Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Which 22 handgun is right for me starting out?

When people first start shooting, the advice they hear most is "Get a 22 and practice a lot.".  This is generally good advice I think.  There are a number of reasons why a 22 makes a great first gun.  They have minimal recoil and ammunition is very cheap.  It allows for lots of practice for less money than anything else.

There are lots of quality 22 rifles on the market.  In fact it's hard to find a bad one.  Unfortunately when it comes to handguns there are some stinkers out there.  The lower priced models from certain reputable manufacturers are either not durable, not reliable with common ammunition or both.

Ruger Mk III
First, the two recommendations.  It's hard to find someone well-versed in firearms that would suggest against a Ruger or Browning.  The Ruger MK III and 22/45 (and older MK II's and MK I's) and Browning Buckmark have a reputation for working with all types of 22 ammo and offering the owner a lifetime of reliable service.  These are available starting around $300 new and less used.  You can also spend a lot more if you enjoy fancier finishes, grips or sights.  Often the lower trims are just as functional as the models costing much more.

Buckmark with rosewood grips
Keep in mind that depending on where you live, the typical price paid is well under MSRP.  I live in St Louis and prices typically run 70% of MSRP or so, depending on the product and current demand.

Sig-Sauer (or Sigarms as they are sometimes called) and Walther are known for making quality and sometimes premium firearms.  The unfortunate issue is neither manufacture the 22 handguns that carry their names.  They contract out the manufacture and the product is not up to par.  There are numerous instances of cracked frames and other problems on both the Walther P22 and Sig Mosquito pistols.  The data suggests that neither of these pistols will have a long service life.  A Ruger or Browning will offer a life in the tens of thousands of rounds.  One of these taken care of will be a gun you can pass to the next generation.  A Walther or Sig may suffer a catastrophic failure in less than 5,000 rounds.  It's a real shame since both are nice looking pistols with good ergonomic designs.

Ruger 22/45 with threaded barrel
There are other smaller players in the affordable 22 handgun market.  Taurus and Beretta each offer very small pocket handguns, the PT22 and Bobcat, respectively.  These tend to be very finicky with ammunition and prone to jams.  They have triggers that are heavy and long, which makes them hard to shoot well.  The only reason I could see to own one of these is as a backup gun for a CCW.

Bersa makes a PPK copy called the Thunder 22.  The same gun is sometimes marketed as a Firestorm.  Walther no longer sells the PPK chambered in 22 LR, which is a real shame.  The Bersa / Firestorm pistols haven't been around long enough to have much of a following, but Bersa has been making quality 380's for some time.  Like many small 22's these are known for being finicky about what ammo they will cycle.  If a gun jams using the cheaper bulk ammo it increases the cost of going to the range, and any cost savings you got on the gun is quickly lost.   Couple that with a double action trigger that is often gritty and very heavy it's hard to recommend them. 

The most common affordable 22 revolver on the market is the Taurus 94 series.  Taurus makes lots of quality revolvers, but unfortunately their rimfires are not included.  In order to manufacture to a price point certain concessions were made to make them reliable, primarily an excessively heavy trigger.  The double action pull is heavy enough that many youth and women simple cannot operate the gun in double action mode.  That fact alone prevents me from recommending them to any new shooter.  A gun that has a 20 pound trigger pull makes it nearly impossible to focus on the sights and shoot well.

That leaves some guns in the middle of the pack.  The S&W 22A, the Beretta NEOS, Charter Arms Pathfinder revolvers make this list from my perspective.  They seem to have a reputation for being decent guns but are similarly priced to Ruger and Brownings which are a known excellent quantity.  Unless you really dig one of them I'd suggest you go with a Buckmark or Mk III.

S&W M&P 22
There has been a bounty of new 22 handguns introduced in the last couple years.  Some of these show promise but they haven't been on the market long enough to know how durable they will be.  There are a few different brands of 1911-style 22's and the recently announced Smith & Wesson M&P 22 and Ruger SR22.  The M&P 22 is getting positive reviews despite being made by the same company as the Walther P22.  Only time will tell if they hold up over time.  There is a lot of excitement about the Ruger SR22 but again it will be years before these designs are proven to be as durable as the leaders in this category.

You may be wondering why there aren't any glowing revolver recommendations.  Revolvers offer the capability of being able to shoot any type of 22 ammo.  Standard velocity bulk packs, hyper velocity loads and even CB caps.  The reason is there aren't any good 22 revolvers in the same price range at the basic Mk III and Buckmark semi-auto pistols.  If you want to spend more more money there are some options.  Smith and Wesson makes excellent revolvers, including rimfires, and prices start at $600.  The 617 or K17 Masterpiece is an excellent gun, but they cost even a bit more.

Ruger SP-101 in 22 LR
Ruger has just released both a LCR 22 and a SP101 22 in the $500 range.  These haven't been around long enough to know how they are going to rate in terms of durability.  Given Ruger's reputation regarding rimfire pistols they may be a reasonable bet.  If you prefer a revolver but don't have a S&W in your budget you may want to give these a good look. 

Ruger also offers a single action rimfire revolver, the Single Six.  These run a bit more than MK III pistols and are known to be high quality.  There are several variants that offer two cylinders, one for 22 LR and one for 22 magnum.  This offers more utility than any of the semi-auto pistols as they can use a wide variety of rimfire cartridges, not just 22 LR.

So, as mentioned at the beginning if you want a good 22 semi-automatic handgun with a proven track record get a Browning or Ruger MK III or 22/45.  If you want a revolver avoid the Taurus.  Avoid the Walther P22 and Sig Mosquito at all costs.  Seriously, they are terrible.

What do I have?  I have two Ruger Mk II's (older models) I use for training.  One of them has a few thousand rounds through it the other I bought used and have got more than 10,000 rounds through it.  You can't tell the difference between the two, the one with a lot of use is in great shape.  I just (like yesterday) bought a Ruger SR-22 to try out.  Lots of people want a smaller 22 handgun and this Ruger may end up being one I can actually recommend.  I've got dozens of range visits and research before I'll be able to do that.

Good luck!

1 comment:

  1. Supposedly they fixed the worst of the P22 problems years ago (frame cracking and flying off, excessive wear). I have one from when they first came out ($200 then!), and I've never really had any problems except the whole mag falling out while shooting because the mag release is in a retarded place.. so yeah, it's not a CCW, but it is a good plinker. YMMV of course.

    Also, while I think you're pretty much spot on, I do think the Single 6/8/etc is a gun that your grandchildren's grandchildren might own some day. Also, no ban worries probably ever if you get the 6. They're great and as opposed to the 22/45 & Buckmark, easy to clean.