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Smith & Wesson M&P 15-22 – Yes, it’s legal!

Semi-autos are gone … well, the centrefire versions are – apart from a few that’ve been allowed for pest destruction – but rimfire rifles have been pretty much left alone. Also gone is the requirement to fit silly one-piece buttstocks, but we’re now limited to 10-round magazines. What we have left are traditional 22 rimfire rifles like the Ruger 10/22, Marlin 795s and similar rifles. Oh … and rifles like the Smith & Wesson M&P 15-22. Now the 15-22 looks like an AR15 but, of course – being a 22LR rifle – it’s not. Further to that, the lower receiver is a bespoke unit and it can’t take traditional AR15 magazines – only the dedicated S&W 22 mags. Thus, it meets the new criteria for a legal rimfire semi-auto. Some people will like that because they saw the AR15 as a good rifle; others won’t because they don’t like the look of this type of rifle. We’re going to park that argument for now and focus on whether this rifle is any good.

It’s pretty obvious from first looks what the 15-22’s heritage is but, as mentioned, this isn’t an AR15 with a 22LR upper on it. On close inspection, you’ll see the rifle is made of polymer and, like the rifle it’s modelled on, breaks in two for easy cleaning. It has an AR-style adjustable buttstock and an A2-style pistol grip; the handguard is also polymer and has Magpul M-LOK slots for mounting accessories. The lower receiver has a blocked buffer tube as this is just not needed on a rimfire, and combined with the special mag system, makes the lower receiver unusable with centrefire AR15 parts.

The barrel is 16.5 inches long and has a 1/2 x 28 UNEF thread on the end for a suppressor. It sits in what appears to be a free float handguard but on closer inspection, there’s
a ring insert at the end of the handguard
that supports the barrel. I suspect it’s there to stop the barrel moving too much and damaging the polymer upper if it’s dropped or roughly handled.

The 15-22 is supplied with Magpul MBUS folding sights, and the upper receiver and handguard have a continuous Picatinny rail for scope mounting. Inside, there are a few standard AR parts; unfortunately, the trigger is one of them and is probably the only real negative in the whole rifle. For those who have shot AR rifles before, the standard trigger leaves a bit to be desired – it’s both creepy and a bit heavy. However, having shot these triggers for years, I’m so used to them I don’t really get too worried by them. As the trigger is a standard AR15 semi-auto trigger, it could easily be replaced with a match version.

The magazine is a 10-round unit that complies fully with the new laws and has a last-shot bolt hold open – a feature I very much like in a semi-auto. The bolt is similar in design to the old Atchison-type AR rifle uppers, and this proven design is used in other AR rimfire rifles like CMMGs. The 15-22 version is a bit different in that the spring rides above the bolt, but like the original, it rides on two rails, is actuated by an AR-style charring handle and is smooth to operate.

Testing

Being made from polymer, the 15-22 feels very light in the hands; this, combined with the good AR-style ergonomics and adjustable buttstock, makes it an easy rifle to get comfortable behind.

For testing purposes, I used a Bushnell AR 22 Optics 2-7 x 32 scope. This scope has parallax that focusses down to 10m and allowed for perfect focus at 50m for our target work.

I have to say this: the standard AR-style trigger on this rifle isn’t conducive to target work and a few groups would’ve been smaller with a better trigger. That said, the rifle showed some very good accuracy with ammunition it liked. Straight to the point, Fiocchi’s F300 subsonic target ammo shot consistent 0.6 inch (15mm) groups at 50m; the worst group was 0.8 inch (20mm), and this was due to the trigger and possibly a bit of wind. The F300 is a mid-range target-grade ammo and is well priced at $110 per 500. Now to put this into perspective, this was shot in a semi-auto with a heavy trigger using only 7x magnification; compared with a few other rimfire rifles I’ve tested over the last year, this is as good as the best and better than most. I shot 5 x 5 shot groups with the Fiocchi, so it was no fluke.

Sadly, other ammunition types didn’t get as close, but it’s often the way with 22s where one type of ammunition is favoured. Winchester Power-Point Max shot consistent 1-inch groups (25mm); Norma Jaktmatch was next at 1.2 inches (30mm) followed by CCI Blazer 1.3 inches (33mm) and Winchester Subsonic at 1.6 inches (40mm). I would’ve liked another type of subsonic ammo as the Winchester didn’t always cycle reliably, but the Fiocchi cycled 100% reliably. Tests in the USA say that CCI Standard Velocity shoots very well. I shot just over 400 rounds plinking away out to 200 yards (183m) and, slow or rapid, the only issues were with the Winchester Power-Point Max Subsonic.

As mentioned earlier, as the bolt is similar to the Atchison design and if you needed to have the rifle cycle reliably with a certain type of subsonic ammunition, you could always clip a coil or two off the recoil spring. Now this may void your warranty, so be warned, and be aware that as these rifles break in, they can become more reliable with lower-powered rounds. The magazine is easy to load as it has tabs on the side to relieve the spring pressure. I removed the scope and shot a few rounds with the adjustable Magpul open sights – these are quite useable and better than a lot of the more rudimentary sights fitted on many 22 rifles. 

Conclusion

This rifle is bound to be a love-or-hate item; many will hate it because of the way it looks while others will embrace it for the same reason. The reality is that it’s actually a very good 22 rifle; the AR design makes for good ergonomics, and now those silly thumbhole stocks are gone, the adjustable buttstock makes it easier for people of varying size to get comfortable. The polymer construction will put some off – I can understand that – but on the flip side, it makes for a light rifle.

Accuracy is there when you find the ammo it likes, and it proved reliable apart from one subsonic load.

The only real upgrade on the rifle is the trigger and it’s something you would want to investigate.

I’m pondering a few new rifles at present as the buyback has given me some ‘Jacinda Bucks’ to spend and, to be fair, the 15-22 was never on my list … but after shooting it for a while, I’m now seriously considering it.

Specifications

  • Calibre: 22 LR
  • Capacity: 10
  • Safety: Manual Safety on Lower
  • Barrel Length: 16.5"
  • Overall Length: 33.8"
  • Front Sight: Folding Magpul (MBUS)
  • Rear Sight: Folding Magpul (MBUS)
  • Action: Semi-Auto Blow Back
  • Stock: 6-Position CAR
  • Grip: Polymer
  • Weight: 2.18kg
  • Barrel Material: Carbon Steel
  • Frame Material: Polymer
  • Frame Finish: Matte Black
  • Barrel Twist: 1 in 15" 
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