Sunday, February 12, 2012

The S&W M&P 15-22 Rimfire AR..... I'm in love.


As a gunny kind of guy, Carteach's eyes are always open for 'Opportunities in ownership'. One never knows what chance might bring to the table, so one must be ready.

A while back, just such an opportunity came up. Riding to work with a buddy, he shared a list of firearms being sold by someone he knows. By the looks of the list, we had an older shooter clearing the racks of some chaff, perhaps making room for an upgrade someplace.

Two rifles caught my eye. One, an elderly Winchester bolt action .22, was already spoken for by my buddy. Ever the one to spot a good deal on quality, he'd already jumped into that rifle with both feet.

The other was a rifle I had been considering buying myself for some months already. A Smith and Wesson M&P 15-22..... Smith's rimfire brother to it's line of AR rifles. On the list at $300, the base model 15-22 was priced at a solid discount over new, and that was all Carteach needed to kick him over the edge. A few days (and an empty wallet) later, the newish .22 was in my truck and on the way home with me.

Right about here, there's a confession to make. The secret Carteach armory does not... at this moment.... contain an AR platform.

I'll give my faithful readers a few moments to get over the shock.....
Okay, better now? Got your breath back? We'll move on then.

It's not that I've never owned an AR15. It's just the ones I've owned never impressed me greatly. My first, a Colt H-bar of early design, could drive tacks with stunning regularity. What it couldn't do was function with 100% dependability. Even when clean, it liked to jam a round partly in the chamber and lock itself up tight. This happened with all ammo tried, regularly. Too regularly... and the rifle was sold off (At a profit, to be sure).

The next AR was a shorter cousin to the Colt H-bar, and while it would function pretty well... it felt 'rattly' in the hands and the accuracy was no better than the Ruger mini racked next to it. That is to say... poorish. That rifle too was sold off, and yes... at a small profit.

Currently, the primary gun safe holds a younger half-brother to the AR design, an Armalite AR180b. That rifle, designed by Eugene Stoner as an answer to all the problems with his early AR's, serves me quite well in that niche. It's piston driven, like all the kewl kids today want in their AR-15's, and it has a recoil mechanism not unlike the H+K series of rifles. Additionally, the 'b' notation means my rifle accepts standard AR magazines and trigger group components.

So, the armory does contain a rifle or two which mostly fill the role of the AR15 in Carteach's world. That being said.... what gunny doesn't lust after new toys?

So, I've been considering adding an AR platform to the collection. Perhaps something I can swap uppers on, going from an H-bar to shoot in the matches, to an M-4 design for a 'house gun'. In addition, I considered the option of plinking and practicing with a .22 rimfire conversion kit. Towards that end, S&W answered the call with their M&P 15-22... a dedicated AR rifle in .22 rimfire. Carteach had been leaning towards purchase of a 15-22, and a 5.56 brother to it as well. Thus, when the S&W .22 appeared before me on that list of used rifles for sale, it was a no-brainer.

Taking a look at the S&W rifle, what we see is a mostly polymer AR style rifle. Not a true AR, as it's a blowback rimfire action, yet the exterior of the rifle follows the AR pattern to a 'T', and on this point S&W is made of win. The charging handle, safety, functioning bolt release, and magazine release all exactly match a center fire AR rifle. The rifles exterior dimensions (35 inches with stock shortened) also match the 'real' AR rifles perfectly. The removable sights that come with the M&P 15-22 can be taken from the rimfire and mounted to the 5.56 rifle, as they are the same sights.

The only thing that clues the shooter into the fun is the weight of the 15-22, as it's all polymer construction keeps it's heft under 6 pounds. That, and the utter lack of recoil and muzzle blast on firing.

Arriving home with the brand new used M&P, nothing would suit but to shoot it a bit on the back yard range. Living where I do, with the neighbors I have, that meant I had company right quick. Handing the rifle over to my neighbor's young boy for a try, it was striking that the young man immediately mentioned the rifle had the same controls as an AR (As I've said before... I've got some pretty cool neighbors).

We put fifty rounds (two magazines) through the Smith .22 in a matter of minutes, with perfect function and good 'minute of soda can' accuracy. The rifle is a joy to shoot, with no recoil to be noticed and an easy manner to it that encourages shooting with accuracy.

One of the common failures in .22 rimfire semi-autos is reliability. To be blunt, many .22 autos are jam-0-matics, unable to get through more than a few magazines without a stoppage. In addition, of those .22 autos that do function reliably, most tend to be rather picky about ammunition while doing it. Over the years, I've had my best .22 auto luck with Ruger's offerings, namely the 10-22 and the earlier versions of the Ruger .22 auto pistol (Mk1, and Mk2). The Marlin Mdl 60 also tends to function decently with a little tender care. Other than those.... I've come to expect occasional stoppages to be the norm in a .22 auto.

NOT in the S&W M&P 15-22.... or at least not in mine. As this is being written, I've tried 12 different kinds of rimfire ammunition in my Smith .22 AR. The only ammunition which didn't cycle the rifle perfectly were CCI CB-longs (Come on... never meant to work in an auto) and some crappy Remington bulk pack with over-sized bullets that nothing functions well on. Other than that, it just shoots... and shoots... and shoots. No misfeeds, no failures to fire, and no jams. Hollow point, solid, 32 grain bullet or 40 grain... even the oddball 60 grain Aguila subsonic... it all functions perfectly in this 15-22. Standard velocity, hyper velocity, subsonic velocity, and everything else I have tried so far. It all works with wonderfully boring perfection.

The M&P .22 breaks down for cleaning in similar fashion to it's big brother AR's. Pull a pin at the back of the action, tilt the upper receiver up, and slide the charging handle and bolt out. Not much more needs be taken apart in normal cleaning, and this is refreshing. Cleaning and servicing the 15-22 is easy compared to some other .22 autos.

That said, my first excursion into the internals of this particular rifle were rather enlightening. It appears the previous owner (s) never cleaned the rifle. Now, many of the fine people reading here will have cleaned a .22 rimfire or ten in their lifetimes, and understand they can get a bit 'dirty'. Well, you ain't seen nothing... trust me on this. Upon opening the action, I found rimfire powder fouling so deep in the action I was not able to identify the springs in the trigger group.

It took an hour of scrubbing, wiping, and Q-tipping. In the end there were two trips to the trash to carry all the fouled paper towels, cleaning patches, and grungy Q-tips away. The rifle itself actually felt lighter in my hands!

I mention all this, just to point out those first fifty rounds fired when the rifle first came home. The Smith M&P .22 functioned flawlessly then, and works even better now that it's properly cleaned and lubed.

Never one to leave well enough alone, Carteach pulled the fully adjustable sights off the rifle and installed an Eotech 512 for a little change. Yes, the holographic sight costs more than the weapon it's mounted on, but that's of little import. It's FUN! Between the stunning ease of acquiring the target and the M&P's exceptional accuracy, plinking in the yard has gone to a whole new level.

I've even hung a miniature Laserlyte FSL-3 laser under the forearm rail, as an aid to low light shooting. The little laser fairly vanishes on the rifle, and makes popping soda cans off the woodpile after dark boringly easy. Just line up the blinky red laser dot on the target, and POP... it's down.

This S&W 15-22 can place five shots at 25 yards in a group covered with a dime, and that's with an old man's eyes and a non-magnified sight.... Offhand. The rifle just invites the shooter to perform that good. No work is involved, just breath well and exercise some trigger control. The 15-22 does the rest.

So what is the rifle useful for, as if the sheer pleasure wasn't enough? Smith & Wesson's faithful adherence to the functional controls of a 'real' AR make the M&P 15-22 a perfectly natural fit as a training rifle. The manual of arms is the same, and lacks only recoil and muzzle blast to simulate shooting the full bore poodle shooter rifle. For any owner of an AR platform rifle, this becomes an easy decision. A range session with the 15-22, going through 500 rounds of wonderfully accurate fire, costs only about $20 (as this is written). That is a tenth the cost of shooting the same with a 5.56 AR.

The writers home state does not allow hunting with semi-auto rifles, but if it did I would not hesitate to take the little .22 Smith out on a squirrel safari. It's accuracy would make for full pots and fun days.

How about self defense? Well.... the .22 rimfire is not exactly noted as a power house defensive round. That said, putting ten of them on target fast is roughly the same as a load of twelve gauge buckshot... so I suppose it could serve. More importantly, it's a very easy rifle to shoot well, especially for a recoil shy shooter. To someone afraid of firing a larger weapon, the .22 might be the only viable option. As for Carteach.... I would be happy to have this little rifle in my hands should a bad guy come bashing at my door.... especially if the choice was this or nothing.


Tango Juliet said...

So how 'bout the trigger group? Could it be upgraded to an aftermarket trigger like the Timney or Gisele? (Provided one wanted to drop that kind of money into it?)

Carteach said...

I can't speak from personal knowledge, having never tried it. Doing some reading, I understand the trigger is replaceable with standard AR trigger group.

Hat Trick said...

Your review has me thinking about getting one as a inexpensive to feed training rifle. I shoot a NM AR for CMP matches and would like a .22 to use for practice. Also would eventually like to try to get into three gun matches and this looks like just the thing to train with for that.

How do you think it will shoot with a sling in prone and sitting?

Carteach said...

H/T, I expect a rimfire conversion would be a better training aid, but only to keep the stocks, trigger, and sights the same.

That said, I would not hesitate to shoot this thing in positions, and if I manage to score an H-bar one day for match shooting, this rifle will be my training gun.

I'll tel you something I would LOVE to see S&W com up with... interchangeable uppers for this rifle. I'd like to have a long barrel version, and a .17 HMR version.

Old NFO said...

Nice, but I'll stick with my Model 39 :-)

Carteach said...

NFO, why not both :-)

I have a CZ trainer that may fill the same spot for me that your 39 does for you. Seriously good quality, very accurate, a wonderful small game rifle, and near perfect for introducing new shooters.

That said, this M&P is a ball to shoot.

Firehand said...

I got one early, and as seems to be the rule when I do, I gone one of those with ALL the problems. The fourth time it went back I raised hell, and they offered to either refund my purchase price or replace it. Well, when it worked it was fun, so I took the replacement.

This one has worked flawlessly with multiple ammo types/brands; like yours, the only one it won't work with is Remington bulk-pack, half of which won't chamber.

And yes, I've been informed that any aftermarket AR trigger will fit.

45er said...

I would love to get a .22 upper for training. A couple of friends have them and they help immensely.

Old NFO said...

Well, how about no room in the safe??? :-)

Carteach said...

My Friend... maybe I can help? I'll offer off-site, out of state safe storage for anything you wish to leave here. I'll even promise to keep them well used :-)