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)

  • Primo

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    i stopped reading when i saw the pic say Walther p22 and its def isnt a Walther p22. Personally i like the M and P .22. the Ruger sr-22 is durable as hell (use them in permit class 600 round a day roughly, only repaired once in 2 years), but the accuracy is less than the Phoenix hp-22 (that has a much shorter barrel) that i shot plenty times.

    Reply

  • Bruce Z.

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    Years ago had the S & W 41 and Ruger Mk 1 5 1/2″ barrel. Decided on a shoot-off to determine which to keep, as times were a bit tight. Accuracy was equal on the two guns and value was much higher for the Smith, so it went. I am, first, last and always a Smith & Wesson fan, but there was not enough difference to keep it. Do I wish I still had it? Yep. But life throws some stuff at you that is outside your control and you deal with it. I still have that Ruger and a few other firearms, and it still puts rounds where it is supposed to, if I do my part. Furthermore, if you have a little mechanical ability, it really isn’t that hard to disassemble to clean.

    Reply

  • Spacegunner

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    The older S&W Model 41 are very nice, but their triggers are nowhere close to the High Standard Victors’, or other Military-framed High Standard target pistols, made before 1990(ish), or the new ones from High Standard – Houston.

    Reply

  • Spacegunner

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    I shoot a 1975-vintage High Standard Victor that outshoots most rifles out to 25 yards. My mid 1990’s Browning Buckmark is quite precise, but the group sizes are 2-3 times larger than the HSV. I also have the .22 LR conversion for my SIG P22x. It shoots as well, or better than the Buckmark.

    I will never buy anything, but a revolver from S&W. I hate how they brand their guns as M&P, when no military or police force has standardized on their weapons. Additionally, they change designs every 3-4 years, and I have heard that replacement parts for discontinued guns are difficult to obtain.

    I will stick with what I have for .22 LR pistols.

    Reply

  • The Commish

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    Hey guys,
    I have a a High Standard Citation 22 with a bull barrel & custom hand grips with a thumb rest. This was purchased in 1964 and is still extremely accurate as it was 54 yrs ago. I guess High Standard went out of business. I only resurrected this pistol a month ago to train my granddaughter who has since received her FL CCL. I really can’t believe how accurate it is and how easy it is to shoot. It’s been many years since I have used it. I have since gone to 357, then 9mm, and now to 45 ACP. It’s really fun to go back to a great 22 target pistol. I think I will add it to my weekly shooting schedule. If I can find a league here in FL I will probably join to see if I can get my old scores with these poor eyes. Regards to all.

    The Commish
    Bradenton, FL

    Reply

  • james frampton

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    Here are two pistols that are heads above the guns mentioned. I speak with 45 years as a FFL and 30 years as a pistol competitor.

    Smith and Wesson model 41 , 5 1/2 inch BBL.

    Hi Std. Victor , 5 1/2 inch BBL.

    No competitor that I ever knew shot a plastic Beretta, Smith, or Ruger.
    They would not hold up to the end of bullseye season.

    also the KMK – GC 512 with a trigger job.

    If you can’t afford one of these three guns, save up . Don’t compromise on something that you can shoot but not win the competition.

    Reply

  • Edward Dane

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    I have the Smith&Wesson victory and I love it! Easy to shoot and very accurate. Yes there is an Allen head set screw to disassemble for cleaning, but that doesn’t bother me on a plinking pistol.

    Reply

  • Clifffalling

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    I’ve had the ruger Mark II for about 25 years. Heavy barrel, 6 inch I believe. Most accurate, trouble free firearm ever. I can run pop cans out on the range all day. Other guy’s jaws drop to see me hit targets at 100 yards with it. Squirrels (if I still ate the darned things) dont stand a chance out to about 25 or 30 yards. Disassembly difficulty is highly exaggerated imho. Once you learn the tricks, it’s easy. It eats any ammo, no issues. I probably have 10000 rounds through mine and it keeps going. I will never sell this one.

    Reply

  • George Wroclawski

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    Do not forget the S&W Model 41. Fixed barrel. Easy disassembly. Guess I have had mine for over 40 years and still the most accurate pistol I have.

    Reply

  • Jim Drew

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    Received Harrington and Richardson 9 shot 6” Sportsman…fun to shoot. Had to replace main spring that had a nylon tip (Numrich had a six pack of the spring assembly in stock) also have g-pas high STD mod B & mod 69 Winchester bolt action, Walther P22 semi, Springfield tube fed semi, Remington Mohawk, and North American Arms black widow 5 shot. Great guns to teach beginning shooters and a pleasure to shoot. Enjoyed the read.

    Reply

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