Good enough for Steve McQueen, and thus good enough for the rest of us:

Steve McQueen

Typical Revolver User

But now we will examine a strange phenomenon: the .22 revolver. Suppose you are looking for a .22 revolver to get in some target practice and serve as a utility gun (shotshells, CB Longs, etc). If it’s small & light, and can let you get in some more practice with a gun similar to a chief’s special, so much the better.

(click the title for more)

So what’s strange about it? Not the guns themselves, really. Part of the puzzle is the limited selection of models that are available new, and the other part of the problem is the pricing. What do I mean by that? Take a look at the small-frame offerings from S&W and their MSRP:

S&W .22LR Revolvers

S&W .22LR Revolvers

What’s wrong with this picture? If you said “the prices”, give yourself a cigar (not from Bill Clinton’s humidor, hopefully). They are WAY too expensive. Sure Gunnutmegger, you say, but those are MSRP and nothing sells at MSRP except Bose and Apple products. The 3″ model 317 was selling for $699 retail last weekend. Yeah, they are all ultra-light models which costs more. Still way too freaking expensive. And if you look at the medium frame & “Classic” S&W models, the prices go even higher. There aren’t many of them, and no long-barreled non-ultralight models below $900 MSRP or so.

What about Taurus?

Taurus .22LR Revolvers

Taurus .22LR Revolvers

That bottom model is an ultralight. And it’s $376 cheaper than the most expensive S&W lightweight .22 revolver. I realize that a Taurus isn’t a S&W, but it isn’t a Hi-Point or a Lorcin either. Gun Tests (if you don’t subscribe, you really should) has had good and bad experiences with Taurus, but that’s also true of S&W (and a lot of other companies). There are longer-barreled models available for modest increases in price.

The latest incarnation of Charter Arms has a comparable model, the Pathfinder:

Charter Arms .22LR revolver

Charter Arms .22LR revolver

Once again, a Charter Arms is not a S&W. Is it equivalent to a Taurus in quality & reliability? Maybe, maybe not. But it’s half the cost of the S&W models.

Ruger doesn’t make a double-action .22 revolver anymore; they stopped making the .22 SP101 years ago. They do offer the single-action Bearcat for $516 MSRP (and it is a nice gun, but not the right gun for this purpose).

Why no affordable S&W .22 revolvers?  It can’t be shortages, or taking advantage of panic-purchasing.

Gun companies used to be very old-fashioned. They did things the way they always did things. But nowadays they are much more savvy, and market their products using more thorough market research and with more sophisticated marketing (targeting the concealed-carry market; targeting female shooters; developing new calibers like the .17HMR, etc).

If the expense of engineering & manufacturing a product isn’t paid for by the market’s willingness to buy enough to make it financially viable, the product doesn’t get made. It’s the Pareto Principle (some call it the 80/20 rule): 80% of a company’s sales comes from 20% of their models. The model 52 S&W (semi-auto .38spl target pistol) went away in 1993, allegedly because some tooling used to make it broke, and the cost to replace it could not be recovered with the low volume of sales for new model 52s. Raising the price per unit would not work, since the low volume of sales would require a significant bump in per-unit price to recoup the expense of replacing the tooling, further lowering the unit volume.  (To “replace” the Model 52, they released the Model 952, an accurized Performance Center version of the now-discontinued model 39, in 9mm.  It is apparently a very accurate gun.)

Maybe this is what happened to .22 revolvers at S&W. Is a basic 3″ or 4″ steel-framed .22 revolver so far out of the customer spotlight that the product managers at S&W decided to kill it and funnel all of the customers to lighter (and more expensive) models?

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2 Responses to “Revolvers”

  1. Matt Groom says:

    I love revolvers, and I love .22s. A .22 Revolver seems like a natural choice, since it will allow you to shoot Kolibris and CBs and other very underpowered stuff without reloading or major hassle. Even feeding oddball cartridges like Kolibris from a bolt-action .22 can prove problematic for the backyard plinker, so you figure they’d be more popular.

    Being a S&W revolver fan, I stalk the gunshows and pawn shops looking for a good deal on any model I don’t already own. I looked long and hard for a .22 S&W revolver in ANY condition other than rusty-boat anchor. I found that as a general rule, a used S&W revolver, such as a model 15 Combat Masterpiece, (Blue 4″ .38 Special K-Frame) can be found for approximately 1/2 the price of what it’s .22 caliber stablemate, the S&W Model 18 (Blue 4″ .22LR K-Frame) can be found for in any condition.

    The reason is simple supply and demand. Most people who wanted an S&W back in the day wanted it for home defense, personal protection, and for Law Enforcement duties. They bought tons of .38s, but only a very small percentage of shooters liked shooting enough to be concerned about the price of shooting. Thusly, if you liked to shoot your .38 alot, you reloaded.

    You cannot find a gunshow that doesn’t have a used set of .38 dies at some booth somewhere. EVERYBODY used to reload. Even in the 50s and 60s, it was cheaper to buy a basic reloading set up and plink with wadcutters than it was to buy an almost identical revolver in a completely different caliber. Even Wax bullet set ups were relatively common back in the day. The result is that .22 revolvers sold rather poorly, which makes them rarer today.

    My tale is a happy one, as I eventually found a Model 317-1 for $415, which is less than the used K-Frames go for in my area. It was around three years old at the time, but the guy who had it just didn’t like the heavy trigger pull, so I got it for that unbelievable price. It does not have the fiber-optic sights or the stupid lock, which I consider a huge plus. It has accompanied me on backpacking, bike touring, and Kayaking trips all over the south, and been a source of many hours of enjoyment. But honestly, if I had to pick only one revolver for survival, it’d be a 4″ S&W .38 Special, and not a .22.

  2. Gunnutmegger says:

    Yeah, I ended up with a used 317 too. Don’t like the fiber optic front sight, but the single-action trigger pull is good enough.