As my wife and I were preparing for my oldest son's first trip to the shooting range, we decided to start him off with a youth-sized single-shot .22 rimfire rifle. They are lightweight, simple to operate, and provide a very low level of felt recoil, all of which are features that make sense for a new, young shooter. Since there are several options to choose from these days, I invited him into my office one day to look over a few different models online.
As my son was leaving the office, his little sister (who is about two years younger) ran in and said, "Daddy, when I'm old enough, I want to go shooting too. But I want my gun to be pink!" Yes, my daughter was, and still is, in the “pink” phase of her childhood. Everything that can be pink, from her shoes to her toys, is one shade of pink or another with smatterings of purple and glitter to keep things interesting.
Little did she know how good her timing happens to be. The industry's efforts to provide the growing number of women who shoot with more individualized finish options has also resulted in a greater number of youth rifles in “girl-friendly” colors. With a few clicks on the same web pages I was looking over with my son, we soon had several options to choose from that my daughter liked as well. These included the Henry Repeating Arms Mini Bolt, the Keystone Sporting Arms Crickett and the Savage Arms Rascal. This conversation with my daughter happened about a year ago. Even though she is not quite ready to hit the range just yet, she will be soon. So, it seemed like the right time to test drive some of these pint-sized pink plinkers to find out what they have to offer.
Although each of these youth rifles have notable differences, they share several similarities in their design. They are all bolt-action single-shot rimfire rifles that can safely chamber .22 Short, .22 Long and .22 Long Rifle ammunition. They weight about 3-lbs., the barrels are just over 16” long, and the length of pull (LOP) is under 12”. The shoulder stocks are not only shorter, they've been completely scaled down to fit the hands and shoulders of those who are doing their best to outgrow them as quickly as possible. Each rifle is drilled and tapped for optional scope mounts, and each arrives ready to shoot with factory-installed iron sights. These little rifles have bolt assemblies that are easy to remove. When the bolts are opened and resting to the rear of the receiver, depressing the trigger allows them to slide right out. Removing the bolt can be an additional safety practice for storage and transportation.
Over the course of testing, the Henry, Keystone and Savage offerings all ran reliably with a variety of .22 Long Rifle ammunition. There were a couple of failures to fire, but they were due to the primer malfunctions that occur with bulk-box loads from time to time.
Bench-rested formal accuracy testing was conducted at 25-yards firing five 5-shot groups using the factory iron sights. The bench-tested .22 loads included CCI Velocitor 40-grain Gold Dot hollow points, Federal American Eagle 38-gr. copper-plated lead hollow points, and Winchester Super X 40-gr. copper-plated lead hollow points.
Here is a closer look at each single-shot rifle and how they performed down range:
Henry Repeating Arms Muddy Girl Mini Bolt Youth Rifle The Henry Mini Bolt features an all-weather stainless steel construction including the barrel, bolt assembly, receiver and trigger. Currently stock options are limited to a basic black or Muddy Girl finish, which provides a clever blend of my daughter’s favorite hues with a traditional hunter’s camouflage pattern. The lines of the single-piece molded polymer stock mimic those of popular sporting bolt-actions with a checkered fore-end, checkered pistol grip, and a raised cheek piece. The integral rounded trigger guard is generously sized and roomy. The Williams Fire Sights provide an open three-dot sight picture with a fixed red fiber-optic in front and a drift-adjustable green fiber optic in the rear.
Opening the Mini Bolt's European-style bolt using the flattened bolt handle exposes the chamber for loading. There is an open space between the chamber mouth and the floor of the bolt channel. This means each round needs to be placed and pressed into the chamber carefully or it will have to be dumped out of the bolt channel and reloaded. When the bolt is closed, the knurled cocking knob is manually pulled back towards the shooter to cock the firing pin. A sliding safety lever is located on the left side of the receiver and blocks the trigger from cycling. The bolt can be opened and closed with the safety engaged.
The overall fit and finish of the Henry Mini Bolt was excellent with the Muddy Girl camouflage-pattern dip on the stock properly applied. The bolt cycled smoothly and the trigger had a 3 lb. 4 oz. trigger pull with a bit of travel before and after the break. The Williams fiber-optic sights were big, bright and easy-to-see but they do obscure the targets a bit more at 25 yards than the peep sights of the other models. I was able to produce tighter benchrest groups with the peep sights. However, given the choice of working with a peep-sighted .22 or the Henry fiber optics when he started shooting, my son preferred the Henry’s sight picture.
The Muddy Girl version of this rifle produced its best single group of 1.00” with the CCI Velocitor load, which averaged 1.11”. The Winchester Super X load averaged 1.16“, followed by the Federal American Eagle at 1.34”. With a suggested retail of $275 as of this writing, it’s not hard to find the Mini Bolt for sale around $220.
Keystone Sporting Arms Crickett (KSA226) Of the three brands represented here, the Keystone Crickett rifle line offers the broadest selection of finish and stock options. Customers can choose from blued or stainless steel barrels with either polymer or laminated wood stocks in a variety of vibrant colors. The model tested was the KSA226, which features a stainless steel barrel, blued receiver and a nickel-plated steel bolt and trigger. This model’s wooden stock is a single shade of pink laminate with a smooth black polymer buttplate and blued steel trigger guard.
The front sight is a polymer block with a triangular sight blade. The rear peep sight is fully adjustable for height and windage using adjustment screws that accept a standard screwdriver. The bolt is opened using a smooth-knobbed handle. Like the Henry, there is some space between the chamber mouth and the floor of the bolt channel, so be sure to place each round securely in the chamber. Once the bolt is closed, the polymer cocking knob is pulled back towards the shooter and locked in place to allow the gun to fire. There are no external safety devices on this model other than the cocking knob.
The fitting of the Crickett was good and tight with a proper finish on all of the wood, metal and polymer components. The wooden stock was sleek and smooth from end-to-end, with a narrow fore-end and grip. In looking the guns over, my daughter declared this one to be the prettiest of the bunch (she seems to be developing a preference for wooden stocks, just like her mother). The Crickett's smooth-faced trigger was the most kid-friendly of the test set. Short and deeply curved, it fits little fingers more precisely to help teach proper trigger control. Keystone lists the trigger pull of these rifles as ranging from 2 to 3 lbs. But this particular rifle’s trigger, with a short travel distance and crisp break, demonstrated a 3-pound 10-ounce trigger pull.
At the shooting range, the Crickett favored the CCI Velocitor load with a best single group of 0.75” and an average of 0.91”. The Winchester Super X turned in an average of 1.02-inches, followed by the Federal American Eagle at 1.20”. This particular pink-stocked Crickett currently has a suggested retail of $189. But depending on which stock material and barrel finish you choose, Crickett rifles are available at real-world prices in the neighborhood of $130.
Savage Rascal Savage's take on the youth single-shot rimfire rifle most closely mimics the operation of an adult rifle, namely, its adjustable AccuTrigger model bolt actions. Constructed of blued steel, the rifle is available with either a brown wood stock or a polymer stock in one of several solid colors, including hot pink. The Savage polymer stock was the most slender of the test set with molded-in texturing on the fore-end and grip, an integral rounded trigger housing and steel sling mount studs.
The sights consist of a dovetailed fixed front blade and an adjustable rear peep sight. The rear sight is adjusted via a knurled knob for height while the peep aperture itself can be manually loosened and moved side to side for windage adjustments without tools. One of the nice touches on this rifle is a spring-loaded red polymer ramp at the bottom of the bolt channel that supports and guides a .22 cartridge as it's pressed into the chamber.
Unlike the other two rifles discussed here, the Rascal does not have an external cocking mechanism. Instead, the firing pin is cocked as the bolt handle is cycled. At the rear of the bolt assembly, a firing pin indicator protrudes from a round opening when the pin is cocked. A manual safety is mounted on the right side of the receiver that allows the bolt to be operated when it is engaged.
The Rascal demonstrated a top-notch level of fit and finish. The bluing was deep and even, the action-to-stock fit was tight and clean and the bolt cycled smoothly right out of the box. The AccuTrigger system allows for a light, but safe, trigger pull. The safety lever, which is located in the center of the trigger, prevents the rifle from firing unless it is fully depressed. This adjustable trigger arrived from the factory with a smooth, crisp pull of 2 lbs. 6 ozs. making it the lightest trigger of the test set.
At the range, the Rascal produced consistent and relatively tight groups. The Winchester Super X load produced the best single group of 0.71” and the best group average of 0.88”. Federal American Eagle averaged 0.96”, followed by the CCI Velocitor at 0.99”. The most recent list price for the pink Rascal is $186 but they can be found for sale with prices closer to $140.
Henry Mini Bolt Youth (H005) Manufacturer: Henry Repeating Arms Action: Bolt-Action Single Shot Caliber: .22 Long Rifle, .22 Long, .22 Short Finish: Matte Stainless Steel Stock: Muddy Girl or Black One-Piece Checkered Fiberglass Synthetic Front Sight: Orange Fiber Optic Williams Fire Sight Rear Sight: Green Fiber Optic Williams Fire Sight Optics: Drilled & Tapped for Scope Mount (Sold Separately) Barrel Length: 16.25” Overall Length: 30.25” Length of Pull (LOP): 11.50” Weight: 3.25 lbs. (Listed) Capacity: 1 Round Twist: 1:16” RH Rifle Grooves: 6 Safety: Manual Safety Lever, Rebounding Manually-Cocked Firing Pin Accessories: Lock, Owner’s Manual Suggested Retail: $275
Keystone Sporting Arms Crickett KSA226 Manufacturer: Keystone Sporting Arms Action: Bolt-Action Single Shot Caliber: .22 Long Rifle, .22 Long, .22 Short Barrel: Stainless Steel Receiver: Blued Steel Bolt: Nickel-Plated Steel Stock: Pink Wood Laminate, Polymer Options Available Front Sight: Polymer Blade Rear Sight: Blued Steel Adjustable Peep Sight Optics: Drilled & Tapped for Scope Mount (Sold Separately) Barrel Length: 16.125” Overall Length: 30.50” Length of Pull: 12.00” Weight: Approx. 3 lbs. (Listed) Capacity: 1 Round Twist: 1:16” RH Rifle Grooves: Six Safety: Rebounding Manually-Cocked Firing Pin Accessories: Owner's Manual, Suggested Retail: $183.99
Savage Arms Rascal Manufacturer: Savage Arms Model: Rascal Action: Bolt-Action Single Shot Caliber: .22 Long Rifle, .22 Long, .22 Short Finish: Blued Steel Stock: Pink Polymer (#13780) Front Sight: Blued Steel Blade Rear Sight: Blued Steel Adjustable Peep Sight Optics: Drilled & Tapped for Scope Mount (Sold Separately) Barrel Length: 16.125” Overall Length: 31.50” Length of Pull (LOP): 11.25” Weight: 2.95 Pounds (Listed) Capacity: 1 Round Twist: 1:16” RH Rifle Grooves: Six Safety: Manual Safety Lever, Cocked Firing Pin Indicator Accessories: Owner's Manual, Lock Suggested Retail: $186