Dust off that old Ruger 10/22 and break out the torque wrench. Whether you’re a squirrel hunter, plinker, or competitive shooter, some key aftermarket parts plus elbow grease can take your rimfire rifle from minute-of-soda-can to sub-minute-of-angle. Here are the best upgrades, tweaks, and tips to make your new custom 10/22 shoot its best, listed in order from the biggest overall accuracy improvement—a new barrel—to the deep-in-the-weeds world of bolt tuning and 7,000 series aluminum receivers.
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The advice in this guide comes from Tony Kidd, of Kidd Innovative Designs; Joe Chacon, of the Auto Bench Rest Association; and Randy Steel, of Connecticut Precision Chambering—three of the best Ruger 10/22 gunsmiths in the country.
Ruger 10/22 Barrel Upgrade
No single upgrade will make a Ruger 10/22 shoot better than a new barrel. When shopping for them, it’s best to think in terms of price and end-use. A squirrel rifle or speed-game build can get away with a short 16.5-inch sporter contour. But for benchrest and long-range work, stick to the popular .920 profiles in the 18- to 20-inch range. Green Mountain Rifle Barrel Co. is the first stop for most Ruger 10/22 builders. They make affordable barrels that are comparatively very accurate. Stainless barrels typically cost more than blued tool steel, but don’t believe that makes them better. “4140 tool steel heat treats better than stainless, and you can’t rub the throat out with a brush,” Steel says. KIDD barrels are also highly regarded. They run from $175 to $240 depending on length and features like threaded muzzles and fluting. Feddersen is another excellent barrel in the sub-$200 price range, but when it comes to the very best, Shilen stands alone. They run $275 to more than $350, and hold a pile .22LR titles and records.
Ruger 10/22 Mods for the Trigger
After barrels, triggers are the next best bang-for-buck upgrade when souping-up a Ruger 10/22. The Ruger BX Trigger is great for the money, but they’re not all created equal. Instead of buying one online, go to a gun store, and try each one on the shelf. The packaging on the BX trigger allows you to feel the trigger pull without taking it out of the box. It’s possible to find a gem in the rough by pulling them all.
The undisputed King of 10/22 triggers is the two-stage KIDD. It runs from 6 ounces for benchrest work to 2.5 pounds for a hunting gun, but it costs almost $300. The Calvin Elite from Timney is equally spendy and brings adjustable length of pull, cast, and height to the table. (Set at 2 pounds, this is my go-to squirrel trigger.) It’s also possible to tune-up a stock Ruger 10/22 trigger with parts from Volquartsen. Or you can send your trigger group to CPC or Brimstone Gunsmithing for a $100 overhaul. Both do excellent work.
Ruger 10/22 Stock Upgrades
The best barrel in the world won’t shoot straight if it’s not in a good stock and correctly bedded. And beware of the current trend toward ridged aluminum chassis if your goal is ultimate accuracy, Chacon says. “Wood and fiberglass, their hybrids, they all dampen vibration. Now think about how much vibration happens when a 10/22 fires. That bolt is slamming back and forth. Put that on top of metal, and you have a giant vibrator. It kills barrel harmonics,” he says.
It’s hard to beat Boyds Gun Stocks for laminate woods or McMillian for fiberglass. (I’ve seen big improvements by simply taking a factory synthetic-stocked Ruger 10/22 and dropping it in a Pro Varmint from Boyds—their most popular 10/22 stock upgrade.) The Magpull Hunter X-22 is an excellent synthetic stock and very light, which can’t be said for wood laminates. It says something that Kidd puts most of his rifles in Magpuls. The Victor Titan, which has an anchor for a rear tang and second action screw (more on that later), is easily the most popular NRL22 competition 10/22 stock out there.
Once your new Ruger 10/22 stock is selected, it needs to be bedded for peak performance. Bedding is about joining the action to the stock perfectly and most smiths do that with an epoxy bedding process. I’ve had success with the Wheeler Bedrock Glass Bedding Kit, but it’s also easy to screw up a perfectly good rifle. Chacon—and many other gunsmiths—will bed a Ruger 10/22 for $100-$150, which is a helluva deal.
How to Upgrade a 10/22 Bolt
Bolt tuning for optimal ignition and extraction can get complicated quick, but it’s possible to do some of the work yourself. For starters, put some white grease on the bolt, then run it a few times by hand in the receiver. Pull the bolt out and you’ll see where it rubs the receiver. Polish those touch points for a slicker action. Volquartsen sells a popular Bolt Tune-Up kit, which includes a wider, hardened firing pin, a much-improved sharper extractor, and springs. KIDD sells excellent bolt handles and guide rod springs. (The heavier plus 10-percent spring is a must if you want to regularly shoot high-velocity ammo accurately.) If you need to buy a bolt outright, the KIDD and Volquartsen bolts are excellent, or you can go with the JWH Custom, which Chacon likes. It comes in a variety of engraving options. Though many world-class Ruger 10/22s use tuned up stock Ruger bolts, which gunsmith Steel will do for about $50—see below.
How to Select a Ruger 10/22 Receiver
Ruger 10/22 receivers do the job, and they can be easily slicked-up internally with a green Scotch-Brite pad and some elbow grease. But if you want to swap it out, remember the receiver is the ATF-stamped “firearm,” so they can only be bought through an FFL transaction. If you’re willing to go through the trouble, consider the steel Elite 22 from Tactical Innovations and the gorgeous but spendy nickel-bronze receiver from Fedderson. Both have machined-in pic rails, which are great unless you want to shoot very long and need an MOA rail. (One workaround here is the Burris Xtreme Tactical rings with the plus 5 to 40 MOA ring inserts.) A brand-new company, Azimuth Precision, is now making 7075-T6 aluminum receivers and barreled actions. 7075 is much stronger than the 6061 aluminum, and it doesn’t weigh 1.5 pounds like stainless steel and steel alloys. Their AZTP-22 also has a dual bolt rail—something Ruger discontinued after three years—which Azimuth says eliminates bolt canting under pressure. Many Ruger 10/22 upgrade-nerds are excited about this new company, and my early impressions are A-plus.
Rear Tangs for a Ruger 10/22
The rear tang is either the best thing to happen to 10/22s since CCI Standard or an unnecessary waste of money, depending on who you talk to. Stock Ruger 10/22s and their clones have one takedown screw, located behind the v-block that holds the barrel to the receiver. Some believe this isn’t enough to prevent the action from seesawing in the stock, especially if the barrel is free-floated. Kidd created and sells the rear tang and many quality stock makers like McMillian and Victor inlet their stocks for the second screw. While this undeniably makes the connection between the action and stock stronger, Chacon and Steel say it doesn’t help accuracy, assuming the rifle is properly bedded. “If the rifle is for a rough competition, like three-gun where you’re throwing it in a barrel, do the rear tang, but if not, save your money,” Chacon says. But, I’ve never met anyone with a rear tang in their 10/22 who didn’t love it and consider it a huge and necessary improvement. The part only costs $22. The bigger issue is drilling out your existing receiver, but with a will, and a drill press, it can be done.
Top Optics for a 10/22
My go-to .22 LR scope is the Nikon Prostaff P3 Target EFR 3-9×40. At $190, it’s an incredible value with good glass, parallax adjustment down to 10 yards, a 1/8-inch target dot, and enough elevation control to connect at 200 yards. It fast became my first choice for plinking and small game hunting. Dedicated bench guys who want peak power love the discontinued Weaver T-36, which you can still find online for under $500, and the affordable Sightmark CPX and Latitude Line. For NRL22, any of the PRS centerfire scopes work well—but if you really want to pull out all the stops, throw down for a Nightforce 7-35×567 ATACR with the Mil XT reticle. It focuses down to less than 10 yards, so it works great on close in targets.
How to Build a 10/22
If you’ve gotten this far, I’ll assume you’re 10/22 is scattered all over the workbench and needs to be reassembled—and reassembling it correctly is critically important.
First, get a good torque wrench. (The FAT Wrench for Wheeler is good enough.) For the v-block screws, which hold the barrel to the receiver, Ruger recommends 20 inch-pounds, but Kidd takes his to only 10 inch-pounds. “All you want that v-block to do is keep the barrel from coming out,” he says. “Over tighten it, and you’re inducing stress.” Stress kills accuracy.
Action screw torque can have a big effect on rimfires, so research your specific stock, then experiment. Kidd torques all his Magpul-stocked rifles to 30 inch-pounds. I have a hard laminate stock with aluminum pillars and a good glass bed that does best with 40 inch-pounds. Ruger recommends 20 inch-pounds on most of their guns. Raven Eye Custom titanium screws are much better than stock.
Once the gun is assembled, make sure the barrel is free-floated. Some people will say a 10/22 needs a “pressure pad” up toward the tip of the stock pressing on the barrel, but as Chacon says, “that’s 1940s technology.” Kidd and Steel agree. If the barrel doesn’t float, wrap sandpaper around a 7/8-inch dowel and work the channel until four thicknesses of printer paper easily slip between barrel and stock. A dollar bill fit isn’t enough.
10/22s don’t need much lube, but there are a few important touch points. “Just a couple drops of oil on the top of the receiver, because the bolt rides there. And add some grease to the back of bolt, because the hammer puts a lot of pressure on the bolt there,” Kidd says. He likes to use TW25B grease.
If the action feels less than perfectly slick, work it some more with a green Scotch-Brite, then give it a quick blast of Hornady One-Shot dry lube. Then get shooting.
So, you spent more money than you planned, put it all together, and the gun still shoots like hell. You may need professional help. These are the men to call.
The Best Gunsmith for an Inexpensive Ruger 10/22 Tune Up
This is the best deal in the entire 10/22 universe. The accurizing package at Connecticut Precision Chambering includes a ¼-inch barrel setback, a re-chamber, and a chamber polish. The barrel is then hand-lapped and re-crowned concentric to the bore. The barrel tenon is cut oversized for a perfect receiver fit, then the receiver is deburred, squared, and the barrel hole is recut straight. The bolt is squared and headspaced. Then, the backside is radiused for better cycling with sub-sonic match loads. Contact points on the bolts are polished, and the firing pin is pinned to remove any vertical movement. CPC did a similar tune-up on a 77/22 magnum for me, and the rifle now shoots quarter-sized groups at 50 yards. The man should be canonized.
The Best Gunsmith for a Full Custom Ruger 10/22
Joe Chacon builds the most accurate 10/22s in the world. Except for the magazine, nothing about his guns are normal. Even the magazine release springs are swapped out. He starts with a stainless-steel Elite 22 receiver, matched to a JWH Custom bolt and fit with a two-stage KIDD trigger. He then turns, chambers, laps, and fits four-groove blanks from Shilen or Douglas. Then he goes to work on the small parts, tuning and polishing for perfect ignition before bedding in custom-made Tony Mele benchrest stocks—though they’re now working on a new design for NRL22. Chacon test fires many of his builds in the ammo tunnels at Lapua in Mesa, Arizona and Eley in Winters, Texas, so his rifles, which start around $2,000, come with lot numbers of the best ammo to hunt down. He’ll fix your screwed up 10/22, too, and he’s a world-class talker. Block out two hours, give him a call, and prepare to learn more about autoloading rimfires than you ever thought possible.