Originally founded by Ezechiele Chiappa as Armi Sport in 1958, today's family-owned Chiappa Group has several irons in the shooting market fire, including U.S.-based Chiappa Firearms Ltd. located in Dayton, Ohio. Chiappa's extensive firearms catalog includes several models that are unusual twists on classic designs, including the Hollywood inspired 1887 T-Model Lever-Action Shotgun, a rimfire version of the military M9 pistol , and the “upside down” Rhino revolver.
Not long ago, I was visiting with the Chiappa team at a trade show when I had my first opportunity to examine the LA322 rimfire takedown rifle. It's a handy little .22 that breaks in half at the receiver so that it can be stored more easily. This year the company is expanding its LA322 lineup with new finish and stock options. These include a Standard model with a matte blue receiver and hardwood stock, a Deluxe model with a black chrome receiver and walnut stock, and an all-weather Kodiak Cub version with a matte chrome finish and black rubberized stock. This review takes a closer look at the new Deluxe version.
The LA322 is an adult-size rifle chambered in .22 Long Rifle for plinking, target shooting and small-game hunting. The round blued-steel barrel is 18.5" long with a fixed 15-round tubular magazine below it. The magazine is fitted with a brass liner topped with a knurled knob and rubber gasket. Twisting the top of the liner allows it to be pulled out of the magazine completely or just far enough to expose a cartridge shaped cutout for loading.
The two barrel bands, one to retain the front sight and the other to hold the fore-end in place, are made of steel instead of polymer. The fore-end and sporting shoulder stock are carved from Walnut and treated to a rich hand-rubbed oil finish. The gripping surfaces of the hard wood furniture feature diamond pattern checkering. The shoulder stock is capped off with a hard black polymer plate and a rubber recoil pad.
The sight system consists of a fixed, hooded front sight post and a notched Buckhorn rear sight that’s fully adjustable. The spurred hammer and smooth-faced trigger are made of steel with a lever constructed of matte black aluminum. The external safety feature provided with this rifle is a half-cock position for the hammer. When the hammer is manually set in the half-cock position, the hammer and the lever are blocked from cycling until the hammer is thumbed all the way back into the Fire position.
This brings us to the unusual steel receiver. The Deluxe model's receiver is coated with black chrome that's been polished to a mirror shine. The top is grooved to accept 3/8" base rings so that an optic can be attached. The left side of the receiver is smooth but the right side features a captured takedown screw that can be loosened and tightened without the need for tools.
To separate the rifle at the receiver, start by verifying that it is completely unloaded. Swing the lever into the open position and then loosen the takedown screw. Lift the shoulder stock out to the right and then pull back just a bit. The rifle is now separated for storage with the lever attached to the barrel half of the receiver and the trigger attached to the shoulder stock portion of the receiver. Reverse the steps (with the lever in the fully open position) to reassemble. During reassembly, I found it was helpful to thumb back the hammer just a bit to get it past the bolt assembly.
With a bit of practice the LA322 can be taken apart and put back together quickly and easily. It should be noted that the lever will not swing back into the closed position while the receiver is separated. The obvious advantage of this takedown feature is that it allows the rifle to be stored in a smaller space. It also provides access to the inner workings for cleaning and lubrication.
The down side to this configuration is that it exposes the lubricated inner workings to the outer world. If half of the rifle were accidentally dropped on the ground out in the field, the lubricant inside the rifle would cause dirt to cling to the mechanism and thus require a thorough cleaning before the rifle could be assembled and fired. I would suggest wrapping the separated halves of the receiver with clean, lint-free cloths before tucking them into a backpack or case.
Shooting the LA322 at the range was the relaxing and enjoyable experience I hoped it would be. The action cycled smoothly through a variety of ammunition ranging from practice to hunting grade loads. All of the ammunition loaded, chambered, fired and ejected without any malfunctions. The brass magazine liner slid out smoothly for loading and then twisted snuggly back into place when closed.
The buckhorn-style sights were easy to see and work with but some folks may not care for the squared-off outline of the front sight. The lever is nicely rounded and smoothed along the interior edges so it was comfortable to cycle repeatedly without any abrasiveness to the shooting hand. The trigger was exceptionally good for an off-the-rack rifle with a crisp break at just 2 lbs. 5 oz. of trigger pull.
Formal accuracy testing consisted of five 5-shot groups fired at 50 yards from a bench rest using the rifle's factory installed iron sights. Usually I’ll attach a scope for this part of the test but I wanted to see what the rifle could do without an optic since I would most likely pack it around without one. Winchester Super-X 40-gr. high velocity small game copper plated hollow points turned in the best single group of the test at 1.53" with a five group average of 1.91". CCI Green Tag 40-gr. standard velocity target grade lead round nose loads produced a slightly larger best group of 1.68" with a lower average of 1.85". Remington Golden Bullet 36-gr. high velocity multi-purpose plated hollow points yielded a best single group of 1.76" with an average of 2.04".
At times, when a firearm is designed around a special feature or an added twist, the gun is actually diminished by that feature. In order to make the WOW factor the star of the show, other important qualities including aesthetics, accuracy or shootability are sacrificed.
Thankfully this is not the case with the LA322. The fact that this rifle will break in half for easy storage is definitely a plus but it's just one of several features that make this gun worth consideration.
This handsome .22 looks and operates just like a classically styled lever-action should with a smooth action and top-notch trigger. Its light weight and easy operation make it an ideal candidate for hiking, camping and enjoying a day of shooting in the great outdoors.