Friday, February 24, 2017

Ultimate Lightweight Small Game Rifle

The idea of building the Ultimate Lightweight Small Game Rifle (ULSGR) was hatched last year as I worked through the process of building two race rifles for NSSF Rimfire Challenge and Steel Challenge competitions. After a few false starts, and money down the drain, I landed on a combination of parts that proved to be very light in weight, but still delivered the functionally reliability required for serious timed competitions.

Purpose built for small game hunting at ranges of 25 yards or less, I wanted to build the lightest possible rifle that would function reliably with a variety of ammunition ranging from subsonic to supersonic velocities.  Avoiding the additional weight of add-on optical sights, the rifle would be fitted with windage and elevation adjustable open sights.  It would be built from "match grade" components, and be capable of shooting sub 1 inch 10 shot groups from a bench at 25 yards with ammunition it preferred.

I knew I could complete the ULSGR rifle with a total weight of less than 4 pounds, including a sling and magazine, if I followed the basic recipe I developed for my race rifles.  I set my stretch goal at 3.75 pounds and set about ordering new parts and re-purposing existing parts that I had accumulated during previous builds.  With specific colors in mind, it took several months to get everything I had in mind in all the right colors I wanted.

Completed rifles weighs 3 pounds 10 ounces

Parts List:

After a few false starts on previous builds, caused by not having all the required parts to complete a rifle, I've gotten much better at ordering all the required parts.  If you follow this parts list closely, you should have everything you need to build a complete rifle.

Trigger Assembly - Ruger BX Trigger
Stock - Knoxx Blackhawk! Axiom Coyote Tan
Receiver - Tactical Innovations Elite22F Flattop Matte Black (requires FFL transfer)
Barrel - Tactical Solutions 10/22 Open Sight Threaded Barrel Matte OD Green
V-Block - Tactical Solutions Performance
V-Block Cap Screws (2) - Tactical Innovations Blue
Bolt - Tandemkross "Krossfire"
Bolt Handle - Tactical Innovations Skeletonized
Recoil Buffer - Tandemkross "Shock Block"
Receiver Cross Pins (2) - Tactical Innovations Stainless
Takedown Cap Screw - Tactical Innovations Stainless
Sling - Ten Point Gear Tan/Green Camo
Magazine - Ruger BX Clear

If you went parts shopping today, it would cost around $750 plus shipping and transfer fee to pick up everything on the list.  Watching for sales and free shipping offers might knock a few dollars off the total.  It's not a cheap build, but I can't think of a single thing I would change about the rifle.  There isn't any room for functional or weight reduction improvement.  Also of note, the barrel is threaded just in case the process of purchasing a noise suppressing muzzle attached device is simplified in the future.   

Question Everything:

In my quest to reduce weight, I did comparison testing with several different rifle components after they arrived.  This was more for my own knowledge than anything else.

The first was the receiver.  The Tactical Innovations machined aluminum receiver was nearly an ounce lighter than a standard Ruger 10/22 cast aluminum receiver.  It was also much smoother inside and features a hole in the rear of the receiver where a cleaning rod can be inserted for breech to muzzle cleaning if you wish to do that.

I really like the Volquartsen TG2000 trigger group.  I've been using them for years in several different rifles.  I initially planned to use green one pictured for this rifle.  Before making my final decision, I compared the weights of the Ruger BX trigger and TG2000. Since this will strictly be a hunting rifle, I opted to go with the BX trigger and shave about 2.5 ounces off the build weight.  

The last comparison I wanted to share was the weight difference between the clear and black Ruger BX magazines.  I've always suspected the clear magazines weighed less than the black magazines. They "feel" lighter when you handle them.  Taking two brand new magazines out of the factory packaging, it was neat to see my suspicions were correct.  The clear magazines are 10% lighter than the black magazines.


The most difficult part of assembling the rifle is fitting the barrel.  If you came to the blog to read about the rifle then you are seriously interested in learning more about it, or possibly considering building your own rifle one day.  This video is for you.

The rest of the assembly process was very easy.  No additional fitting of parts was required.  A small drop of blue Loctite was required to keep the thread protector from loosening during firing.

On The Range:

As I anticipated, the rifle proved to be a flawless performer on the range.  It chewed through mounds of subsonic, standard, and high velocity ammunition with equal gusto. After two trips to the range, and several hundred rounds of mixed ammunition, I experienced my first failures to eject spent cases with standard velocity ammunition. After a good cleaning, it performed flawlessly again on the next trip to the range.

The 2 pound 10 ounce pull weight of the Ruger BX trigger and fully adjustable open sights both contributed greatly to accurate off-hand shooting at targets out to 50 yards.  The rifle is a plinker's dream come true and several hours of trigger therapy were undertaken in pursuit of this review.  As documented in the video, I had a great time "hunting" my steel critter targets and can't wait to get this rifle out in the woods next Fall.  

Velocity and accuracy testing was done on a portable bench using Caldwell's new Stinger rifle rest.  10 shot velocity averages were captured at 10 feet with a target placed at 25 yards.  The rifle clearly had preferences for some specific ammunition brands and loads over others.  The best groups came from both standard velocity lead round nose and high velocity hollow points.  All of the ammunition used for testing was of good quality, and represented ammunition most commonly used for small game hunting.

My only disappointment, from the range time spent with the rifle, was that I didn't find a good subsonic ammunition choice for the rifle.  I've got others available for testing, but it would have been great if one of the three varieties tested performed as well as the high velocity Mini-Mags.

Finishing Touches:

My initial thought was to use a basic 1" wide nylon web sling for the rifle.  As I was shopping for that sling, I happened to see these paracord wrapped slings.  Available in several different color patterns, this one caught my eye and I made the purchase even though it was contrary to my overall goal of minimizing weight.  I thought it just looked perfect for the rifle so a compromise was made.  It looks great and is perfectly functional even if it does add a couple extra ounces to the final rifle weight.

After my discovery that clear BX magazines weigh less than black BX magazines, I opted to use a clear magazine with the rifle.  I'm not really sure where I initially saw the reference, but I discovered that clear BX magazines can be dyed with common RIT dye.  Using a bottle of Rit DyeMore Sandstone, I ended up with two clear magazines with a rootbeer tint.  More fitting for a hunting rifle.  It doesn't make the magazines special in any way other than I can tell at a glance they belong with the ULSGR.  It was also a fun add-on project with the rifle build.

I'm very pleased with my finished rifle (as if you couldn't tell by now).  I hope the closing photo gives you some perspective on how light the rifle really is.  The partially filled half gallon water jug weighs exactly the same as the rifle.  Sling the rifle over your shoulder and you can easily forget you have it with you as you cross hill and dale in pursuit of small game.  I could have built it cheaper, but I really don't think I could have built it better.  It's a rifle I'm proud of and will enjoy for many years to come.

Total rifle weight is the same as the partially filled water jug.

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