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)

  • Wild Bill

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    I have a competition geared 22. It started as a gsg 1911 and there is a company outside of Columbus Ohio who makes parts and it snowballed from there. As soon as I finished it I got into precision rifles and forgot all about it. Basically built a open class race gun and have yet to really run it fast.

    Reply

  • Teri Anne

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    One newcomer that was not mentioned is the Smith & Wesson Victory .22. I recently purchased one and with the proper ammunition it will put 5 rounds in the X ring on a regular basis. It’s extremely affordable, likes regular high speed .22 hollow point ammo, comfortable to shoot, great sights and is extremely easy to clean.

    Reply

  • Don Evans

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    I still shoot my old ruger standard, the predecessor to the marks. Love it. I guess familiarity makes stripping it no problem.

    Reply

  • Kevin Dubose

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    Own my dads rugaer mki would never get rid it also mkii and mkiii HR 922 sportsman super accurate with the right ammo also a S&W 422 really a nice shooter bbl barrel Ruger is my favorite and my most accurate yes cleaning can be tough but I do not clean mine until after a 1000 rounds and it is still shooting CCI STANDARDS. Shoot what you like and enjoy it .

    Reply

  • George Warren Dean

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    Segue: Marlin 795 rifle, best buy for a .22LR. On sale, less than $150. Very accurate, spare mags reasonable when bought on line. A ton of fun. Think, Project Appleseed!

    Reply

  • Phillip Marrin

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    While I own several .22 weapons, I don’t agree with the writers assertion about the price and availability of ammo. From my prospective ammo is the cheapest and most plentiful it has been in nearly a decade. Hell I just picked up 3000 rounds of 9mm for $395 with free shipping. That’s 13 cents a round. I also picked up 2500 rounds of 45 acp for $450. That’s 18 cents a round. Hell even .22 is back where it used to be, I got 10 boxes of 525 for $190, You can find even better prices on large bulk lots.

    Reply

    • Barbara Fee

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      It depends on where you live and what ammo you want/need. 3 years ago I bought 4 full cases of 7.62x54R for 80 bucks a case (880 rds) for my Nagants and my VEPR.
      I can pick up steel case ammo for cheap but good ammo is getting more n more expensive.

      Reply

  • Philip

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    I haven’t seen any improvement over the Ruger Mark II in the bounce for buck bench mark. Prefer over all that I have tried though favorably impressed the S&W Victory. Just need to master the dot optic sights on the Victory – another learning curve.

    Reply

    • Wild Bill

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      How about the mk4. Since it doesn’t require a gunsmithing credential to take it apart and reassemble it?

      Reply

    • Retired Navy Spook

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      At $50 more than the cheapest Buckmark, I was surprised the Victory wasn’t included in this list. I tried a S&W 22A a couple years ago. Tried 3 different kinds of ammo — FTF, stovepipe or misfired about 30% of the first couple hundred rounds, and I returned it for a refund.

      Reply

  • Bob M

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    Still have my Hi Standard Supermatic Citation from the 1958 Olympics — would never sell !

    Reply

    • Retired Navy Spook

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      I had a Hi Standard Supermatic Citation back in the 70’s. I used to shoot regularly with a fellow naval officer who had a S&W model 41. He consistently out-shot me, although I was never sure if was me or the gun until he let me shoot it. Maybe the Citation I had was a lemon, but the S&W 41 was clearly more accurate.

      Reply

  • Robert Moore

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    How about the Ruger Mk IV? Does it solve the field strip problem? Is it suitably accurate?

    Reply

    • Dj

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      The ruger mark IV fixes the disassembly and especially the reassembly issue and from all reports is just as accurate as all its previous models.

      Reply

    • Harold D Roush

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      I know it’s a little pricey, but my Ruger Mark IV is “the answer” to disassembly with the one button take down. My Hunter model is a very handsome weapon and has worked flawlessly with my 1st thousand rounds.Keep it clean and lubes and it is hard to beat.

      Reply

  • Vaughn Winslett

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    I have an old Buckmark from the 90`s, and a High Standard from 52. both are great

    Reply

    • CD

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      Seriously, they re-published an old article without updating it? The Ruger Mark IV is out and fixes the disassembly problem. The S&W 22A isn’t manufactured anymore. The Sig Trailside isn’t manufactured anymore. The S&W22 is out and very affordable. WTF?

      Reply

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