Action-rimfire rifle competition in Steel Challenge and Metal Madness has grown rapidly. And while .22 LR ammo is inexpensive to shoot, the rifles can be another matter. By the time one acquires an appropriate rifle, mates it with a reflex sight and gathers the necessary magazines, the price tab can often surpass $1,000.
Smith & Wesson’s newest offering in its popular M&P 15-22 Sport .22 LR rifle line offers an alternative.
The M&P 15-22 Sport OR ($469, smith-wesson.com) is the basic M&P 15-22 Sport with a factory-installed electronic red/green dot sight.
The author’s M&P 15-22 Sport OR with optic as tested. A full 16 inches of Picatinny rail ride atop the gun, making for a large number of sight options beyond the included M&P dot.
The 15-22 is essentially an AR-15 done in .22 LR with a blowback action and will be familiar to anyone with AR-15 experience. The operating controls are the same—a bolt lock/release on the upper left of the mag well, magazine release just above and forward of the trigger on the right side, standard two-position safety behind the trigger on the left side and the charging handle for the non-reciprocating bolt at the upper rear.
Disassembly is also the same as the AR. A rear receiver pin pushes out to “crack” the rifle open, allowing removal of the bolt, access to the internal action and allows cleaning the barrel from the breach. A forward receiver pin allows the upper unit to be completely removed from the lower unit if desired.
The gun features a 16.5-inch carbon-steel barrel with an A2 flash hider. The forearm is the M&P 10-inch Slim Handguard with Magpul M-Lok (two-inch M-Lok rail panels are included). A 16-inch Picatinny rail rides on top. The buttstock is a six-position adjustable polymer stock with a polymer pistol grip. Maximum overall length is 33.8 inches, and the empty weight is 5.22 pounds.
The trigger is also standard AR-15—a single stage that measured 7.1 pounds on my Lyman Digital Gauge. That’s heavier than some may want, but several of my club members shoot the 15-22 in competition and tell me that AR-15 Mil-Spec aftermarket triggers work quite well in the 15-22.
The M&P 15-22 Sport OR is available in three different SKUs, at the same $469 price. The one I tested was SKU 12722, which ships with one 25-round magazine. Additional magazines are available and two magazines should get any shooter through a 25-round Steel Challenge stage. SKU 12723 (compliant) is the same gun, but ships with one 10-round magazine. SKU 12724 (even more compliant) ships with one 10-round magazine and omits the A2 flash hider.
An A2 flash hider is standard on two of the three models.
The M&P 100 sight is a one-piece construction tubular dot sight that has a 4 MOA variable-intensity dot. It measures 4.75 inches front to rear and features an integral M1913 Picatinny rail mount that mates with the gun’s rail, while offering unlimited eye relief to allow it to be mounted anywhere on the rail that suits the shooter. The offset between bore/sight axis appears to be about 2.75 inches. It operates on a single CR1620 battery (included) and flip-up lens covers are installed.
A single rotary knob quickly controls all sight functions.
The round, 4-MOA dot can be illuminated in either red or green, with a single rheostat switch to control on/off and brightness levels. Click it on from its positive off position and then rotate the switch to adjust brightness in red, or rotate it further to do it in green. Windage and elevation adjustments are positive click adjustments of ¼ MOA.
On the Range
Taking the gun out of the box, I cracked the gun open at the rear pin and removed the bolt. A light lube was applied to the bolt and other obvious bearing points, and the gun went back together. That was the only lubrication or cleaning necessary during this 500-plus round test.
For test loads, I selected a mix of standard velocity (1,070 fps subsonic) and high-speed loads that have proven to work for me in rifles and handguns. The subsonic loads consisted of CCI Standard Velocity 40-grain lead solid, Aguila Target 40-grain lead solid and CCI Clean-22 (blue, subsonic) polymer-coated 40-grain solid. The high-speed loads were CCI Mini-Mag 40-grain plated solid, Aguila Super Extra 40-grain plated solid and Federal’s 40-grain lead hollow-point Hunter Match.
The 25-round magazine on the author’s test gun loaded easily to full capacity.
I started by loading 25 rounds of CCI Standard into the mag. The large, ambidextrous follower buttons made it easy and the magazine loaded to its 25-round capacity without problems. The next step was to zero the sights from a 25-yard benchrest.
The flip-up lens caps mashed against my ballcap brim, but it was simple to rotate them right, left or even to flip down. I decided to treat them like removable lens caps, and they pulled off and re-installed easily.
The first three-round group was about six inches high and four inches right. The positive click adjustments got it zeroed dead-on with over half the magazine remaining.
RFRO Grand Master Michael Hewitt works the M&P 15-22 on steel targets.
Multiple white cut-out targets simulating Steel Challenge were set up next, and I ran a full magazine of each load through the gun while running them. The 4-MOA dot was very bright and quick to find, and the window was more than big enough for rapid target transitions. Although the dot is the same size in red and green, it seemed to me that the green dot was a bit bigger and “brighter.” That might be because green is a more-visible portion of the color spectrum to the human eye, but the ability to switch between red and green was a nice feature.
The rheostat switch made that easy. There were no buttons to push—simply rotate the switch to quickly choose the color and brightness level, or turn the sight off. That would certainly speed up the “Load Make Ready” and “Unload Show Clear” process. I liked that design feature.
Accuracy testing was next. The AR-15 operating action has proven to be one of the most-accurate semi-automatic rifle actions available (likely due to the manner in which the bolt locks up with the chamber). The M&P didn’t disappoint. Dialing the red dot down to half-power provided a very precise aiming point and, even with the heavy trigger, the accompanying accuracy chart will show this gun is capable of far more competitive endeavors than just popping steel plates.
The AR-15 action has proven highly accurate and the M&P 15-22 was no exception
After that was a trip to my club for our normal mid-week practice session. I ran several stages and then turned the gun over to fellow shooters (all in the G or M RFRO Steel Challenge class). Several shoot the M&P 15-22 Sport, and other than the trigger, the general consensus was the gun is “quite good to go.” By this time, there were over 500 rounds through the gun with no cleaning or lubrication beyond what I did straight from the box. There had been no malfunctions of any kind, with any load.
The M&P 15-22 Sport has an excellent track record, and these new model variations can make entry into action-rimfire rifle competition an affordable affair. It can run a match out-of-the-box.
Accuracy tests conducted from a 25-yard benchrest. The group size is the average of three five-round groups, measured center-to-center.