Tuesday, April 19, 2016

My Epic Journey to Build a Rimfire Challenge Limited Class Rifle

When I travel to attend NSSF Rimfire Challenge events it usually involves a significant investment in travel time and related travel expenses. Sure it's great to catch up with old friends, meet new people, and engage in some good old fashioned competition, but the actual trigger time you get at these events is very limited. Setting personal goals for 2016 to attend more Rimfire Challenge events and improve my performance, I decided to build a Limited class rifle and pistol this winter so I could compete in both classes if the shoot organizers allowed me to do so.  I called this my travel once and shoot twice project.

I started my build with some general ideas of things I would like to include on my rifle.  The first requirement was fiber optic sights.  A FO front sight was a must have and also having a FO rear sight would be even better.  The stock had to be adjustable for length of pull and comb height.  I wasn't trying to build the lightest rifle possible, but a lighter rifle would be preferable to a heavier rifle. Finally, I wanted to limit the out of pocket expense to build the rifle by using as many previously acquired components as possible.  I'm not sure about you, but the older I get the more stuff I seem to acquire.  I made fun of my Dad for that when I was young.  I guess this is my payback.

All builds start somewhere and I started with a stripped 10/22 receiver that I scavenged from a generally disappointing Ruger SR-22 Rifle purchased several years ago for Rimfire Challenge events.  I considered reusing the factory bolt and charging handle, but decided against it after polishing on the bolt for a few hours and still marveling at how rough it looked.  Ultimately, I discovered Tactical Innovations while shopping for bolt buffers and decided to give their extra large charging handle and match grade bolt assembly a try.

I previously reviewed ATIs Ruger Charger AR-22 Stock System and liked it.  I picked up their AR-22 TactLite Stock System for 10/22 rifles with the intention of swapping out the shorter Charger handguard for the rifle handguard.  I really liked the fully adjustable stock on the AR-22 TactLite Stock.  The full length picatinny top rail would be a great place to mount the picatinny rail mounted fiber optic sights I finally found available from an airsoft supply house in China. If anyone cares, there is a huge opportunity for someone to make picatinny rail mounted fiber optic sights for rifles.

The barrel installed on the SR-22 receiver was an all steel mid-weight barrel with a seemingly unremovable flash suppressor.  It was replaced with a Tactical Solutions X-Ring barrel.  I also upgraded to the TacSol Performance V-block. While I was ordering these parts from TandemKross, I included their Shock Block bolt buffer, Twister titanium takedown knob, Eagle's Talon extractor, and a Gunsmither Bolt Bar and Extractor Tool.

The green Volquartsen TG2000 replacement trigger housing for 10/22 was something I had on hand. If I remember correctly, it was one of the blemished housings that Volquartsen would occasionally post on a large auction site.  Regardless, it has all the things you want in a match trigger like auto bolt release and extended magazine release.  It also has a crisp 2 pound pull weight.  I really like these trigger assemblies.

The first trip out to the range proved that I had assembled the rifle correctly.  It functioned perfectly, but I could tell the sights were going to be a problem.  Flipped up, the sights are traditional adjustable back up iron sights.  Flipped down, they become fiber optic sights that offered no adjustment.  After trying a few different placements on the rail, I was still 4 inches high and 3 inches left.  I made another range trip and tried various offset risers between the rail and sights, but finally threw in the towel and declared failure.  My limited rifle was a complete bust.

Brian Lawson mentions the Knoxx Axiom stock from Blackhawk! frequently.  This ultra-light stock is a drop in replacement stock for 10/22 rifles.  Before totally giving up on my project, I thought I would give the stock a try.  In place of open sights, I could use the receiver mounted Ruger scope base with a See-All Open Sight and still qualify as Limited class.  Getting this stock was a turning point in the project.

Dropping the barreled action into the new Axiom stock, I was out on the range again with the See-All Open Sight mounted.  I also swapped out the Axiom adjustable stock with the ATI TactLite stock for the adjustable comb feature.  I immediately fell in love with this 4 pound rifle and decided it was my new Open class rifle.  I added a Rimfire Rifle compensator from Allchin Gun Parts and a TandemKross Advantage Charging Handle with picatinny scope base topped off with my Burris FastFire III 8 MOA.

This put me all the way back to square one on the Limited rifle project, but I was much smarter now. I knew exactly what I wanted the rifle to look like and where I needed to go to get all the parts for the second rifle. The only different thing I would need for the new build was a receiver. I decided to try the Elite22 Flat Top Receiver from Tactical Innovations along with the same match bolt and extra large charging handle used in the previous build.

Giving up on front and rear fiber optic sights, I opted again for a Tactical Solutions X-Ring barrel with open sights.  The front sight does come equipped with a fiber optic insert.  The second Volquartsen TG2000 was originally installed in the SR-22 rifle so it was re-purposed for this build.

After a week, I had received all the parts necessary to build the second rifle.  The build came together quickly and I soon had a Limited rifle that weighed in at just under 3.5 pounds.  I've had it out to the range twice for extended practice sessions and it runs like a dream.

It was a long strange trip, but I ultimately ended up exactly where I wanted to go with my Limited rifle build.  Along the way, I found a new Open rifle that I'm very happy with.  Both rifles share many similar components so switching between them should be stress-free.

What I learned from this build process is that I should keep an open mind and be willing to try new things.  I could have given up on the build process many times, but I kept at it and tapped into the collective wisdom of other shooters for their ideas and advice.  I'm really looking forward to using these rifles for the upcoming season.  I'm sure I will see some of you on the firing line.

The Advantage Charging Handle from TandemKross serves two purposes.  It
provides a stable base for optics and allows for left side charging handle operation.
Using similar components on both rifles makes it easy to switch between
 Limited and Open classes.
This simple tool makes 10/22 bolt and extractor removal and replacement a breeze.
Use it once and you will wonder why you didn't get one years ago.  It's awesome. 

Monday, April 4, 2016

Walther PPK/S 22LR - A New Twist For an Iconic Handgun

One of the more interesting trends I've observed across the firearms industry is the proliferation of .22LR firearms modeled after some of the most iconic firearms of modern times.  Walther Arms is an industry leader in this area producing licensed 22LR versions of classic Colt, Heckler & Koch, and even UZI firearms.  Walther even clones their own iconic PPK design with a .22LR PPK/S.

The Walther PPK/S 22LR is a very close replication of its 380 Auto predecessor. Walther closely maintains the size and weight of the original PPK while introducing a few changes on the original design.  For all but the most devout PPK enthusiast, the PPK/S 22LR would appear to be an exactly copy of the 380 Auto PPK.

True to the original PPK design, the trigger system in the PPK/S 22 is a double action / single action trigger.  The first shot can be fired in double action where pulling the trigger both cocks and releases the hammer, or the hammer can be manually cocked and the trigger operated in single action mode.  Unfortunately, the double action trigger pull exceeds 17 pounds.  The single action trigger pull is slightly more than 6 pounds.  The double action trigger pull is about 4 pounds heavier than the PPK 380 Auto.  I can only assume the additional trigger pull weight is due to a heavier hammer spring needed to reliably ignite rimfire cartridges, or possibly to slow down the slide velocity as the handgun cycles.  I didn't use the double action trigger pull very much during the review video below.  It will take an additional investment of practice time before I can shoot consistently accurate double action first shots.

The fit and finish of the pistol is very good.  Only a very thin patch of finish missing at the top edge
of  the ejection port disqualified the pistol from an excellent rating.   The frame and slide material is listed by Walther as Zinc Diecast. This is a departure from the 380 PPK which has a steel frame and slide.  The black plastic grips fit well and provide a good gripping surface without being overly aggressive on your hands.

Walther uses a drift adjustable rear sight and a pinned plastic front sight atop the glare reducing wave cut top  rail.  The front and rear sights are entirely black, but do provide a clear sight picture.  Taller and shorter front sights are included with the PPK/S so the shooter can fine tune the point of impact by swapping out the front sight for the taller or shorter sight.  The sights worked very well for me, but I will probably slide the rear sight a smidgen to the right to compensate for my tendency to shoot left with this specific PPK/S.  The medium height front sight seems to be working well for me so no change is necessary.

The PPK design is unique in its use of an articulated trigger guard to lock the slide to the frame.  Pulling down on the trigger guard allows the slide to retract fully and be lifted from the rear of the frame.  With the trigger guard in its normal locked location, the upper most portion of the trigger guard functions as both a recoil lug and buffer.  In the picture to the left you can see the top of the trigger guard has a small cylindrical polymer recoil buffer installed.  I believe this buffer absorbs the shock when the slide contacts the recoil lug and hopefully eliminates slide and frame battering.  Several thousand more rounds will be needed to verify if the system works to protect the diecast zinc frame and slide from cracking.

The slide mounted safety lever is easily manipulated with the thumb of a right-handed shooter.  The safety also acts as a decocking lever.  Activating the safety lowers the hammer if it's cocked.  Cocked and locked carry is not an option with this pistol.  The magazine release is located high on the frame, but was easy operated after training myself to reach up higher than normal to activate it.  The PPK/S design uses an internal slide lock that is activated by the magazine follower.  Removing the magazine allows the operator to close the slide.  Closing the slide with the safety activated also returns the hammer to the lowered position.

The PPK/S 22 barrel is steel from breech face to muzzle.  The barrel is fixed to the frame and should not be removed for normal cleaning and maintenance.  The tiny feed ramp has been highly polished to aid in feeding rounds from the stainless steel magazines.  In another departure from the PPK 380, the barrel is threaded to accommodate a variety of muzzle attached devices if the owner chooses to do so.  A thread protector is factory installed on the pistol. Walther provides a correctly sized wrench to remove the thread protector from the barrel.

On the range, the PPK/S 22LR was a joy to shoot.  I experienced zero malfunctions with feeding, firing, and extraction across several hundred rounds of slow and fast fire.  I tried limited quantities of many different bullet weights and velocities, but ended up using Remington 36 grain HP Golden Bullet bulk pack ammunition for most of my range time because this PPK/S ran so well with that specific load.  Recoil and muzzle rise were very tame which facilitated fast and accurate shooting with just a minimum time investment in practicing with the handgun.

Shooting from a bench and rested position, I tested the PPK/S with several loads for 10 yard accuracy and velocity measured 10 feet from the muzzle.  The pistol showed a preference for match grade standard velocity ammunition which delivered the smallest groups.  High velocity and bulk pack ammunition opened the groups up a bit, but the pistol delivered groups ranging from .72 to 2.14 inches with the seven tested loads. Over half the groups were less than 1.5 inches.  Velocity was what I expected it would be with the 3.3 inch barrel.

The video below summarizes my range experiences.

Direct Link to Video On YouTube

I found the PPK/S to be a really fun gun to shoot. I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent with it on the range.  Sure I would like it better if the double action trigger pull wasn't 17.5 pounds and the frame and slide were aluminum or steel, but I'm willing to roll the dice with Walther and their Legendary Limited Lifetime Warranty.  If it breaks, Walther has my back.

One more thing to consider before I wrap up the review.  Tipping the scales at 24.4 ounces fully loaded, the PPK/S 22LR makes a handy travel companion.  While significantly larger, I would consider the PPK/S as an alternative to the Beretta Bobcat or similar sized semi-autos chambered for 22LR.