August 26, 2016
By David Fortier
When I was seven years old, my parents presented me with a single-shot .22 Long Rifle. It was a simple piece that taught me many lessons, both on the range and in the field. I killed many a tin can with that little rifle, and later took a host of small game with it. It became a close friend that accompanied me on innumerable treks and camping trips in rural Maine. Time spent with it on the range made me appreciate the many fine qualities of the .22 Long Rifle cartridge. Time spent with it afield showed me just how useful a small and handy single-shot .22 Long Rifle rifle could be. Forty years later, I have yet to outgrow the .22 Long Rifle cartridge.
I still love wandering over hill and dale with a .22 rifle. Recently, I decided to undertake a relatively simple project to build a lightweight backpacking and survival gun. The foundation would be a single-shot Crickett rifle. A very simple design, the Crickett rifle has garnered a cult following among backpackers, hikers and preppers looking for an ultralight and fool-proof .22 rifle they can customize.
Normally viewed as a children's training rifle, the Crickett rifle is a small single-shot bolt-action that incorporates a manual striker. So after inserting a round into the chamber and closing the bolt, the striker must be manually cocked before firing. Nothing fancy here, just a straightforward design that is easy to operate. The standard Crickett rifle model comes with a very short 12-inch length of pull, a 30-inch overall length and a 16.1-inch barrel. But what makes this piece so interesting is the factory weight of just 2.5 pounds. It weighs almost nothing, which is a plus when hiking or backpacking.
Its light weight has made many looking to shed weight from their loads embrace the Crickett rifle. This has led to a host of modifications to this relatively mundane design. The conversion seen here is nothing new; people have been building similar rigs using the Crickett rifle for years. A quick search of the web will turn up many similar pieces and how-to articles if you are interested.
I purchased my Crickett rifle used for $75 at a local pawn shop. While used, it was in excellent shape and likely sat in a rack most of its life. It appeared to have been shot very little. I bought it on a whim, figuring it would come in handy. After giving it a good cleaning, I did some plinking with it and then used it as a training rifle while teaching kids from my church's youth ministry how to shoot. While not fancy, it was simple, reliable and accurate.
Eventually I mentioned to one of my shooting buddies, Todd Jaderborg, how I'd like to modify it. Todd writes for Firearms News' sister title Be Ready! and is an avid outdoorsman who loves to fabricate, modify and build things. He lives a bit south of me and we typically are up to something each weekend. In this case I mentioned my thoughts on the Crickett rifle to him while we created empty cartridge cases. He listened to me rambling, shared his thoughts and stared at it for a bit. He asked to play with it and lugged it home.
The transformation to what you see on these pages was relatively simple. He removed the factory stock and set it aside. The concept was to be able to swap back and forth easily from how it came from the factory to lightweight backpacker form. To do this he fabricated a new "stock" using a simple piece of PVC pipe. PVC is readily available, inexpensive, durable and easy to work with. More importantly it's also very light.
Next, he took a short length of wooden dowel and epoxied it into one end of the PVC. This was then inletted to accept the Crickett rifle's tiny action. A single screw holds the stock in place. After this, he fabricated a new trigger guard. The final piece was to simply add a cap to the butt. Then the "stock" was painted with a crinkle finish that added a bit of texture. All in all, it was a fun afternoon's project easily accomplished with basic hand-tools and a bit of time and effort.
The end result is a very light and easy-to-pack piece capable of storing small items and ammunition. To make it short yet still easy to shoot, it was finished with a 12.5-inch length of pull. Length of pull is a compromise on a rig like this. You want it long enough to be comfortable, yet as short as possible to reduce the overall length. I can work with a 12.5-inch length of pull, and this resulted in a handy 31-inch overall length. Better still, weight was reduced to just 2.2 pounds. So yes, it is as light as a feather. Could weight be reduced further? Sure, there are ounces here and there which could be shaved. But for my needs, 2.2 pounds was fine.
The tube stock also provides storage for ammunition, survival gear or Twizzlers. To access this, just pop the rear cap off. While the tube isn't very large in diameter, it is fairly long and will hold a useful amount of rimfire ammunition. From a practical standpoint, 50 rounds of .22 Long Rifle is quite a bit for a single-shot. This amount takes up very little room, leaving space for other items.
Pop out one screw and the barreled action is easily separated from the stock. Doing so allows the stock and barreled action to be tucked neatly away inside a pouch or pack alongside one another. This greatly reduces the length required for storage. The Crickett rifle barreled action is only 20 inches long and the stock is slightly shorter. This means only a little space is required. The end result is a very useful little rimfire that is easy to pack away until needed.
What about when you do need it? Can it be shot well enough to actually be effective? Although a bit unconventional-looking, the Jaderborg-modified Crickett rifle performs quite well. I'm small framed, although getting pudgier, so its diminutive size and short LOP is not an issue for me. To check its accuracy, I fired it from the bench using four .22 Long Rifle loads. These consisted of Wolf Performance Ammunition's 40-grain LRN Match Gold, Remington's 36-grain LRN Golden Bullet, Federal's 36-grain HP Value Pack and Aguila's 40-grain SE Subsonic. Four five-shot groups were fired with each load at 25 yards using the factory aperture iron sights. Best accuracy was obtained with Federal's 36-grain HP Value Pack load, which posted a best of .7" and averaged .9" at 1307 fps. Wolf's Match Gold load averaged 1.1 inches at 1044 fps, while Remington's Golden Bullet load averaged 1.2 inches at 1262 fps. Finally Aguila's SE Subsonic averaged 1.2 inches at a sedate 993 fps.
So while hardly a match rig, practical accuracy is well capable of potting small game. Squirrels, rabbits and sitting game birds would all be in peril. The sights are fairly good with an aperture rear and blade front. The only issue I encountered was when it came to extraction and ejection. While the Wolf and Federal loads functioned flawlessly the Remington and Aguila loads occasionally failed to extract. I blame this on dirty ammunition from poor storage, but with .22 Long Rifle ammunition still difficult to find, you take what you can get. Let me also add that if my life was on the line, I would greatly prefer a semi-automatic .22 Long Rifle with a lightning fast follow-up shot over any single-shot. When you are hunting with a single-shot .22 Long Rifle, you have to be extremely careful with your shot placement. You have one shot and you have to make it count.
At times this leads to having to pass on a shot while hoping for a better opportunity to present itself. If you take a shot and it is not decisive and the animal runs, you likely won't have a chance to put another one in it. Losing an animal, even a squirrel, while hunting, is a drag. But in a survival situation it could have dire consequences. So I would prefer a lightweight, compact semi-automatic .22 Long Rifle if the chips were down. I think their advantages simply outweigh their disadvantages. If a shot doesn't anchor an animal, you can hit it again, instantly. Now, that is no excuse for getting sloppy. While the .22 Long Rifle is a marvelous little cartridge capable of doing impressive feats, you need to place your shot exactly. There is little to no room for error. With that said, you are going to have a very hard time finding a semi-automatic .22 Long Rifle that tips the scales at just 2.2 pounds.
That's the beauty of the modified Crickett rifle. For example, a Ruger 10/22 Take-Down weighs in at 4.6 pounds. Yes, it's light, but it's more than twice the weight of the Crickett rifle. The Jaderborg-modified Crickett rifle is a fun little gun to shoot and well capable of putting meat in the pot. It would make a fine backpacking or hiking gun. That said, if I were to do it again, I would choose a Savage Rascal over a Crickett rifle. The Rascal's safety and superior trigger make it a better starting point. It's simply a more refined and better thought-out design for teaching children on or for adult use. Down the road, I'll purchase one and do something similar to it.