.22 caliber handguns great for rookies, veterans

I’ve written about just about every type of firearm except two over the last few years. The two I haven’t just happen to be the most popular and most frequently used of all, the lowly rim fire .22s. I’m going to get into the handguns first and examine the rifles at a later date.

The .22 caliber rim fire is the oldest metallic cartridge of all and is still used all day, every day. That’s pretty impressive if you ask me. Almost every shooter started their “real” gun shooting with a .22. For my generation and later, it was the .22 Long Rifle shell but, if you go back a few decades, the 22 Short that started it all was less expensive to purchase and produced less noise to boot. This made it most often chosen for small game and target practice.

I started my handgun shooting with my Dad’s Ruger Bearcat. It’s a cute little gun but hard to hit anything with. When I really went gun crazy in my youth, I purchased an F.I.E. Texas Ranger for $99.95 at Bi-Mart.

I waited the required 15 days after talking my Mom into doing the paper work. When you’re 14 years old and you’ve worked 50 or so  hours to purchase something you won’t have your hands on for over two weeks, the time goes by very slowly.

This story did not have a happy ending.  We barely got the car started and in gear before that blankety-blank broke! We went back into the store and were told we could wait another 15 days for another one or get the money back; I chose the latter. I walked from the high school to my dad’s shop to work after school every day and would stop at Greg’s Sporting Goods and check out the inventory along the way.

One day there I saw a Ruger New Model Single-Six lying in the cabinet for $85. My Dad told me to buy one of these from the get-go but I wanted the “cowboy style” with out the large adjustable rear sight. The Ruger in question had virtually no finish left but was in perfect mechanical condition.

After another 15-day wait I was the owner of a quality handgun for the first time in my life. As obsessed with firearms as I was and with the low cost of .22 L.R. ammo I got to be very good with that well-worn revolver. When I was 18 I traded it for a Taurus Model 94 with a 3” barrel. I’ve never regretted that trade as I still own the Taurus and it is a great shooter.

Recommending a .22 revolver is very easily done. Any good-quality wheel gun is fine. The ones I personally don’t recommend are the High Standards and H&R/NEF lines of revolvers. These manufacturers made quite fragile offerings and the older ones are getting hard to find parts for. I know many people who love the High Standards pieces, but they are not gunsmiths.

Switching to autoloading pistols, there are so many and they are so varied it becomes a little more complex of an issue. For some shooters, accuracy is the only concern; but for me, reliability and durability are more important.

For these reasons I will take a Ruger every time. I prefer the Mark II series. The old Standard model that got the whole Sturm Ruger Company rolling is a great gun but it is not serviced by the factory any longer.

Most parts from the Mark I and II can be used in these old pistols, however. Basically, the only difference between the Mark I and II is that the latter had a bolt stop incorporated into its design.

The newer Mark III has had some issues. They seem to be a lot harder, on average, to disassemble and reassemble because the fitting of the pistols overall is not as well executed as the older versions. There is also a magazine safety incorporated into the Mark III.

I despise these devices for a few reasons but in the Ruger it’s even more of a pain because it complicates an already complicated take-down procedure. The Mark III also has a loaded chamber indicator.

While testing the Mark III, a gun writer looked at the bar protruding slightly out of the left side of the receiver and wondered if it would fire a chambered cartridge if whacked sharply. He did and it did! The loaded chamber indicator is a bar that pivots out when a chambered cartridge’s rim pushes it out.

Since the common .22 is a rimfire, the loaded chamber indicator acts as a firing pin if hit hard enough. I also have seen one Mark III in which the loaded chamber indicator was causing the pistol to misfeed. One advantage to all of the Ruger autos is that they are, by design, not harmed by dry firing.

The only high-end target pistol that I like is the Smith & Wesson Model 41. It is very accurate and durable as well. Colt made some good .22 autos but they are getting expensive and hard to find replacement parts for. The Massachusetts firm also brought out the 22A series of pistols in order to have competition in the “field gun” category. These pistols are not junk but they are far from perfect and use many alloy castings in their make-up.

High Standard (Hi-Standard) made a plethora of .22 semi-automatic pistols, some extremely accurate and some that were field models.

None were bad but they are somewhat on the delicate side. I am not their biggest fan as I have to fight with the stubborn ones, but they have many fans and collectors across the globe. If one is to be purchased used, make sure to either test it first or get an iron-clad guarantee.

One trick you can use to prolong the life of the older pistols is to pull the slide back very slightly and then dry fire them. This keeps the hammer/striker spring relaxed and also keeps the firing pin from damaging the edge of the chamber.

Browning has had many .22 pistols to market under their moniker. The most popular is the Buck Mark series. They are reasonably priced, a decent design and well made. I’ve made no secret about not being much of a Browning fan, mostly because of my experiences with their customer service.

I used to always recommend the Ruger Mark II over the Browning Buck Mark without any thought to it because of the superiority of the Ruger product and service. In recent years the gap has narrowed, maybe to the point of non-existence. Browning’s service has come up some and Ruger’s has dropped a lot. The quality of the Browning has remained and the quality of the Ruger, as I have mentioned, has slipped.

A couple of newer designs I own are the Sig Sauer Mosquito and Walther P-22. I like them both but the Sig is kind of a pain in the neck. It is very picky on its ammo preferences, but I really like the styling and keep it for that reason.

The Walther is very handy but not extremely accurate and the rear sight notch is way too wide. The Walther also has a magazine disconnect safety that I have removed from mine. I am willing to accept the responsibility for that modification in order to reap the rewards.

The double-action trigger pull was also way too heavy so I remedied that as well. The Walther has become a handy little trail gun when paired with a Fobus paddle holster.

The Walther does have a fairly common problem of not letting the hammer fall all of the way, causing a misfire. I have figured out a remedy for this and it’s not that hard to accomplish.

I can’t imagine not having a few of these .22 handguns around for fun and practice. The low cost, low recoil and low noise level make it useful for shooters of all abilities and ages.

It’s truly an oldie but a goodie.

Jeff Hutchins writes occasionally about firearms-related topics for The  New Era.  He operates Rangemaster Gunworks at 1144 Tangent St.