The accepted level of 22 lr performance among experienced shooters is around an inch group or less at 50 yards. Any rifle / ammo combo that can deliver less than an inch is considered to be shooting well.
Occasionally, you will find a combo that will get close to a half inch at 50 yards. This is normally considered to be driving tacks.
Two inch groups at 100 yards is considered to be very very good with 3-4 inches being closer to the norm and being able to hold all shots in a 4 inch circle at 200 is considered to be excellent performance.
Can a 22lr do better than any of these examples?
I personally have been able to obtain performance at the lower end of the ranges mentioned above, but there is a young man named James who has a youtube channel called STKO that has been able to get a one half inch group at 100 yards out of a 10/22 build that cost him around $380.
Before discussing what he did to get this level of performance, watch the video below for yourself.
James has other videos on his channel highlighting his interest in maximizing accuracy from a 22 lr rifle. He has a different approach to accuracy and therefore different beliefs in what factors really determine accuracy. They are very interesting and you should check them out. Just type in STKO in the youtube search bar to see all of his work.
Another one of his theories is to sort ammo, not by length, but by diameter that better matches your chamber and barrel. It’s hard to argue with results.
How was this level of accuracy obtained?
James used a standard Ruger action and bolt for his build but that was about all that was designed for a better level of performance.
The Adams and Bennett barrel he used was equipped with a bench chamber meaning tolerances were machined to be very tight.
Although the CCI standard velocity ammo he used worked quite well you probably wouldn’t be able to use just any ammo with this chamber. But with this kind of accuracy why would you need anything else?
His BX trigger, polished down to 1 lb was definitely a plus. In my opinion this is a little light if you will be using the rifle for hunting. You can use a light trigger for hunting but when it is this light, you must practice with it to prevent shots being fired before you intend it. Believe me, when you are focused on watching an animal to get a clear humane shot, a light trigger can detonate the shot well before you are ready if you are not accustomed to it.
The scope level to prevent canting I believe really contributed to this small group. There is no way to reach this level of performance with a canted scope even at distances as short as 100 yards.
He was using a good optic for this rifle and purpose which in my mind is step one of shooting tiny groups at any distance. The better you can see the cross hairs in relation to your aim point, the tighter your groups will be.
The optic he used was a Center Point 3-12×44 PLT which is not a very expensive top of the line scope, but as long as it holds zero, which apparently it does on a 22lr, it is all you need. James commented on the clarity of the optics at 100 yards and seemed to be completely satisfied with it. You can get one for less than $100. Check it out here on Amazon.
The primary thing he did, and I believe it had the largest impact on group size was tuning the barrel for his ammo. I am not sure what material he used for the dampeners but his set up appeared to be two bands of probably some type of tape in certain locations on the barrel.
If you are not familiar with barrel tuning, this technique is widely known by benchrest and long range shooters alike as a means of controlling barrel whip. Yes, you barrel does exhibit a whipping motion as the bullet moves through it. The movement is ever so slight and you won’t see it with your naked eye.
Where the muzzle is when the bullet exits determines the bullet path. These very small movements at the muzzle make huge differences down range in where the bullet impact. The more consistent this movement, and the more consistent the position of the barrel when the bullet exits, the more accuracy you can attain.
This is true for both center fire and rim fire firearms. The shorter the barrel the less whipping it experiences during the shot until you get to the point that powder burn and stabilization of the bullet is affected.
A quick explanation of how a tuner works is it absorbs vibrations from the barrel. Depending on where it is located on the barrel, it will change the whipping action. Tuning the barrel is just a matter of firing shots with the tuner at different locations on the barrel and determining which location yields the best accuracy.
I have written an article that goes into much more detail on this subject here, but for now, just trust me. Barrel tuners work and can greatly improve your group sizes from any rifle using just about any ammo.
A barrel tuner is very cheap and can be obtained from Amazon at this link.
These are the ones I use. Although I have seen great improvement with these tuners, I can honestly say I have never gotten as good as one half inch at 100 yards. Probably more my technique than the rifle. But I have been able to pretty easily get under one inch at 100 yards.
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I will put James’ accomplishment in the outstanding category. This kind of group at 100 yards – in the wind – and shooting as fast as he shot this group, doesn’t happen very often. At my age I am not sure I can ever top this performance but the fun is in trying.