With ammo costs going up and availability going down, many shooters are turning to the good old .22 Long Rifle cartridge for affordable shooting fun. Rimfire competition shooting leagues are springing up across the country. New shooters are mastering the fundamentals of marksmanship. Experienced shooters are rediscovering that .22 LR competitions are a fun way to hone their skills to a fine edge. What should we look for in a competition .22 pistol?
There are a variety of reliable, affordable and accurate pistols to choose from, but sometimes they can get lost in the noise and marketing of the firearms industry. Gun magazines, websites, and blogs constantly scream that whatever is newest is the best thing ever. Of course, this is not true. Some of the newest .22LR pistols to hit the market are simply range toys of lesser quality. They may look like classic firearms such as the 1911, Glock or Sig 226, but they are just not accurate enough for competition work. Many of these guns are much smaller than the service pistols they mimic. Their tiny grips are best suited for teaching children to shoot. There are also doubts about the longevity of these guns as many rounds are fired through them over time. If you want a .22LR that looks like a silenced 1911, you can buy one and play with it once in awhile at the range for fun. If you want to compete, there are better choices for the same amount of money.
What we are looking for here is a reliable, durable, accurate, and ergonomic pistol. We want large iron sights that are easy to see, a very good trigger, and a barrel that shoots straight. The gun needs to point naturally, and regular maintenance should be easy to perform. We all know that .22LR ammo is very “dirty” ammo relative to its size, and all firearms work better when we properly clean and lubricate them. With these rules in mind, here are some good options to consider.
The Ruger MkIII is my personal favorite. Although I’ve seen amazing results with heavy-barreled variants, mine features the standard weight, tapered six inch barrel and it is still more accurate than I am. If I miss with my Ruger, I know the fault is mine alone. The big disadvantage of the Ruger is that disassembly and reassembly are notoriously difficult. Many shooters fear the pistol’s complexity and refuse to disassemble it. They clean their Rugers by removing the grips and dunking the rest of the gun in carburetor cleaner or another harsh solvent. Another downside is the price, which starts higher than most other .22LR pistols and gets even more expensive depending on options.
The Beretta Neos is a relative newcomer to the .22LR target pistol field. These excellent quality pistols are probably the best bargain per dollar spent. They shoot straight, are easy to disassemble, and come with a built in Weaver-type optics mount. However, many pistol leagues do not allow optics, so that may not be a factor. Pricing is very competitive because the Neos is a newcomer. The science fiction looks of the gun may turn off some potential buyers, but they don’t truly matter except for the extreme grip angle. If you are used to the grip angle of a 1911 or Sig Sauer and you decide to pick up rimfire shooting to save money, you will not have a natural point of aim with the Neos.
Browning Buck Mark
The Browning Buck Mark is a classic .22LR, loved by thousands of shooters. A wide variety of shooters find the Buck Mark’s grip to be perfect regardless of hand size. Ergonomically, it is almost magical. Maintenance is the problem for the Buck Mark. Small hex head setscrews hold the Buck Mark together. The owner must unscrew them each time they take apart the pistol to clean it. Losing a setscrew means no working gun for you. Strip one out during reassembly and well… I guess you won’t be cleaning your Buck Mark for awhile. The Buck Mark is also the most expensive of the pistols I am mentioning in this article.
Smith & Wesson 22A
The Smith & Wesson 22A is not as popular as the Ruger or Browning, but it still offers one big advantage. Disassembly for cleaning is super easy, with no tools required. Where the Browning has a setscrew holding the barrel in place, the 22a uses a large plunger that you can press with your thumb. The barrel’s accuracy is very good, but the trigger is stiff compared to the other guns I have mentioned. Reliability can be iffy with this gun, especially when dirty, so it’s a good thing that it is so easy to clean. On the other hand, its price is pretty hard to beat and its grip angle is perfect for shooters who are used to full size service pistols. Like the Beretta Neos, the 22A comes with a standard Weaver rail for mounting red dots or long eye relief scopes.
There are other pistols appropriate for rimfire competition, but these are the most affordable and readily available. If you’re a fan of the Sig Trailside, the Colt Woodsman, or the truly exceptional Smith & Wesson model 41, then by all means, go out and shoot your favorite one! There are plenty of bowling pins to knock around at a local shooting league near you!
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