When shooters look at the assortment of guns available for sale and compare them to the guns in their arsenals, there are certain categories of guns that we can all recognize the need (or at least the purpose) for. A basic .22 rifle; a target .22 rifle; a utility .22 handgun; a target .22 pistol; a defensive/offensive shotgun; a duck gun; a upland bird gun; a deer rifle; an Evil Black Rifle; a big/dangerous game rifle; and all the other general types of guns that are on the market.
Most shooters don’t need to own an example of every type of gun (acknowledging that need and want are 2 very different words). But most of us either consciously or unconsciously direct our purchases towards meeting the needs that we perceive that we have. And I doubt there are many shooters who have not had an unexplainable hankering for some rare or oddball gun.
Some people can pick up any gun and make it shoot well. Other people just don’t warm up to some guns, and can’t get them to shoot to their potential. Maybe it’s the sights. Maybe it’s the size or angle of the grip. Maybe it’s the trigger. But for this latter category of shooters, finding the “right” gun can be a long, expensive pain in the ass, usually leading to many gun purchases that end up as sales, trades or consignments (always at a loss). Some of these shooters get lucky, and eventually find their “right” gun. Others end up making do with a gun that is less “wrong” the other guns they have tried.
One common type of gun is the .22 target pistol. I think it is one of the types of guns that every shooter needs to own at least one of. Ammo is cheap, shooting it is easy on your hand, and those 2 attributes make it an ideal gun to get lots of practice with. And practice is always a good thing.
My dad has a Ruger Mark II with a bull barrel, which I had been able to shoot well. He hadn’t been using it much, which I found out was because his eyes weren’t able to see the sights well enough. I put a scope adapter and a Tasco ProPoint on top of it, and now he can get back to the business of abusing tin cans. Since I shot it well, I was working my way towards buying one. But the fact that they are a hassle to reassemble was a bitter pill that I was steeling myself to swallow.
I got lucky. Right when the itch for a .22 target pistol really hit me some years ago, I stumbled onto a used S&W 41 for less than half the price of a new one and snapped it up. Not surprisingly, it was very accurate, with a great trigger; just what everyone says the Model 41 is known for. The previous owner must have known what he was doing, because the sights were dialed right in for a 6 o’clock hold on a NRA slow-fire target at 50′. It is very predictable with ammo; basic plinking ammo (like Remington Target and CCI Green Tag) shoots into 1″ to 1.25″ groups, and good target ammo like Federal Gold Medal or Remington Eley shrinks the groups appreciably. As long as I do my part, anyway.
I haven’t seen too many used ones since, and the prices on the ones I have seen haven’t been much less than the price of a new one. Which is too bad, because the other half of the YankeeGunNuts team, Crapgame, has been looking for a .22 target pistol that he can shoot well for a while.
In his quest for an acceptable .22, he has longingly fondled my Model 41, and purchased 2 guns of his own, neither of which has really clicked for him.
His first option, a S&W 22A, had a grip that he found uncomfortable, and he just couldn’t seem to get in sync with the gun. He was also teacupping it a bit, which didn’t help his marksmanship. He looked at the optional target grips for the 22A and found that they were just as bulky as the stock grip. I could make it shoot reasonably well, but it took effort, and it always felt like I was holding a new bar of soap in my hand. The trigger was clean but, not surprisingly, heavier than my Model 41. Once Crapgame stopped teacupping it, he was able to shoot better with it.
Then he tried a Beretta Neos. While I personally liked the grip size and angle, it didn’t feel right for him. The rear sight didn’t have a wide enough aperture for my taste (or maybe the front sight blade was too wide), but I could make it shoot pretty well for slow-fire. The sights would be a hindrance for rapid-fire shooting, in my opinion. The trigger was different than the Ruger and S&W .22 triggers I was most accustomed to. It was springy and Glock-like, and lighter than the Model 22A, about as good as the Ruger (but different in operation) and nowhere near as good as the Model 41. I am used to Glock triggers, so this was not an impediment for me. But Crapgame wasn’t able to really use the gun to its potential.
In the near future, he will be trading in one of those guns towards a new gun of a completely different type, one that he has eagerly been waiting to become available (more about that in a future post).
But at some point, he is going to have to continue his quest for the right .22 pistol. And when he does, there are a dizzying array of .22 sporter and target pistols available to him (as new guns, not used):
That got your attention, didn’t it? Well it’s true: AR15 manufacturer Olympic Arms is offering a modern version of the 1950’s era Whitney Wolverine. It has a polymer frame (the originals were aluminum), and a 10-shot magazine to go with its radical styling.
Gun Tests reviewed the Wolverine in their May 2006 issue, and found it to be dead reliable with a 4-pound trigger and pretty accurate (it out-shot a Sig Mosquito at 15yds to achieve 1.2″ – 1.4″ groups with 3 types of ammo). Lifetime warranty, too. For a plinker, you could do a lot worse.
Ruger offers 2 types of .22 pistols: the Mark III and the 22/45 (the 22/45 is basically the same gun with the same grip & controls of a 1911). Ruger offers 7 versions of the Mark III (and 10 special distributor-exclusive versions) and 9 versions of the 22/45 (with 2 distributor exclusive models). Short barrels & long barrels; sporter barrels & bull barrels; blued & stainless; options abound.
The Ruger models have availability going for them. They can also be very accurate and in the past have come with pretty good triggers. And nowadays you can get an optics-ready version from the factory without having to horse around with aftermarket scope mounts.
But. These newest versions of Ruger’s classic .22 pistol have incorporated some new features that might not be considered improvements. Namely, the loaded-chamber indicator which most people can take or leave, and the real problem: a magazine-disconnect safety mechanism that many shooters feel ruins the trigger pull. Those so inclined can disable that safety mechanism by installing aftermarket parts. Or, buy a used Mark II.
Smith & Wesson
There are 3 different .22 pistols available from Smith & Wesson: the Model 41, the Model 22A and the M&P 22.
The Model 41 is their best regular-production rimfire target pistol, and is available with 5.5″ and 7″ barrels. It isn’t cheap but it is very well made and has a terrific trigger. While the standard models do not accept optics, there is a Performance Center version available through Davidson’s that has a scope mount.
The Model 22A is the entry-level target pistol in S&W’s lineup, and is available with 4″, 5.5″ and 7″ barrels. Most versions can mount a scope without an adapter. They can be pretty accurate, and the triggers are not bad for a mass-produced gun at the low price point where the 22A sells. The real weakness of the 22A is the grip. It’s too big and too awkward to hold. The optional “target” grips add a thumb-rest but are still too damn big.
The M&P 22 is a rimfire version of the 4″ barreled M&P centerfire pistol. It looks like a decent plinker, and would probably be a good choice if you also owned a M&P centerfire pistol. But I doubt it would be a top-notch target gun.
The oldest gunmaker in the world, Beretta, offers three sporter/target .22 pistols: the Model 87 Cheetah, the Model 87 Target and the U22 Neos:
The Cheetah is a mid-sized aluminum-framed pistol that Beretta has also offered in .32 and .380. The basic version might be a serviceable plinker, but it lacks adjustable sights and those sights are fixed to the slide, not the barrel (which in turn is not securely fixed to the frame and can work loose over time).
The Model 87 Target is a highly-modified Cheetah that offers a longer heavier barrel and adjustable sights, and it delivered 1″ groups at 25yds when Gun Tests reviewed it.
The Neos has funky styling, and the example that Crapgame and I have shot was pretty accurate. The grip angle is pretty radical, and people who worship the ergonomics of the 1911 will probably not like it. You can get different barrel lengths, at the time of sale or as an option. There is even a carbine kit for it, like Browning offers on their Buckmark.
Sig offers the Mosquito, which is a .22 version of one of Sig’s DA/SA centerfire pistols:
Sounds like a great choice for someone who owns a centerfire Sig. Except, the design seems to have some issues. Gun Tests reviewed 2 examples of this gun, and each one had horrible & heavy trigger pulls, both DA and SA. They weren’t reliable with standard-velocity ammo (only high-velocity stuff), and the chambers were tighter than SAAMI specs. One example fired out of battery, leading the testers to stop using it entirely.
If you are ready to jump into target shooting with both feet, the Walther GSP is the way to go. Olympic-caliber accuracy and a price-tag to match: (Note, the GSP is not imported by Smith & Wesson as part of their arrangement with Walther; you can get them through Earl’s Repair Service, Inc., a Walther importer, distributor and factory-authorized service & warranty company):
Walther also offers two .22 rimfires through its partnership with Smith & Wesson: the P22 and the SP22.
The P22 is inexpensive, looks great (like a downsized P99) and is available in 2 barrel lengths. However, it has a reputation for unreliability, some due to magazine issues (allegedly corrected) and some due to tight chambers. The slide is made of a zinc alloy called Zamak, and many people believe that it simply is not a durable enough material to use in a gun. You can count me among them. Yes, it has its strengths (it doesn’t change size when it cools, so you can mold a part from zamak and use it as-is without machining or forging it into spec) but it just isn’t tough enough to suit me.
The SP22 is a target-style .22 available in 4 versions from $399 to $784 MSRP, with increasing barrel lengths and target features (like optional underbarrel weights and scope rails) as the price increases. I am not aware of any in-depth reviews of the gun, but I hear that the takedown procedure is complicated (and inadequately explained in the manual). Caveat emptor.
The Browning name is well-respected for handguns and longarms, for good reason. They offer two very different .22 pistols: the 1911-22 which caused a lot of hubbub at the SHOT Show and the Buckmark:
The 1911-22 is an 85%-size version of the 1911, chambered in .22LR and available as a “full-size” and a “commander” length gun. Fans of that design (which I am definitely not) will be drawn to the 1911-2, despite the lack of adjustable sights (drift-adjustable doesn’t count).
There are no less than 15 versions of the Buckmark available; different barrel lengths & weights, different finishes, some with scope mounts, etc. The reviews that I have seen (Gun Tests & elsewhere) indicate that the Buckmark is hit-or-miss on performance. Some are reliable and some aren’t. Some are accurate and some aren’t. Ruger offers as many options and has a track record of reliability to offer customers.
This isn’t the (CT-based!) manufacturer that shooters associate with the High Standard brand. They moved to Texas in 1993, and acquired AMT-Automag along the way.
As one of the most revered names in target pistols (High Standards were as respected as the Colt Woodsman and S&W Model 41), the question on every shooter’s mind has to be: did the quality survive the trip to Texas?
Gun Tests reviewed two High Standard models, a target Supermatic Trophy and a sporter/plinker Sport King version. Both had terrific triggers. Both were a little finicky about ammo, which affected reliability. The Supermatic Trophy proved capable of delivering 1″ groups at 25yds. But the Sport King had a very rough interior surface on its barrel (which caused a lot of leading), and accuracy was awful. Sounds like new-production High Standards are a hit or miss proposition.
Those are the models that I found available. There might be a few that I missed, so let me know what else I need to add to this list.