Range Report: Federal Range & Field .22 LR

As promised, I went to the range (DFW Gun Range, my all-time favorite) to test some “new” .22 ammo, to whit, the new budget Federal Range & Field variants.

So here are the two we’re going to be looking at:

and its hollowpoint brother:

Federal claims that the two are ballistically identical, so that’s what we’re going to test, fired through  my trusty Marlin 880SQ — but on a benchrest, not a bipod:

Added, in response to a comment below: I always run a boresnake through the barrel between testing different brands; then I fire a couple of fouling shots into the backstop, and then continue with the test. It’s not a “cleaning” (in the sense of a full field-strip cleaning), but for me it suffices.

First, a quick test of the zero, using my go-to CCI Mini-Max 36-grain hollowpoints as a benchmark, in a 5-shot string (and point of aim for all rounds was the center of the diamond):

No problem, with a called flier. They shoot a tad high because they’re light 36-grain bullets. So a couple clicks down on the scope, and I was ready to start the test. First came the Federal 40-grain “Range” ammo:

Ahem. That, dear Readers, is a 5-shot group, the very first time I’d ever shot this ammo. I’m pretty sure that someone else could do better than that, but not by much.

Now, the 38-grain “Field” variant:

Honestly, I didn’t do the ammo justice because the guy in the next lane was shooting an AK with a muzzle brake, and the concussion / bright flash was causing me to jerk the trigger as I tried to fit the string in between his shots. Failure. So I waited till he was reloading, and tried the 38-gr rounds again:

Much better, with the called flier on the left. Yes, as I suspected, the lighter 38gr Field hollowpoint bullets do strike a teeny bit higher than the 40-gr Range solids, but not by much, and it’s a good, solid group nevertheless.

I shot both ammo types a dozen or so more times each (without any significant differences from the initial groups), and I can honestly say that I think the Federal Range 40gr lead roundnose ammo is the bee’s knees — and its low price makes it a definite entry into the “plink all day” category. The Field 38gr copper hollowpoints? I’m going to hold off for a while and maybe do a little more testing — maybe compare it to other .22 hollowpoint ammo. It doesn’t seem to offer as tight a group, but as I said, I’m going to give it another session to make sure.

Finally, let me offer the usual caveats: these results came from my rifle, my scope and my level of shooting skill. Your results may differ — and in fact, they probably will, so it’s up to you. Rimfire guns are also notoriously picky as to their “favorite” ammo, and what works beautifully in one rifle will be awful in another. The Marlin 880SQ seems to love the Federal Range 40gr LRN ammo — and as proof I’ll show you another target result, using Winchester Super-X 40gr LRN this time:

I have a jillion rounds of the Super-X stuff because I got a honking deal on it about a decade ago and bought accordingly. I normally use this ammo exclusively in my Taurus pump-action because that’s what I plink with, but the grouping above is typical for this ammo in my guns: quite some variation between cartridges from the same box (which didn’t happen with either of the Range & Field types). A variation doesn’t matter when I’m looking for minute-of-Coke-can, but it does if I’m doing some serious shooting.

Anyway: my conclusion is that this new budget ammo from Federal performs much better than a budget cartridge can be expected to. Give it a shot for yourselves.

Up next: Federal Automatch .22, which should arrive in the next few days. Watch this space.


*Reminder: I get no kickbacks from any ammo manufacturer whatsoever for these tests. I perform them on an ad hoc basis, according to my whim or choice. Mostly, I buy the ammo for myself; but if anyone wants me to test ammo and sends me a couple boxes, I’ll do it gladly with the proviso that I will be impartial and outspoken. If I think the ammo sucks, I’ll say so, using those words; and if it’s excellent, I’ll say that too.

Interesting Development

Not much has happened in the .22 LR rimfire ammo world in about a thousand years, so I read with interest about something that Federal has done. But first, some background.

There’s always been a ballistic difference between the standard 40-grain solid  (LRN) ammo and the 36-grain hollowpoint (HP), for obvious reasons — the lighter bullet “flies” a little higher at any range greater than 25 yards, sometimes as much as an inch higher at 50 yards. Given that .22 shooting is generally aimed at small targets, this means that you have to adjust your scope each time you swap ammo — at least, that’s been my experience when shooting CCI’s Mini-Mag 40gr LRN / 36gr HP ammo through my Marlin 880SQ rifle.

So some smart guys at Federal claim to have done something about this disparity, and made their 38-gr (not 36-gr) “Field Pack” ammo ballistically matched to their cheaper 40-gr “Range Pack” offering — although there’s a 60 ft/second difference between the heavier and lighter cartridges, Federal claims that the “drop and drift” disparity should be pretty much unnoticeable. Here are the two packs under discussion:

I like this idea, so I’m going to give it a try as soon as I get them shipped to me*. Range report to follow.


*No local retail outlet has the two in stock, when I checked. Lucky Gunner has the Field but not the Range, and its price on the Field is phenomenal: $19.00 (6.9c/round) vs. CheaperThanDirt’s $24.12 as pictured above. CTD, however, does have both variants in stock and their shipping is quite a bit cheaper (the warehouse is located just a few miles from where I live), so this time I’ll go with CTD.

Update: I needed a couple other items from CTD, so I added them to the basket and qualified for free shipping. Hubba-hubba.

 

Pack Sizes

As manufacturers of consumer products juggle the balls of sales, cost and price, they come up with all sorts of schemes to “fool” customers — the snack bar people like Cadbury or Hershey are experts at this, decreasing the product’s size without raising the price thereof, so that people think that they’re still paying the same for that chocolate bar, and they are, except that they’re in essence paying more per ounce. It’s an old game, and one that I’m fully familiar with (and one that everybody should be fully familiar with, by the way). And as long as it happens with non-essentials like snack bars, I’m indifferent.

Unfortunately, now we seem to be facing this nonsense in our most basic of commodities, .22 ammo. Here’s an example, in an online flyer I received in the old Inbox just yesterday:

We’re all used to the venerable 500-round “brick” (as seen in the Remington Thunderbolts), of course, which is basically just a combo pack of the normal 50- or 100-round boxes. But we also see CCI’s little sneaker: the 300-round box which keeps it well below the $25 price point and Federal’s 275-round box which keeps the purchase below the $20 price point; but on a per-round basis, boxing the ammo like this can disguise a horribly-expensive price. At least this doesn’t seem to be the case here, because it’s a “Sale”. For those who don’t want to do the arithmetic:
Thunderbolt — 6 cents per round
CCI — 6.25 cents per round
Federal — 5.8 cents per round

Likewise, at the bulk end of the scale, we find products like this:

…which equates to 7.9 cents per round. Note that the quantity is 1,575 rounds and not the “three-brick” 1,500 rounds, making brick-by-brick price comparisons impossible without a calculator.

Indeed, all this pack-size differential seems to be designed on just that basis: to confuse the consumer. Certainly, it’s not to overcome pack design constraints or anything like that. So here’s my call to the ammo manufacturers:

Quit fucking us around with this nonsense. Sell your ammo in quantities of 50, 100 and 500, just like you always did, and quit trying to hide the fact that your company’s .22 ammo has become too fucking expensive to support a plinking habit.

I note, incidentally, that Lucky Gunner helps its customers by ranking their .22 ammo on a cost-per-round basis, which makes me smile because you can get to the heart of the matter easily when faced with a choice like this:

…just in case you didn’t notice that the “lower price” on the Browning applies to 400 rounds and not, like Aguila’s, to 500 rounds.

By the way: I love what Lucky Gunner is doing, but they are not always the cheapest, e.g. on the aforementioned Remington Thunderbolt 500-round brick, where the flyer’s price is $29.99, and LG’s is $38.75. But to be fair, the flyer’s price is a “closeout” deal (like they’re going to ever quit selling Thunderbolts — it’s probably a one-off loss leader ad item, more likely) whereas LG’s price is an everyday price.

Also, caveat emptor: a lot of times, the “great deal” you get on ammo isn’t, once you factor in the S&H costs — which differ widely between suppliers.

I’ll be talking a little more about the .22 LR thing in a later post. And just for the record: unless I’m buying target .22 LR, I refuse to pay more than 8 cents per round for the stuff. Even that price sticks in my craw, but I reluctantly accept the fact of supply and demand, and inflation, albeit with snarling hostility. My go-to CCI Mini-Max 40-grain ammo used to cost $5.99 per hundred — I have ummm several boxes with the price tag on them, dated 2006 — and now it costs $7.99. It’s like the ammo manufacturers don’t want us to shoot anymore.


(Note that in all the above, I’ve used 40-grain bullets as the common factor, and ignored any perceived quality differences in the brands. Frankly, .22 LR ammo is plinking feed, and unless you get a dud rate of more than 0.5%, they’re all pretty much of a muchness. Target/match .22 ammo is another story, and I’m not talking about that here.)

Needing Gun Advice

Longtime Friend and Reader James L. sends the following email:

I’m writing for advice for my son-in-law.  He already has a Colt 1911 and is considering getting a companion carbine, a High Point 4595TS.  I know you had a nice .45 carbine but don’t remember the make.

He is considering this because of California’s (spit) 2018 law making ammo purchase akin to buying a firearm.  It will require the whole background check and a permission slip to purchase, and then, only from a FFL licensed dealer, in California (spit).  No out of State purchases allowed.

Might you have any words of wisdom on the subject?

I’ll refrain from advising that his s-i-l move out of California altogether, and concentrate on answering the request.

The market for semi-auto carbines in .45 ACP has dried up completely. Only High Point is currently making one, and I’ve heard more bad than good about their offerings in general — if you’re making goods to a low price point, the Iron Law Of Quality Compromise cannot be denied. I used to own a Marlin Camp 45 carbine and loved it because it used 1911 magazines and it was fun to shoot; but Marlin no longer makes it, and in any event, it was not very rugged and certainly not as reliable as today’s pistol-caliber carbines.

Also, the current asking price for a secondhand Camp 45 seems to be well over $1,000, which is risible: you’re buying a curio more than an actual go-to semi-auto carbine.

Anyway, what’s left in California-legal .45 carbines? Not much. Here’s the Hi Point, by the way, at $400-odd:

…and after that, the pickings get slim and the prices much fatter. The Auto-Ord Thompson 1927A1 Commando retails just under $1,500:

…and it’s heavy and unwieldy into the bargain.

Then there’s the Kriss Vector at just over $1,500 and which looks badass and tacticool:

…and frankly, I’m amazed that California allows so scawwwy-looking a gun inside its borders.

Frankly, I don’t think that any of those options is a decent one. I get the impression that Reader James’s s-i-l can’t afford to drop over a grand on a carbine — if he were, I’d suggest he ignore all the above and get an M1 Carbine in .30 Carbine (which I think is still legal in CA providing that you have only 10-round magazines — the 15-rounders are streng verboten).

I recall seeing a while ago that some company was modifying the Carbine into a .45 ACP gun, but I don’t know any more about that.

Anyway, as the s-i-l in question is looking for a way to escape the stupid and onerous (by intention) California ammo laws, adding a new caliber would of course be counterproductive.

So he might as well get the High Point; or he should move out of California to the actual United States, where such stupid laws and regs are laughed out of the legislature if so proposed.

Bloody California.

Last Shooting Lesson

So as the first leg of my Britishland sabbatical has been drawing to its close, two things happened:

  1. Last night, The Englishman, Reader John M. and Mr. Free Market ganged up on your Humble Scribe, taking me to a strange pub buried deep in Hardy Country, and forced — forced, I tell you — gallons and gallons of 6X down my throat. This, after a couple stiff whiskies taken earlier when Mr. FM returned from doing Capitalist Things in London.
  2. Then Mr. FM dragged me out of bed at some ungodly hour (I believe it was 10am), pushed a shotgun into my shaking hands and announced that we would shortly be leaving for the Barbury School for a session of clays.

Oy. Fortunately, we arrived early enough to have a few cups of miracle coffee and a bacon-and-egg “bap” (big breadroll) before Instructor Dave hauled me off on shaky legs to the first shooting position.

And, Dear Readers, I was total shit. No excuses, I just shot like someone who’d never fired a gun before. I think I hit maybe half a dozen of fifty-odd clays thrown up.

Then, despite my protestations that I should just go back to the Range Rover and finish myself off, so to speak, Dave and Mr. FM (who had shot his normal 95%) hauled me off to a second shooting position — one where instead of standing still, we had to move from place to place, shoot a couple, move, shoot another couple, move, and so on.

And a miracle occurred, because (as Mr. FM explained afterwards), I stopped thinking about all technique and did what I know how to do: just shoot, with over fifty years’ experience behind me and no time to think about the mechanics — and I scored hits (I think) very close to 50% of the time.

I could have pulled the trigger till tea-time, but instead had to be dragged off kicking and screaming because our allotted time had ended or some such nonsense.

Here’s the thing. When I get back, I’m going to go to an outdoor shooting range with my trusty old 16-gauge and two hundred rounds of ammo, and practice and practice and practice until just before I need reconstructive surgery on my shoulder.

Then I’m going to go back as soon as the bruise has disappeared, and do it again and again until all my ammo is gone (don’t ask — it’s a lot). Then I’m going to buy some more ammo and repeat the exercise.

Screw this shooting badly nonsense.

 

Retirement Guns

Mr. FM and I were relaxing over a pint or two of whisky the other night and as always, the topic drifted towards that of guns. In this specific instance, it was “retirement” guns — i.e. when one has reached a certain age, and a miserly pension/SocSec payout prevents one from buying lots of rifles and/or ammo, what then are the guns that are most desirable to own, either by outright purchase (assuming the funds are available) or else acquired by selling off other guns to fund the purchases?

As I’m right in this target demographic, it’s a subject of keen interest to me.

The criteria are that they should be:

  • quality guns (high on the quality curve but acceptable costwise), to compensate for failing eyesight, shaky grip and unsteady footing;
  • only a few in number, yet able to address most shooting situations;
  • if possible, having gentle recoil (or at least gentler recoil) than the guns of one’s yoot;
  • and finally, chambered for a cartridge of which one already has a large supply.

Of course, the first priority would be a .22 rifle for both plinking and precision/varminting work. Mr. FM suggests an Anschutz 1416:

…or, if you’re going to go all benchy:

Then there’s the CZ 455 Luxe:

or, once again for the Benchies, the CZ 455 Precision:

I myself don’t need to buy either, as my Taurus Mod 62 / Marlin 880 SSQ / 880 SSV in .22 LR / .22 WinMag respectively, are probably all I’ll ever need for both plinking and varminting.

Yeah, the Marlins are no Anschutz or CZ, but they shoot better than I can shoot them; and I don’t have to spend any more money, so there’s that. And, of course, I do have a few boxes of both calibers in Ye Olde Ammoe Locquer. [/understatement]

In that vein, let’s talk for a moment about the guns which are chambered according to the contents of your ammo locker. As any fule kno, I’m a huge fan of the AK-47 rifle, and I have (let’s say) a sufficiency of 7.62x39mm ammo. So, if I wanted an accurate bolt-action hunting rifle chambered in that excellent caliber, then why not a CZ 527 Carbine:

Incidentally, if your preferred SHTF rifle is of the AR-15 persuasion and you have a boatload of its ammo, then obviously there is a plethora of bolt-action choices for you. But I would respectfully suggest that you could do a lot worse than the above-mentioned CZ 527 Carbine chambered in .223 Rem.

Let’s see… plinking/varminting, SHTF, short-range hunting; what’s left? Oh yeah, I almost forgot.

Everyone needs a rifle with which one can reach out and touch someone / something at distances up to 500-600 yards. I believe I now have that covered with my new Mauser M12 in 6.5x55mm:

Once again, if your preferred assault rifle is of the FN-FAL / H&K G3 etc. type and you have a lot of 7.62x55mm/.308 Win ammo, then you should by all means get a hunting / sniper rifle in that chambering.

So there you have it. By the above criteria, my rifle count is: three rimfires (.22 LR and .22 WinMag), one SHTF and one short-range hunting (7.62x39mm), and one sniper (6.5x55mm): a total of six rifles and four calibers. (I don’t currently own a CZ 527 in 7.62x39mm, but after much discussion / whisky with Mr. FM, I’m starting to like the idea.)

Another retiree’s rifle collection might be: one .22 LR for plinking, two in .223 Rem for SHTF and varminting, a .30-30 lever piece for short-range hunting, and a .300 WinMag for long-distance work: a total of five rifles and four calibers.

See how that works?

Feel free to add your combinations, using the above criteria, in Comments. Remember: funds are tight, you want to cut down on “caliber proliferation”, and you want to be able to address all the most likely shooting situations you’re going to encounter as an Old Fart. Have at it.