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Review of the Ruger 10/22 50th Anniversary Design Contest Rifle

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Review of the Ruger 10/22 50th Anniversary Design Contest Rifle
By henschman

The 10/22 and Appleseed

The goal of Appleseed’s shooting curriculum has always been to teach shooters everything necessary to hit man-sized targets out to 500 yards with center fire rifles. In the very early days, entire Appleseed firing lines were made up of M1As, M1s, FALs, SMLEs, and the like. However, it was quickly realized that the cost of a weekend’s worth of center fire ammunition was preventing many shooters from attending. It wasn’t long before Appleseed instructors came up with the concept of the Liberty Training Rifle (LTR) – a .22 LR rifle modified with features simulating a center fire battle rifle, suited for the Appleseed program of instruction and the 25m Army Qualification Test – allowing participants to save money by shooting center fire rifles less, while still developing and practicing the fundamentals of marksmanship. The Ruger 10/22 was always by far the most popular basis for homemade LTRs, and for years, Appleseed volunteers have been trying to persuade Ruger to produce a factory 10/22 LTR. These efforts continually proved fruitless – until 2014, when the 50th Anniversary of the 10/22 presented the perfect opportunity to make it a reality.

The Ruger 10/22 Design Contest

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of their most loved product, Ruger asked shooters to submit designs for their ideal customized 10/22. Ruger planned to pick 10 of the designs as finalists, and to hold a contest in which shooters could vote for their favorite, with the winning design to be put into production as a special anniversary edition rifle. Appleseed instructor “Gary from Michigan,” screen name mac66 on the Appleseed forum, saw this as an opportunity to realize Appleseed’s goal of a factory 10/22 LTR. Gary understood that a winning design would need to have useful features and be aesthetically pleasing, but that Ruger would only choose rifles as finalists which were actually feasible for them to put into production. With this in mind, he came up with a design that utilized existing factory Ruger parts to make the 10/22 into a more suitable “Rifleman’s rifle.”  His design started with a stainless steel-barreled 10/22 and added a stock with modular buttstock inserts from the American Rimfire Rifle, sights from the Mini 14/Gunsite Scout Rifle, and a threaded muzzle with a Mini 14 flash hider.

Gary's design, as shown on Ruger's website during the contest

After being chosen as a finalist, Gary’s design was put up for vote against nine others, with designs ranging from bench rest rifles to sporting rifles to “tacticool” plinkers, including several takedown designs. Shooters all over the world could vote for their favorite design on Ruger’s website, with the ability to cast one vote per day. In Appleseed circles, it has long been realized that Appleseed shooters make up a sizeable percentage of 10/22 buyers, and that a factory 10/22 would be a popular seller. Ruger never agreed, believing that the extra features on a 10/22 LTR would price the rifle out of the market. Appleseed participants across the U.S. saw Gary’s entry in the design contest as the perfect opportunity to show Ruger just how much demand there really was for a factory LTR, and flocked to the contest to vote for his rifle. At the end of the contest, Gary’s LTR had a sizeable lead over the other finalists, and he was announced the winner. In a matter of months, Ruger’s production version of the rifle, dubbed the Ruger 10/22 50th Anniversary Design Contest Rifle, began hitting gun store shelves. I obtained one of the rifles the week after they were released in June 2014 for $318.00 plus tax. The following review contains details about the rifle and its features, my impressions of the rifle, including range testing, and my impressions on the rifle’s suitability as an Appleseed LTR. I will also discuss the unavoidable comparison between this rifle and the other factory LTR – the Marlin 795 LTR (which I reviewed in an earlier article here:, and my views on how they stack up to one another.

Initial Impressions

The 10/22 Design Contest Rifle is visually striking, with its contrasting silver metal and black furniture, and unique features that do not appear on any other 10/22 variant. It is immediately obvious that it is not your average factory 10/22. I was glad to see that the receiver does not have a cheap painted-on silver finish like some 10/22 variants I have seen, like the old “Wal-Mart Special” 10/22s – it is a raw aluminum finish that does not appear to have a coating of any kind. Tool marks are visible in the finish. This finish seems to show scratches easily – the receiver was marred in a couple spots right out of the box. The receiver’s finish matches nicely with the polished hammer forged stainless steel barrel. In my experience on the Appleseed firing line, factory Ruger barrels are capable of excellent accuracy (which of course requires the shooter doing his part). All 2014 production 10/22s have special 50th Anniversary markings on the bolt, but the Design Contest rifle also has a special receiver engraving that is unique to it.

The Stock

When first handling the rifle, I was immediately impressed by how good it felt in my hands. On many plastic-stocked .22s, including the base model 10/22 carbines, the stock looks and feels cheap and hollow. There is nothing cheap about the plastic stock on this rifle – it is very ergonomic and very solid-feeling. The stock is derived from the Ruger American Rimfire rifles, which are value-priced bolt action .22 caliber rifles. Ruger already had a real winner with this stock, and simply adapted it to fit the 10/22 for the Design Contest Rifle. The contour of the forearm feels great in the hand, and the rough surface on the grip and forearm allow for a good grip without being too prickly or uncomfortable, the way some checkered grips can be. The forearm is stiff and doesn’t flex, even under snug sling pressure. Unlike base model 10/22s, the stock comes complete with front and rear sling studs.

This would already be a great stock if the features stopped here – but the main feature of the stock that sets it apart from others is its ability to accept modular cheek pieces. The comb and butt portion of the stock are a removable module, which can be swapped out for different units to make the rifle fit the shooter better. Ruger makes four different stock modules – a straight comb in both regular and compact length, and a raised comb in both regular and compact length. The 10/22 Design Contest Rifle comes with the two regular length cheek pieces. The compact length stock modules, which are ideal for shooters of small stature, can be purchased at for $19.95 as of the writing of this article. The stock module is removed by unscrewing the rear sling stud and pulling the module out of the stock. Do not unscrew the stud with a sling swivel installed – it will gouge the stock around the stud. Your best bet is to use a nail, Allen wrench, or other small cylindrical object that fits through the sling stud. Insert the replacement module and re-tighten the sling stud.

Unfortunately, the raised comb stock module that comes with the rifle does not fit me at all, and due to my slightly less-than-average stature, I suspect many other Riflemen will have the same problem with it. The issue is the same as many factory raised cheek rests – it is too far to the rear for use with field positions like Appleseed teaches. Even in the standing position, “turkey-necking” forward and dropping my head onto the stock puts the front edge of the raised comb well behind my cheek bone, where a shooter’s head should rest for a proper cheek weld. Instead, the comb digs uncomfortably into the back of my jaw. This stock module is another example of how rifles and accessories are frequently not designed with the Rifleman in mind; though I’m sure it would work wonderfully for sitting in a chair and shooting the rifle off a bench rest.

The Sights

The biggest deficiency with the standard factory 10/22 on the Appleseed firing line is the factory sights. They are difficult to adjust, particularly with any kind of precision – elevation is adjusted by loosening two tiny screws and moving the notched leaf up or down on the rear sight base. Windage can only be adjusted by drifting the rear sight base in the dovetail on the barrel with a hammer and punch. It is difficult to zero factory 10/22 sights, and it is impossible to use Appleseed’s “Inches, Minutes, Clicks” zeroing technique with them. Also, the short sight radius and fat, round front sight bead are not conducive to precision marksmanship. They may well be the worst factory sights of any current production rifle. On his design, Gary replaced the standard 10/22 sights with the same adjustable peep sights that are used on the Mini 14 and Gunsite Scout Rifle, which allow for easy adjustment and a much longer sight radius.

The sights adjust for both windage and elevation at the rear sight. The front sight is a non-adjustable blade with protective ears which is installed in the dovetail at the muzzle, just like the standard 10/22 front sight. The Ruger’s rear sight works very much like the front sight on a metric pattern FN FAL. The rear sight aperture is threaded, and adjusts for elevation by screwing it either in or out of the rear sight base. Windage is adjusted via push screws on either side of the rear sight base, which also serve to lock the aperture securely in place when the desired sight setting is reached. A 5/64” Allen wrench is required to adjust the sights, and is a must-have for anyone who owns one of these rifles. To adjust elevation, use the Allen wrench loosen one of the push screws to take the pressure off the aperture, and then rotate the aperture either clockwise or counter-clockwise to lower or raise it, respectively. One half rotation of the aperture moves it 2.5 MOA. Note that the rear sight will be somewhat stiff the first time you adjust it, and may require using pliers, or sticking your Allen wrench or something of similar size through the aperture for leverage, in order to get it to rotate. After the first adjustment, the rear sight should become loose enough that you should be able to turn it by hand once the side screw is loosened. Once you have made the desired adjustment, tighten the same screw you earlier loosened until it is secure.

To adjust windage, loosen the push screw on the side you want the sight to move toward – each quarter rotation of the rear sight is equal to 1.25 MOA (a 1/5 rotation, which is harder to eyeball, is 1 MOA). Then tighten the screw on the other side of the sight housing to push the rear sight in the desired direction, until it is tight against the other screw.

The Design Contest Rifle’s sights are not quite as straightforward to adjust as Tech Sights, which adjust by simply rotating a dial the desired number of clicks; and the Ruger’s sights may not adjust with “clicks” per se; but the most important thing is that they allow for repeatable adjustments of both windage and elevation. By substituting clicks with “quarter turns of the windage screws” and “half turns of the aperture,” the Inches/Minutes/Clicks method of sight adjustment can be effectively used with these sights.

Scope Mount

The 10/22 Design Contest Rifle makes use of a new and unique scope mount that also serves as the base for the rear sight assembly. The mount is a Weaver type mount that attaches to the rifle’s receiver using the factory drilled and tapped scope mount holes, and extends forward of the receiver over the barrel by a little over an inch. In a bit of an unconventional design, the front of the scope mount appears to contact the top of the rifle’s barrel. The mount is a nice improvement over the standard factory 10/22 scope mount, which has less mounting slots, and does not extend forward of the receiver, making it difficult to mount many scopes far enough forward to get proper eye relief. This new mount sits a bit higher than the standard Ruger mount though. The mount has a rib on its rear end extending down over the curve of the back of the receiver, to which the rifle’s rear sight is attached with one Allen head screw. The rear sight can be removed from the rifle by removing this screw. I mounted a Weaver 1-3x scope to the rifle to see how well the mount worked. In order to mount the scope as low as possible, I removed the rear sight and used low rings. The forward-extended portion of the mount was a welcome addition, and I used every bit of it to get the scope in the right position for optimal eye relief.

Flash Hider

The Design Contest Rifle has a threaded muzzle with 1/2x28 threads, to which is attached a “birdcage” type flash hider – the same model as is used on the Mini 14. A .22 LR with an 18 inch barrel does not have much muzzle flash, and many shooters will undoubtedly deride the flash hider as clown shoes, but I personally appreciate it. For one thing, a flash hider serves as a muzzle protector, making it more difficult for the muzzle to be plugged by dirt and creating an unsafe condition. This is a particularly welcome feature for an Appleseed instructor’s rifle, which frequently gets loaned out to students of varying skill levels. Also, the threaded muzzle makes it easy to attach any other sort of muzzle device you might want, including a suppressor. I had the chance to test this rifle with a suppressor – the results are detailed below. 

Range Testing

Upon arriving at the range with my Design Contest Rifle, I applied some MPro7 oil to the bolt, installed some 1 1/4” swivels and a GI web sling, and got down to business. Things went much better this time around. It took just two sight adjustments to get the Design Contest rifle zeroed at 25m. One of the first things I noticed about the rifle when I looked down the sights at a target was that the rear sight aperture is larger than a Tech Sights aperture. This can be both a blessing and a curse – a larger aperture lets in more light, and is therefore easier to use in low light or on targets that blend with the background, like you can expect to encounter in the field, and makes for quicker acquisition of sight picture; but it also makes for less precise sighting when it comes to target work. I’d say that the Design Contest Rifle’s aperture is more suited to hunting and field use than it is for target shooting. This is fine by me, as Appleseed is all about effectiveness under field conditions. Besides, I was testing the rifle late in the afternoon on an overcast winter day, so the greater light transmission of the larger aperture was welcome. I like the front sight quite a bit. It is not terribly wide – I would estimate around 6 MOA – and has a lined texture that makes it easy to focus on. I “warmed up” as I fired my zeroing groups, getting used to the sights and tightening my groups slightly with each subsequent group. I had no trouble whatsoever with adjusting the sights. However, one issue I noticed with the sights was that to zero at 25m, I had to adjust the rear sight low enough that the scope mount “cut off” the view through the bottom 1/4 or so of the aperture, making it more of a challenge to center the tip of the front sight in the rear sight. I believe that making slight changes to my sight alignment as I struggled with this is why my last zeroing group showed some vertical stringing. The first two groups were fired with point of aim on the center square; the third was aimed at the upper right square.

After zeroing, I shot a 25m Quick and Dirty Army Qualification Test, and scored Expert with a score of 225. Clearly, as with most rifles, this one is capable of shooting to Rifleman’s standards if the shooter is.

As far as the operation of the rifle goes, it is the same as any other 10/22. I was using two brand new factory 10 round magazines in a brand new rifle, and had to shake the rifle a bit to get the mags to drop free during my reloads. In my experience, a bit of sanding on the mags should fix this issue, if they don’t just wear in by themselves after a bit of use. The trigger was typical for a factory 10/22, which is to say quite heavy but serviceable, with a very positive reset. Though I didn’t put that many rounds through it, this rifle exhibited perfect reliability. I used CCI Blazer bulk ammo for the test.

After the AQT, I decided to have some fun – I loaded a mag with Remington subsonic rounds, installed a YHM .22 suppressor on the rifle, and went to work on some 4” steel plates. The suppressor worked very well – the most noticeable sound was the bolt working and the brass hitting the concrete. The rifle was perfectly reliable with this setup as well, and fed the subsonic rounds with no trouble. I can definitely confirm that this rifle makes a great suppressor host.

Suitability as a Liberty Training Rifle

For a rifle to be a Liberty Training Rifle, it needs to have all the features necessary to put the Appleseed Program of Instruction into practice, including sling-supported field positions, sight corrections, and reloads. To be a true LTR, a rifle needs, at minimum, a GI web sling, fully adjustable sights with repeatable adjustments, and at least two magazines. The Design Contest rifle has the sling studs and adjustable sights covered, but to be truly “Appleseed ready,” a shooter would need to buy a set of sling swivels, a sling, and a spare magazine (the Ruger only comes with one); and of course would need to have a 5/64” Allen wrench to adjust the sights. Fortunately all of these things are readily available and easily installed/used, even for someone with limited knowledge of firearms or limited mechanical ability. Keep in mind that the main purpose for a factory Liberty Training Rifle is to have a rifle that anyone can go out and purchase which does not need any major modifications in order to be “Appleseed-ready.”  When it comes to converting rifles to LTRs, the most difficult jobs to perform are the installation of sling studs, and the replacement of factory sights (many new rifle owners do not like the idea of taking a drill or a hammer to their shiny new rifle). The Design Contest Rifle therefore has both of the most important features for a “factory LTR” covered, and the rest can be easily added by the shooter. Once they are, the Design Contest Rifle makes a fine Liberty Training Rifle. However, one thing I would suggest that would make the rifle friendlier for new shooters would be to include some instructions with the rifle on how to adjust the sights, and the MOA values of the adjustments. Someone who is not familiar with this type of sights would have to look up sight adjustment instructions for the Mini 14 or Gunsite Scout Rifle in order to figure them out. In addition, the rifle would make a better LTR if it came with the compact sized straight comb rather than the raised comb. LTRs are loaned out to all sorts of shooters by Appleseed instructors, frequently including kids and small-statured women. A shorter length of pull is very helpful for allowing these shooters to get into a comfortable position with the rifle.

Comparison with the Marlin 795 LTR

Last year, I reviewed the first purpose-built factory LTR on the market – the Marlin 795 LTR. My review of the Marlin can be found here:  Now that the Ruger 50th Anniversary Design Contest Rifle has joined the Marlin in the “factory LTR” category, comparing the two is unavoidable. I have to say, they make a very close comparison. Unfortunately only the Ruger is currently available from distributors – the entire production run of Marlin LTRs sold out rather quickly, and while rumors of a second production run have been heard, none has so far been forthcoming. In any case, I’m sure many shooters will be interested to see how these two rifles stack up.

The first thing I noticed when comparing the two is how much lighter the Marlin is. There is no doubt that you are holding a .22 when you are holding the Marlin – the Ruger feels more solid and substantial. The Marlin’s light weight makes it very handy, however. The Marlin’s sights are a bit easier to adjust, and are more repeatable, having actual click adjustments. The Ruger requires an Allen wrench to adjust the sights. The Marlin too requires a tool – the elevation dial on its rear sight is small and recessed enough that it generally requires some kind of pointy object to adjust. The rear aperture also appears smaller on the Marlin. As I mentioned above, this makes it better for punching paper, but not so great for field use. My Ruger also had the issue of the aperture being partially obscured by the scope mount.

The factor that probably weighs most heavily in the Marlin’s favor is the trigger – the Marlin’s is quite a bit better with a lighter break. This makes good marksmanship easier with the Marlin, and is probably the main reason I had slightly better groups with the Marlin than I did with the Ruger, and why I shot a higher AQT score with it. The Marlin also has an edge in that it comes with a sling, swivels, and an extra mag in the box – it is truly “Appleseed ready” right out of the box. These items must be purchased separately for the Ruger. The Marlin’s bolt locks back on the last round, while the Ruger’s doesn’t. The Marlin’s bolt lock/release is much easier to operate than the Ruger’s – this is one feature of the Ruger that confounds just about every new shooter who tries it. It can be “fixed” with a little dremeling of an internal part, but not everyone will feel comfortable doing this. The fact that my first Ruger Design Contest Rifle was defective is a major black mark against the Ruger – especially since this problem is not isolated to me. The Marlin was good to go out of the box. The Marlin was also a bit cheaper at $275, compared to $318 for the Ruger.

However, the Marlin also has some major drawbacks compared to the Ruger. The biggest is probably the Marlin’s magazines, which do not drop free from the factory, and are difficult to change one-handed. This makes reloads tedious, especially when slung up and shooting under time pressure (like on Stages 2 and 3 of the AQT). The Ruger’s magazines usually drop free rather easily; and if one does not, it can usually be easily made to do so by a little sanding around the edges. The Marlin too can be modified to have drop free mags, but it requires some amateur gunsmithing that some shooters may not be comfortable with. Another downside of the Marlin is that it has a mag disconnect safety. This prevents the rifle from being dry fired unless a magazine is inserted, making dry firing a needlessly difficult exercise. This feature too can be disabled with a little simple gunsmithing, but until corrected, it is a real bother for an aspiring Rifleman who recognizes that lots of dry firing is the key to good fundamentals. Another issue with the Marlin is that its standard size magazine protrudes under the rifle, rather than fitting flush, like the Ruger’s mag. This can impede shooting positions for smaller shooters. The Marlin is also susceptible to malfunctions if pressure is put on the magazine while firing – an issue the Ruger does not share, even with extended, higher capacity magazines like the BX25. One thing that can be said for the Ruger 10/22 is that it is a very reliable design.

When it comes to optics-friendliness, both rifles have provision for mounting optics in addition to the iron sights. The Marlin has a 3/8” dovetail mount on top of the receiver. The Ruger has an extended Weaver mount. The Ruger’s mount is far superior – the cross-slots on the Weaver style mount allow for much more solid mounting. Dovetail mounts like on the Marlin are well known for allowing optics to slide forward under recoil. The extended mount on the Ruger also allows more room for optics to be placed far forward enough for proper eye relief.

The Ruger includes some features that the Marlin does not – namely the interchangeable stock modules (though as I mentioned, the raised comb module was worse than useless for me), and the threaded muzzle with flash hider. There is no way to attach any muzzle device to the Marlin without sending it to a gunsmith, though this is not a major issue for Applseed purposes. The Ruger is well suited to a suppressor, for those who own one.

I did not do any bench testing of either rifle with match ammo to try to detect any differences in inherent accuracy. These are not bench guns – they are battle rifle simulators. The facts that both are more than capable of consistently shooting to Rifleman’s standards and delivering a Rifleman’s score on the AQT are all that really matter for Appleseed purposes.

Both rifles have their own aesthetic charm. The Ruger has a striking contrasting color finish, an ergonomic and visually pleasing contour to the stock, and special 50th Anniversary engravings on the bolt and receiver. The Marlin on the other hand has a rather plain black on black finish, but has special Appleseed engravings that give it extra keepsake value.

It is a very close call as to which rifle I prefer. I suppose if I were a new Appleseed attendee and had my choice of using either rifle in factory form at an Appleseed event, I would prefer the Ruger (as long as it has been fitted with a sling), mostly due to the problem that mag changes pose with the factory Marlin. However, mod the Marlin to have drop-free mags and disable the mag disconnect, as I have done on my own personal rifle, and my preference is swayed in favor of the Marlin – mostly due to the better trigger and a rear aperture that is not partially obscured by a scope mount, like on the Ruger. This is an extremely close call either way, and probably comes down to personal preference for any given shooter. Bottom line – I am glad to be the owner of both of these fine rifles, and I expect both to make excellent Rifleman-making machines on the Appleseed firing line.


The Ruger 10/22 50th Anniversary Design Contest Rifle is a unique rifle that brings a lot of features to the table compared to most other factory .22 LR rifles. The sights are a major improvement over all other factory 10/22s from the past 50 years. Though they could still use a little refinement, I hope Ruger will continue to offer this sight type on 10/22 variants in the future. The Design Contest Rifle makes a great Liberty Training Rifle once swivels, a sling, and an extra magazine are added. Barrel alignment is a demonstrated problem with this rifle. However, this does not entirely keep me from recommending it, due to the fact that you can count on Ruger’s excellent customer service to make things right if you are unlucky enough to get one of the defective ones. The rifle is a unique piece of both Ruger and Appleseed history. I plan on immediately putting mine to work making Riflemen on the Appleseed trail. It will also make a nice keepsake to pass on to future generations, and will serve as a reminder of what I’m sure will someday be remembered as the “early days” of Project Appleseed.

Nice pics and review.  Thanks for posting.  1022 is a great gun for the kids to learn on but I love plinking and hunting with it too. Fun for all ages!

I agree totally. Thank you!


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