Throwback Thursday: .22 LR Competition Pistols: What to Buy, What Not to Buy

By CTD Mike published on in Reviews

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. So, what should we look for in a competition .22 pistol?

Young woman in light blue shirt, black hair and eye protection shoots a Walther P22 against a light brown dirt background.

The Walther P22 is one of the most popular handguns in America—A great choice for all around practice.

There are a variety of reliable, affordable and accurate pistols to choose, 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, that is not true. Some of the newest .22 LR 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 just are not accurate enough for competition work. Many of those guns are smaller than the service pistols they mimic. Their tiny grips are best suited for teaching children to shoot. There are also doubts about their longevity, as most will fire many rounds from them through time. If you want a .22 LR that looks like a silenced 1911, you can buy one and play with it once in a while 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 barrel that shoots straight. The gun needs to point naturally, and regular maintenance should be easy. We all know that .22 LR ammo is very “dirty” relative to its size, and all firearms work better when we properly clean and lubricate them. With those rules in mind, here are some good options to consider.

Ruger Mk III

Ruger MkIII pistol black left profile

Walther P22

The Ruger Mk III is my personal favorite. Although I have seen amazing results with heavy-barreled variants, mine features the standard weight, tapered, 6-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 Ruger’s big disadvantage 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 .22 LR pistols and gets even more expensive depending on options.

Beretta Neos

Beretta Neos with magazines and ammunition

The Neos fills a unique niche within the rimfire handgun category. It isn’t a mouse gun, or a budget gun.

The Beretta Neos is a relative newcomer to the .22 LR 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 do not 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

Browning Buckmark pistol, right profile

The Browning Buckmark is a high quality pistol with a high price to match.

The Browning Buck Mark is a classic .22 LR, loved by thousands. A wide variety of shooters find the Buck Mark’s grip perfect, regardless of hand size. Ergonomically, it is almost magical. Maintenance is the problem of the Buck Mark. Small hex-head set screws hold it together. The owner must unscrew them each time they take apart the pistol to clean it. Losing a set screw means no working gun for you. Strip one out during reassembly, and well, I guess you will not have to clean your Buck Mark for a while. The Buck Mark is also the most expensive of the pistols mentioned in this article.

Smith & Wesson 22A

S&W 22a

The Smith & Wesson 22a is easy to disassemble for cleaning.

The Smith & Wesson 22A is not as popular as the Ruger or Browning, but it offers one big advantage. Disassembly for cleaning is super easy, with no tools required. Where the Browning has a set screw holding the barrel in place, the 22A uses a large plunger 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 is 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 are 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.

Which .22 LR do you prefer for plinking or competitive shooting? Why did you choose that pistol? Share your answers in the comment section.

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Comments (87)

  • Bob

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    Reply to Mac: About 50 years experience with colt woodsman match target pistols. Extremely accurate, elegant handguns but none made since the 1970’s and excellent used ones keep going up in price. Find a good one, enjoy shooting it, don’t abuse it; you’ll always get your investment back and more if you decide to sell. One of the few top-quality .22 target pistols that works equally well in the field!

    Reply

  • traitor

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    Ruger Mark II or III is my personal favorite,disassembly and reassembly are not difficult like most people think.
    After you understand how the Hammer Strut work.You will see it is very easy and simple to disassembly and reassembly in the few minutes.

    Reply

  • Mac

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    Anyone have experience with the Colt .22 target.
    I have one and it seems very good.
    Don’t see them arouns to much.

    Reply

  • Joe

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    I think the author was trying to keep within a reasonable price range with his selections. The High Standards and S&W 41’s are quite expensive these days and most people don’t want to pay alot for a .22 pistol. Revolvers can be alot of fun but aren’t suitable for some types of competition. I’m a Ruger fan in this category. I have an old Standard Model, MKII and MKIII (this one is threaded for a suppressor). Good article CTD Mike.

    Reply

  • JSW

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    It always surprises me that people have problems with reassembly of Rugers. Maybe I’ve just been shooting them too long (nearly 50 years).
    I agree, the HiStandard should be on the list, though they’re getting difficult to find. Wish I’d never let mine go. Hung onto the Ruger ‘cuz it felt, and therefore shot, better. The 22A is really finicky, needing cleaning before shooting a whole box- but it may just be my ammo- Feds. The kid prefers the 22A, though, claims it’s ‘his’ pistol. He mounted a Red Dot on it and shoots circles around me. (Actually, my groups are circles around his :\ )
    No revolvers on the list- kind of disappointing, but understand the reason for omitting them. People might find them worthy of a second look, though.
    JSW

    Reply

  • Peter H

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    Even knowing the procedure described above, re-assembly of the Ruger is still a PITA. Given that the Ruger .22LR pistols have been in production for 60 years or so, I would think they could have made re-assembly a bit easier. For example, there is an aftermarket version of the cylindrical part that sticks up thru the bolt that can be unscrewed with a hex key–making the tedious re-assembly procedure completely unnecessary. Also, I prefer the MKII–which does not have all the superfluous safety sh*t of the MKIII.

    The Walther P22 suffers from a design defect (front sight wobble) that makes it inherently inaccurate.

    I believe the best bang for the .22 pistol buck is the Browning Buckmark. Have bought Buckmarks, like new, in pawnshops for around $300.

    The article should also have mentioned High Standard .22 pistols–probably second to the S&W 41 for sheer quality–especially the old Connecticut guns.

    As for the rest, I pretty much agree with the article.

    Peter H

    Reply

  • CTD Mike

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    Well put, Ted. I’ve taken my Ruger Mk III apart many times for cleaning. But it is still really intimidating for newbies. Its certainly not as easy as most modern automatics of any caliber.

    Reply

  • Auld Ted

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    Sorry, one last thing — just double checked, and the “football shaped depression” has a little hemispherical cup in the bottom, and that cup is where the point of the hammer strut goes. There’s a different football-shaped depression on the back of the mainspring housing, but you couldn’t get the hammer strut in that one without divine intervention anyhow.

    Reply

  • Auld Ted

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    P.S. That’s the Mark I/II/III, don’t ask me about the .22/45.

    Reply

  • Auld Ted

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    Putting the Ruger .22 pistol back together is easy once you know how to position the hammer strut.

    The hammer strut is a steel piece dangling out of the bottom of the hammer. Take the mainspring housing out, and there’s one dangling piece of metal under there that can flip back and forth. That’s the hammer strut.

    In reassembly, when you’ve got the mainspring housing pin through the bolt, but before you lock the housing back into the grip, you need to flip the hammer strut back, pointing aft, so the tip goes in a little football-shaped depression in the mainspring housing. Hold the gun completely inverted, barrel level, grip up, mainspring housing hanging down. Reach in there to manipulate the hammer strut with a punch or a pencil or tweezers, it’s easy. Just be careful not to knock the strut around while you’re folding the mainspring housing back into the backstrap. Once it’s in, the strut’s locked in place.

    That’s it, that’s the whole secret. Try it. It works every time. Think about it: If they can assemble these things at the factory, there MUST be some way for them to go together reliably. Well, this is the way.

    Reply

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