THE FAMILY RIFLE
From the Brand-New Beginner to the Advanced Shooter, We Assemble One Rifle for the Whole Family
FROM THE BRAND-NEW BEGINNER TO THE ADVANCED SHOOTER, WE ASSEMBLE ONE RIFLE
FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY
Selecting your child’s first rifle should be a deliberate decision. Questions of who, what, where, and when vary based on the maturity of the youngster, as well as the dynamic of your family. We won’t tell you what age is appropriate — we’ve seen 8-year-olds conscientious enough to safely handle a weapon, while their 15-year-old siblings were still working to internalize firearm safety rules two, three, and four, not to mention matters of simple personal hygiene.
There’s a category of starter rifles made specifically for children — small, single-shot, 22LR affairs produced in a variety of colors. Many of us started with such rifles, and some of us have even bought them for our own children.
The main problem with these tiny rifles is how quickly a kid outgrows them — and not only in terms of size. As children mature, their skills will also quickly exceed the performance envelope of starter rifles. Parents know that until adolescence you may get several months to a year of use out of a pair of shoes, and a rifle isn’t terribly different in this regard.
That Cricket, Rascal, or Chipmunk rifle has a finite window of use. So, we sought a better alternative. Though we initially set out to build a beginner rifle, after some thought and consideration, we turned to a different concept: the Family Rifle.
Special Forces veteran, precision nerd, owner of Armageddon Gear, and, importantly, parent of child shooters, Tom Fuller, tells us, “When my children started, I found they were worried about the ‘kick’ and noise. It was important they used a rifle that had low recoil. Just as important was that the rifle fit their short arms and hands so the rifle was comfortable for them — they could maneuver it easily in a blind or stand. As with every shooter a good trigger made them more accurate.”
Unlike those runty rifles mentioned, the Family Rifle can be enjoyed by everyone, from a 6-foot-tall parent down to the youngest member you’ve deemed trustworthy. The Family Rifle concept accommodates the learning curve of the whole family, rather than serving solely as a stepping stone for the youngest. It has to be inexpensive, rapidly adaptable to all body shapes and sizes, uncomplicated and easy to manipulate, suitable for a wide range of shooting disciplines, and, most importantly, fun to shoot.
When introducing marksmanship fundamentals, some instructors are proponents of an “irons-first” mentality, while others prefer magnified optics. More recently, others contend there’s merit to starting with red-dots — and the Big Army seems to agree. Starting with optics centers initial training on breathing and trigger control without the additional complications of sight picture and alignment. While you could mount a magnified optic or irons on about anything, most tend to want the magnified rifle to have more accuracy potential, and the irons or reddotted rifle to be more lightweight and handy.
Regardless of your individual stance, to cover both ends of this discussion, we put together two family rifles for this piece. One is a little heftier with magnified optics, while the other’s slightly more nimble with irons or a red-dot. You’d be proud to have either rifle in the safe — and neither totally breaks the bank.
A Ruger 10/22 is a great starting point. Not only is it an affordable rifle, there are millions of them out there and just as many accessories for it. Every single part is available on the aftermarket, and if you really want to stretch a penny into a nickel, you can easily find one secondhand or piecemeal.
Magazines are available in several capacities, so your young one can upgrade as you see fit. Now that Ruger offers magazines with higher capacities produced by the factory, there are far fewer magazine issues compared to third-party options.
After talking to many parents, a common theme is that they wanted to start with a single-shot rifle, in order to provide the safest possible learning environment. By design, the 10/22 is a magazine-fed semiautomatic. Loading a single round into the magazine after each shot proved to be a clumsy and cumbersome affair. Similarly, we tried our hand at fabricating a loading sled for singular firing; this also proved to be overly difficult. Ultimately, we decided any workable solution would have to be easy to perform, lest the rifle never be used.
The $12 solution came to us by way of the best and worst aspects of modern life: eBay. Magnetic bolt blocks are often used to keep a suppressed 10/22 from cycling the action, ensuring the quietest shot possible. In our case, using a block essentially converts the rifle into a straight-pull, bolt action. Here’s how:
Rack charging handle to eject and feed new round
Attach bolt block
Remove bolt block
It’s slightly more time consuming than a regular straight-pull action, but it’s faster and more convenient than loading one round into the rifle at a time. As your child grows, you can remove the bolt block. And mom and dad? They can use the rifle without the block in place — unless they want a very quiet suppressed shot.
We found attaching the bolt block to the side of a scope ring when not in use kept us from losing it. Some dummy cord the blocks to their rifle, too.
SIZING IT UP
The Magpul Hunter is a very popular choice for an aftermarket 10/22 stock. It’s easy to change from OEM to bull barrel configuration, and it can be
easily sized to a shooter. However, it’s the sizing part that took it out of the running for the family rifle. In order to have a length of pull (LOP) befitting both someone under 4 feet tall and above 6 feet tall, we’d need a more quickly adjustable stock. While AR stock conversions and chassis exist, they tend to be cheesy. You’ll already have enough embarrassing photos of your kid to show off at their wedding. We decided to keep it classic while seeking the features we needed.
You could easily spend hundreds of dollars on a Bell & Carlson Odyssey stock, but we found an option that met our requirements at a lower price: the At-One from Boyd’s.
As always, there’s no free lunch. Some of the metal parts on a more expensive stock are polymer on the wallet-friendly At-One. But remember, we’re not taking this rifle to war; it’s going to the range with our families.
Though Boyd’s advertises an LOP from 12.5 to 14 inches, we found we could reduce this another inch by removing the entire mechanism. This brings it all the way down to the same LOP as the tiny Savage Arms Rascal. It’s still comfortable and shootable — this is a 22LR after all. If you’re a giant like Steve Fisher you may need a little more LOP, easily added by using a slipon buttpad.
The At-One also has comb adjustment of inches, making it easy to use with iron sights or mounted optics. Additionally, the grips and fore-ends of the At-One are interchangeable. With the aid of a hex wrench, either piece is easily removed or swapped, opening up more options depending on the type of shooting you like.
SMALL HANDS AND SIMPLIFYING CONTROLS
Since this is a gun for everyone, it’s important that the 10/22 controls are accessible by small hands without being a burden for grown-ups. The answer was extended charging handles and magazine releases. You can go with either an entirely new charging handle assembly or a bolt-on extension. Similarly, magazine releases come in simple, extended models or more extensive ones that wrap around the trigger guard for single-hand manipulation.
In particular, one upgrade we view as necessary for the 10/22 is a bolt lock that allows the action to be released by pulling back on the charging handle. The factory arrangement is blundering at best, often leaving you with the feeling that you needed to grow a third hand.
OEM sights on the Ruger aren’t exactly awe-inspiring. Thankfully, sighting options are available that span a tremendous variety of sight designs. Want AR-style sights? Tech Sights has you covered. Optics? The Picatinny rail is the limit — that’s to say, there isn’t one. If you’re looking for a low-profile red-dot option, Outer Impact makes a base that accepts four different footprints, covering dozens of options.
We decided on a Williams rear aperture sight for our iron-sighted option. Not only do they provide a better sight picture than factory (what doesn’t?), they’re very inexpensive.
For our magnified optic, we chose an Atibal XP8, an illuminated 1-8x scope. While this is a more costly option than your standard Walmart variable power scope, the usability and quality goes well beyond what you’ll find for $40 next to the Great Value $15 raincoats.
MAKING IT YOUR OWN
In a world where Wolf Gray is the new Flat Dark Earth, which was already the new black, we don’t have to limit ourselves in such a manner with the Family Rifle. The At-One is available in numerous colors, and we further personalized it by painting some of the removable polymer pieces. You should use a rattle can specifically designed for plastic adhesion, and any well-stocked hardware store has a bevvy of options.
Our precision-oriented family rifle is blue and purple, and our irons and RDS family rifle (lovingly referred to as “the watermelon”) is green and pink.
You can also purchase the extended controls in corresponding colors or just paint them yourself.
Spending the time to ask your family what colors they want and doing the work with them can help them feel invested in the process. Perhaps they’ll truly feel the rifle is indeed their rifle. And that’s never a bad thing.
If we can put a silencer on something, usually, it’ll end up with a silencer.
While keeping the volume to a minimum is just good manners, in this case, cans serve an important safety role: They allow everyone to hear each other on an active range. A 10/22 using subsonic ammunition and a quality suppressor puts out significantly less noise than a spring-piston pellet gun. With one of our family rifles, we went integral, using a Gemtech Mist-22 silenced barrel. Outwardly it looks no different than a
standard bull barrel, but when the trigger is pulled, the difference is obvious. We equipped our other rifle with a Gemtech 22QDA and an additional .22LR silencer we had on hand. Going from loud to quiet is no harder than the two seconds it takes to attach the can — with the bonus that it can also be used on any 22QDA-equipped weapon down the line, such as a handgun.
The precision rifle also got a bipod. While we ended up with a Harris, you can save a little money by here initially starting with something on the lower end of the price continuum.
Like the original sights, the factory triggers leave much to be desired. Keeping with our theme here, we won’t recommend a nearly $300 KIDD two-stage trigger. Instead, we suggest you look at a Ruger Factory BX-25 upgrade, or a DIY fluff and buff. As with the extended controls, we took the time to find triggers in similar colors as our highlighted parts and painted the ones that weren’t available.
Gun safety is important for everyone, as we’re continually reminded when we see terrible accidents and negligence in the headlines. Introducing safety concepts to children should involve some special consideration. There’s probably no single or best way to teach children effectively, but options abound. Many parents start with the NRA’s Eddie Eagle program; similar programs are offered by other youth organizations. Yehuda Remer and his Safety On books deserves a special shout-out. Available either in full color or as a stand-alone coloring book, Safety On is a great primer or supplement to youth firearms education.
The family rifle that you build for your family can certainly be different than ours. The family rifle is a broad concept, rather than a stringent parts list or a paint-by-numbers recipe. Just look to build an affordable, adaptable, versatile, and fun rifle. If you can make it quiet to boot? Double bonus points.
There’s no guarantee that your children will fall in love with shooting or hunting, but a surefire way of making them hate it is to force something into their hands that’s loud, painful, and obnoxious. Just as in a fistfight or firefight, you always want to stack the odds in your own favor. If you follow the broad guidelines in this article, you’ll not only maximize your chances of your family falling (hopefully more) in love with shooting, but you’ll also build memories that’ll last a lifetime.
For the iron-sight oriented, a simple peep sight upgrade can work wonders.
The Boyd’s At-One has a tremendous amount of LOP adjustment. Removing the pad assembly entirely shor tens it even fur ther than adver tised.
Enlarged and extended controls make manipulations easier for both small and large hands alike.
A $12 par t from eBay makes for a simple single-shot solution.
The Ruger 10/22 provides a great foundation, especially due to the sheer amount of par ts available.
The MIST-22 integral silencer looks like a normal bull barrel — at least until you shoot it.