Prophecies of doom and gloom surrounding Winchester as a sporting arms manufacturer may have been misinterpreted. True, Winchester did announce a few months ago that it was closing its U.S. Repeating Arms plant in New Haven, Conn., and has done so. While the closing marked the end of a 140-year production run that included classic American firearms such as the lever-action Model 94 rifle, the bolt-action Model 70 rifle and the pump-action shotgun Model 1300, firearms bearing the Winchester name will still be made at factories in Belgium, Portugal and Japan. Among the guns Winchester is rolling out in a new production line is the bolt-action Wildcat .22-caliber rifle, and I got a chance to try one out at a Las Vegas area shooting range during SHOT Show 2006.
The standard Wildcat rifle comes with a 21" sporter-weight barrel that has a polished bore. The fixed-sight setup includes a microadjustable rear sight that folds down for full clearance should you decide to mount a scope. The hardwood stock has a checkered buttplate with the Winchester crest and a generous checkering through the pistol-style grip of the Featherweight-class stock. The gun's overall length is just over 38" with a length-of-pull at 13.5". Unscoped, the rifle weighs in at a delightful 4.5 lbs.
My least favorite thing about the Wildcat was the magazine system. The gun comes with a generous supply of four magazines, three 10-round-capacity clips and one five-rounder. They drop from the rifle handily, thanks to a forward-mounted magazine release, but I found them a bit finicky to insert. You have to get the insertion angle just right for the magazine to slide smoothly up to the receiver and lock into place. It took me several tries to master getting that down. It wasn't a big deal, but was a minor irritation for someone who is supposed to be proficient with firearms.
Winchester boasts that the Wildcat is capable of consistently shooting groups you can cover with a dime at 25 yards and quarter-sized groups at 50 yards. I'm a "show me" kind of guy and have to shoot a gun before I buy the propaganda. In this case the propaganda is true and Winchester has every right to boast.
The Wildcat I shot was equipped with a variable-power 32mm Bushnell scope, and bullets went precisely where I put the crosshairs at ranges from 10 to 30 yards. The gun was a real tack-driver and had no trouble spinning metal targets out to 50 yards. It's an absolutely delightful rifle to shoot and ranks right up there with my personal tricked-out Ruger 10/22 as the most accurate .22-caliber rifle I have ever shot.
Winchester puts the suggested retail price of the Wildcat at $230. Shooters can usually snag a firearm for less than MSRP, but when word gets out about how fine the Wildcat is, I expect they won't have trouble getting the asking price. What's more, if Winchester can continue to find a way to turn out firearms of the quality I saw in the Wildcat, I suspect rumors of the company's demise as a firearms manufacturer are very premature.
For more information on the Winchester Wildcat .22-caliber rifle please contact one of our Retail Stores