts, which were easily reassembled at the house. Some internet research revealed similar episodes with this load and, since then, I’ve talked to a few others who experienced a similar problem. The fired case was ruptured near its rim indicating some sort of out-of-battery discharge. That’s why we should always wear glasses when shooting.

A second M&P 15-22 MOE version replaced the first. It has a Magpul collapsible stock, Magpul pistol grip and an A-2 flash-cage. Its GI trigger is rough but accuracy is MUCH better. At 50 yards, Federal Gold Medal Target consistently cut 5-shot groups of around an inch. My first version shot groups nearly twice that size at half the distance. Both rifles functioned perfectly with inexpensive Federal 525-pack ammo, which are guaranteed to go downrange in quantity. Extra 25-shot magazines are affordable but somewhat fiddly to load. Shooting off sandbags proved difficult because of their length. They contact the bench, but a shorter 10-shot magazine solved that problem nicely. S&W uses a proprietary design and not the Black Dog Machine version employed by others.

Although originally procured as a trainer, my little .22 AR-15 assumed additional roles. A Safariland RLS light slid onto the left forend rail for easy mounting. A spare QD Rock River one-piece scope base clamped securely onto the receiver. It holds a Burris 1.75×5 scope and an inexpensive Walther dot-sight is a second aiming option. Lately, the dot sight gets the most use. I’ve employed it several times to repel four-legged invaders, including “Skunk-Zillah”, whose lawn destroying days are finally over. This episode didn’t help our subsequent July 4th cookout one bit, but you couldn’t pick a more efficient rig for emergency nocturnal critter countermeasures. I just leave the light on the forend with a 25-round magazine full of Federal HVHPs nearby. In fact the little S&W, with its familiar manual-of-arms, has turned into my “bump in the night” gun. Yeah, I know, it’s a .22 – but it holds 25 shots and I won’t be blind or deaf if I need to touch it off.

Pulling both receiver pins, the disassembled rifle will fit in a spotting scope case for compact transportation. Adding two bricks of ammo and a few magazines, you could have a very compact and portable subsistence package capable of discretely harvesting small game. With its threaded muzzle the S&W can accept 1/2x 28 suppressors. My IR illuminator and night-scope hook right on, raising some interesting possibilities for nocturnal varmint control.

Occasionally, I’ll bring a brick of .22s to the range and run through a 100-yard qual-course or some CQB drills. Steel reactive targets get peppered but not destroyed, and the shooting definitely transfers to 5.56. For this reason, I chose the S&W .22 with identical features, including last-shot lock-back. You can surf the net to see who else is making rim-fire ARs. The list is growing and it’s possible to spend a good chunk of money on a more substantially-built example from companies like DPMS, Olympic Arms, etc.

Run the numbers to decide whether a .22 AR-15 is worthwhile. You won’t stay sharp if you don’t shoot, and a rim-fire clone just might pay for itself if you do.

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BTW: this guy is looking for a pen name. Help him out. Which is best? Three choices:

A) The Professional

B) Old Soldier

C) Gunacologist