The .22 round is now 159 years old, and shows no sign of becoming any less popular with age.
Shooters have been relying on it for over a century, and it is now older than many of the weapons we have handled, let alone owned.
There are many reasons to own a few good .22 caliber weapons. Preppers swear by them, if only because .22 rounds are available everywhere, can be stored and carried easily, and cost next to nothing.
If you are preparing for the apocalypse, you probably already have a few .22s around, but some of the rest of us haven’t shot one since we were children.
While .22s remain amazing weapons to take down squirrels and other small game, they have many other uses.
While not often chosen as self-defense weapons, for some people their light weight and lack of recoil makes them ideal for this purpose.
Add to this the fact that .22s are normally much cheaper than larger, centerfire rifles and pistols, and getting a decent .22 starts to look like an attractive proposition.
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Table of Contents
Why a .22 Pistol?
I know what you’re thinking – whilst .22 rifles are great while out hunting small critters, a .22 pistol is simply too underpowered to make sense.
This is true, in some ways. I wouldn’t recommend a .22 pistol to someone looking for some serious firepower. The small, light round doesn’t cause that much damage, and in some pistols can be unreliable. However, there are a few reasons why .22 pistols are a useful part of your armory.
It all depends what you are looking to use your pistol for. If you are a serious hunter, or are into prepping, I probably don’t need to tell you why this is. When hunting small game, or to defend yourself against wild animals, a .22 pistol has more than enough power.
And whilst a .22 will not stop an attacker dead in their tracks, it will certainly slow them down. In the right hands, a .22 LR cartridge can do some serious damage.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at our six favorite .22 pistols for various purposes.
Best Overall .22 Pistol
For most purposes, we think that the Ruger SR22 is the best .22 pistol out there. You’re going to see Rugers appearing quite a lot in this list, and with good reason.
The SR22 has been around for donkey’s years now, and is a good example of why the old designs are the best. Instead of trying to re-invent the .22 pistol every year, Ruger stick with the design that is tried and tested in the field.
Ruger initially became famous for their 10/22 rifles, and they’ve carried over the rugged design of those to this handguns. They’ve removed all of the annoying design features that characterize too many modern .22 pistols, and stuck with what works.
We’ve tested a lot of .22 pistols over the years, and this is arguably the best. Let’s take a look at some of the features that make it stand out as a great .22 pistol.
- First and foremost, the controls here are what you would expect from a modern, full-sized pistol, which makes shooting this .22 much like a Glock. The safety is the same, with a frame mounted catch that is easier to use than any slide-mounted safety mechanism.
- The accuracy offered by the SR22 is great right out of the box, although you can always add aftermarket sights to improve your ability to shoot at range. The standard sights are of the standard 3 dot variety, and the rear assembly is adjustable.
- Another adjustable feature of the SR22 are the two palm swells on the grip. These can be removed and swapped out, which makes adjusting the pistol for different hand sizes simple and easy.
- In our tests, the SR22 was not fussy at all about the ammunition it took, firing everything from the weakest junk cartridges right up to powerful rounds with no trouble. The large, flared base of the .22 LR round still – after all these years – has a tendency to get jammed in poorly made pistols, and we are pleased to report that there were no such problems here.
On the other hand, there are some drawbacks of the SR22 that might mean it is not suitable for everyone:
- In truth, the only negative I can find about this pistol is that it is not the absolute lightest one you can find. I’m not saying that it is heavy, just that less solid pistols can be lighter.
Overall, this is our best overall pick for today because of the no-nonsense design, and the reliability offered by this classic pistol.
If you are looking to get a .22 pistol for self-defense, plinking, or for a survival situation, you could do much worse than giving this one a look.
Best .22 For Self Defense
A lot of serious enthusiasts will tell you that the .22 cartridge is useless as a self-defense round. It is true, undoubtedly, that getting hit by a .22 round is unlikely to kill anyone.
However, unlike hunters, in a self-defense situation you don’t necessarily need to kill your attacker, but merely stop them.
Getting hit with a .22 hurts enough to stop even the most determined assailant, trust me. The other factor to consider when choosing a self-defense handgun is the fear factor.
Nobody wants to get shot, and in a heated situation no-one is going to notice the caliber of your gun.
For this reason, our choice for the best .22 pistol for self-defense is the Sig Sauer 1911-22. This is a .22 pistol based on the 1911 design. I know that this is going to annoy the traditionalists, but hear me out.
The fact that this pistol follows the 1911 design means it points very well, and is therefore very accurate.
In addition, in a dangerous situation, you are pulling an impressive-looking gun from your holster. Nobody is going to know this isn’t a full-sized 1911.
In addition, this is simply a great .22 pistol, for a variety of reasons:
- Like I said about the Ruger above, the fact that this pistol is identical to a full-seized handgun means that you will get used to it quickly. On the other hand, if you are buying a .22 pistol for a beginner, they can begin to get used to the way a “proper” pistol works right from the beginning.
- It is also astonishingly accurate for a .22 LR pistol. This might, of course, be because we are used to shooting 1911s, but I also think that the high manufacturing quality of this pistol has something to do with this.
- For self-defense purposes, the fact that this pistol is based on the 1911 size is great. This not only means that it looks like a serious handgun, but also means that it fits well in a range of concealed carry holsters.
That said, there are some negative features of this pistol:
- The major problem we had was that our model had great difficulty firing cheaper ammunition when we first tried it. After a thorough strip down and clean, and the application of some lubrication, it started to perform better. It seems that it needs to be broken in.
Overall, the Sig Sauer 1911-22 is our choice for the best .22 pistol for self defense because it looks and feels like a much more powerful gun than it is, and the classic design means that you are more likely to hit something in the heat of the moment.
In the end, a .22 LR round is much less powerful than a .45, and if planning on using the smaller round for self defense you have to make up for this somehow.
Best Value .22
One of the reasons why .22 pistols have become so popular over recent years is their price.
For casual shooters who just want to have a bit of fun with a pistol, for training purposes, or even for getting your kids into shooting from an early age, getting a cheap .22 handgun is a good way forward.
Our choice for the best value .22 pistol is the Sig Mosquito. This is a brand new design, and has several features that make it great value.
It’s based on the famous P series of Sig pistols, but is a bit smaller. 7/8ths smaller, in fact. This makes it a little more lightweight than its larger cousins, and also helps to keep the price down.
This does not mean, however, that you are getting a badly designed gun. This pistol, despite its diminutive size, still includes many of the features of more expensive pistols:
- In most respects, the Mosquito is just a slightly smaller replica of the P series, and as such gives you the same deadly accuracy, and a well-balanced grip that people who have fired Sig pistols before will be familiar with.
- The three dot sights are easy to adjust, so you can get them set up exactly how you need them.
- In comparison to the “full” P-series pistols, this .22 also incorporates some extra safety features. The safety here is easy to use, and in just the right place for most shooters.
- The Mosquito is extremely popular with law enforcement and serious shooters, because it allows an easy and cheap way to train. Firing a few (hundred) rounds off down the range with this gun is great practice for when you’ve got your full-sized Sig on hand.
All this said, there are a few factors that mean that the Sig Mosquito is not suitable for absolutely everybody:
- The slightly smaller size can be a problem if you are particularly large. Some of the guys who tested this pistol felt that it was hard to use for this reason.
Overall, however, the Sig Mosquito offers amazing value. If you are looking for a .22 pistol that gives you all the features you would expect in a premium item, while not breaking the bank, this is the one to go for.
.22 Pistol With the Best Magazine
A very common problem with .22 pistols is that the flared rounds tend to jam pretty easily. For this reason, for many years we have recommended getting a .22 revolver pistol.
A revolver keeps the rounds separated better, and reduces the possibility of the gun jamming. This was good as far as it went, but down the range it is a little annoying to shoot a revolver – sometimes you just need more ammunition than it can carry.
Luckily, recent advances in manufacturing now mean it is possible to make magazine-fed .22 pistols that are really reliable, no matter what ammunition you chuck at them.
This is the case, for instance, with the Walther P22. In all of our tests, whether using powerful premium ammunition or junk cartridges, it ate them all.
Being designed from scratch as a .22 pistol, and not as a scaled-down version of a full-sized gun, this pistol also works very well in most other respects:
- First and foremost, it looks really great. This should not be a surprise, of course, because the pistol is a Walther. While James Bond probably doesn’t use .22s very often, if he ever did this would be his choice.
- In terms of accuracy, this gun is dead on. This is likely aided by the fact that the gun features a fixed barrel, which helps to reduce vibration during firing and keeps the pistol zeroed. The sights themselves can be adjusted for windage, and the front sights can be swapped out to change their elevation.
- Another great thing about this pistol is the threaded barrel, which does not require a thread adapter nut to fit a silencer.
- And back to that magazine. The action is really smooth, and the gun went through a few hundred rounds of variable quality ammunition with no problem, which is quite a mean feat for a .22 pistol. The magazine release is on the trigger guard, which might seem a bit strange to some in the US, but is quite common in Europe and only takes a small amount of practice to get used to.
In terms of disadvantages, this pistol has one drawback:
- This is the slide mounted safety catch. I know it’s a personal preference, though one I also know is shared by a lot of people, but I find safeties like this very annoying to use.
Apart from that, however, if you are looking for a .22 pistol with a hugely reliable magazine, the Walther P22 is the one to go for.
If you are fed up of your .22 pistol jamming every time you go down the range, it is probably time to get a new one, and this Walther is one of the best.
Ah, plinking. The quintessential American pastime.
If you’ve recently had a kid and want to re-live those childhood memories of shooting at cans in the back yard, a .22 pistol is by far the best weapon to buy.
However, what you are looking for in a plinking gun is slightly different from the high-performance handguns I have reviewed above.
There is no need, with a .22 pistol for plinking, for quick reloading speeds. Taking it slow is what plinking is all about, after all.
Equally, it’s not necessary that your plinking gun is a super-lightweight firearm that you can carry concealed all day. This gun is going to stay locked up at home for most of the time, save for occasional trips out to the backyard.
Our recommendation for the best .22 pistol for plinking is therefore to get a revolver, and specifically the S&W Model 17. This gun was originally designed back in 1931, and has been used by several generations for plinking, making it perhaps the original gun for this purpose.
In addition, it has several big advantages as a .22 pistol for plinking:
- It will last for ever. Seriously, I know people who’ve had a Model 17 almost since they were introduced, and with regular care it will essentially never wear out.
- It’s actually really accurate for such an old gun. Whilst having pin-point accuracy is not necessarily required in a pistol for plinking, it certainly helps. Your life is not going to be endangered by missing a plinking target, of course, but ultimately you should be improving your shooting skills every time you handle a gun, and for that reason it is frustrating if a gun can’t hit what you are pointing it at.
- The classic design of this revolver means that it is great for teaching kids about weapons, and about weapon safety. You – and they – can see precisely how the gun works, and this makes it a good educational tool.
That said, there is one drawback to this gun:
- The lack of any safety features. I mean, obviously they were not thinking about this back in the 1930s, but in comparison to some modern pistols you need to be a little more careful with this one.
Overall, though, I think this revolver is the best for plinking. The fact that it is a revolver means that it will never jam, and the classic design and feel give an extra element to messing around in the backyard.
If you are looking for a weapon you can keep in the shed, and just take out to fire off a few rounds occasionally, this is the one for you.
Best .22 For Target Shooting
Last, but of course not least, we come to the best .22 pistol for target shooting.
\What we are looking for here is accuracy, of course, but bear in mind that accuracy is about a lot more than just machining tolerances.
In order to hit a target reliably, you need to be completely comfortable with a gun, and that means that it needs to have an ergonomic design.
Our recommendation in this category will come as no surprise to .22 competition shooters – the Browning Buckmark.
You’ll notice that this pistol is a little different from the others we have chosen, being a sports pistol rather than a classic design, but for target shooting you really need something that is specifically designed for the task.
This pistol is great for the following reasons:
- Despite the barrel and slide being significantly smaller than the other .22 pistols I’ve reviewed above, this one still comes with a full-sized grip. This means that the pistol stays still and stable in your hand, improving accuracy.
- The Buckmark comes with an integrated scope mount, simply because so many people use this pistol for hunting. Even without a scope fitted, the sights are completely adjustable.
- The recoil on this pistol is almost imperceptible. There is a very slight jolt, and that it is. For this reason, the Buckmark is often used to train new shooters, because it is so easy to handle. It also means that when unloading a few rounds in a go, you aim will stay true.
- The accuracy of this .22 pistol is something else. Even a child can hit a tin can with this.
The only disadvantage of the Buckmark is perhaps the fact that:
- The trigger is extremely light, so new shooters should exercise caution when using this pistol.
Overall, however, if you are looking for a .22 pistol for target shooting, and one that will ensure pin-point accuracy, this Browning is the one to go for.
So there you go. Six .22 pistols, all great, and even better for specific circumstances.
If you still don’t own a .22 pistol, now is the time to reconsider adding one to your armory. Whilst not offering the power of larger caliber pistols, they can be reliable, long-lasting, and most importantly great fun.
For serious shooters, getting a .22 pistol is a great an inexpensive way of squeezing in more training. And, if you are looking to train someone up to fire a pistol, getting a .22 pistol is the logical place to start.
So think about your priorities, have at look at our reviews above, and make sure you get the perfect .22 pistol for your purposes.