This is not a “which gun is better” series, as we believe that as long as the firearm serves its intended purpose,there are pros and cons of each, so the ultimate decision needs to be made by the consumer, based on individual needs.
Purpose built .22LR training ARs have been around for a few years, and due to the recent issues with ammunition pricing/ supply, they have greatly increased in popularity, and more manufacturers are getting into the market, so there will likely be more to come.
This review encompasses two of the more popular rifles in today’s market, the Smith & Wesson M&P 15-22 and the Colt branded AR-22 (manufactured by Walther). Each of these rifles were purchased new at Best Firearms in Mocksville North Carolina, a CSC sponsor.
When purchasing one of these rifles, you need to ask yourself first and foremost what the intended purpose is. Are you looking for a training analog for your AR-15 to save on ammunition costs, or are you looking purely for a fun rifle to shoot? If purchasing for a smaller person or a child, the weight and ergonomics are always important considerations.
As useful training tools, these types of rifles have found acceptance in competitions and training circles normally reserved for more popular calibers such as .223/ 5.56 or 7.62 x 39. Frankie McRae, owner of PSR 37 and Raidon Tactics, a NC based training company, says “It’s not the caliber of the tools we use but the tactics, techniques, and procedures that matter.”
We took a Saturday afternoon and went to the Veterans Range in Mocksville to get some photos and put some rounds downrange. Putting the rifles side-by-side, the immediate difference you notice is that the S&W has a polymer upper and lower receiver, while the Colt is Aluminum.
Both rifles come with a quad rail for accessorizing direct from the factory. The Colt uses an alloy material and comes with rail covers, the S&W is a polymer and does not. The S&W includes bolt-on front and rear sights, while the Colt carries a traditional A2 style front sight with a bayonet lug/ sling mount, and a bolt-on dual aperture rear sight. Depending on how you purchase the rifle, the Smith & Wesson can be had with or without a flash hider, it is included on the Colt. To complete the package, both rifles have military style collapsible buttstocks with sling mounts.
If you are looking for a training analog, you will notice pretty quickly two obvious points about each rifle. The S&W has a traditional AR bolt catch, while the Colt does not. Colt decided to mold the shape of the bolt catch into the receiver, but it is purely non-functional. Conversely, the Smith & Wesson does not have a Forward Assist, while the Colt’s is functional. The Colt also comes with a functional dust cover, while the S&W does not. Both rifles have traditional AR safeties, trigger groups, charging handles, mag releases, and pistol grips. If you need to change the trigger guard, the Smith and Wesson’s is built into the lower receiver and is not removable.
With the basic platforms being what they are, both rifles can be modified with traditional AR accessories, and it is very easy to make your training rifle mimick its grown up counterpart. Several of our CSC members have their .22 variants mocked up exactly as their .223 versions, and visually it is hard to tell them apart.
The magazines for each rifle come in different capacities and will fit your standard AR mag pouches. The S&W we tested came with a 25 round magazine, and the Colt came with a 30 round mag, which is slightly longer than a regular 30 round GI mag.
Like most things, the rifle that works best for you is going to be the one that has the functions that you care about the most. The S&W is roughly half a pound lighter and has a bolt catch, the Colt has more heft thanks to the aluminum, and ‘feels’ more like a traditional AR.
Performance-wise, these are both .22LR rimfire rifles. They are light, fun, and easy to hold on target because of the lack of recoil. It is important to note, however, that these are not toys. Don’t discount these as viable self-defense rifles, as there is a lot to be said for being able to put 30 rounds into a fist sized group under rapid fire.
In our two hours of testing and approximately 250 rounds through each rifle, we had 3 stove pipes from the Smith & Wesson, and one Failure to Fire on the Colt. Both of these were likely common ammo-related issues with just about any .22. We will further evaluate/ troubleshoot the issues with a more scientific process of ammo/ magazine selection in a future review. Everyone should train and practice failure corrections with any firearm as a matter of course.
Specifications (from individual mfr. websites)
Weight w/out Mag: 5.9 lbs
Overall Length: 31.1-34.4 in
Barrel Length: 16.2 in
Barrel Twist: 1 in 13-3/4 in
Muzzle Thread: M8x.75mm
Barrel: 1 in 16″ twist, carbon steel
Barrel Length: 16″
Overall Length: 30.5-33.75″ extended
Weight: 5.5 pounds unloaded
Finish: Matte black
This first chapter of this review series is to simply review the features and get some break-in time on the two rifles. The next chapter will cover accuracy and further explore ammo selection and reliability.
DISCLAIMER: CSC *firmly* believes in following all safety rules and firearms handling precautions. Any photos taken from in front of the muzzle were taken with a tripod and remote control on the camera. Photo credits to Carolina Shooters Club staff, reproduction without permission for commercial purposes are strictly forbidden.