Like most folks, I started out shooting a .22 handgun and could hardly wait to move up to a centerfire. But after years of beating myself up with heavyweights, I finally got to the age when it was a pleasure to return to a rimfire.
For anyone who shoots handguns on a regular basis, a .22 pistol or revolver is indispensable. Whether you use it for plinking, small game or varmints, paper punching or introducing novice shooters to the pleasures of the range, a .22 handgun offers a low noise signature, zero recoil and sheer economy (a factor less significant with the .22 Magnum). But like the relatively low expense incurred in purchasing.22 ammo, cost can also be a factor in selecting the actual handgun you settle on.
Here we’ve selected a half-dozen of the “Top Guns” for the lowest cash outlay. Included are two single-action revolvers and four autos. So let’s take a look at them:
My dad bought me a used Single-Six in the early 1960s for $40. At the time, new ones were going for $20 to $25 more than that. They now go from $629 to around $879, depending on bells and whistles. So nearly two years ago, Ruger decided to offer the Wrangler—a lower cost single-action rimfire alternative to the Single-Six and the smaller framed Bearcat.
The Wrangler features the transfer bar mechanism and loading gate interlock that came in with the New Model Single-Six back in the 1970s. The transfer bar means the hammer can reach the cartridge unless the trigger is pulled, so it’s not necessary to leave an empty cylinder under the hammer. So go ahead and load it “all the way around.”
Obviously at this price point you’re not going to get variety on the level of a Single-Six. But what’s here is pretty nice. Cerakote finish options are black, silver and bronze. The barrel lengths and overall lengths of all models are 4.62 and 10.25 inches respectively. The aluminum alloy cylinder frame brings the weight down to 30 ounces, which is a mere two ounces less than a Single-Six of comparable barrel length.
The sights on the Wrangler are fixed, with blade front and integral notch rear. This isn’t a negative with the enormous variety of .22 LR ammo out there. If I had a Wrangler—or any fixed sight .22 for that matter—I’d take a box of every .22 LR load I could lay my hands on and shoot them all at 20 yards off sandbags just to see what the gun liked in terms of group tightness and—more importantly—where they shoot in relation to the sights. Once that’s established, you’ll know what to feed your Wrangler. The suggested retail price is $249. www.ruger.com.
Walther PPQ 22
When it comes to centerfire pistols, Walther’s striker-fired PPQ series has been on the cutting edge of “tacticool” efficiency since the line’s inception in 2011. As a stand-in rimfire training tool, this one is pretty much in a class by itself. The PPQ 22 has the same controls and ergonomics of the legendary 9mm PPQ and fits in the same holster.
Unloaded weight is 20.8 ounces. It features an ambidextrous slide stop and reversible magazine release button. The rear sight is adjustable, and the highly regarded PPQ trigger is found on the rimfire as well. Pull weight is 4.85 pounds, 0.16 inch of travel. Contributing to the excellent ergonomics of the pistol are the black polymer grips, and it even comes with interchangeable backstraps so you can customize the fit. Magazine capacity is 12 rounds of .22 Long Rifle.
If you do the bulk of your defensive pistol practice with the PPQ 22, you’d probably amortize the cost of it in fairly short order. But there’s more to a good .22 pistol than saving money. This one’s a delight to shoot. And, of course, there’s the considerable cachet of the Walther brand, something that’s been in existence in this country since the first James Bond movie back in 1962. Suggested retail price is $370. www.waltherarms.com.
This Florida-based outfit has long had a reputation for combining innovative design with affordability. The P17 lives up to that rep in a big way. First off, there’s the weight, a feathery less-than 14 ounces. Then there’s the capacity, 16+1 rounds of .22 Long Rifle.
What else? Well, it’s tough to figure out how KelTec managed to stuff this many desirable features into a pistol at this price point. But somehow the company did it. There’s the threaded 3.8-inch barrel, Picatinny accessory rail, ambidextrous safety, ambidextrous magazine release and three-pound trigger pull. All this in a package slightly longer than a dollar bill.
The slim grip and light weight makes it really fun to shoot, and the fiber-optic sights are terrific. On top of that, you get three magazines with the gun. But the real kicker is the suggested retail price: $199. www.keltecweapons.com.
Heritage Rough Rider
With the closing the price gap between .22 LR and .22 Mag ammo, it the convertible-cylinder concept makes a lot of sense today. And a large chunk of the Heritage Rough Rider line features cylinders for both cartridges.
It may be a relatively inexpensive line, but it’s a very large one, and every member is made right here in the U.S of A. Barrel lengths include 4.75, 6.5, nine or a mega Buntline-esque 16 inches, and you can opt for a six- or nine-shot cylinder, adjustable sights and a wide array of finishes. Prices range from $147 up to $288.
The specific model that caught our fancy was the no-nonsense RR22MB4 shown here. After all, why not go full traditional with a single action? It’s a black finished fixed-sight, six-shot version with a 4.75-inch barrel and a curb weight of 30.6 ounces. The .22 Magnum convertible cylinder concept is still a sensible one, and even though you’re not going to get full WMR potential at this barrel length, it still represents a not-insignificant power boost.
You don’t get the adjustable sights with this one, but with the almost infinite amount of rimfire ammo options, you should be able to find a load that shoots well and shoots to point of aim. With a suggested retail price of $184, it’s a heck of deal. www.heritagemfg.com.
Smith & Wesson SW22 Victory
Everyone who is serious about handgunning should have at least one first-class .22 semiauto, and the Smith & Wesson’s SW22 Victory is a good one. Introduced in 2015, it fills a recreational plinking/target/small game niche, and price-wise it sits below the company’s legendary rimfire competition mainstay, the Model 41.
Alone among our selection of autos in this lineup, it bears no allegiance to the polymer-frame, striker-fired template and is most likely to appeal to traditionalists who cut their teeth on a single-action High Standard, Colt Woodsman or Ruger Standard Auto in their youth.
The Victory features stainless steel construction, a 5.5-inch heavy-contour barrel. And you can either install the provided Picatinny rail for mounting a red dot sight or go with the adjustable fiber-optic sight arrangement. Weight is a healthy 36 ounces.
It’s one-screw takedown design, and the interchangeable barrel feature simplifies maintenance and versatility. The single-action trigger features an adjustable stop, and the pistol comes with two 10-round magazines.
Although the Victory sits atop the rest of these guns in terms of price at a suggested retail price of $416, it comes with a Pistol & Range Kit consisting of half-frame clear shooting glasses, a double-zipper handgun case, hearing protectors and a pull- through cleaning cord, plus a 10-pack of Caldwell Orange Peel bullseye targets. www.smith-wesson.com.
First introduced in 2019, the TX22 won the Guns & Ammo Handgun of the Year award that year. The polymer-frame, striker-fired TX22 is full size, meaning its value as a low-cost training tool was part of the concept from the get-go. But the Taurus is so much more than that.
The TX22 measures 7.1 inches long by 5.4 inches tall. Thanks to its 7075 aluminum slide and polymer frame, the weight is just 17 ounces. Balance is excellent, and the TX22 is ready to tackle any shooting endeavor. In addition to training, it would serve well as a plinker/target gun or gun for introducing new shooters to pistols.
It can be had with or without a manual safety, but all models of course incorporate a integral trigger safety. The short trigger pull benefits from the Taurus Performance Trigger System, and the white-dot sights are adjustable. It can be had with 10- or 16-round magazine, as well as a non-threaded barrel to conform with any restrictions in your particular jurisdiction. Frame colors include OD green, flat dark earth and black. The uppers are hard-anodized black. Suggested retail price is $349. www.taurususa.com.