With its price point and Winchester credentials, this little gun would be perfect for a youngster or newcomer, says Bruce Potts
The Winchester Wildcat
It’s nice to have another .22 semi-automatic rifle appear among the usual contingent of Rugers and Remingtons. This Winchester, though labelled as such, is made in Turkey. Named after Winchester’s renowned Wildcat .22 LR ammunition, it evokes cherished memories for me of running the Bridgend Stores, on the Isle of Islay, dry of ammo as a teenager while shooting rabbits on the beach.
Made to a price point, this new-model Winchester Wildcat is designed for plinking, casual target shooting and, of course, stalking. It’s a small and lightweight rimfire, weighing less than 4.4lb, and, with a scant 36.25in overall length, it’s easy to shoot and carry for women and youngsters.
The semi-auto bolt action is recoil-operated, using the force of a fired cartridge to cycle the action. This is fed by a detachable 10-shot rotary magazine, like a Ruger 10/22.
The action looks like a Remington 597 and features a built-in rail for scope use. The short 18in barrel is a sensible length because it is threaded for a sound moderator and, thus fitted, keeps the overall length manageable for a .22 LR.
The stock and casing are made from high-impact polymer for lightness and to keep costs down. Only the bolt mechanism, trigger and barrel are made from metal. Designed for entry-level appeal, the Wildcat still has its uses for hunting in the UK. This model came with a Kite red dot holographic sight and I was keen to see how it performed in the field.
NEED TO KNOW
- Manufacturer Winchester (made in Turkey)
- Model Wildcat
- Type Semi-automatic rimfire
- Overall length 36.25in
- Barrel length 18in
- Length of pull 13.75in
- Weight 4.3lb
- Finish Blued steel
- Calibre .22 LR
- Stock Polymer, skeletonised
- Magazine 10-shot rotary detachable
- Scope mounts Built-in Picatinny-type rail
- Trigger Two-stage
- Price £410 Importer Browning UK, 01235 514550
Interestingly, the Winchester Wildcat action has a polymer shroud, with only the main bearing surfaces — the bolt, spring, firing pin and trigger mechanism — being made from metal. The operation is quiet and reliable due to the numerous non-metal parts. The top section has a full Picatinny rail and to the left of the action is a red lever that, when pressed, closes the bolt. This system holds the bolt open on the last round, which is a handy reminder when the magazine is empty. A second red lever at the front of the trigger-guard holds the bolt open when a magazine is removed.
This magazine is a rotary unit that holds 10 rounds and is released from the stock by pulling rearward twin red grooved bars either side of the stock. You have alloy feeding lips for longevity, though it’s tricky to load because you have to use the geared section on the back to help rotate the follower and push rounds in individually. The Wildcat’s entire firing mechanism can be removed from the rifle for cleaning without tools, handy on a dirty semi-auto.
Barrel length is a sensible 18in with a muzzle thread of ½ UNF and a semi-recessed muzzle crown and muzzle diameter of 0.7000in. The finish is matt-black blued steel. There is a small barleycorn foresight element on a small ramp, which is paired to a small peep sight with crude windage and sloped ramp elevation adjustment at the back of the action.
The trigger is polymer too, and sits in a plastic trigger-guard. It is two-stage but a very hard 6.75lb-plus weight with quite a lot of creep. A simple cross-bolt behind the trigger provides the safety aspect.
The most noticeable part of this Wildcat is that it’s very lightweight and easy to handle. The 13.75in length of pull is a tad short for me and feels very thin and small in the pistol grip, with only a textured finish and some radial cut grooves to slightly raised panels for grip. The rear of the rifle has a cut-out section and small cheekpiece, which is realistically too low for scope use, and the less said about the screw-in plastic recoil pad the better. There are moulded-in silent sling swivel attachments, which does help in the field.
It’s a cheap and cheerful rifle but not my bag. However, the Wildcat is very lightweight, reliable and reasonably accurate with the correct ammunition. It would certainly make an affordable work tool or training rifle for younger Shots to learn the basics.
Scores for the Winchester Wildcat
- Accuracy: Not bad with the right ammunition 15/20
- Handling: Light and easy to carry but a bit short 15/20
- Trigger: Quite heavy with noticeable creep 14/20
- Stock Weatherproof but a little flimsy 14/20
- Value: Fine for stalkers on a budget 14/20
- Overall score: A great entry-level gun for youngsters 72/100
You can shoot this Wildcat as a suppressed gun, so subsonic ammunition is the order of the day, and the first revelation was how reliable with most of the test ammo it was.
I was expecting a few jams but only the RWS and Norma subsonics, with their slower 910fps and 883fps velocities, occasionally failed to feed.
The best tested were the Eley Subs, with their 38-gr hollowpoint travelling at 975fps for 80ft/lb and 0.75in 30-yard groups. CCI Suppressors functioned superbly and hit hard with their 45-gr hollowpoint, and with 0.75in accuracy at 958fps for 92ft/lb, this is a good rabbit load.
I tried the Winchester Wildcat tin ammo as a lead-free alternative, shooting 1,607fps due to its lightweight bullet of 26-gr for 149ft/lb but hitting 1.15in groups. The highest velocity was the RWS HV, with 0.85in groups and 1,244fps and 137ft/lb.
My eldest son really liked the Wildcat as it was light and quite modern-looking, so more appealing to younger eyes. Having loaded it with CCI Suppressor rounds, he sat among the hedgerow at close range opposite a burrow with the red dot sight waiting, while I settled down to wait for crows with another test .20 calibre rifle.
Sure enough, I could hear the bullets strike and each rabbit drop instantly. With the final score of eight rabbits to zero crows, the Wildcat more than proved its credentials.
It’s a cheap and cheerful rifle but not my bag