M&P 15-22 Sport, Semi-Automatic .22 LR rifle by Smith & Wesson - test & review
PUBLISHED: 17:23 21 January 2019
The M&P 15-22 Sport Semi-Automatic .22 LR rifle by Smith & Wesson comes under scrutiny in this detailed test and review by Chris Parkin
AT A GLANCE
PROS: Interesting yet capable construction materials; Fully adjustable pop up `iron` sights; Easy and quick to clean with no loss of zero; Seems to like most types of ammo with reliable functionality; Fast and smooth magazine changes without fumbles
CONS: Nothing much really but a front sling mount would be nice
OPINION: I don’t personally have a use either sporting or target for the 15-22, but it’s a gun I rather like and long-term professional use has convinced me of its reliability. Easily used by novices yet rewarding to more accomplished marksmen with a definite, like it or not, wow factor due to Its looks that do not compromise on performance
TECH SPECS - M&P 15-22 Sport, Semi-Automatic .22 LR rifle by Smith & Wesson
Magazine Capacity: 25+1
Trigger: Single stage 2250 gr
Barrel: 420mm/16.5”, screwcut ½” for moderator
Length: 770-850mm/30 1/4” -33 ½”
Length of Pull: 260-340mm /10 ¼” to 13 ¼”
Scope Mounting: Full length Picatinny rail
Stock: Matt black polymer
RRPs: M&P 15-22 Sport, by Smith & Wesson, £574.99; Spare 25 round magazine, £39.99; Spare 10 round magazine, £34.99
01392 354854 www.sportsmanguncentre.co.uk
Hawke Frontier 30, 1-6x24 Riflescope with Tactical Dot Reticle, £599.99
Hawke Sport Optics 01394 387762 www.hawkeoptics.co.uk
Tier-One Monolyth Sound Moderator and 30mm Picatinny scope rings
Tier One 01924 404312 www.tier-one.eu
At first glance, the M&P 15-22 from Smith and Wesson looks like a formulaic AR-15-inspired semi-automatic .22 rimfire rifle, but having had the pleasure of using a pair for a great length of time, I have quite a lot to report on it.
Although I received a pristine new review model just a few weeks ago, I have been using a pair of these rifles in my working environment for over three years.
Several colour and barrel length options are available, but this sport model in black features a 16.5”/420mm barrel with a parallel 17mm profile that swells only slightly before it disappears to the rear of the handguard and into the receiver. It has a threaded 0.5” UNEF and is supplied with a ported muzzle brake for the horrors of .22 RF recoil, but I quickly swapped this for the somewhat practical capability of a Tier-One Monolyth moderator that, yes or no, does make the rifle look even more purposefully ‘tactical’. Being a large capacity centrefire moderator, it was incredibly quiet in use with subsonic ammo (just the soft clunking of the action to bear) and even with high-velocity rounds, pleasingly capable if at the mercy of the supersonic crack.
Anyway, I digress. Although it has the looks of neatly machined aluminium, the rifle is almost entirely made of polymers and, I say this hand on heart, it’s hard to tell. Only the very slightest mould lines are visible. The main reason is cost, of course, but secondary benefits are it is lightweight, quiet to the taps or knocks of handling and remains warmer to touch than cold metal when the weather turns – cold hands soon make for clumsy fingers!
The 10”/254mm fore-end is capped and best described as a radiused octagonal profile – it’s fully ventilated and hand-filling for grip in operation. The receiver upper it flows into is another 7¼”/185mm in length, fastened to the ‘lower’ (magazine, trigger mechanism and grip) via two semi-captive pins front and rear that unclip and slide through to allow the gun to fold open or be fully separated for cleaning. The front pin is a tighter fit and only needed for a full strip down.
The Picatinny rail runs 15½”/400mm from the tip of the hand guard all the way to the ‘T’ cocking handle. This allows plenty of room for scope mounting and also carries front and rear flip-up battle sights with complete adjustability for precision use. There is no superficial forward assist plunger, but the T-handle does what is intended and unlatches on the left arms so two fingers can ‘grip it and rip it’ as Eugene Stoner originally intended on the M16. This handle does not reciprocate upon action cycling so, although seemingly close to your face, it only ever draws out of the action to manually cock the bolt.
The only false item on the action is an unnecessary case deflector to the rear of the right-side ejection port.
Moving all the way back, the butt extension tube is not removable but does show generic styling and adjustable length of pull, offering 260 to 340mm (10¼ to 13¼”) from trigger blade to the centre of the solid polymer butt plate. This shows moulded diamond patterns for grip and does the job without needing a rubber recoil pad.
The linear nature of the stock’s ergonomics make the cheek weld snug and it’s one of the few guns that, with a scope on board, I actually added artificially high scope mounts to for a bit more comfort.
Of course, with iron sights flipped up, the speed and pointability of the gun was superb and only a single screw needs be loosened to slip off the rear sight to position a scope. The 1-6 Hawke optic was a great match for the rifle and terrifically enjoyable to shoot with point-and-squeeze bullet placement on realistic targets.
A single underside lever locks and unlocks the butt’s length with six available positions staged roughly ¾” apart. It doesn’t tighten fully in use and will wobble slightly until loaded onto your shoulder, but it doesn’t rattle and you hardly notice it.
The trigger blade is 8mm wide with a gentle curve and creeps about 4mm as it is fired with a final 2,250gr squeeze needed to fully trip it into action. It must be completely released to allow the trigger mechanism to work as the action cycles, and is smoothly sprung to make it feel far better than a 5lb pull weight sounds. It is repeatable and reliable and not at all gritty in feel, even when the gun gets dirty.
Distance from the underslung AR-15 grip is quite short, as usual, but this can be interchanged with the accessories available for the AR-15 family. A push button is set above the right side of the trigger guard to drop the 25-round polymer magazine straight to the floor or into your hand, depending on your requirements for reload speed. Extra magazines are easily available and a smaller 10-round option is available too.
These polymer magazines feed from central feed lips sitting above a staggered column of ammunition with rounds splayed left and right of centre. There is a red follower under the ammo to make capacity easily visible and twin buttons either side allow you to ease the tension off the coil-sprung follower when loading it.
Do not be tempted to pull it all the way down and drop 25 rounds into it – like any rimmed case, they need feeding one at a time, ensuring that each new round pushed in from the front has its rim in front of the existing round below it. Failure to do this will result in jams and misfeeds and it’s really the only aspect of using this rifle that needs continued careful explanation to new shooters.
Long-term use has shown me that the magazines do wear out a little, but that is the life of a semi-disposable polymer product. Steel feed lips might be nice as this is where they eventually fail, but we are talking tens of thousands of rounds and, in fact, loading them with 20 rather than 25 rounds seems to significantly lower the risk of the first few rounds flipping vertical and causing a jam as time goes by. When firing up to 2,000 rounds a week, these points rear their heads, but it is not a criticism as most magazines have lasted well over two years and, in reality, this type of heavy use has shown what a great product the 15-22 is for the price.
The left side of the gun shows a bolt hold open/disengage button and a familiar 90° rotating safety catch, with the lever flipped down by the firing hand thumb for ‘fire’ and upward into a horizontal position for ‘safe’. The bolt release lever is realistically just to allow the bolt to close because the magazine follower will engage it internally to lock the gun open when empty, but it’s still easily used when training ‘empty’. Alternatively, slot a full live mag in the rifle and draw back the T-handle, then just let it go for incredibly fast-fire fun.
The blowback action is as simple as it sounds. As the ammo is ignited and the bullet travels down the barrel, the simple spring tension on the reciprocating bolt within the upper holds it closed for satisfactory burn time before simply giving up the fight and letting the gas pressure blow it open. It carries the spent case with it which is flicked out of the right side of the gun by a fixed ejector on the inside of the upper. These fly well clear through the large 42x12mm oval ejection port before that same spring throws the bolt back into the battery, stripping another round from the top of the magazine and driving it up the feed ramp, into the chamber for the next shot. Repeat to your desired needs.
A full magazine can be discharged as fast as you can reciprocate your finger, and that’s in the region of 6-7 seconds, about 10 times faster than you can refill the mag!
Accuracy will always be reliant on ammunition, but I have fed standard round-nose, hollow-point subsonic and copper-washed, hi-velocity fodder through the gun with favourable results – even the squarer shape of Winchester hollow-point subsonic bullet was reliable. In the end, though, stoppages on a semi-auto rimfire come down to lubricants, lead and powder residue. Softly sprung semis seem to generate unburnt powder residue but the snappy action of the M&P, especially with copper-washed hi-velocity brands, was clean burning.
Eventually, though, all that sooty smoke and carbon do gum up so a clean is needed. In the field, it’s a two-minute job to push out the rear action pin with your fingertip, draw it through the receiver and pull up against the stock extension on the T-handle to hinge it open.
Only two moving parts can be easily removed, the bolt and the T-handle itself, so you aren’t likely to start losing things as each is several inches long.
The cylindrical bolt and handle slide out, part company and are easy to wipe clean with an oily (not oiled) rag. The bolt will slide back and forth on its spring within twin guide rails to facilitate quite a quick smart job before too much gets baked on in place.
Likewise, the bolt-face and extractor claw on its right side are easily wiped clear of residues before being placed back into the upper’s cylinder, the T-handle placed on top and slotted back into battery. Then close the gun, not unlike a shotgun, and push the pin back through.
It’s easiest to do with the action/hammer cocked, but should you not do so or accidentally allow the hammer to fall, just hook it back up with a fingertip before you close the gun, and all is ready to go. I love simple mechanics!
The parts open over 90°, but drift the forward pin out if you want access to the barrel’s breech face and chamber – occasionally, these will need a more arduous clean with solvent to ensure the extractor pin can fully enter its rebate and latch onto the cartridge rim.
Carefully executed shots on target will achieve a 20-25mm five shot group on targets at 50m; the trigger does take some work but rewards precise technique with great stock ergonomics compared to a lot of child-sized rimfires. I would never call it a precision .22, but its cyclical reliability draws it towards use in practical rifle shooting competition and, in fact, the reliability and simplicity does make it suitable for nighttime rabbit shooting, especially with a moderator fitted.
Left-handed use is no great problem as the cases are spat clearly ahead of your face and minimal debris is ejected, but I would stick with safety glasses in such situations.
Trigger use is consistent and there is a certain amount of self-lubricating nature to the polymer chassis components with only items like hammers, springs and sears made of steel on a gun that follows the original design ethos of the M16/AR-15.
Lastly, I think the value for money, availability of extra magazines and colour/specification choice on the M&P makes it a great package straight from the box with excellent iron (yes, made of polymers) sights fitted, showing full windage and elevation adjustability with a supplied tool. You can also alter their exact position to work around other accessories you might add, and some might like the ability to alter the sight radius for their own eyesight preferences, although the maximum separation will always offer the most precise aim.
Muzzle velocities from a 16.5” tube are totally acceptable, with the bullet far from the barrel at the point the bolt locks back in the action after the last shot is sent. The noise of the bolt locking on this shot is slightly different, but make no mistake, there is no alteration to the point of impact. Zero was also unaffected by disassembly for cleaning as the barrel/upper/sights remain as a homogenous unit with no junctions to drift in position.
A bipod or additional pistol grip can be added to the fore-end handguard and the only shortcoming of this gun is the lack of a front sling attachment to pair with that on the rear.
Improvised positions are well rewarded with great balance standing and kneeling especially. If you have your heart set on shooting prone, buy a 10-round magazine, as the larger mag is tricky to fit below the rifle when you are close to the floor.