Winchester’s new Wildcat .22 is a semi-auto rifle chambered for .22 LR. It joins a well-populated segment of the market, but it’s got such innovation that it will change the plinkster market forever. It has a radical new design and an incredibly low price. I’ve shot with extensively and spoken with some of the engineers involved in its design. This is a rifle worth your attention.
Another 10/22 Clone…?
Ruger’s 10/22 has enjoyed the spotlight for more than fifty years. It’s a reliable design, and it’s a good bet that you’ve shot one. If you don’t own one, I’d bet money the guy in the next stall at the range does. There are currently no fewer than 21 variations of this gun for sale on Ruger.com, and you’ll find many more on GunsAmerica.com and at pawn shops across the country, as well as millions of modifications from third parties. Not to mention all the Marlins, Remingtons, and just about every other manufacturer who has something very similar for sale.
So with all these guns out there, what makes the Wildcat any different? The answer is that it is an ideal reinvention of what all those guns should be in the 21st century. For more details, I spoke with Glenn Hatt, a product manager at Winchester.
“Winchester has been all about sporting arms, but we haven’t had any entry-level arms for some time,” Hatt said. This rifle has been in development for more than a decade. “We’ve had three main engineers work on this gun. We took the weaknesses of the 10/22 and improved it and we’ve made a powerful entry-level product.”
The Wildcat has an 18″ barrel, but it’s a heavy barrel and it not only feels good and looks great, but it also keeps on target shot after shot. It’s got a direct blowback action, just like most .22 rifles and pistols, and it’s striker-fired. Now let’s get into the nitty-gritty.
The lower receiver is what really sets this gun apart from other auto-loaders. It comes completely out of the gun in one piece without using any tools. .22 ammo is notoriously dirty and most failures with .22’s happen because the gun is dirty. The ease of disassembly makes it simple to keep this gun clean even while shooting at the range or in the field, and it makes it easy and safe to clear a misfire.
Glenn Hatt says that the simplicity of tearing this gun down, cleaning it, and troubleshooting it in the field is his favorite thing about this design. “I hunt so much with kids — I’ve got three sons and a daughter, and we do family reunions. When there is a problem it’s so easy to get the gun back to shooting safely. As a father, it’s really nice to have that simplicity.”
With the lower removed, you can clean straight down the barrel from the action to the crown. The lower receiver’s serial number matches that stamped on the barrel.
The lower includes tool storage for two Allen wrenches. The smaller is for windage adjustments to the rear sight and the larger removes the stock from the upper receiver.
To Remove the Lower
- Verify the gun is empty and pointed in a safe direction
- Close the bolt
- Pull the trigger
- Press the red retention button at the back of the bolt
- The lower drops away toward the front
- Reinsert the lower with the catch in front of the trigger first and the charging handle positioned vertically
The upper receiver is a black polymer and can be removed from the stock with a couple of screws using the Allen key included in the lower receiver. It has an integrated Picatinny rail which is 5.5″ long with 11 slots and open ends so any accessories can extend past the ends. The rear aperture sight mounts to the Picatinny rail.
The charging handle is on the right. The red textured slides are the magazine release. The red button on the left side is the bolt release. the button in front of the trigger guard locks the bolt open. This is oriented as a right-handed weapon, but it really takes both hands to operate it well.
“Making the barrel and upper so easy to disassemble is intended to make it easy for third parties to customize,” Hatt said. “Fully machined steel uppers and lowers will be easy to make. Today’s customer expects to be able to customize and make a gun their own.”
I know that many of you aren’t even reading these words because you clicked away as soon as you saw it has a synthetic stock. I fully agree that there is a special character that wood brings to a firearm, and I generally prefer wooden stocks, too. However, this is the 21st century, people. Synthetics aren’t the junk they were in the 1980s. They are stable, inexpensive to produce, and may be lighter. This is a good stock for this gun, and you need to shoot it before you dismiss it based on antiquated preconceptions.
It’s not black, and that’s a conscious design choice. It’s a dark grey/charcoal and it looks great with black and red accents. The black parts and the barrel give it a two-tone look, and it just looks a lot less cheap with the grey. There is nothing flimsy about it. It won’t twist or deflect if you try to bend it around. The only flex is if you squeeze the forend up toward the barrel, which is free-floating.
It’s a slim stock. It fits in smaller hands well, but it still comes up in the right place on my larger frame and voluminous hands.
The buttstock has a noticeably large cutout. I don’t know that this makes the gun actually lighter, but it looks like a modern weapon. There’s a sling swivel molded into the stock (instead of a knob sticking out that gets caught everywhere as on wooden stocks).
The forend has a removable cover that reveals both the sling mount and a Picatinny rail for bipods or tripod mounts.
The pistol grip is notably more vertical than most .22 stocks. But you’ll find that it fits your hand really well and you can place your thumb on either side of the action. The whole stock has a lightly stippled texture and the forend and grip have deeper slots for a positive purchase.
Length of pull is 13.5″ and the butt is not padded. It does have a removable textured butt plate. The drop from the barrel at the comb is 7/8″ and the drop at the heel is also 7/8″. For me, that drop is perfect with a scope mounted, but it’s a little low for the iron sights.
Glenn Hatt said more options are already in development, and I’ve heard rumors that third parties are already making custom stocks, as well. Hatt says it’s all in the plan to have more options soon, including youth models, adjustable lengths of pull, adjustable combs, and wooden stocks. But as is, this first version is a very usable weapon.
Winchester isn’t trying to completely reinvent the field of autoloading .22’s and that’s most apparent in their choice to make the Wildcat compatible with Ruger’s 10/22 magazines. You can easily buy more 10-round rotary mags, 20-round stick mags, or even 100-round drums making it easy to add another gun to your safe.
The Wildcat ships with one 10-round rotary magazine, but it’s not a standard 10/22 mag. “We took all the knowledge we already have [about magazines] and applied it to improving the 10/22 magazine,” Hatt told me. When you consider that Winchester firearms are now produced by Browning Arms Company and that Hatt was talking to me from their Morgan, Utah office, they’re a company that has a lot of experience with magazine development, and that’s apparent in this build.
First, it has a built-in thumbwheel that makes it much easier to load because you can assist the drum rotation with your other hand as you load.
The magazine releases like other 10/22’s with the latch at the front of the mag, but the best experience comes using the sliding mag release on both sides of the stock. Just grip the red textured slide with fingers on one side and thumb on the other and slide it back. The mag pops out into your hand.
The biggest difference between this and other magazines, though, is that it locks the bolt open when the mag is empty. The magazine has a metal tab that pops up and locks the bolt open. If there is no magazine, you can lock the bolt open with the red button at the front of the trigger guard. That’s a very cool safety feature so you know the gun is empty at a glance.
It’s remarkable that Winchester could make a simple innovation to an existing design that significantly improves the user’s experience.
The bolt won’t lock open with other mags, and I don’t know if this magazine fits in Ruger 10/22’s.
The barrel is 18″ long and it’s not contoured, which gives it a semi-heavy look and weight. The gun could be lighter with a standard tapered barrel, but this one leaves nothing wanting. Hatt says that the barrel shape is also deliberate. “Not contouring the barrel keeps it as heavy and as accurate as possible and at the same time keeps costs down to pass the savings on to customers.” The straight barrel profile is one more thing keeping the price of this gun down.
18″ is just the right length for toting around the woods and plains and keeps it on target at the range. Hatt says future development will include threaded barrels.
The barrel is free-floating. It’s got a matt blued finish so you won’t spook game with the shine and it wears nicely.
We learn from the barrel that this gun is manufactured in Turkey by Istanbul Silah (Istanbul Arms) and is imported by BACO, Inc (Browning Arms Company), which produces and sells Winchester firearms.
Speaking about the manufacturing, Hatt a lot of good things to say about Istanbul Arms. Winchester has worked closely with them to produce other shotguns, like the Super X Pump, and once they were able to build rifles it became clear that their facility is the perfect place to produce the Wildcat. You should know, though, that this isn’t just another Turkish import.
“A lot of our in-house facilities couldn’t build an entry-level product at the price point we needed. When our factory in Turkey was able to start doing rifled arms, we took this design to them. We helped them refine their process and facility. Do I wish it was all built in the USA? Absolutely.,” Hatt said. “We still buy parts from the US, and our R&D is all here. They are building our design. We don’t put our name on others’ products — we don’t do that, that’s not what we’re about.”
Although the barrel is not threaded, a gunsmith can make that change for you. Maughan tested the Wildcat with suppressors during development. He says there’s a misconception that using a suppressor on a semi-automatic .22 may cause it to have more failures cycling ammo. “We measured to see if the slide velocity changes with a suppressor, but there is no effect.” The gun will become dirty much faster than without a suppressor, and that could affect performance, but the suppressor itself won’t be a problem.
Maughan says he keeps a suppressor on his Wildcat.
The trigger is nothing to write home about, but it’s not terrible for a stock trigger. It’s got 3/32″ of take-up, then it creeps another 3/32″ before it fires, during which the pressure stacks up, and then another 2/32″ before it hits the back wall. The total travel is about a 1/8″.
The safety is right behind the trigger and there is no play in the trigger when the safety is engaged.
The trigger itself is polymer, as is the trigger guard. The guard has a modern rounded square cut with room for thin gloves and lightening cuts.
Action & Ammo
The Wildcat uses a direct blowback action like most .22 guns. I spoke with Robert Maughan, the last engineer at Winchester to work on this gun, about the intricacies of it’s shooting performance. For a seemingly common gun at a low price, they’ve put a lot of thought into making this gun perform well with all kinds of ammo and magazines.
The bolt is a lighter than the bolts used in Ruger’s 10/22. The lighter weight allows it to cycle faster and more reliably with all kinds of ammo. They’ve engineered a feature into the slide that delays its closing to ensure that heavier loads and bigger magazines have time to cycle. More mass in a magazine takes more time to move the next round into battery. Whether the mass comes from a heavier bullet or from a long 25-round magazine with lots of bullets, this delayed slide action helps the weapon cycle reliably.
Maughan tested the gun with many different 25-round magazines, which are favorites of the 10/22 crowd. He didn’t test the big 100-round drums, but he’s pretty sure they will work well, too. The gun was tested for 20,000 rounds with many different kinds of ammo, too, from subsonics to super-high-speed rounds.
Maughan said that lightest and quietest rounds have a little trouble, like CCI’s Quiet, a 40grain bullet shooting at 710fps. The bullets shoot fine, but they may not cycle the next round automatically. Maughan said that if you want to use quiet bullets, heavier bullets are better because their greater mass still pushes the action well.
For my part, I shot three magazines-worth of the CCI Quiet without any failures to feed. I also shot CCI’s Stingers without any trouble. Maughan says there’s no upper limit on the gun — there’s no factory ammo that is too hot to shoot safely.
The Wildcat comes standard with a bladed from sight and an aperture rear sight. There’s a 5.5″ Picatinny rail on the upper receiver with 11 slots. I mounted my Vanguard 1-4 x 24mm scope which weighs about 18 oz, and although the rail is made of polymer, it has kept true for hundreds of rounds.
The trouble with an autoloader, of course, is that you can just keep on shooting. Ten rounds go by really quickly but the assist wheel on the magazine makes it easy to load more. This gun comes up to your shoulder well, and the front Picatinny rail allows you to mount a bipod or tripod mount. The whole gun weighs just four pounds so you don’t get fatigued shooting offhand.
At the Range
The 18″ bull-ish barrel shoots well. Recoil is used to drive the straight blowback action and is negligible for the user. The hard butt plate is just fine.
I shot 9 different factory loads and had a great variety in the groupings. Robert Maughan, the engineer, said it does better with heavy rounds, and that seemed true for me, too. He said low-velocity rounds may not feed, but I had no trouble, though they didn’t group well. High-velocity CCI Stingers also didn’t shoot very consistently. My best groups came from CCI’s Standard Mini Mags and Winchester’s recently re-released Wildcat .22 ammo, which comes in a bulk box.
I’ll not be entering any silhouette competitions with it, but the Wildcat is accurate enough for plinking and small game hunting.
In the Field
As a hunting rifle, the Wildcat excels. Its lightweight makes it effortless to carry — at 4 pounds, it’s about a pound lighter than a base model 10/22. It comes up to your shoulder smoothly and, although the trigger is nothing great, it fires reliably and predictably and is more than accurate enough for small game within fifty yards. The short 18″ barrel makes acquiring targets easier than with longer guns.
Those are the same things Robert Maughan likes about this gun. “I carry it for hunting rabbits and I can just carry it at my side without dragging on the ground. The Wildcat takes all the good things from other autoloaders but shoots all kinds of ammo and is really accurate.”
Personally, the iron sights sit a bit low for my neck/face/shoulder combination, but a scope with low rings is the perfect height. Although the stock is polymer, it comes up to your cheek as solid as a rock and it shoots consistently.
I’ve killed several marmots and rabbits with the Wildcat. Although I love to hunt with my bolt action Winchester Model 69A that was built in the 1930s, the Wildcat is quickly becoming my go-to .22 for hunting. It’s lightweight and it’s short and it’s easy to grab and go.
Availability & Affordability
The Wildcat is ready to buy right now. The MSRP is $249. Incredibly, when I mention the price to people, they always say, “Well, I’ll just get a 10/22 for a lot less!”
But, you can’t get a new 10/22 for less. Ruger lists the cheapest 10/22 at $350, and you’ll be hard-pressed to get one under $200 used. Those who think they can buy one for a lot less are those who bought them a long time ago or inherited them. I’ve already seen the Wildcat for $219 at retailers. The fact is, your money will go farther with a new Wildcat than a new 10/22.
Is The Wildcat For You?
10/22’s have been the incumbent rulers of the .22 market for 60 years. They have loads of aftermarket customization available right now, and dozens of variations. But I think the Wildcat is worth your consideration. It’s lightweight, it’s affordable, it’s easy to shoot and maintain, and it includes many innovations that bring the semi-auto .22 up-to-date. At less than $249 on the street, I think it’s a good way to go and it looks like it will last at least the next 60 years.
|Caliber: 22 LR||Barrel Length: 18″|
|Overall Length: 36 1/4″||Length of Pull: 13 1/2″|
|Drop at Comb: 7/8″||Drop at Heel: 7/8″|
|Weight: 4 lbs 0 oz||Magazine Capacity: 10|
|Twist Rate: 16″||Barrel Finish: Matte Blued|
|Stock Finish: Gray||Receiver Finish: Matte Black|
|Barrel Material: Steel||Barrel Contour: Sporter|
|Stock Material: Composite||Recoil Pad: Plastic Butt Plate|
|Pistol Grip Cap: Matte Polymer||Checkering: Textured Grip|
|Sling Swivel Studs: Integrated||Receiver Material: Composite|
|Trigger Finish: Matte Black||Bolt Slide Finish: Matte Black|
|Magazine Type: Detachable||Trigger Material: Polymer|
|Trigger Guard: Composite||Trigger Guard Engraving: None|
|Scope: 5.5″ Picatinny Rail||-–||MSRP $249.99|