If you have a 22lr rifle that just doesn't shoot as accurately as you think it should, don't feel like you are alone. There are many variables that determine how well a rifle shoots, especially rimfire and not all rifles come out the box ready to shoot to their potential. In fact, few do.
I have put together a process you can step through to get you and your rifle back on track. It may or may not be quick depending on what the problem(s) are but if you verify each step, get to the end, and still don't know what the problem is...........sell the rifle.
I will list the steps or process below that should help you identify and correct your issue. The most likely and easiest to correct items are closer to the top of the list so these things are verified first to hopefully allow you to get back to the range sooner, so execute the steps in order.
If you really enjoy rimfire rifles and making them shoot better you will probably enjoy this endeavor and going through it will be a learning experience for you. I would think that even some of the seasoned guys and gals might pick up a tidbit or two they weren't aware of before. So relax and have fun..
As most rifles designed for above average accuracy are usually bolt action. those are the rifles this process was written for. That doesn't mean that it can't be used for rifles with other actions, larger bores or even pistols for that matter. If your rifle is semi auto or another caliber and the step doesn't make sense for your design, just skip it and continue to work your way down through the list of checks or adjust the information to meet your need.
Step 1 Make sure you stay safe and no one gets hurt
Check and double check that the rifle is unloaded before doing anything. Many people have been killed by firearms that were supposedly unloaded. Never make assumptions. Check the rifle or firearm every time you approach it.
Step 2 Make sure your expectations are realistic for your rifle and skill level
Make sure your accuracy expectations are realistic. Of course it never hurts to see how much improvement you can squeeze from a rifle but expecting a 0.1 inch group at 50 yards out of a stock Ruger 10/22 is not realistic. At least I have never seen anyone, including myself attain this level of accuracy even with the best shooting equipment.
A realistic expectation is probably 1 to 1.5 moa out of a standard stock rifle shooting good ammo. (MOA is 1 inch @ 100 yards, 0.5 inches at 50 yards, etc.) For a good target grade rifle, 1 to 1/2 moa is definitely possible with good rifle fundamentals. Finely tuned high quality bench rest rifles consistently and easily break 1/2 moa and usually shoot in the 0.2 moa range.
Step 3 Make sure the problem is not you
Make sure YOUR shooting fundamentals are good. Review this article, follow it's advice, then go to the range properly prepared and shoot the best group you can with the rifle in question.
If improving your fundamentals had no affect on group size, find the best shooter at the range and ask that person to shoot a group using your ammo, rest, rifle and target at the same distance.
If that person's group is smaller than yours, you still have a lot of work to do on improving your fundamentals. Work on that until you are able to match or better the other person's grouping. If you are now within a proper range of accuracy as discussed above, you can stop or proceed to see if you can improve accuracy even further. It's up to you.
The point here is that there is no point in pursuing improving your rifle if someone else can shoot it well.
Step 4 Make sure the barrel is capable of shooting accurately
Look at the muzzle crown of your barrel. Is it worn from excessive cleaning with the wrong type of rod or is there some other reason the muzzle is damaged? It will look similar to the picture below if that is the case.
If your rifle is new, this should not be an issue but having good cleanly machined grooves at the crown of the muzzle is where accuracy starts. If this is damaged or worn, the situation will have to be addressed before good accuracy can be obtained.
If your muzzle crown is in good shape clean the rifle really good using the procedure in this article. You primary goal in cleaning is to remove both power and lead fouling that have become excessive. Once this is done, two to three shots should be taken through the barrel to return it to the condition it will be shot in most often before any type of testing for accuracy begins.
Step 5 Make sure all mounting screws are tightened to spec
Verify that all action screws are tight. These are the screws that hold the barreled action to the stock. If any of these screws are loose remove them all and then replace them with a drop of blue locktite on the treads. Tighten them to the manufacturers recommended torque using a proper torque wrench. This is usually in the 25 to 30 inch lb range.
Don't fall for the old wives tale that some rifles shoot better by varying the torque on these screws. Check out this article on that subject for more information. If the action is bedded in the stock correctly, these screws should be as tight as possible without stripping the threads.
While you are doing this, you may as well verify that all of the scope mount base and ring screws are tightened properly. If you find one that is loose, repeat the process above using blue locktite on both the scope mount bases and rings.
If none of these screws were loose and you have tightened them all to the correct torque with blue locktite on the threads, proceed to the next step. If you re-torqued your screws after finding one loose shoot the rifle again to determine if accuracy has improved. If not move to the next step.
Step 6 Make sure the scope is functional
Closely inspect all areas of the scope including all adjustment knobs, elevation, windage, and parallax. Inspect those and other parts of the scope for looseness. Shake the scope and listen for internal rattling. If any of the above is found it should be repaired back to like new condition before moving on.
If there is internal rattling, send the scope back to the manufacturer if the warranty is still good. If not, you will have to replace this scope. Make sure all of the issues above are addressed before moving on. If all of the above checks out good, move on to the next step.
Step 7 Ensure the scope is repeatable
Make sure the scope is repeatable or in other words insure the scope cross hairs will return to the original point of aim when elevation and windage adjustments are changed 5 moa or more and then returned back to their original position.
Don't use just one or two shots to determine if the group returns to the original point of impact. This can be very misleading. I suggest a minimum of 5 shots per group, 10 is even better. Finding the center of the group is what you are after.
Shoot the first group at a 1 inch circle at 50 yards trying to center the circle. Make no adjustments to the scope while shooting the group. Go down to the target and mark all of the holes and find the center of the group. Mark the center with an X.
Go back and change the elevation and windage adjustments on your scope at least 5 moa, more if possible. The shoot another group with the same point of aim, right in the center of the 1 inch dot. Go down and mark those holes with another color.
Then return the windage and elevation adjustments back to exactly the same settings as the first group and fire another group. The center of this group should match exactly with the center of the first group shot.
If the center of the last group didn't return to the center of your first group, you have a scope problem and probably need to invest in a higher quality optic or return your scope to the manufacturer for repair. You will never get great accuracy results until the scope you are using can pass this test.
All of your work could be for naught or misleading without the right equipment. We are not testing your ability to shoot here, we are testing the capability of the scope and rifle. Remove as much of the human component as possible.
Step 8 Make sure your trigger is smooth and light
Being acceptably accurate with a firearm doesn't require a high dollar target trigger, but it sure helps. A good trigger activates the firing mechanism while not disturbing the shooter or the firearm.
A trigger that is "smooth" and has a light pull weight disturbs the fire arm less, or causes less movement of the firearm during and into the trigger pull. Even after the shot activates, the aim point should remain stable until the bullet exits the muzzle. This happens quickly but is not instantaneous.
If your trigger is adjustable, try to get it around 2 lbs or slightly less without accidentally firing. This is very important, a trigger that is set by someone who doesn't know what they are doing can trigger the firing mechanism from just a slight bump of the rifle. This can be catostrophic. Have your trigger adjusted by someone with experience and knowledge of how the mechanism works.
You can also buy drop in triggers for many makes of 22lr rifles. This may be your best bet. Just make sure you can squeeze off that shot with no movement of the crosshair.
Step 9 Insure the action is seated firmly in the stock
An action that can shift in the stock from one shot to the next will prevent you from ever improving the accuracy of your rifle. This doesn't mean that the action is so loose that you can see the movement. You may not be able to see it all.
One telltale sign that this is happening is when you get a few shots that are very close then the whole grouping shifts to another spot and the shots group together in that area. I won't go into how to glass bed the action here but I have written an article to guide you through this process. Click here to check it out.
You may not think that a 22lr is generating enough recoil to cause any major shift in the rifle stock but I can assure you that recoil, along with just general handling of the rifle can cause a poorly seated action to move. Is this the magic cure? Maybe, maybe not but giving the action a firm and accurate bed to sit in won't hurt anything and could actually solve your problem.
Step 10 Insure the barrel is free floated
The term "free floating" just means that the barrel is touching nothing in the stock and that a dollar bill can be easily and freely slid between the stock and the barrel down to about an inch before the action.
This allows the barrel harmonics to happen consistently. Anything that improves consistency with a firearm is beneficial to accuracy.
Identify any high areas where the barrel could vibrate and touch the stock during a shot. Remove material in that area until the stock floats free by at least the thickness of a dollar bill. For more information on "free floating" check out this article.
Step 11 Identify the ammo that shoots best from your rifle
If you have made it this far in the process, you should now have a sound rifle and scope. The next step is identifying the load your rifle likes best. The most expensive ammo doesn't always shoot the best from every rifle. I have seen this occur over and over.
Some rifles insist on having the very expensive top of the line Eley match ammo where other rifles get mediocre groups with it and shoot much less expensive ammo better.
This article can give you a head start.
Most 22 lr rifles from the factory come with a 1 in 16 twist. This means the grooves in the barrel are cut to twist once in 16 inches. In my experience, and proven by the data used for the article linked above, this is the optimum twist for a 40 grain 22 bullet moving around 1000 fps.
If you will look at most of the higher priced target ammo, it is loaded for this velocity - around 1000 fps. That is because that is the velocity where the best accuracy occurs in the average 22 lr barrel.
Once you have ammo that is in the appropriate velocity range for accuracy, the other thing you can do to drive accuracy improvement in ammo is to find consistency from cartridge to cartridge. Consistency of everything is the mother of accuracy.
If you are one of those people who want to squeeze every little ounce of accuracy out of your rig, you can do cartridge sorting. Certain characteristics like rim thickness, cartridge weight, overall cartridge length can be measured and sorted into like groups therefore improve consistency of the lot that is being shot at any one time.
There is data available that proves this works. You can sort bulk ammo for these characteristics and usually see an improvement. Really that's what expensive target ammo is, ammo that is sorted to be more consistent after being produced from a slower more finely tuned manufacturing process.
I have sorted ammo for rim thickness before a couple of local tournaments I shot in and can tell you that I had good days in both of the tournaments. Was it because of the sorting? I can't say for sure but it certainly didn't hurt. Here is a tool on Amazon that I used to speed up the sorting process. Because it was faster, the whole process was not as redundant for me as it usually is.
What I have discussed here are the basics that must be addressed if you are not getting acceptable accuracy from your rimfire rifle. There are many other articles here to help you continue to drive accuracy improvement process on rimfires once the basics are in place.
The search for optimum accuracy is a hobby within itself and is a lot of fun which can result in a rig that will provide many hours of shooting enjoyment making shots you never thought were possible. Once this goal is obtained, if you are like me, you'll move on to the next project. Relax, enjoy every moment, and have fun.