David E. Petzal's Budget Tips for Improving Your Shooting

The other night I figured out that, in the last 10 years, I have shot up roughly 10,000 rounds of .22 ammo. Some of this was fired in the course of testing rifles and cartridges, but the overwhelming amount was spent in practice, firing at paper targets.

Shooting, like any sport, is learned by repetition. That's why golfers hit buckets of balls and baseball players spend hours in the batting cage. But high-rep practice for riflemen presents a problem: If you shoot a lot of centerfire ammo, you will end up broke, deaf, and foolish.

The answer is an accurate .22 rimfire rifle that will allow you to drill thousands and thousands of holes in paper with manageable noise, no recoil, and bearable expense.

WHY PAPER? Most people plink with .22s because shooting at tin cans is fun. But fun, like elk liver, is good only in very small amounts. What you need is not fun, but a paper target, which will talk to you and say things such as "Your shooting really needs some work."

If I haven't shot for a while, I usually gape in horror at the first target I shoot, and then watch the increasingly tighter groups as I slowly get back to where I should be. I divide my practice between the kneeling and offhand positions. Kneeling, I believe, is the most useful of all the positions. It's not as steady as sitting, but is faster to get into, pretty stable, and it gets you up above the weeds and the brambles so you can see your target. Offhand is the toughest position by a mile, and distressingly often, a hunt hinges on your being able to shoot from it.

WHAT KIND OF RIFLE? The best .22 is the one that most closely resembles your big-game rifle. It should be accurate, which these days means being able to put five shots into a quarter at 25 yards from a rest. It should also have a good scope, not some piece of junk that you bought at a yard sale.

When you get your rifle, you should then invest in a box of every kind of .22 ammo you can lay your hands on and go shoot some test groups. You'll find that there is a huge difference in accuracy between different makes and types of ammo. Then, when you've determined what shoots best, buy a brick of it, which is 500 rounds. If you're really dedicated, you can get a case, which is 5,000. Don't worry about wearing out your barrel; a .22 rimfire barrel, given proper care, will give you 500,000 rounds of first-class accuracy before the groups start to widen.

RIFLES OF CHOICE

Here, in alphabetical order, are some of the .22s I've shot and think highly of (bear in mind that I haven't shot everything that's out there). Prices are suggested retail, but remember that there are used versions of most of these rifles that you can get for much less:

[Anschutz 1416D] Although it's not the most attractive rifle, Gott in himmel, does this bolt action shoot. $756

[Cooper Model 57-M Classic] This semicustom bolt action is at the top in looks, accuracy, and price. $1,100

[Kimber Classic] One more bolt action that costs a lot of money and is worth every cent, Kimber's Classic is a lovely rifle of superlative accuracy. $949

[Marlin Model 39A] This lever action has been around forever, and deservedly so--a wonderful, ageless rifle. $552

[New Ultra Light Arms Model 20 Rimfire] With a synthetic stock only, this bolt action costs lots of money but achieves accuracy that will make you light-headed. $850

[Remington 504] Remington's brand-spanking-new bolt-action rifle is the bee's knees. $710

[Ruger 10/22 Target Rifle] Everyone else was souping up the 10/22 Autoloader, so Ruger decided to join in the fun: fine accuracy, modestly priced. $425

[Savage Mark II BV] This heavy-barreled bolt action will win no prizes for looks but delivers accuracy all out of proportion to its cost. $248

[Thompson/Center Classic] It's an auto that will outshoot most bolt actions, looks great, and doesn't cost nearly what it's worth. $370

[Winchester Model 52 B] Winchester reintroduced what was probably the best .22 bolt-action sporter ever made. $662

GUN NEWS

What is S.659, and why should you do your level best to see that it passes? For details, go to fieldandstream.com/shooting.