I purchased the Smith & Wesson M&P 15-22 about 5 years ago. It was my actual first rim-fire rifle and has been a delightful choice that I have never regretted purchasing. Nowadays, you can even get them in totally different colors, styles, and better handguards, (more on the handguards later) all available for usually less than $500 street price. This rifle is fantastic for training; either for setting up a training match to your duty rifle in a center-fire caliber & shooting cheaper or for teaching someone new to guns with a firearm that is extremely low recoil & noise as well as being very easy to use. With the cost of 22 long rifle ammunition I can get away with a range trip spending only $15-25 a box of 300+ rounds and easily shoot 1-2 hours with someone new to guns or wanting more in-depth training.
The ergonomics of this rifle are extremely similar to an AR-15, or modern sporting rifle (MSR) usually chambered in .224/5.56 (there is a massively larger caliber selection in a standard MSR than I could possibly list here). However when you pull it next to a center-fire MSR the differences are minor but completely incompatible. As far as my research suggests, they made the design changes so that they could keep with an inexpensive polymer receiver design that can handle the pressures from a rim-fire round but would not stand up to center-fire pressures. The 2 pins that hold a typical MSR upper and lower receiver are smaller and have a different geometry to them so you cannot mistakenly put the parts on a standard MSR. The charging handle is shortened, and lacking the tab/hole end that would normally interact with the gas key on a center-fire bolt carrier group (BCG). This firearm is blow-back operated compared to the MSR which is gas operated. The BCG is a fairly solid design, with the entire recoil spring included in the BCG so that there is no need for a recoil spring/buffer going all the way into the stock (more on that later as well). Other differences include a specialty barrel nut and system to hold on the handguard.
Those differences aside, this rifle can take a great deal of standard MSR parts. Everything from triggers, sights, stocks, grips, and muzzle devices will work as long as they are compatible with a common MSR in .223/5.56 (muzzle threading for example is 1/2×28, typical of any 22 caliber barrel). I picked this rifle especially for that reason and for the fact that the manual of arms being exactly the same as a standard MSR. This makes it extremely easy to teach someone to use the more powerful rifle without shelling out a ton of money for training ammunition. Typically I can get 22 long rifle for $0.06 a round (Federal Auto Match, great ammo) compared to $0.39 a round (Federal Match 5.56 in bulk). Doesn’t seem like much but when you shoot as much as I do it starts to add up really quickly.
I have tried out several different optics on this rifle before settling on the CV Life© red dot. (Pardon the slight blurriness)It is fairly inexpensive at $29; has both red & green dot settings, 4 different reticles (dot, dot w/cross-hairs, circle, circle w/dot center) and includes several different brightness settings as well as auto-shutoff. For the use most common to my family, mainly plinking, this is quite sufficient for the task. It’s not like this rifle is going to battle any time soon. I switched out the grip for a smaller Magpul MOE© grip that my wife finds more comfortable. I switched out the standard Magpul stock for a Mission First Tactical (MFT) Minimalist Stock© to decrease weight as well as making the handling a lot easier for me. Also added a hand stop to give a defined point of contact each time in order to help with muscle memory. The most expensive addition to this rifle is the Franklin Arms Binary Trigger©. I love this trigger, will be posting a separate review in the future. Basically it adds a safety selector in 3 positions; safe, fire, and binary. In binary mode the trigger fires both when you pull the trigger and when you release the trigger. You can easily change the selector back to fire when the trigger is held back in order to not fire on the release. This trigger is an awesome range toy, making 2 shot strings a joy as well as showing you handling mistakes when the bullets impact paper.
The handguard and extractor are the only points on this rifle I dislike. The handguard is from the late 90’s style called a quad-rail. Basically it has picatinny rails on 4 axis so you can mount any picatinny accessory anywhere possible down the length of the fore-end. Problem with this is that it is the equivalent of a cheese-grater for your hand. Even though the rails are polymer, not aluminum, it can still be painful & bulky in the hand with lots of sharp edges. I purchased rubber rail covers which solve the issue but add to the overall weight. Unfortunately it requires a specialty tool to remove the handguard, as soon as I get one and a new rail I will update the review. Nowadays, you can get this rifle stock with an M-Lok handguard so you aren’t stuck with all the extra bulk and pain. For the extractor, I didn’t start having problems until a little over 1,000 rounds. The bolt attempts to go to battery with the spent case still stuck in the chamber and the new round jammed against the stuck case. I did some research and found that Volquartsen© makes a special extractor so I ordered one. Extremely easy to install, only one pin and you are set to go. I believe due to that replacement I didn’t have the typical problems these rifles have at 5,000+ rounds with the extractor sheering off completely. Volquartsen also makes a carbon-fiber match grade barrel that I will be switching to soon, due to the high round count I want to extend this rifle’s service life. As far as I am aware, this is the only upgraded barrel option for this rifle.
Malfunctions are few and far between. Almost all are ammo related. For those unaware of 22 lr ammunition loading, the case is fairly thin at the rim which allows the firing pin to dent the case itself instead of a dedicated & replaceable primer in a center-fire. The actual primer is typically a circular cake that gets dropped in the case first, then the gunpowder, ending with the bullet being seated and/or crimped in place. Problem with this is that with lots of bouncing and movement that primer cake can tilt, thus not being set-off when the firing pin strikes. On most occasions the rifle will not fire when the trigger is pulled so all you have to do is pull the charging handle back and release, ejecting the bad round while cycling a fresh one. The magazines are awesome, rarely have I had any malfunctions with them and usually it is due to user error not associated with the magazine itself. Truly when I bring out this rifle and set it to binary mode, I spend more time loading magazines due to everyone loving to shoot it. I did find a loading tool that works with all different types of 22 rim-fire rifle and pistol magazines (as long as you have the right adapter) by the name of the McFadden Lightning Grip Loader©. This makes reloading a delight and also allows you to have less lead contact.
Cleaning of the rifle is very similar to a standard MSR. I am typically a little heavier on the solvent soaking in order to get the lead deposits out of the barrel. About once every 3-5 months I clean out the fire control group as well, otherwise I worry about the works getting gummed up. Removing the BCG is standard and quite easy, cleaning is actually simpler for me than an MSR bolt carrier group. Only issue is when it gets really caked on there, unless you or a friend have a ultra-sonic cleaner. Otherwise a lot of nylon and brass bristle brushes with some elbow work and it cleans up just fine.
One item I have been looking into is modifying the buffer tube/receiver extension to turn it into a folding stock. With the BCG & recoil spring being self-contained, what would be a buffer tube is just a piece of plastic. I will likely be buying another rifle to take apart and cut that receiver extension off so that I can try to adapt a hinge mechanism and make a folding stock. Smith & Wesson used to make a pistol version of this that would have been much easier to do this with. I may still keep looking for a used on to tinker with (let me know if you got one for sale!) Overall, this rifle earned it’s place over the years at the top of my favorite guns list. Not all of my favorite guns have to be battle ready or SHTF firearms, sometimes the best are something you can enjoy with your family in a way that educates others and helps train the new generation of shooters. I highly recommend picking one up and trying it or, if you are in my area, bring a box of ammo and I will buy the range time!