.22 Colt Government Model Range Review

By Bob Campbell published on in Firearms, Range Reports, Reviews

The need for economical practice has been hammered home during the past few months.

It is scandalous; here in the land of plenty, there hasn’t been enough. If there is a good side to the ammunition shortage it is that we have come to appreciate rimfire trainers so much more. One of the handiest and most effective trainers is a .22 caliber conversion unit for the 1911 .45 caliber pistol.

During the past four decades, I have used a number of .22 caliber conversion units designed to allow the firing of inexpensive (well, less expensive) rimfire ammunition in the 1911 .45 ACP pistol. Some conversion kits have worked well—others have not. I have also tested .22 caliber versions of the 1911. The purpose-designed pistols often seemed too expensive for a .22. Then there were others that were just too cheaply made. I might use them for a few weeks or months and then lose interest.

Black Colt Government Model Rail Gun .22, barrel pointed down and left with box of Winchester 22 Long Rifle ammunition on a background of gray weathered boards.

The Colt Government Model Rail Gun .22 is a great addition to the 1911 tribe. Loaded with the Winchester HP bullet it would be a great small game getter.

What I really needed was a .22 caliber 1911 pistol with sights and controls similar to the carry guns I prefer. I made a list a few years ago of what I would like to see. A good set of high visibility sights and good beavertail safety were among the requirements. I wanted a true functioning 1911 .22, a pistol that mimicked the Colt, not just in appearance but also in function. This meant a slide lock safety and grip safety that were functional.

The pistol had to be affordable, as we just do not like to pay the same bucks for a rimfire as we spend on the centerfire pistol… although this may be flawed logic. This was a dream list and I got by with what was on hand for the most part. Then I handled the first of the Colt Government Model .22s and my dreams were answered.

We Have a Purpose-Made Pistol

We now have a purpose-made pistol that is true to the 1911 template and chambered for the .22 Long Rifle cartridge.

While the availability of a .22 caliber 1911 is way cool in one regard, the introduction is quite practical as well. Even when available in good numbers, centerfire ammunition is increasing in price for many reasons, including the higher price of raw material such as brass and copper. If we are able to engage in meaningful practice with a .22 caliber doppelganger of our centerfire handgun, then we should do so.

High quality conversions have been popular. But Colt didn’t give us a modern .22 ACE until recently. We have to be frank; the new Colt isn’t manufactured by Yankee craftsmen in Bridgeport. The pistol is produced by Carl Walther of Germany—an interesting twist.

The birth of the Colt .22 is a result of the continuing relationship between Umarex—maker of the popular M4 AR-15 rifle clone in .22—and Colt Manufacturing. Officially the pistol is made by Carl Walther under agreement with Umarex and licensed by the New Colt Holding Company. The pistol isn’t a halfhearted effort.

Black Colt .22 with focus on the crisp, well fitted grip laying on a gray weathered board background.

The grip of the Colt .22 is pure 1911, crisp and well fitted.

The .22 caliber Government Model is a true replica with functioning slide lock safety and beavertail safety as well as the original design half-cock notch in the hammer.

Multiple Versions Available

The pistols are delivered in three versions:

  • The first is the standard Government Model with GI controls and sights.
  • The second is the Rail Gun with Novak type sights and extended controls along with the light rail.
  • Finally, there is a Gold Cup target version. I could have done without the rail but prefer the advanced controls of the Rail Gun. This was what was on hand when I visited one of my favorite gun shops.

Incidentally, the Government Model and the Rail Gun had an asking price within nickels of each other, which made for a no brainer as to the choice of pistol. I chose the pistol with the most appropriate features for my use. I suspect the traditional Government Model will also be highly popular.

Features and Finishes

The Colt .22 is delivered in a black plastic locking box with the Colt logo. The first thing that noticed when handling the pistol was the heft. Yes, it is light, but it has heft and good balance at 2.25 pounds. The alloy used isn’t aluminum but short of high-grade ordnance steel.

The internal parts are of high-grade steel; nothing in my examination gave lie to this claim. Unlike other copies of the Government Model, these internals are identical to those used in other 1911 pistols, giving the end user the prospect of turning the pistol to his satisfaction.

The Colt .22 is finished in a dark black finish that is free of runs and flaking. The Colt logo is highlighted in white for a pleasing effect. The combat type hammer, beavertail safety and slide lock safety, all fall under the hand naturally.

There is nothing to detract from the sensation that you are handling a true 1911 pistol. The trigger is a target style with lightening grooves. Trigger compression is a smooth and free of grit at 5.5 pounds on the RCBS registering trigger weight gauge. The hard rubber grips are checked to give good purchase. If you desire, you can replace the grips with any number of aftermarket grips available for the 1911.

Birchwood Casey Darkotic target with a Zombie-like figure carrying a red briefcase.

The Birchwood Casey Darkotic target gave an added urgency to the problem of Zombie attacks!

I was surprised to find the mainspring housing was removable, just as it is with a standard centerfire 1911 pistol. I have not yet attempted to fit any aftermarket parts to the Colt, and there is little point as it comes well appointed. But it seems that the slide lock safety, grip safety and other parts would interchange with the high-quality aftermarket parts we like to use on the 1911 .45—just as the company specifies. The sights are mounted in true dovetails, and the rear sight is adjustable for windage. I was beginning to like this pistol before I ever fired it.

Construction

Let’s look at the construction.

To begin with, the pistol is obviously not a locked-breech design. It requires at least a 9mm Luger caliber, in a full-size pistol, to make use of Browning’s locked-breech design.

The pistol is a blowback action. This means in the simplest terms, the slide simply blows to the rear, off the barrel, when the pistol fires. The barrel is an integral part of the frame. There is no swinging link or barrel bushing to contend with in this simple and inexpensive pistol.

The magazine is a high-quality steel unit that seems remarkably well made. The magazine is sturdier than most—and when you consider the feed device is the heart of a self-loading pistol—this magazine is praise worthy. When handling the pistol, an important distinction in the manual of arms must be made as compared to the 1911 centerfire pistol. When it comes to loading, unloading, firing and using the pistol, it is all 1911. The same manual of arms is used. When it comes to field stripping and maintenance, the manual of arms differs.

Shots Fired

The proof of a gun is in the firing. I collected an eclectic supply of .22 Long Rifle ammunition and headed to the range along with a group of raters eager to give the pistol a try. I had ordered four spare magazines, so we were able to fire the pistol at a brisk pace. We made it through some 700 rounds in the first outing with definite ideas concerning the performance of the Colt .22.

2 stacked pistols, a Rock Island Armory 1911 with a brown wood-grained grip and the Colt .22 in all black, both barrels pointing to the left on a gray weathered board background.

With excellent sights, an extended slide lock safety and a beavertail grip safety, the Colt .22 offers custom grade features at a fair price. It is an excellent understudy for any 1911 regardless of make. It is seen with the author’s favorite RIA pistol.

All who fired the Colt liked it, some more than others. I liked the utility of placing the .22 in a 1911 holster—drawing and firing just as I would any other 1911. This makes for meaningful practice. A new handgun often requires a break-in period before it becomes fully reliable.

The Government Model .22 did not—with one exception. As long as we used high-velocity loads, the pistol ran 100% out of the box. I tried 100 rounds of the Standard Velocity loads, and function dropped to about 95%—a short cycle in every magazine or so. Considering the pistol is rated for high-velocity rounds only, this was a good show. No other .22 caliber self-loader in my experience is 95% with these loads, most choke.

A number of modern .22s have proven notoriously unreliable and demand a considerable program to isolate a loading they work with. I strongly prefer a pistol that works well with a variety of loads and one that works clean or dirty. With the Colt we have that reliability. I used CCI, Federal, Fiocchi, Wolf and Winchester loads with good results and consistent accuracy.

Most .22 caliber pistols will run well to about 300 rounds and then become sluggish and demand cleaning for proper function. The Colt ran to 500 rounds before function became problematic. We wiped it with an oily rag and squirted more oil into the action—and ran another 200 rounds without any malfunctions. We ran out of daylight and hustled home to clean the pistol. There were no signs of eccentric wear.

Overall, we were impressed.

Accuracy Testing

Accuracy testing was done at a later date, with a clean gun and bore. The .22 caliber bullet is the last surviving example of the heel-based, outside-lubricated bullet. As such, it is self-lubricating and there is a considerable argument against cleaning the bore. Conversely, the powder is dirty and the pistol needs to be cleaned more often than a centerfire. In fairness, I began with a clean pistol and clean bore. The Colt .22 was a joy to benchrest, and not simply because of the light recoil.

Hand fit, good sights, decent trigger and the proven 1911 grip angle all came together nicely. Results were excellent. The size of the groups ranged from target grade to useful. The Colt is clearly good enough for its intended purpose, useful practice and also well suited to informal target practice—even small-game hunting. Like all quality handguns, the Colt Government Model .22 likes some ammunition better than others, but the aggregate of accuracy was good.

Results Five-shot groups fired from a benchrest at 75 feet. (25 yards)

Groups Measured in Inches

Ammunition Group
CCI Standard Velocity 2.25 inches
CCI Mini Mag 3.0 inches
Federal High Velocity solid 2.5 inches
Fiocchi 40-grain solid 2.0 inches
Fiocchi high velocity hollow point 2.15 inches
Wolf 40-grain solid 2.6 inches
Winchester 40-grain Wildcat 2.8 inches
Winchester Dyna Point 2.2 inches

 

After some thought, the .22 Colt has utility as a farm or ranch pistol. The Colt would be far from a bad choice to address marauding coyotes or pests around the farm. My recommendation for such use is the Winchester Dyna Point. You do not have to look hard to find uses for such a fine rimfire handgun. During the test program, we used the new Darkotic targets from Birchwood Casey.

This gave us an added measure of fun in testing one of the great fun guns of the decade.

Specs: Colt Government Model .22

Caliber .22 Long Rifle
Overall Length 8.7 inches
Height 5.5
Barrel length 5
Sights Fixed
Weight 31 ounces
Magazine capacity 12 rounds
Grips Rubber
Finish Blue/Black

So what do you think, will the Colt Government Model .22 become part of your arsenal? Let us know in the comments below!

SLRule

Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooter’s Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.

View all articles by Bob Campbell

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Comments (2)

  • Pat Nemes

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    I’ve had the Walther Colt Gold Cup version for 2 weeks now and I am rather pleased with it. I did have to work over the trigger to get the pull down to a 4 pound level and worked the sear engagement to minimize creep. The nice feature is that the trigger can be worked the same as a standard 1911 and many of the parts are interchangeable.

    However to keep it in an affordable price range many of what are normaly steel machined parts seem to be investment cast. The interface of the slide and frame are not tightly fitted but nonetheless accuracy seems acceptable at the 25 yard line. I have more shooting to do with this but all in all it is a nice handling piece.

    Reply

  • Stormy1

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    I have used a Ruger 22/45 Target for this very purpose for about 15 years. With the bull barrel, it has a very similar grip and heft to the 1911’s even if the controls are different. Ruger has 22 pistols all figured out. Not sure why, but thru thick and thin, dirt and grime, they always work. All that for about $250-300. Pretty tricky to break down and clean thoroughly, but you really don’t have to. Just swab the barrel, clean the feed ramp, add a touch of oil to the slide/bolt and keep on gunning. Hope this Colt works as well as my little Ruger.

    Reply

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