I have been drooling over Anchutz and Cooper rimfire rifles for several years now. They are beautiful guns and from what Ive read extremely accurate. I am wondering if the accuracy matches the cost increase. I like to punch paper in the spring and summer with my rimfire's but as soon as the weather starts cooling off they go back to their primary job. Squirrel rifles. I bought a Marlin 917 chambered in 17 HM2 back in 2006 for $189.00. It was very accurate out of the box and since then it has been my primary small game gun. A few years ago I decided I wanted to see how accurate I could get it. I replaced the trigger with a rifle basix trigger, glass bedded the action, and free floated the barrel and put a Leupold Rifleman 3X9 on top of it. It made a big difference. I am not the worlds greatest shot but then again I am not the worse. My real problem is I am right handed but left eye dominant. I can only look through a rifle scope for a few second before I have to start fighting the urge to open my left eye. It effects my shooting. Anyways, depending on my ability and the conditions of the day I have shot 5 shot groups as small as half an inch at 100 and as large as 1.25 inches at 100. Usually, the gun stays under an inch at 100. I have a feeling if I spent money on a better scope I could shrink the groups even more but I do not see the need as it is a field gun.The gun is now more accurate than I am capable of shooting. Including the initial cost of the rifle, the scope, the glass bedding kit, and the trigger, I have a little over $500 in this gun. As its primary purpose is to hunt, I do not expect the same accuracy in the field as I get off the bench. I have head shot a squirrel with it at about 70 yards though. With the Anchutz and Coopers that I want running $1500 to $2000, can I expect them to be 3 to 4 times more accurate than my Marlin in the field? I don't have the money for one now so currently I am just dreaming. I am currently 31 and have spent my whole life hunting with H&R rifles and Marlins. I do think it would be a nice reward though later in life to get to own and hunt with a true top end rifle. Not to mention I would also love to be able to pass a gun of that quality down to my kids or grand kids when I leave this earth. Im just wondering if the accuracy is really worth the cost.
It sounds like you know what it takes to shoot with an upward degree of accuracy. As such, I am sure that what I am about to write will only be a reminder to you.
The rifle is only a part of the equation. You also have technique, accessories (optics and upgrades (like you put into your Marlin 917)), and two of the most important that you have not mentioned is ammo and experience. As far as experience, it sounds like you have made a good start. When you look at pictures of the top long gun shooters, most of them have some grey in their hair and some wrinkles around their eyes. These guys have put long hours into shooting, and their experiences are part of what makes them a good shooter (along with good equipment).
The simple fact is that with rimfire ammo, you do not have much control over it like you do with a hand loaded round. I have read about guys hand-loading rimfire (in days past), but I do not think it is very common at all these days. I know Mr. C has mentioned on this forum about being able to buy primed 22Mag brass in the past (IIRC), but I do not think that kind of stuff is on the market anymore. So with the rimfire platform, you will be limited to the best production "match grade" ammo.
Let me preface my last statement by saying that I am as tight as the lid on a rusty pickle jar! All that being said, IN MY OPINION, your Marlin will probably serve you just fine. It sounds like you have taken an accurate rifle and made some serious improvements on it. I would find someone with one of those high end rifles and see if they will let you come shoot it. That will give you plenty of info to make your decision. Another thing to consider is that the high end rifles have a small niche in the gun market. If you buy one and decide you do not care for it (or find yourself in a situation where you need to sell it), it might be difficult to sell with out losing your hat. If money is no object, I would say get one of every kind!
Keep putting them downrange. There is probably a bunch you can do to become a better shooter besides buying a high end rimfire rifle.
EDIT: That Marlin you Modded could become an heirloom rifle to your kids. All the blood, sweat, and tears you put into it will make a great story for future generations. It has YOU in it.
I don't know about those high-dollar rifles, but I've seen NEF rifles that would shoot down in the .1" range @ 50 yards. David White in OK works them over like nobody else can - even installs your choice of barrel. I think all the work he does on them runs in the $500-800 range, including barrel, but you have to provide the gun. I figure an Anschutz would be about the same level of performance, but at a much higher cost.
It sounds as if you already know the biggest part of the issues you face, but it depends upon what size groups you want to punch in that paper and how much you are willing to spend. Like most, I have shot rim fires my whole life and I even have some pretty decent guns. However, last summer a colleague of mine invited me to shoot a few rim fire silhouette matches with him. While this does not require a full blown "target" rifle, it does require a pretty good rifle and consistent ammo. Both matches I shot with a borrowed rifle and my own ammo.
My buddy shoots an Anchutz 1416D, which is a medium heavy barrel sporter type rifle. Very nice and accurate gun and it put me to shopping around. I ended up with a NIB CZ452 from a member of this board. While I am still working on getting my rifle completely tuned in, I have shot five shot groups at 50 yards where you can really only count three holes. This is very ammo dependent as I can make my groups grow or shrink by just switching ammo. I have all sorts of .22lr ammo, from the bulk stuff up to Eley and Lapua. The Eley and Lapua will print super groups and I can shoot a bit bigger group with Federal Ultra Match, and even bigger groups as I go down in the price of the ammo. However, I have about $700 in a rifle/scope/rings that is WAY better than I am. While it is not a target gun, it can shoot from the bench or take a squirrel in the woods and I feel comfortable doing both with it.
Just trying different kinds of ammo to find what your gun shoots best might make a cheaper gun shoot like an anchutz. You might find a bolt action savage that will out shoot a high dollar gun. Cost doesn't guarantee pin point accuracy. The expensive guns have more things done right in the manufacturing process and they use better components. They are spending more time when building to insure accuracy. They also might not shoot better than a Marlin you buy at walmart.
I've owned a number of .22s and shot quite a few more. Once upon a time the difference in accuracy between a high end and a mid range or low end gun was considerable. Now, not so much. Some of the most accurate target guns I've shot were very expensive European guns: Anschutz, Feinwerkbau, Hammerli. Amazing, unbelievable accuracy. But note that I said target guns, not field guns. I've owned and shot a few Anschutz field guns and they won't do anything more than a properly tuned Marlin. They may look a lot cooler, feel more substantial, and give you a little air of superiority, but when you pull the targets the difference in the groups is not worth mentioning. I have some military training rifles from the 40s and 50s: Savage, H&R, Mossberg, and every one of them will shoot lights out, but they're weird things you're not going to carry around the woods. As far as utilitarian rimfires, the most accurate rifle I have is a Savage bolt action which will routinely do under an inch at 100 yards, and has done a half inch with some effort and good wind conditions. Side by side, it will outshoot my Anschutz field guns. I have considered a Cooper and may get one someday but it will not be because I am looking for more accuracy, but rather something that revs my heart rate. I don't care what Cooper says, their guns are not going to be $1,000+ more accurate than a Savage.
I have an old magazine article somewhere from the late 80s where they were accuracy testing rimfires. They had a bunch of the popular guns of the time and an Anschutz target rifle, more or less as a control. If I remember correctly these were shot off the bench at 25 and maybe 50 yards. Of course the Anschutz shot the pants off everything because that was what it was supposed to do. All except one. The Anschutz (a high end target rifle, not a field gun) was whipped by a Freedom Arms Model 83 .22 revolver. They said it was the most accurate rimfire they had ever tested. I've been wanting one of those ever since but never had the money and want at the same time. They're in the same price range as a Cooper rifle.
Don't buy into the hype. If you like your Marlin and it shoots, be happy. Or if you have the money get an Anschutz and be happy. Or get a Freedom 83 and invite me to the range with you and I'll be happy.
Every rifle is an individual and there can be shooters and clunkers among every brand. I have seen fantastic shooters made by some lower end manufacturers. The main advantage of buying a high end rifle like the Anschutz or Cooper is that they have a much better percentage chance of being a good shooter. They also maintain, or in some cases increase in value.
Ammo in a rimfire is crucial. Some rifles will shoot blammo ammo extremely well and others won't truly shine until fed premium fodder. The trouble with cheaper ammo is consisteency. One lot may shoot great but the next box you buy might not shoot well at all. I've seen that with The lower priced Eley as well. My Anschutz 64MS shoots best with Lapua Midas but I just can't afford to pay $15-18 per 50. My Savage/Anschutz 164 has the same action except for being a repeater and shoots plain old CCI mini-mag HPs best. Go figure.
My Savage 900 TR is another accurate rifle despite being iron sight only and costing a third of what I paid for the 64MS.
The FA rimfire pistols get their accuracy from extremely tight tolerances and they lock up like a bank vault. They also have dual firing pins 180 degrees apart. I'd love to see what a quality rimfire rifle could do with that set up.
I have some very fine .22 rifles (and HAD a very accurate Savage bolt action in .17 HMR until I let The Narwhal talk me out of it!) but the berst field gun I own is a single-shot Remington 5-series bolt action. The rifle has been re-stocked and free floated, but still has the barrel and trigger it came with. If I feed it Federal Gold Medal Match ammo, it will shoot with anyhing I've got, including a Time-Precision action, Lilje barreled, Jewel Triggered IR 50/50 bench rifle. Go figure.