This article deals with basic semiautomatic rifle handling. The first article in this series–First Time Gun Buyers: What Do I Choose?–-focused on choosing a first handgun and rifle. The second—Basic Handgun Handling For First Time Buyers—Focused on, always, safety, basic handgun manipulation and cleaning and related issues. This article will focus on safety, basic rifle manipulation and cleaning and related issues. I will be repeating, for your convenience, a bit of the first article relating to rifle choice.
This is the ubiquitous Ruger 10-22. It uses an excellent and rugged 10-round rotary magazine, is light weight, has a reasonably good, but non-adjustable, trigger and is quite accurate. It is also relatively easily taken down and reassembled for cleaning. I’ve depicted the least expensive, most basic carbine. One of the nice things about the 10-22 is there is a huge aftermarket in accessories of all kinds. I’d recommend finding one with a polymer stock, if possible. They cost a bit more, but they’re more durable than wood, and tend to be unaffected by weather. Wood stocks responding to weather changes can affect accuracy. Polymer stocks are also a bit lighter. All of Ruger’s 10-22 models may be found here.
Savage also makes a number of rifles with equally good rotary magazines. All of their rimfire offerings are here. The rifle depicted is the A22 FV-SR, which is a rifle with more standard features than the basic 10-22. I own this rifle because it comes with a standard Picatinny rail—for attaching all manner of red dot or optical sights—a polymer stock, and a heavier than usual barrel, which provides still better accuracy. I also like the design, which allows cleaning from the breech—where the bullet enters the chamber—rather than the muzzle—where the bullet leaves the barrel. Savage makes a number of rotary magazine .22LR rifles in their A22 series, as a visit to the link above will demonstrate.
For anyone contemplating one day owning an AR-15, a good first rifle choice is the Smith & Wesson, M&P (Military and Police) 15-22. It’s essentially a slightly scaled down AR-15. The controls and trigger are essentially identical to the AR-15 family, and its manual of arms and general function are essentially identical as well. Anyone familiar with the 15-22 will have no trouble stepping up to an AR-15. The primary difference is in weight and balance. The AR-15 also has an enormous number of accessories available on the aftermarket, and many of them will fit the 15-22.
The 15-22 “breaks down” for cleaning virtually identically to the AR-15 family, which is known for its ease of cleaning compared to “civilian” designs. The bolt groups are, of course, different, but anyone familiar with either weapon family will find the other very easy to use.
The 15-22 comes with accessory rails that make mounting optics of any kind very easy. It also comes with magazines of either 10 or 25 round capacity. Why 25 round magazines? It cuts down on reloading time on the range. They’re simply more convenient.
Keep in mind the 15-22 is going to be more expensive than many other guns on the market, including the 10-22 or the Savage A22 FV-SR.
For this article, we’ll be exploring the Savage A2, FV-SR. I chose this particular model because of its rotary magazine, medium heavy barrel, standard Picatinny rail, polymer stock, easy of cleaning and excellent Savage AccuTrigger, which is a standard feature of virtually all of Savage’s rifle offerings. With what are normally extra cost or aftermarket accessories, the FV-SR is more expensive than many .22LR rifle in the Savage line, and the base models in Ruger’s offerings, but less so than trying to equip a base model rifle with all of these features.
Basic—Universal—Firearm Safety Rules:
These basic rules apply to all firearm types in virtually all situations. If you follow them without exception, it is virtually impossible to have a negligent discharge: to fire when you did not intend to fire at something you did not intend to shoot.
1) All weapons must be treated as if they were not only loaded, but chambered: ready to fire.
2) Never point a weapon at something you do not intend to shoot/destroy, not even for a millisecond.
3) Keep your finger straight and in contact with the frame—“in register”—until a moment before you’re ready to fire.
4) Be absolutely sure of your target and what is beyond it.
Some authorities add a fifth caveat: keep all weapons on “safe” until it’s time to shoot. This is a good general principle, but doesn’t apply to all firearm models in all situations. I’ll explain shortly.
We’re focusing on semiautomatic, rather than bolt or lever action, rifles chambered for the .22LR cartridge. I trust you’ve read the first two articles in this series, taken the links therein, and if so, you have learned a great deal that will transfer directly to today’s topic.
Rifle and handgun “iron”—non-electronic or optical—sights are very similar and use the same principles. Rifle sights provide an advantage in that instead of a 4” or less sight radius (the distance between the front and rear sights) the sight radius of rifles is much longer, which makes long-range accuracy much easier. Generally speaking, it is easier to shoot accurately with a rifle than handgun. For iron sights, one aligns them in the same way illustrated in the second article of this series.
However, there are so many good and inexpensive red dot sights on the market, it makes a great deal of sense to choose one. The sight I’ve chosen for my rifle is this Tasco sight, which retails for around $40 dollars, and includes an integral mount that will fit Picatinny rails—the term for a standard sized sight/scope mount—and other types of common mounting systems. One can spend many times that amount of money on a red dot sight and get no better performance, though I am fond of the Vortex Crossfire sight, which retails for around $150 dollars, and use it on my higher priced carbines.
One looks through a red dot sight with both eyes open. It’s important to position the head so the right cheek—if the shooter is right handed—is solidly against the stock—does not move–and the red dot is centered in the circle made by the rear of the sight. Move the position of the cheek on the stock until it is centered, which may require moving the head up and down and/or forward and back on the stock. If it is not centered, left to right and up and down—windage and elevation, respectively–even if the sight is properly “sighted in,” the shooter is going to miss. The dot should be sharply focused—the target will generally be sharp as well—and the rear sight circle fuzzy.
With the cheek solidly in place, one moves the rifle stock—actually the muzzle–with the left—“off,” “support” or “weak” hand to place the dot on target. All red dot sights come with a switch, usually rotary, that allows the shooter to adjust the intensity of the dot. In darker conditions, one doesn’t need as bright a dot as one does in bright daylight. The Tasco has 11 separate brightness settings, and unlike some red dot sights, the dial works in both directions. One can start at “11” rather than working all the way up from “1.”
I’ll not get into mounting and sighting in a red dot sight as all come with instructions, and it’s not difficult to do either. Sharp-eyed readers may notice my Tasco sight has front and rear flip-up scope covers. They’re not absolutely necessary for a rifle that is cased—yes, you need a case–when not in use, but they’re inexpensive and handy, and they prevent lens damage.
All semiautomatic firearms operate on the same general principles. The primary difference between pistols and rifles is most pistols have a slide mounted on top of the frame that must be cycled by the off hand to chamber the first round. When that round is fired, the gasses generated cycle the slide, extracting the fired brass from the chamber and ejecting it through the ejection port. As the slide reaches the end of its backward travel, the recoil spring(s) force it forward.
The bolt catches and guides a fresh cartridge into the chamber and the slide locks into battery—it’s fully forward and ready to fire that fresh round. The complete cycling of the slide also cocks and “locks” the hammer or striker, making it ready to be released by the trigger to fire the next round. As I noted in the second article of this series, this process is very fast, essentially a blur.
The primary difference in this process between pistols and rifles is instead of a slide riding on top of a frame, rifles have receivers. Within the receiver, a bolt, which takes the function of a slide, rides on machined rails.
It too is driven by a recoil spring or springs, but must be initially cycled by means of a charging handle. Other than this difference, the process of firing, extracting, ejecting, cocking a hammer and stripping a fresh cartridge from a magazine and chambering it is essentially identical.
Many, perhaps most, .22LR rifles have a “crossbolt” safety positioned slightly above and forward of the trigger guard so the shooter can manipulate it with the trigger finger. For most, and this is true of the FV-SR, one pushes it to the left until it “clicks” and won’t move further, which puts the weapon on “fire.” Pushing it back to the right puts it on “safe.”
When a round is chambered, it’s generally a good idea to put the rifle on safe if one is putting it down to paste a new target or tackle another chore. Many ranges require all weapons be cleared and the bolt locked back before shooters go downrange to deal with targets.
The SV-SR, and most Savage rifles have the AccuTrigger, which is an excellent invention, which has since been somewhat copied by other manufacturers. The trigger can be set by the user from a 1.5 to 6 pound pull. This is a good thing as a light trigger enhances accuracy, while a heavy trigger makes it more difficult. The problem with a light trigger, however, is if a rifle is dropped, it may fire accidentally. The AccuTrigger solved that problem by including a Glock-like lever in the middle of the trigger face. Unless that lever is fully depressed—flush with the face of the trigger—the weapon cannot fire, even if dropped. Just like Glock handguns, one has to actually fully pull the trigger to fire the gun.
Loading the rotary magazines is simple, though new magazines might be a little stiff for the first few loading cycles. The front—where the bullets are oriented—of the magazine has the plastic latch that holds the magazine in the magazine well. The red plastic “follower” is also closest to the front. Positioning the magazine as illustrated above, merely place a cartridge with the base/rim to the rear, and applying leftward (to the rear of the magazine) and slightly backward pressure, push the cartridge fully to the rear of the magazine. Repeat until 10 rounds are loaded. Again, for a new magazine, you may only be able to easily load 9 rounds. Don’t force it; it will quickly loosen up when fired.
Charging The Rifle:
First, being sure your bolt is closed—fully forward—and the safety is on, insert the magazine into the rifle until you feel and hear a “click”. Bullets toward the front/muzzle! Remember, the magazine latch is at the front of the magazine. Push up on the front and rear ends of the magazine to ensure it is seated. If it is not, you may not chamber a round, or the magazine may fall out at an inopportune, embarrassing moment.
This photo illustrates the most common method of charging. Holding the rifle as though ready to fire, reach over the top of the rifle with the off hand, and cycle the charging handle fully to the rear, releasing it to chamber a round. As with handguns, do this “smartly,” never delicately. You’re trying to mimic the action as it fires. You can’t hurt the gun, but don’t try to do an Incredible Hulk impression. If the bolt won’t cycle smoothly, there’s something mechanically wrong.
As always muzzle awareness/control is very important. Never point any firearm at anything you don’t intend to destroy.
This photo illustrates the alternate way to charge your rifle. We are blessed with flexible wrists. Using the first charging method with optical or electronic sights can be pretty clumsy. Simply turn the rifle ejection port up, and cycle the slide the easy way. To lock the bolt to the rear, push up on the slide lock while cycling the bolt to the rear. To release the bolt, pull back on it and let if fly forward.
I’ll illustrate only the standing position. There are innumerable, easy to find, Internet sources for various prone and sitting positions. If you’re shooting on an established range, you’ll surely have tables and seats for seated shooting, which are helpful for sighting in a firearm. But for most, the standing position—and there are several of these as well—is what one first needs to know.
This is known as “low ready.” It’s where one should start. It allows the shooter to locate their target before pointing in to shoot.
This is the ready position. Notice the left shoulder and left side of body is turned toward the target. The feet are roughly shoulder width apart, and the body is upright, but relaxed. The right arm is not cocked upward so the forearm is parallel with the ground, but is allowed to drop to a comfortable, relaxed angle.
Notice too the left arm is even more relaxed, so to speak, with the elbow more or less pointing at the ground. The hand is open and the fore end rests on that open palm. I recommend this, rather than gripping the fore end, because one can pull the barrel off target that way, usually down and/or to the left. The FV-SR is not a heavy rifle, though it is heavier than base model .22LR rifles, and one can easily support the entire weight of the rifle by pulling the stock firmly into the shoulder “pocket” as illustrated. The off hand merely helps aim the weapon.
Notice the finger “in register,” not on the trigger, in all photos.
Notice too the stock is not fully in the shoulder pocket, that area of the body where the shoulder meets the chest. The shooter’s head should always be as fully upright as possible. Settle the stock into the pocket so that you can bring the sights up to the eye line of the shooter. Never hunch the neck downward to the sights. If you do this right, you’ll more or less automatically have a proper cheek weld, and the red dot will fall perfectly into the center of the circle—both eyes open.
But what about recoil? The .22LR in any rifle has very mild recoil indeed. While only about half of the buttplate of the stock is in contact with the shoulder, that’s more than enough to handle the miniscule recoil of the cartridge. More powerful cartridges, actual rifle cartridges, may require more of a forward lean in the body, but not the .22LR.
One should apply pressure with the shooting hand backward, to keep the butt of the rifle firmly in the shoulder pocket, and should always keep the cheek firmly in place on the stock to keep the sightline unchanged. As with any firearm, one should always squeeze, rather than jerk the trigger. The goal is always isolating the trigger finger from the hand. With any kind of sighting system, the shooter is going to see movement of the sights on the target. Movie depictions of rock steady scope crosshairs are unrealistic. Take a breath, let half of it off, and squeeze the trigger when the sights stabilize as much as possible. Repeat as necessary.
The general process for cleaning is explained in the second article of this series. The only real difference is a rod long enough for the barrel is required. There are two primary types: (1) a segmented aluminum rod that is threaded together for cleaning and unscrewed for storage. These are handy and relatively inexpensive, a good choice to begin. (2) a full length steel or aluminum rod, in one piece. These are a good choice too, but are generally much more expensive than a segmented rod.
Any rifle’s manual will provide the take down sequence for normal cleaning. One of the reasons I chose the FV-SR is all one need do for normal cleaning is remove the top cover, which allows you to remove the recoil spring assembly and the bolt. The bolt and breech—the back end of the barrel where cartridges are chambered—can then be cleaned. Q-tips are a wonderful invention for this purpose. It is not necessary to remove the Barrel/receiver—they’re—attached—from the stock. To remove the recoil spring assembly and bolt from a Ruger 10-22, for example, one must remove the receiver/barrel from the stock. This involves removing only one or two screws, so it’s not a big deal, and the S&W 15-22 is even easier to clean than either of these rifles. Removing the receiver/barrel of the FV-SR requires removing only two screws, the second of which is visible/accessible when the top cover is removed.
However, .22LR ammunition is “dirty,” it leaves quite a bit of powder fouling, so depending on how many rounds are fired, it’s a good idea to remove the FV-SR’s receiver/Barrel from the stock for easier access and a more complete cleaning. It’s what I do. The other advantage of the FV-SR over the 10-22 is one can clean the barrel from the breech rather than the muzzle. The same is true for the 15-22. Any damage to the muzzle adversely affects accuracy.
One interesting feature of the FV-SR, which is becoming more and more common on contemporary firearms, is a threaded muzzle. These are commonly provided with a thread protector, and allow the attachment of suppressors, muzzle breaks, flash hiders and similar accessories. It’s a good idea to apply a bit of blue LocTite thread locker, available at any hardware store or Home Depot-type store, to keep the thread protector from unscrewing itself as the gun is fired.
Cost is always an issue, but I recommend one save a bit longer to get a better gun. Gun shops are full of people who bought a cheap gun, and are back, after gaining experience, to get what they really should have bought in the first place.
Keep in mind Savage, and other manufacturers, make a wide variety of .22LR rifles, many of good quality, though quite inexpensive. Cheaper guns will tend to have box, rather than rotary, magazines.
For actual firing issues, visit the second article in the series. The same procedures apply.
New shooters firing a quality .22 rifle will be surprised and pleased with their potential accuracy and the ease of attaining it. These really are fun guns.
Be safe, welcome to one of the oldest and most important American rights and traditions, and enjoy the sheer joy of shooting.