November 10, 2010
For a variety of understandable reasons, knowledgeable shooters have long desired companion arms that look, feel, and act like a centerfire semi auto but are chambered for the .22 rimfire cartridge instead. Walther's P22 looks like a winner for these shooters right off the bat.
The P22 features a black, one-piece composite receiver while the slide and barrel are carbon steel. Walther also relies on two steel side-plates, which are pinned into the composite receiver to serve as bearing surfaces for the slide. The barrel is also rigidly attached to the right side-plate. More on that a bit later.
The P22 features a composite, dual-function trigger. Walther says that the P22 trigger exhibits a pull that requires about 12 pounds in the DA mode and just over five pounds while working things in the single action mode. We'd call these numbers entirely in the ballpark and grade the sample trigger completely acceptable. The double action pull is reasonably smooth with little "stacking" while the SA trigger action is fairly crisp and clean with just a hint of overtravel. It isn't a target trigger to be sure but this isn't a target gun, either. Unlike the parent P99, the P22 sports an exposed hammer. The hammer features a rounded spur but remains easy to grab and pull if one wishes to go immediately to single action operation.
Operationally, with the exception of the exposed hammer instead of the striker system found on the P99, the two pistols are much the same. The P22 does not feature a decocking lever so one must rotate the two-position safety to the "safe" position before manually dropping the hammer with a thumb. The ambidextrous safety blocks the firing pin as well as the hammer so the P22 may be safely carried with an additional round up the pipe, so to speak. Walther wisely designed the rimfire with a slide stop that holds the slide back following the last shot. The slide release is in the typical "1911" position, below the slide and above the grip.
If there's a fly in the ointment, it hinges on the way the magazine release works. While the ambidextrous release is generally in the right position, behind and below the trigger, it takes a bit of time and thought to make the catch work. Unlike the typical button that is simply depressed to drop a magazine, Walther relies on a shoe that surrounds the rear of the trigger guard that must be pushed downward to release the magazine. We've got to shift our grip substantially to drop the magazine on either the centerfire P99 or the rimfire P22. The P22 is shipped with two 10-round magazines and the sample functioned perfectly with both. It won't function without one, however. Walther equipped the pistol with a magazine safety. This probably isn't a big consideration because the pistol likely will be used more as a training tool than a carry gun. Still, we tend to look down on magazine disconnectors regardless. So equipped, any semi-auto instantly becomes a poor excuse for a club when a magazine isn't fully seated. We'd prefer getting one shot away, at least.
The P22 relies on an interesting barrel system that makes it possible to easily switch between a 3.43 or 5-inch barrel on a whim. The barrel is a captive design that is locked into the right receiver side-plate with a barrel sleeve and barrel nut. The system is similar to the Dan Wesson system in that regard. When the stubby barrel is used, the stabilizer is left off and the proper front sight is moved to a slot in the slide. Neat idea all the way around.
Walther has been building firearms since 1886, so it comes as no surprise that their arms would be easy to disassemble for routine cleaning. The P22 requires two Allen wrenches to loosen three Allen screws in the barrel stabilizer before it can be removed from the muzzle. From there the pistol is field stripped exactly like the big guns. Pull the takedown lever downward and pull the slide slightly to the rear before lifting it up and off of the receiver. It's almost as easy to put back together as long as you remember to use the included composite spring guide to hold the recoil spring in alignment during the re-assembly.
The P22 features one more interesting safety, a "2nd safety" if you will. The pistol can be instantly disabled when an internal lock is rotated to the "S" position, with the provided key. Turning the key half a turn back makes it operational. We'd rather rely simply on education but this is a sign of the times to be sure. So much for the "old school!" We'd sure hate to need a so-locked pistol after misplacing the key, however. And we have quickly needed a pistol upon occasion (skunks, for instance).
The P22 features great sights with a bright white dot up front and an additional pair arranged on each side of the rear notch. The rear sight is adjustable for windage and the front sight can be changed (three included in the package) to regulate the pistol for elevation. The pistol tended to shoot about two inches high for us, out of the box, but it took only seconds to install the higher front sight and bring it into the black. The composite front sight easily snaps in and out of the slot in the stabilizer.
Like the big Walther, the P22 also features a pair of grip backstraps that can be changed simply by pressing out one pin in the grip. The grip suited us nicely, out of the box, however.
On the range, we just grabbed a seat on our shooting bench and rested the P22 on sandbags with the targets set up 25 yards downrange and the Oehler 35P skyscreens set up about 15 feet from the muzzle. We shot from our heated shop into Mother Nature when the temperature was 26 degrees and the humidity in the mid 40s. Winds were light and variable.
While the P22 is designed somewhat as a plinker, offering a low cost alternative to the centerfire P99, we elected to run some of the best rimfire ammunition through it to see what it would do. In addition, if a rimfire pistol is going to malfunction, it'll do so with sedate, standard velocity fodder most often.
When the dust settled, the P22 got a clean bill of health, all the w
ay around. three loads stayed under an inch for at least one group and several averaged little more than an inch, overall. The five tested loads averaged 1.55 inches center to center with them all generating velocities between 922 fps on the low end and 981 fps on the high end. It doesn't appear that one could go wrong with any of the tested loads and all are fully capable of rolling a soda can along nicely if you're into such things.
Carrying a suggested retail price of a buck over $300, the P22 looks like a winner any way you cut it. Handling much like the centerfire P99, the P22 is an inexpensive, reasonably quiet, light-kicking alternative to be sure. Further, this little rig would make a great way to get the next generation started. You gotta love the .22 rimfire cartridge and Walther's new P22 makes the cartridge just that much better. You don't have to pick up the brass, either!