Friday, April 10, 2015

Magnum Research .22LR MLR-22ATU Rimfire Rifle with 18-inch Ultra Tensioned Barrel Review

Magnum Research .22LR MLR-22ATU Rimfire Rifle with 18-inch Ultra Tensioned Barrel Review

The graphite barreled MLR22AT from Magnum Research rifle I tested about a year ago was  about half the price of any of the rifles I tested in my Ultimate 10/22 shootout. That graphite barreled delivered performance and accuracy which was nipping at the heals of high dollar competition 10/22’s brands like Kidd, Volquartsen from a performance perspective. The Magnum Research 10/22 clone rifles are kinda like the guy in the tweaked Nissan 300Z who can keep up and occasionally beat the guys in $1 Million sports cars.”  It does it all at a $560-$599 + optic MSRP instead of $1000+optic MSRP.

For the price, the Magnum Research MLR-22 line is one hell of a head turner on the bench and down range when inspecting the tiny groups. The same buddy who had previously shared a similar comment on the graphite barreled model again asked “why would I buy anything else when this is under $600?” Indeed, the Magnum Research 10/22 MLR-22 line is a phenomenal deal when it comes to performance and all the extras included.

Magnum Research now also offers the MLR22ATU with the same specs as the original model but with a lightweight tensioned 18” aluminum sleeved barrel instead of the graphite barrel all at a price that is about $30-$40 less expensive than the previous graphite barreled model.

If you have watched ANY action movie in the last decade you know Magnum Research.  Their giant semi-auto Desert Eagle pistol in powerful .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum, and .50 AE (Action Express) calibers are often nickel or gold plated and are the kick butt feature firearm of more than a few action heroine and villain.  What you may not know about Magnum Research is that they have a unnoted goal of producing unbelievably accurate firearms.  

This accuracy goal is nothing new, I owned a .22LR Mountain Eagle pistol and it was amazingly accurate... kinda sick about selling it.  Today, Magnum Research’s proprietary graphite barrels have become know as tack drivers from this 10/22 line to their new Blueprinted 700 bolt action rifles. I also own a .357 magnum Desert Eagle.

Magnum Research is also famous for their strategic industry relationships focused on making good production products better than ever.  Recently, a relationship with Walther to produce their MR9 pistol has made a Walther influenced design even better than the original design.

Their Remington 700 blueprinted action centerfire rifles have transformed a standard 700 into an ultralight stunningly accurate big game rifle.  In a similar strategy, Magnum Research has transformed the stock Ruger 10/22 into a price leading custom rifle at a great deal which should scare the heck out of competitors.

The Stock MLR22ATU hovers around a very low $500 street price.  Magnum Research shipping these rifles very nicely equipped with a CNC billet upper receiver, billet machined match bolt, custom charging handle, lightweight stock, and proprietary aluminum sleeved tensioned barrel with Benz target chamber. The trigger group is stock Ruger spec.

I will note that shooters are doing this rifle a disservice if they do not upgrade to a match trigger such as a Timney Match trigger assembly. This performance is great out of the box, however you can easily expect group sizes to improve by 20-30% just with a high quality match trigger upgrade to push the performance in line with the other top shooting custom 10/22 rifles.  Even if you do spring for an aftermarket  $200 trigger upgrade, the total street price is still well under $750 for the rifles minus the optic which in some cases is about half the price of the top end 10/22 builds I have tested previously.

Where I went inexpensive on the initial MLR-22AT review with a Bushnell Banner scope, on this aluminum barreled model I added a $420 Lucid 4x-16xx44mm Crossover Scope to complete the build; the total build as equipped was only $964 with the optic. Some will note that this optic is a bit overboard for a 10/22 .22LR rifle, however I would disagree on several fronts. Clarity is key to accuracy and if you have a very high end optic, you will certainly deliver better accuracy downrange. Although LUCID is a newer brand, they are delivering stunning optics for the money which would cost 30% more from one of the major brand names for the same quality. The LUCID 4-16 also features a tree’ed L5 MOA reticle which is very handy once you realize that the accuracy this gun can deliver does not stop at 50-yards. I was accuracy and reliably delivering shots out to 200-yards with this reticle tree.

The old MLR22-AT with 16” graphite barrel (still available) and the new MLR22-ATU Aluminum Sleeve 18” barrel feature roughly the same exact components with the exception of the barrels. Honestly I was pretty blown away at the capabilities of this rifle considering its price and weight even with the stock Ruger trigger assembly.  The rifle is stupid crazy lightweight at only 4.5lbs.  

The MLR22ATU is a bit showier than the older model due to the beautiful aluminum sleeved barrel and is subtlety cool all dressed up in black. The billet machined receiver is every bit as nice as any of the other custom receivers I have tested and contributes overall to a very well made rifle.

The trigger is a stock Ruger 10/22 unit which means it is far from a premium match trigger, however the “newer version” Ruger 10/22 stock trigger is “not bad” but still far from Ruger’s now even newer BX-Trigger. The reality is the accuracy increases by about 20% from this Aluminum Sleeved MLR22ATU after dropping in a match Timney trigger. But as is in stock form, this rig can still get shooters consistently into the high .1xx’s" and low .2xx”  range groups at 50-yards with a clear optic like the LUCID. With Timney upgrade, the groups consistently shrank into the .1xx” size groups at 50-yards.

Magnum Research upgraded to a stock Ruger extended magazine release from the earlier model I tested and also added the two sling studs I asked for in previous review of the graphite barrel model.  I also noticed that Magnum Research now includes precision turned and hardened receiver pins versus the stock Ruger Models. Where the older graphite model was only available without a threaded barrel, the new MLR22-ATU offers a threaded barrel option for a $40 upcharge. There is a lot to love about this new model even over the older model.

The bolt is not showy but is an in house precision billet machined part which has all the extra tuning features such as pinned firing pin and correctly dimensioned face. It is a well finished part, however it does not include the extra little decorative cuts like you see on some other custom 10/22 bolts. The charging handle is big, however perfect for a working mans rifle; I love it.  You can even work the bolt with big heavy mittens in the bitter cold or in my case taking a shot out of the garage at a target of opportunity with welding gloves on.

The stock itself was light and sturdy and an excellent interpretation of a Boyds Evolution stock but far lighter and due to the weight, I like it better on this rifle, however it is designed around a shorter overall length of pull. The Magnum Research MLR22AT packs a lot of great components into this rifle that I would use in future builds, however they are already conveniently packaged into an affordable ready-to-go rifle. This is a scary efficient rifle that puts the upgrades where they matter.

I am fortunate that I can test both the graphite and tensioned barreled models side by side. The graphite model has the edge on accuracy but not by much. It may be that my older MLR22-AT just has a more worn in trigger, but I consistently see groups several hundredths of an inch smaller with the older graphite barrel. When you are talking hundredths of an inch it could just be an difference in ammo preference or optic clarity.  Like the older model, the new aluminum tensioned barrel prefers CCI Standard Velocity, however what I did uncover was that out of the box the aluminum sleeved version seemed to be more consistent across various ammo than the older graphite barrel. The graphite barrel MLR22-AT took quite a while to break in to see that same consistency, where this new aluminum version has seem to be only marginally tighten up groups over a period of time.

The barrel is not just an aluminum sleeve over a stainless barrel liner, it is a tensioned stainless barrel liner. In theory a tensioned barrel will deliver higher accuracy and the aluminum sleeve will aid in heat dissipation to further increase accuracy.  Of note, the MLR-22ATU's barrel is pre-tensioned and non-adjustable, so you cannot "tune" the barrel yourself. Tensioned barrels basically apply tension or lightly stretch the barrel at each end of the barrel to increase barrel strength, reduce harmonics, and in the end increase accuracy.

Magnum Research again used a .22LR Benz match chamber for the MLR-22ATU model. Though some accuracy advantages can be had with proprietary match chambers, the Benz match chamber has shown to deliver exceptional accuracy without having the finicky nature usually associated with super tight match chambers.

The widely available CCI Standard Velocity rounds have become my favorite everyday round as they consistently deliver 10-20 shot groups of only .5” at 50-yards, however Lapua Center X, Xact, and SK Standard also delivered exceptional results with some of the smallest .124” 5-shot 50-yard groups I shot.

The Magnum Research 10/22 rifles are extremely reliable. One thing I liked best with the old model was an absence of non-ammo related malfunctions and this rifle delivered the same flawless reliability.   

The question you have to ask yourself is whether you want a custom $1200 showy match rifle that shoots match ammo really well or two rifle for $1200 which are light, includes most of the asked for features, shoots Mini-Mags and CCI Standard Velocity ammo really well, and is ready for the next level trigger upgrade whenever you are. Even when adding a top end optic such as this LUCID and a Timney trigger, the shooter is still under $1000 complete for a 10/22 rig which is just a fraction of a hair under the performance of rigs $500 more expensive.

Top to bottom this is an awesome super accurate and reliable setup, however it does not have the finish quality and refinement of the Force or Kidd custom 10/22s. It is clear to me that Magnum Research wanted to produce a competition killer at a very competitive price and they did.  It makes you wonder why you would buy a heavy cumbersome expensive rifle. For a first 10/22 for especially for kids this would be top of my list.  

Generally new shooters have a tough time managing heavy rifles anyway, so this makes it just that much more friendly for new shooters.  The MLR22ATU is far from a beginners gun and will hang with the top end rigs almost shot for shot and do it will less expensive ammo. It packs everything on an owners ultimate 10/22 wishlist with the exception of a match trigger all in a $560 rifle.  When you have the money, add a match trigger and it is everything you need in a package you will not be terrified to use.

Though the trigger is stock, the rifle still delivered some outstanding groups and continues to do so, but groups tightened when the Timney trigger was added.  I believe Magnum Research has chosen a sweet spot that lives in an area where a rifle gets used, scratches, scraped, bumped, and flogged in the field, on the range, and even serve as a light training rifle youngsters. This rifle has proven its accuracy potential can hang with the big names of 10/22 precision all in a package you are not afraid to use. The best part is that if you are dead set on spending $1200 for precision 10/22s, then you could buy a set of these...

Model MLR22ATU
Caliber .22LR
Barrel 18" - 1:16 twist
Weight 4 lbs 8 oz
Length 36 1/8” overall
Length of Pull 13-⅝”
Sight Integral Scope Base
Stock Ambidextrous Thumbhole Stock
Magazine One 10 Round - Ruger Rotary 10/22 Magazine


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