The 10 Best .22LR Rifles of all time:
- Marlin Model 60 / Model 795
- Remington Nylon 66
- Ruger 10/22
- Marlin Model 39A
- S&W M&P15-22
- Winchester 1903 / 63
- CZ Model 452
- Browning SA-22
- Winchester 1890
- Henry AR-7 Survival Rifle
The .22 LR cartridge is nearly 160 years old, having first been manufactured in 1858. To put that in context, on June 16 of that year, Abraham Lincoln gave his "House Divided" speech at the State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois on accepting the Republican nomination for a seat in the U.S. Senate.
That year, Forty-Niners (not the team from San Francisco, the actual Forty-Niners) streamed into the Rockies during the Pike's Peak Gold Rush. And in September of that year Fordyce Beals patented his rotating cylinder revolver, which would be produced by E. Remington & Sons of Ilion, New York as the Remington Model 1858.
While in 2017 the cap-and-ball Remington 1858 has since become an object for collectors, with modern reproductions relegated to use by cowboy-action shooters, the .22 LR is still just as important a cartridge as it ever has been. In fact, most of the durable, small-bore rifles on this list are still in production today, and those that aren't are still in the gun racks of many Americans...still shooting, still plinking, and still helping new shooters learn the fundamentals.
Here's a look at some of the best and most important .22 LR rifles ever made.
Marlin Model 60 / Model 795
If you learned to shoot after 1960 and used a .22, there's a good chance you shot this rifle.
The semi-auto Marlin Model 60 is also widely known as the Marlin Glenfield Model 60 or simply Glenfield 60.
Today, the gun is made by Remington Arms, but was originally produced by Marlin Firearms Company in New Haven, Connecticut and has been in continuous production since 1960. If you learned to shoot on a .22 rifle as a kid in the years since, there’s a good chance you shot a Model 60.
The rifle began as the Model 99, developed in 1959 by Ewald Nichol. The internals were basically what would become the Model 60 the following year, but there were some major exterior differences and the 99 was only offered until 1961.
The original Model 60 had a birch stock instead of the walnut used by the 99, in order to keep the cost down. To address a rusting problem with steel tubular magazines, Marlin used a brass inner tube on the 60, making it extremely durable.
The Model 60's barrel uses the company’s trademarked Micro-Groove rifling, developed in the early 1950s with a 1:16 inch RH twist. Micro-Groove uses 16 small lands and grooves rather than 4, 6, or 8 deeper grooves.
This rifling, along with the barrel’s precision-crowned muzzle, gave the rifle a well-deserved reputation for accuracy over other rifles in the same class using deep-groove rifling, which deformed soft lead bullets more as they traveled down the barrel.
The action has a manual bolt that can be held in the full-open position, and is a self-loading, straight blowback design with an ejection port on the right side. The receiver comes grooved for a scope mount along with an open rear sight and a ramp front sight.
A cross-bolt safety is located above the trigger, so it’s easy for shooters with any sized hands to use , as long as they can reach the trigger.
In 1985, the Model 60 began including a device that automatically held the bolt open on the final shot in the magazine. The rifle originally held 18 rounds in its tubular magazine. Rifles with the combination of both features are highly sought after by collectors, as they were only produced for a brief time.
The magazine tube was redesigned in the late 1980s, reducing its capacity to 15 rounds to meet recently adopted magazine capacity limits in the U.S. This visibly reduced the length of the mag tube.
In the early 2000s, the barrel length was cut down from 22 to 19 inches to match the length of the shortened tube. Since semi-auto rifles using non-removable tube magazines were not subject to the 10-round capacity limit set by the Federal Assault Weapons Ban (which lasted from 1994 to 2004), the Model 60 didn’t have to be modified further while it was in effect.
Though some parts are specific to various windows of production years, many parts are backwards compatible all the way to the 1960 models.
In 1966, the retailer JC Penny listed the rifle as the Glenfield 60 with a 4x scope for $39.99. These days, they go for about $160, without optics.
Marlin introduced the Model 795 in 1997, which is nearly identical to the Model 60, but configured to accept a detachable box magazine instead of the 60’s non-removable tube magazine, and was partly meant as a replacement for the model 995. A target version of the 795 was simultaneously introduced with a heavy barrel as the Marlin 7000. It was discontinued in 2007, but the 795 is still in production today, along with the model 60.
In this story from guns.com, Marlin says the Model 60 has outsold the Ruger 10/22 by more than double, with a total of more than 11 million sold since 1960.
Remington Nylon 66
A design truly ahead of its time, this rifle had a polymer stock AND receiver back in 1959, but it wasn't a gimmick—just a very good gun.
When you think about what might be the first rifle with a synthetic stock, you might not picture a .22 rifle from the late 1950s, though that is certainly the case. And not only that, the rifle also had a synthetic receiver.
In 1959, Remington Arms introduced one of the earliest mass-produced rifles featuring a stock made from something other than wood: the Remington Nylon 66.
It was a risky gamble for the gunmaker, which is evident from the color and prominent diamond accent on the nylon stock, features meant to evoke the look of traditional wood stocks.
At about the same time, the .22/.410 Stevens Combo gun was released with a Tenite stock, but it didn’t achieve nearly the same success as the Nylon 66.
At the time, Remington was looking to fill a gap in its catalog by producing a mid-priced, semi-auto .22 rifle. Unable to find a way to trim costs on barrels, they focused on stocks and receivers, asking the engineers at DuPont (which had control of Remington since 1933) to come up with a plastic to replace both.
The material had to be capable of forming any desired shape, had to have a high tensile-impact and flexural strength, high abrasion resistance, high resistance to heat distortion as well as cold, must not continue to burn after being exposed to flame, must be impervious to solvents, oils, mild acids, alkalis, fungus, rodents, and insects—plus it had to be lightweight, hold colors well, and have a finish that’s easy to repair—that’s a pretty tall order.
Four months later, DuPont delivered Zytel Nylon 101, a member of the Nylon 66 family of plastics, the same polymer that was first used to make women’s stockings.
Production-model Nylon 66 rifles were injection-molded in two halves, the buttstock and the forend, with tongue and groove connections. They were then bonded together with the receiver in the center.
The magazine was located in the buttstock and loaded through the buttplate, holding 14 .22 LR cartridges. The steel striker and bolt ran in grooves in the self-lubricating nylon receiver. Other parts, such as the trigger and trigger guard, were stainless steel or steel stampings.
The rifle required little to no hand-fitting, which kept production costs low. It weighed only 4 lbs. 8 oz. due to the polymer components, with a 19-1/2-inch barrel.
About 4,450 production Nylon 66s were made in late 1958 for retail sale at $49.95 and billed as “The Gun of Tomorrow” in a huge media blitz for the time, touting its dependability, imperviousness to adverse conditions, and light weight as prime selling points.
The rifle was originally offered in two colors, Mohawk Brown and Seneca Green. Later, Apache Black was added to the line.
In a famous display of the rifle’s durability, in 1959, Tom Frye, a Remington field rep, set out to beat exhibition shooter Ad Topperwein's world record set in 1907 of shooting 72,000 21/2 wooden blocks as they were tossed into the air, while only missing nine. Frye used three Nylon 66 rifles and maintained an average pace of 1,000 shots per hour for 13 consecutive eight-hour days. When it was all over, he'd shot at 100,010 blocks and hit 100,004, missing only six. The rifles were cleaned only five times during the trial.
The Nylon 66 became the most successful .22 caliber rifle Remington has ever made, with a total production of more than 1,000,000 by 1991 when it was discontinued.
Valued for its affordability and reliability, the Ruger 10/22 is also one of the most customizable rifles on the market. And more than five million of them are out there.
In 2014, the Ruger 10/22 celebrated its 50th anniversary, with over 5 million rifles made since the first one rolled out of the factory in 1964. It didn’t need much time to build a following, and quickly became popular with shooters of all kinds, from small game hunters and plinkers—plus it’s a great gun for young or inexperienced shooters because of its moderate size, weight, and of course light recoil.
By the time the 10/22 was introduced, Bill Ruger’s young company had found its footing, celebrating its 15th year since Sturm Ruger & Co. launched with the Standard pistol, and the rifle was an extension of a popular chambering for the company: the .22 LR cartridge. And like the company’s other firearms, the new sporting rifle was made to be reliable, aesthetically pleasing, comfortable to shoot, and affordable for the average person.
The rifle was actually a companion gun to the Ruger .44 Magnum carbine introduced in 1961, which was only produced for a few years, and was never intended to be a flagship model—but shooters knew better, and still do.
The rifle’s factory magazine was innovative for the time and has been emulated by many gun manufacturers since. The standard 10/22 ships with a 10-round rotary magazine that stores the cartridges in a circular fashion instead of in a stack. Because of its shape, the magazine fits flush into the rifle and doesn’t protrude, allowing a user to carry the gun in the field one-handed at its natural balance point.
Currently there are many types of magazines for the 10/22, including the basic five-round rotary mags. In 2011, Ruger introduced the Ruger BX-25, a 25-round box mag with a composite frame and steel feed lips—and there are many aftermarket options including 25-, 30-, and 50-round box magazines; 50-round teardrop-shaped rotary magazines, and 50- and 110-round drum magazines like this one from GSG. Other products, like this coupler, allow users to join three 10-round factory mags together for faster reloads. Ruger also makes a clear version of the 10-round factory rotary mag.
The number of magazine options for the 10/22 only hints at the customization options for the popular rifle. An incredible amount of aftermarket stocks, sights, and other parts exist for the inexpensive rifle that, when utilized, can drastically change its looks. Additionally, there are a number of companies that manufacture 10/22 rifles that are produced to a much higher standard than factory guns, with match-grade components.
Have one of those 110-round drum magazines, but don’t feel like pulling the trigger that many times? The BMF Activator will let you crank that little rimfire like it’s a Gatling gun, pulling the trigger four times for each rotation. Want you 10/22 to look more like an AR, and use your AR components on it? There are a number of kits that let you do just that, like this one ProMag Archanger Rifle ARS Package. For an even more tactical setup, ProMag also makes the Nomad stock, which converts the rimfire into a folding-stock tactical rifle with accessory rails. And the best part is that almost all of these aftermarket stocks are drop-in designs, requiring no gunsmithing.
Ruger produces the 10/22 in 11 variants, not counting distributor-exclusive models. The 10/22 Carbine Standard model has a 18.5-inch barrel with a hardwood or black synthetic stock, and a black alloy or stainless steel receiver. A model is also offered with a laser sight included.
The 10/22 Takedown model was introduced in 2012, which disassembles into two parts: the barrel and action, and the buttstock. No tools are required. It comes in a backpack style case with room for the broken-down rifle, ammunition, and accessories.
The Target, Compact, and Sporter versions are basically the same with different barrel lengths. The Target has no iron sights and the sporter comes with a checkered walnut stock and sling swivels. The Tactical model comes with a flash suppressor and is available with a heavy target barrel and a Hogue OverMolded stock and bipod.
The 10/22 Takedown Lite is a more recent addition. It comes with a short 16.12inch barrel and an aluminum alloy barrel sleeve with a threaded muzzle and thread cap for use with a suppressor.
In 2009, Ruger got in on the customization game and released the SR-22 Rifle, which is a 10/22 receiver embedded in a chassis mimicking the dimensions of an AR-style rifle, like the company’s SR-556, with the position of the magazine release, safety, and charging handle more similar to a 10/22 than an AR.
Marlin Model 39A
The rifle represents the oldest and longest continuously produced shoulder firearm in the world. It's still made today in Ilion, New York.
When the first Marlin 39A lever-action rifle was made in 1891, it began a production history that would continue unabated for 126 years with a rifle that people would use and depend on for generations.
The 39A started as the Marlin Model 1891, the first lever gun ever chambered in .22 LR. The tube magazine was loaded through a loading gate on the side of the receiver, as with most centerfire lever-actions. With the Model 1892, the tube mag became a front-loader because the previous model had trouble feeding the small rimfire round through the gate without binding up. The Model 1897 was introduced a few years later, and that became the Model 39 in 1921, and eventually the Model 39-A in 1939. In 1983, the Golden 39A was introduced (so named for the rifle’s traditional golden trigger), and is still produced today.
However, among all these models and years, the changes remained so minimal that the rifle is considered to have been continually produced to the same basic specs for over 100 years. The biggest difference is the Model 39-A did not have a cross hammer safety, which has always been standard on the current Golden Model 39A.
Since the early 1950s, Marlin has used its proprietary Micro-Groove rifling in the the Model 39A.
All the rifle’s components are forged steel and the stocks are made from American-grown black walnut. The rifle was inherently easy to takedown, requiring only the use of a coin to remove one screw. The rifle has a solid-top receiver and a side ejection port, which has always made mounting optics easy, whereas it’s quite difficult and cumbersome on top-ejecting rifles. It can handle .22 Short, .22 Long, or .22 LR rounds, with a capacity of 26-, 21-, and 19-rounds, respectively.
One of the most famous shooters to use one of these Marlins was the sharpshooting Annie Oakley. On March 10, 1893, Oakley used a Model 1891 to put 25 rounds through one jagged hole in 27 seconds at a distance of 36 feet (12 yards) with .22 Short cartridges. On the same day, she produced another jagged one-hole group with the rifle through the center of an Ace of Hearts playing card, shooting off-hand.
In the years since, Marlin has made two special-run commemorative 39A rifles honoring Oakley’s achievements. In 1998, 500 39A rifles were offered to the public, with another 100 offered only to Marlin employees. in 2000, another run of special Annie Oakley guns was made for Davidson’s Gallery of Guns and sold to the general public.
A thoroughly 21st-century rifle, this affordable AR-platform rimfire from one of America's greatest gunmakers quickly found a lasting home with modern shooters.
The popularity of the Smith & Wesson M&P15-22, and similar modern rifles, proves that the long-lived .22 LR cartridge is still extremely popular into the 21st century.
A variant of the S&W M&P15 line, the .22 version has a simple blowback action, rather than a direct impingement-operated action, with a polymer upper and lower receiver, instead of with aluminum as is used for centerfire versions.
The rifle was introduced in 2009 as a less expensive alternative for training with an AR-15 style rifle, the popularity of which was surging powerfully.
Because the rifle is far less expensive than a centerfire rifle, and shoots relatively cheap .22 LR ammo, yet is still an AR made by Smith & Wesson—it didn’t take long for shooters to snap up the dependable, easy-to-use carbine.
As it’s designed, the M&P15-22 is a great rifle for training new shooters, not only because of its ease of use and negligible kick, but also because the controls will be in the same place when that new shooter graduates to a centerfire AR-style rifle.
The disassembly process is also very similar to an AR-15, with the lower receiver detaching from the upper via two captured pins. The M&P15 trigger assembly is compatible with most AR-15 trigger groups, allowing for some upgrading.
S&W also makes a Sport II version of the M&P15-22 outfitted with Magpul furniture, MBUS sights, and a threaded barrel. The base rifle is also available in a number of finishes and camouflage colors, including Kryptek Highlander and Muddy Girl, in addition to flat colors like tan, black, and olive.
The gun comes with a 16-inch carbon-steel barrel with a 1:15 twist and an overall length of 33.75 inches with the adjustable stock extended, and 30.5 inches collapsed. It weighs in at 5.5 pounds unloaded and comes with a 25+1 round magazine. Smaller-capacity magazines are also available for states in which they are restricted. Real-world price is about $450.
Winchester 1903 / 63
The first semi-auto gun ever made by Winchester, the 1903 and later the Model 63, bridged a gap into a new century.
If for no other reason, the Winchester Model 1903 holds an important place in history because it's the first commercially available semi-auto ever made by the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, marking a new era.
Designed by T.C. Johnson, the Model 1903 entered the Winchester catalog in its eponymous year, and was first chambered in the .22 Winchester Automatic cartridge. In 1919 the Model 1903 monicker was shortened to Model 03, and then after a partial redesign in the 1930s, it was renamed the Model 63. In addition to other changes, the Model 63 was chambered for .22 LR, which was far more popular at the time than the .22 Win Auto cartridge.
The Model 63 was first available to the public on 1933 and it remained in production until 1958, with about 126,000 Model 1903 rifles and about 175,000 Model 63s produced.
The rifle featured a 20-inch round barrel, with a 23-inch barrel available in 1933. The 20-inch barrel was discontinued in 1936. A tubular magazine was located in the butt stock. It held 10 rounds, loaded through a slot in the stock’s right side. Like the Model 39, both the Model 1903 and 63 were takedown rifles. The 1903 required the user to press the takedown screw-lock through a slot in the tang to release the lock from the ratchet. The Model 63 featured an improved mechanism that only required the user to turn the takedown screw to the left until the mechanism released.
The autoloader used a simple blowback operation with a balanced breech bolt, meaning the bolt’s mass was proportionate to the weight and velocity of the bullet. This ensures the breech bolt won’t move rearward until the bullet has left the muzzle. This design caveat is what forced Winchester to design its own .22 cartridge for the rifle.
When the gun was re-chambered in .22 LR for the Model 63, the mechanism had to be redesigned.
The Model 1903 was available in a standard and deluxe version, the former with a plain walnut stock and plain straight grip, the latter with a checkered walnut pistol grip stock and a checkered forearm. The first 5,000 rifles were produced without a safety, after which a cross-bolt safety was added.
The last 10,000 Model 63 rifles made until the end of 1958 had grooves in the receiver tops for mounting scope rings.
CZ Model 452
The full-sized bolt gun from the former Soviet Bloc feels and shoots like a military-grade rifle at .22 LR prices.
Ceska Zbrojovka Uhersky Brod, or simply CZ for American shooters, has been making sporting and military rifles since they started back in 1936, though today they are better known for their CZ-75 family of handguns.
Americans didn’t know much about CZ firearms before 1990, when the Iron Curtain fell. Indeed, their firearms weren't available to Americans through normal channels until 1991, when the Czechoslovakian gunmaker created a U.S. subsidiary once it became a private company. CZ-USA, located in Kansas City, also owns Dan Wesson Firearms, operating out of Norwich, New York.
The CZ 452, introduced in 1954 as the Model 2, is a fairly simple but reliable repeating bolt-action rifle that feeds from a 5-round detachable box magazine. It's unique because, unlike many other bolt-action .22s, this gun isn't a youth model or a scaled down version of another firearm, but a full-sized rifle chambered in .22 LR, so that it could function as a true training rifle. The 452 has also been chambered in .22 WMR, .17 HMR, and .17 HM2.
The preceding rifle, the Model 1, was built at the request of the occupying German authority in 1943-44 during WWII, but many weren’t assembled due to the greater need for battle rifles, leaving many parts stockpiles that were used after the war to make the Model 1.
The CZ 452 American was introduced along with the creation of CZ-USA, and became a popular and affordable rimfire bolt gun on this side of the pond. It shoots and feels like a military-grade bolt action, not a light, shrunken down trainer.
The American model had a straight-combed Turkish walnut stock intended for use with a telescopic sight, as the rifle did not come equipped with iron sights of any kind. The 22.5-inch barrel came threaded for a compensator, muzzle brake, or suppressor and the top of the receiver is machined with a 3/8” wide dovetail groove for installing scope mounts.
Currently, all but the left-handed version of the CZ 452 American are out of production, the rest having been replaced by the CZ Model 455 around 2011. You can see a detailed comparison of the differences between the two models here.
The CZ 452 has also been made in a Varmint version with a 21” heavy barrel and grooves for sight mounts. The stock is equipped with a flat-bottom forend for use with a sandbag rest.
The CZ Lux and Trainer models came with a walnut European-style stock with an arched comb, and a tangent rear sight marked in 25-meter increments that's adjustable for windage and elevation. The front blade sight can also be adjusted for zeroing in elevation.
The Ultra Lux model came with a long, 28.6-inch barrel and a beechwood stock and a rear tangent sight calibrated from 25 to 300 meters.
The Scout model is a compact, single-shot version intended for young shooters with buckhorn sights.
The first semi-auto .22 LR rifle ever made, the John Browning-designed SA-22 has been made by several companies over the past century and is still available today.
The first semi-auto .22 LR rifle ever produced is still in production. If that's not a mark of success, what is?
The Browning 22 Semi-Auto rifle, or the SA-22, is a takedown .22 LR rifle first produced by FN Herstal based on John Browning’s patent in 1914. Over a century later, the rifle is still being made, sold by Browning as the Semi-Auto 22, and over 500,000 have been manufactured in that time.
FN Herstal produced the SA-22 through 1974 in Belgium. Production continued afterward by in Japan by Miroku. Though it was designed by Browning, Americans didn’t get the opportunity to own a true SA-22 until 1956 when FN began exporting it for the American market, though there were other options.
The Chinese firearm company, Norinco, made a close copy that was imported into the U.S. by Interarms as the Model ATD. Remington also manufactured a lighter weight version under license from 1919 to 1935 as the Remington Model 24, which was replaced with the Remington Model 241 in 1935. Save for the barrel locking mechanism, the Model 241 is very similar to the Browning SA-22.
A famous photograph of John M. Browning holding an SA-22 is thought to actually be a Remington Model 24.
Through the years, the SA-22 has been offered in several grades of engraving and gold inlays and is widely collected, especially the model years produced by FN in Belgium.
The rifle is made from blued steel and walnut, and ejects spent casing downward, making it friendly for left-handed shooters (it was designed as a feature to protect shooters’ faces). The fact that it had no ejection port on the side of the receiver lent the rifle to elaborate engravings, done by hand at FN Herstal. Engraving work today is done by lasers with hand finishing at the Miroku plant.
Nicknamed the “gallery gun,” the workhorse pump .22 was a staple at shooting galleries around the country and was Winchester’s most successful general-purpose rimfire rifle.
When Winchester Repeating Arms asked John M. Browning to come up with a replacement for the unpopular Model 1873 rimfire rifle, John teamed up with his brother Matthew and patented the design for what would become the Model 1890.
It was the first successfully developed and manufactured repeating slide-action .22 rifle ever made, and proved to be Winchester’s most successful repeating general use rimfire rifle of all time. About 849,000 Model 1890 rifles were made between 1890 and 1932. From then on the Model 1890 was replaced by the Winchester Model 62 rifle.
The Model 1890 was a slide action, top ejecting rifle with an 18-inch magazine tube topped with a 24-inch octagonal barrel. It came with a plain walnut stock and weighed about 6 pounds. While the gun has been chambered for .22 Short, .22 Long, .22 LR, and .22 Winchester Rimfire, it can only operate with .22 cartridges for which it is chambered, unlike some other rimfire designs, which can feed cartridges of multiple lengths. The .22 LR version was added in 1919.
The rifle was produced in three versions distinct for reasons other than caliber. The first had a solid frame, a case hardened receiver, and a fixed rear sight. About 15,000 of these were made from 1890 to 1892.
The second version was a takedown rifle that also had a case hardened receiver, but an adjustable rear sight. About 100,000 of these were made. In 1901, the case hardened receiver was changed to a blued version, with about 200,000 produced.
The third model was also a takedown rifle, and had a modified receiver allowing the breech bolt to lock externally. It was offered in a deluxe edition with a checkered walnut stock and either a straight or pistol grip.
For a number of years, the robust, easy-to-use rifle, capable of firing countless rounds without the need for maintenance or even frequent cleaning, became a standard for use in shooting galleries and garnered it the nickname of “gallery gun.”
For those too young to even imagine the concept of a shooting gallery being a real thing: They were the equivalent of old-school arcade games, springing up following the development of rimfire ammo in the 19th century. They were basically small, portable shooting ranges with a bullet trap and a range of about 10 feet that became a mainstay of Gilded Age amusement parks, fairgrounds, and traveling carnivals.
The targets were steel or cast iron and indicated hits by tipping over or rotating downward on a horizontal mounting rod. The muzzle of each gun at the firing line was often chained to a down-range attachment to prevent the rifles from being accidentally aimed away from the bullet trap. Injuries from ricochets led to the later development of frangible bullets for use at shooting galleries.
In the late 20th century, the shooting gallery firearms were replaced by safer air guns—and by this century, shooting galleries are mostly gone, with the few remaining using electronic “firearms.” As for the Model 1890, it was discontinued in 1941 with about 849,000 having been produced.
Henry AR-7 Survival Rifle
Designed by AR-15 creator Eugene Stoner, this is the survival rifle that wouldn't die. Made by five different companies, the latest iteration of the gun that breaks down to fit into its own stock may be the best.
To know where the unusual AR-7 semi-auto rifle came from, you have to know the Armalite AR-5, which was a lightweight bolt-action rifle, chambered in .22 Hornet that was adopted by the U.S. Air Force as the MA-1 aircrew survival rifle in 1956.
Since aircrew members who manage to survive ditching a damaged or incapacitated plane and parachute to the ground safely may have to defend themselves and hunt wild game for survival until they can be rescued or walk out, a firearm is a welcome companion in that circumstance. it also has to be small enough to be stashed in the close-quarters of a plane cockpit, and specifically under the aircraft seats.
The AR-5 was developed by Eugene Stoner at ArmaLite, a division of Fairchild Engine and Airplane Corporation, and served the Air Force’s need for a compact, lightweight, accurate rifle to include in the crew survival kits on the new XB-70 bomber.
Even though it was adopted by the Air Force, funding was never received to buy more than the original 12 test models, due to the cancellation of the XB-70 fleet. However, it introduced ArmaLite to the American military, a relationship that led to the adoption of the M-16 and creation of the AR rifle platform.
The original ArmaLite AR-7 Explorer was a semi-auto .22 LR rifle developed by Stoner, the later designer of the M-16, from his AR-5 design. This rifle, however, was destined for the civilian market as a backpacking rifle and a survival tool.
The rifle uses a blowback semi-auto action with a retracting side-mounted charging handle. The ejection port is also located on the right side and the rifle feeds from an 8-round detachable box magazine. It also includes a simple manual thumb safety.
The rifle’s claim to fame is that it breaks down into four parts: the barrel, receiver, stock, and magazine, without tools. Everything can then be stored in the rifle’s hollow polymer buttstock for extremely compact transport or storage.
The receiver is primarily aluminum with a plastic buttcap and recoil spring guide and a steel bolt. The original barrel was aluminum using a rifled steel liner insert.
When assembled, the AR-7 is 35 inches overall and breaks down to a stout 16 inches and weighs 2.5 pounds. it comes with a fixed rear peep sight that is adjustable for windage and a blade front sight.
Designed as a tool used dispatch for small game, it’s accurate out to 50 yards. While the original AR-7 was a dependable rifle, as long as the magazines remained in good shape, the rifle was later made by a host of other manufacturers, with varying quality and compatibility with older magazines.
The magazines are such a factor on the AR-7 because a feed ramp is located on each one, instead of being permanently affixed to the barrel. If it doesn’t line up just right, cartridges won’t feed into the chamber.
ArmaLite also made a variant sold to the Israeli Military for use as an aircrew survival weapon.
ArmaLite produced the AR-7 Explorer from 1959 to 1973. Charter Arms then bought the the production rights and made the rifle as the AR-7 Survival Rifle until 1990. After that, Survival Arms of Cocoa, Florida made the gun until 1997, when AR-7 Industries picked up production until 2004.
However, in 1980, Henry Repeating Arms began producing the AR-7 as the Henry U.S. Survival AR-7, and has continued to produce its version with excellent quality and reliability, as long as you use new magazines made by Henry that include an external wire spring to align the cartridges. Henry made a few changes, including using an ABS material to replace the original plastic stock, which was prone to cracking.
The receiver recess on the Henry stock allows storage of the receiver with a magazine in place, which earlier versions couldn’t accommodate, as well as two additional magazines. The rifle typically comes with two mags. The Henry AR-7 is also water resistant with a Teflon coating on the entire outer surface. A 3/8 in. weaver tip-off mount rail is milled into the top of the receiver for mounting a variety of optics—but the receiver can’t be stored in the stock with an optic attached.
When packed away in the stock, the rifle can also float for a time, as long as air is held in the hollow space by the buttpad/cap.
It retains is operational and other features, and is available in various colors. All iterations of the AR-7 use a bolt and dual recoil springs that are heavy for a .22 semi-auto, resulting in the best functionality with high-velocity ammo. However, it is possible to manually load a single round in the chamber, so low-velocity or subsonic ammo can be used as a single-shot if necessary.
Since the barrel and stock are both detachable from the receiver, a bevy of aftermarket accessories are out there for the AR-7, much like the market for 10/22 mods, including barrels, stocks, and grips. Some make the rifle look a lot like an AR, others look like space guns from a sci-fi movie. Of course, such accessories usually preclude the use of the original stock.