As I’ve alluded to in other articles, I’m spending an inordinate amount of time these days coaching an SASP team. We did great at Nationals – much better than I expected – but a lot of work went into it to get the team there.
I would say one of the biggest responsibilities for an SASP coach is guiding athletes to what equipment is going to give them the most (legal) advantage at matches. While I don’t think equipment is the end-all, be-all, I do think it will help give athletes a noticeable performance advantage. Good example: one young woman on the team who was already a fantastic shooter swapped to fiber optic sights and a better trigger, and she turned in better times on several stages. Those equipment changes didn’t make her any better or worse, but they sure helped enable faster splits across transitions. (She wound up placing third in women’s iron sight competition at Nationals, which is awesome!!!).
One critique I have of the SASP organization is that there is precious little out there in terms of writing about how to equip athletes… and I am going to try to help fill the gap. While it is tempting to simply go “use what the RFRI/O Steel Challenge folks use!”, not all of those choices work well for young adults who are not fully physically mature quite yet. Read on for some thoughts.
What I’m writing below is oriented towards the athlete who’s going to use the same rifle for both rimfire rifle irons and rimfire rifle optics in SASP. This entails certain compromises that I probably wouldn’t make for a pure rimfire optics or rimfire irons rifle. YMMV, etc.
Almost all top-level competitors in both Steel Challenge and SASP are using highly-customized Ruger 10/22s (or clones). The 10/22 action is probably the most reliable semi-automatic platform available for 22lr, and I therefore recommend it for SASP usage in rimfire rifle disciplines. 10/22s can be found for $350-$400 new (less on sale at a big box store), and at the $200-$250 price point when purchased used on consignment.
The out of the box Ruger 10/22 is really not a bad rifle. The trigger is acceptable, the sights are broadly usable, and reliability is generally impeccable. I have seen people post up absurdly fast times with an out of the box 10/22.
Thompson/Center made a popular 10/22 clone called the TCR-22. The TCR-22 is a slightly upgraded 10/22 with a better stock, better trigger, auto bolt-release, ghost ring sights, and a threaded barrel. It is mostly parts-compatible with the Ruger 10/22. There are also Volquartsen, Magnum Research, Tactical Solutions, Tactical Innovations, and a whole host of other people who make high end 10/22s. Any of these are acceptable guns for what we’re doing if they are reliable. And that is really the rub: it has to work. In SASP, you get one mulligan per stage when shooting rimfire. Assuming a worst case scenario, you’re shooting 50 rounds on a stage… you want reliability that is 98% or greater. Aim for 100%.
I do not recommend buying the 10/22 Takedown for SASP usage. It will work, and if you’ve got one, you should use it. But it’s more expensive and has potential return-to-zero issues when used with an optic on the receiver. You can’t really carry it in take-down mode for competition usage, either.
If you’re buying a stock Ruger 10/22, I recommend the following budget upgrades as soon as practicable for pretty much any rifle:
- Fiber Optic Sights: fiber optic front sights are a dramatic improvement for competition usage. They will get you on target faster, and aid in transitions. Pounding out the front sight in a vise is a pain in the neck, but it will come out… eventually. Williams and Hi-Viz both make reasonable replacement sight sets. One thing to consider is that Williams makes a rear peep sight with rail (Ace in the Hole) that can be swapped to a ghost ring aperture, so that option may be more appealing than you think at first glance.
- Auto-Bolt Release: The standard 10/22 has a bolt hold open/release that, charitably, is not inuitive to operate, especially under stress. An auto-bolt release allows you to just rack the charging handle. They tend not to be overly hard to install.
- KNOXX® AXIOM R/F RUGER® 10/22® RIFLE STOCK: The factory Ruger 10/22 stocks are not great. This chassis/stock is not amazing, but it’s much lighter, has adjustment, and makes the trigger easier to reach for small hands. I think my only complaint about it is that it’s not necessarily easy to use irons on it without a firm cheek weld.
- Ruger BX Trigger: I’m putting this here because trigger improvements generally lead to accuracy improvements, and the BX trigger is about the cheapest way to reliably improve a 10/22’s trigger pull.
For an optic, you want something that is mounted low to the bore. AR15-height optics will not work out very well without a cheek riser on your stock, which will then interfere with irons usage. The Holosun HS503C is a pretty good option, as is the Sig Romeo4 or Romeo5. If you are going to use the same rifle for rimfire irons and rimfire optic, I strongly recommend a quality QD mount like the Larue LT661. These are not cheap, but they give you a very repeatable zero. While it is tempting to use very cheap optics and mounts, I advise against this; optics failures in competition are costly, and a failure to return to zero can cause severe problems in a match (ie, basically ruining it).
One thing I’ve seen attempted is trying to share the same optic between a PCC and a rimfire rifle (like, literally the same single reflex sight). Generally speaking, this will not work. Differences in rail spec can cause POI shifts even with QD mounts, never mind actual ballistic differences. Don’t do this. Others have learned the hard way.
There are a lot of places you can go from there, but to be honest, I’d recommend shooting a lightly-upgraded rifle for at least a few months to see what’s really holding you back. Once you’ve figured out what’s going on, here’s a few things to think about in order of importance:
- Better trigger: Kidd makes a single-stage trigger that is just about the best trigger you could ever ask for on a semi-automatic. It costs a lot of money. VQ makes one that is nearly as good, and it only costs quite a bit of money.
- Lighter barrel: The next place to take weight off your gun once you have a lightweight stock/chassis is the barrel. There are a lot of barrel makers out there, but Wiland comes to mind as one that offers high quality, ultra-lightweight barrels. Keep in mind that barrel changes often require iron sight changes. Do not overlook this if you are shooting irons!
- Upgraded chassis/stock system: While I think that the Blackhawk is probably the best deal in stocks on a value basis, there ARE other options such as the Wiland, Modshot, and Taccom. When looking at a chassis, the weight is the first thing you should be looking at. Heavier is not better! Please also make sure the stock is low enough to use your irons as well. Some chassis systems are designed for large diameter barrels that have protective coverings on them.
- Kidd reduced-strength recoil spring/charging handle: This is pretty far down the list, but CAN make a very big impact for athletes who are having trouble operating the stock charging handle. I also think it moderately improves reliability when using BX-10 magazines (but probably NOT BX-25s).
Stuff that I don’t think matters:
- Mag releases: you are not reloading on the clock, it doesn’t matter how fast you can swap the mag. Frankly, I suspect the really extended ones cause problems with reliable magazine insertion. If you are going to use your gun in something like a falling steel match, yes, this could be more helpful.
- Muzzle devices: I like suppressors and threaded barrels as much as the next guy, but suppressors aren’t legal for this sport, and actually prevent shot timers from working. The only real argument for a compensator is that it makes your gun easier to hear for the timer. I’ve experienced two compensator failures at this point, and do not recommend them on a competition pistol.
- Fancy bolts and receivers: The stock 10/22 bolt and receiver are fine. Really. Just lube your gun once in a while. About the only things on your bolt that should need replacing are the springs.
I’ve seen a lot of 10/22s upgraded into unreliability. You don’t want this to be you. Be very careful doing internal upgrades or putting the latest new thing into your gun, especially if there’s no problem you’re trying to fix.
I have spent a lot of time talking about the 10/22. The only other rimfire rifle I consider to be even remotely usable for SASP is the Tippmann Arms M4-22. I have seen these run with pretty good reliability. The M&P 15-22 is also a very solid rifle, but not legal for SASP due to (perceived?) sear failure problems.
The main thing about ammo is that it needs to work 100% in your gun. Accuracy is not a big deal as no shots are past 25yds in SASP. But it needs to fire, extract, and eject EVERY time in your gun. I prefer CCI Mini-Mags for their reliable ignition and cycling, but really anything will work if it’s reliable, and I’ve shot a copious amount of Federal bulk through my guns. Stick away from the higher recoil stuff like CCI Stingers or Federal Punch.
As I write this, ammo is expensive (8cpr when you’re lucky, 10cpr when. you’re not). It won’t always be. Buy DEEP when it’s easily available and cheap. It won’t go bad! A shooting season can run through up to 6k+ rounds of ammo or more, depending on how much you practice on your own time. If you’re buying at 2 cents per round, that’s not a big deal. If you’re buying at ten cents per round, that can hurt. That is to say, if you find bulk blaster 22lr that runs 100% in your gun, buy cases (5k) at a time.
You’re limited to 10 rounds of ammo in your magazine, so the rotary BX-10 magazines are the way to go. The BX-25 and BX-15 magazines are technically legal and are somewhat easier to handle, but they are also known to be generally less reliable than the BX-10 magazines. They can also be accidentally overloaded and put athletes in danger of earning a 30 second penalty on their string.
I recommend buying seven magazines.The reasoning here is that there are five stages, plus one potential mulligan, plus one spare in case one of your magazines breaks during the match (or string!). You definitely need a minimum of six. The Pelican 1020 case will hold eight magazines, which is more than you need, but not a bad number to bring to the line anyways.