THE FAM­ILY RI­FLE

Recoil - - Contents - BY DAVE MER­RILL

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.

THE FOUN­DA­TION

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.

SIN­GLE-SHOTTING IT

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

Fire

Re­move bolt block

Re­peat

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.

SIGHTS

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.

AD­DI­TIONAL UP­GRADES

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.

ED­U­CA­TION

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.

LOOSE ROUNDS

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.

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