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S&W M&P 15-22 Accuracy Testing
 

It has been a month or two since I got the M&P 15-22 and it's had a reasonable amount of ammo run through it.  It spent a weekend with me at a local Appleseed Shoot in which I missed my qualification by just 2 points. <sigh>  It has made numerous trips to the range and has seen three different optics on the Picatinny rail (one red dot and two scopes).  Recently, my shooting buddy and I used it as the "first rifle I ever shot" for several of his visiting family members that took time out of their Thanksgiving holiday schedule to spend a few hours at the range.  It has been cleaned inside and out on numerous occasions with no discernable difference in accuracy.  It even managed to get one of those high-speed rail mounted front sling attachment points (I needed that for the Appleseed Shoot).  It has been lovingly fondled by friends and complete strangers at the range.  It had its very first failure to fire (thank you bulk Federal ammo) a week ago.  It is, in my opinion, about as broken in as it is going to get. 

At the range, everyone always asks, "How well does it shoot?  Is it accurate?".  I would tell them that with the Federal bulk ammo I was shooting.....it wasn't anything to brag about but according to some of the reviews I had read, it was suppose to be pretty good.  Here is a snippet from one of those reviews.....

"Back to the accuracy testing.  I tried every type of .22 Long Rifle ammo that I had available, and accuracy was very good with all tested.  Thankfully, the rifle performed very well with my favorite brands, which are the bulk Federal and Winchester hollow points that are available for about two and one-half cents per pop.  PMC Match turned in the best groups, and would shoot into the same hole at fifty yards, if I could do my part, but for small game hunting and general plinking, I prefer the hollow points, and they were almost as accurate.  At any rate, this is a match-accurate little carbine, and would make a dandy squirrel rifle."

On top of the above, I've also "read in an online forum" that the 15-22 comes with a match grade Thompson Center barrel made of 4140 chrome steel.  I've checked the S&W web site and could not find any info to substantiate that information.  It was time to determine just how well my M&P 15-22 could group with some quality/higher end ammo.  Feeding it the cheapest ammo on the planet wasn't really being all that fair when trying to determine the accuracy of any firearm. 

Note:  Since this was written, the S&W web site does now list the M&P 15-22 as having a match grade precision barrel.  I do not know if the early 15-22s were made with some other kind of barrel or not.  From what I've read, I can find nothing to indicate S&W has changed the barrel design since the first one was sold. 

Prior to trying out the higher end ammo in the 15-22, I dug out the very last of my Western T-22.  Some 30 years ago, when I shot on the command's pistol team, we were issued Western T-22 from the armory along with .45ACP and .38 Special.  We used the T-22 in our issued match grade .22LR pistols and the .45ACP in our match 1911 pistols.  (The .38 ammo was used in my Ruger for general shooting.)  Over the years, I have found this T-22 standard velocity ammo to be very accurate in most anything I tried it in.  I've shot it with very good results in my Ruger MK1 pistol (also in the Tactical Solutions upper receiver on the MK1) and my Ruger 10/22 which was purchased back in the mid-70s. 
 

Several weeks ago, I mounted a Leupold 2-7x28 rimfire scope on the 15-22.  The above two targets were shot at 50 yards with the rifle resting on a carpeted block of wood (under the forearm) and a shooting bag under the butt for elevation adjustment.  The T-22 group came in at 1 3/8".  The Federal, as you can see, was worse. 

Since I don't normally shoot the higher end .22LR ammo, I had none on the shelves.  I hit a couple of the nearby gun shops and picked up three different brands.  All were labeled as match or target ammo.  The total came to nearly $25 for three boxes.  I'm glad I don't use these rounds for casual plinking! 
 

Per the Remington ammunition web site:  Target Rifle is a high quality general purpose rifle cartridge that averages a one-inch, 10-shot, 50-meter group and features a graphite-coated antimony lead alloy bullet. 
 

Per the Federal ammunition web site:  Gold Medal Target shooting loads designed for intense 22 Long Rifle competition. 

It would seem that if Federal doesn't really tell you very much, you can't hold them accountable for it either.
 

Per the Fiocchi ammunition web site:  Fiocchi's Exacta� .22 LR Super Match ammunition has won more Olympic Gold, Silver, and Bronze Medals than we can count, the last one being the Silver won by Ralph Schumann of Germany in Beijing, in the rapid fire pistol event.  Fiocchi is proud to be among the few manufacturers left in the world who produce true .22 LR Super Match ammunition.  Starting from our exclusive priming mixture and priming system (the mixture is not "spun" in the rim but is pressed in the same), guaranteeing an even burning ratio and minimal standard deviation and delay of ignition, to the precision drawing of the case always gauged for the precise orthogonality, to the specially lubricated bullets, loaded using a unique process that prevents bullets from touching one another to ensure the loaded bullet integrity.
 

Here is the target shot using the Western (string #2), Remington (string #3), Federal (string #4), and Fiocchi (string #5) ammunition.  Note that the lines connecting the shots mean nothing.  After each group was shot, the holes were "lined together" to easily ID those shots from a potential flier from another group.  All groups consisted of 10 consecutive rounds shot from the M&P 15-22 at 50 yards. 

The following data was obtained from my PACT chronograph:

Ammunition Group Size Velocity Std Dev
Federal Bulk 2.75" 1178 FPS 25.8
Western T-22 2.25" 1098 FPS 9.7
Remington Target Rifle by Eley 1.5" 1003 FPS 20.6
Federal Gold Medal Target 3.5"+ 1209 FPS 25.7
Fiocchi Biathlon Super Match 1.9" 1107 FPS 21.3

It is interesting that group size and velocity are almost completely in sync in that the slowest velocity was the best group and the highest velocity was the worst group.  With one exception, the others in between followed that same progression. 

For that past handful of days, discussion in a thread I started on the Smith & Wesson forum has been ongoing regarding group size by a number of different M&P 15-22 owners.  For the most part (there are always the exceptions), others are finding essentially the same lack of good grouping as I have.  Two inch or slightly larger groups at 50 yards seems to be about the average.  Some have posted their results obtained at shorter distances.  If one were to extrapolate their info, it would be in the neighborhood of two inches also.....sometimes a little more.  One guy posted very impressive 50 yard results.....using Federal Bulk ammo no less.  His was the exception. 

While certainly not a scientific study, I'm coming to the conclusion that the average M&P 15-22 is a mediocre shooting .22 rifle that excels at being an AR-15 in form and function.  There are some that will fall at the outer edges of the bell curve that will be worse and also better.  If one were to push that 2" something group @ 50 yards out to 100 yards, you would have 4~5 MOA accuracy.  I've heard that is about average for a battle rifle.  (No, I'm not advocating that the 15-22 is a battle rifle.)

While shooting the above groups.....I focused on all of the steps taught at the Appleseed Shoot in order to try and mitigate any input I might contribute to the inaccuracy equation.  Sight alignment, sight picture, respiratory pause, focus on the front sight (crosshairs in my case), focus on keeping the front sight (or scope) on the target, squeeze the trigger, follow through by holding the trigger (capture the reset) and finally calling the shot.  The focusing really does work.....to the point that I could see my heart beat acting on the crosshair position on the target.  Granted, it only moved it about a 1/4" (I was shooting a 1" target), but I could see it move in sync with my heartbeat. 

I do enjoy the M&P 15-22 and have no intentions of replacing it with something else.  I ran some shooting while moving drills with it a couple of weeks back and for that it worked just fine.  I was shooting Front Sight targets and kept the shots in the thoracic cavity.  I can't ask for more than that.  I really was expecting better accuracy.  If I come across some other ammo that makes a notable improvement, I'll post the results here as an update to this write-up. 

 

 

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