Range Report: Smith and Wesson’s Fun Gun The K-22

By Bob Campbell published on in Firearms, Range Reports

Smith and Wesson introduced the most successful revolver of all time in 1899. The Military and Police or .38 Hand Ejector was manufactured in the millions and once armed three-quarters of the police in America. Becoming the Model Ten in 1957, the K frame revolver is the ideal size for daily carry and a well-balanced handgun.

Smith and Wesson K frame rimfire revolver right profile

Note the vintage Rogers grips on this K 22 revolver.

Smith and Wesson offered .22 caliber revolvers on the diminutive I frame. While nice little guns, these ‘kit guns’ lacked the stability and accuracy of larger target-grade revolvers. Later, popular demand resulted in the introduction of a target grade .22 caliber revolver on the K frame. Production began in 1930. The revolver was called the K-22 Outdoorsman. Most of us just call it the K-22.

Smith and Wesson made certain warranties with the revolver including that the single action trigger would break at 3 to 4 pounds and group five shots into less than two inches at 50 yards. Less than 20,000 were produced by the beginning of World War II. Smith and Wesson turned to wartime production, so the K-22 was quickly unavailable. After World War II, all Smith and Wesson revolvers were upgraded.

While I understand the value of finding a pre-war Smith and Wesson to collectors, for shooters, the post war guns are preferred. The new revolver featured the short action. This action was, in most ways, based on action work by distinguished gunsmiths prior to 1940. The new Smith and Wesson adjustable sights were superior to those offered before 1940. The new K-22 also featured a trigger stop, and new barrel rib designed. The six-inch barrel K-22 weighed a solid 38.5 ounces.

adjustable sights on a revolver

Smith and Wesson’s adjustable sights are excellent for all around hunting and target use.

Another variation, the K-22 Masterpiece, was offered with a four-inch barrel. This revolver saw some institutional sales. Very similar to the newly introduced .38 Special Combat Masterpiece, the shorter K-22 was never as popular. Many years ago, part of the curriculum as I obtained a Criminal Justice degree, was firing a rather simple course of fire with the four-inch barrel Smith and Wesson.

The four-inch barrel revolver was discontinued in the 1980s. The Smith and Wesson side plate was changed on all models in 1955, and a few years later, all Smith and Wesson revolvers were given model numbers. The K-22 became the Model 17 and the four-inch barrel version became the Model 18. A .22 Magnum version was offered as the Model 48.

There are variations of the type of interest primarily to collectors. I am a shooter. I have owned the four-inch barrel versions. I owned a brilliantly accurate 8 3/8-inch barrel version that I used to win a few handgun silhouette matches. Not sure why I sacrificed it, but there must have been a pressing need. The K frame received several general improvements in the late 1970s that made the centerfire revolvers more able to stand up to a steady diet of +P and magnum loads. The pinned barrel was eliminated a few years later. Later came the stainless 617 and a 10-shot cylinder. These are all nice revolvers and one may suit the individual more than another. As for myself, I prefer the original six-inch barrel format.

empty revolver cylinder

Keep the cylinders clean for best function, especially if you use .22 Short ammunition.

The K-22 illustrated features a six-inch barrel with full-length grip, Micrometer sights, target hammer, and wide target trigger and trigger stop. The grips are Rogers hard plastic grips. The action is buttery smooth to use a well-worn phrase. The single action trigger has settled into 3.2 pounds. It’s a sharp trigger that leaves nothing to be desired. While most target shooters will cock the hammer for maximum accuracy potential, I most often fire the piece double action.

At most shooting ranges, with the targets limited to 25 yards, this revolver is plenty accurate in the double action mode. This is also great practice for centerfire companions to the K-22. I fire the piece often and find it a complete joy to fire and use. I have taken small game with it, but not enough!

The sights are easily sighted in. The weight is a good balance and it most often rides in a Galco Wheelgunner holster. I have fired .22 shorts out of curiosity but cannot recall firing a short, long, or standard velocity load in recent memory. 40-grain High Velocity loads are plentiful and affordable.

As for ammunition selection, most ammunition I have tested is more than accurate enough. I have narrowed the choice in hunting ammunition down to the Winchester Super X 40-grain at 980 fps or CCI Mini Mag 36-grain at 1,000 fps. Both offer excellent accuracy and effect on small game. The Hyper velocity bullets are often not as accurate, but then again, they are more than accurate enough for most uses. On a good day when all goes well, a five-shot group from a solid benchrest at 25 yards will result in a 1.5-inch group. That is a good standard for an iron sighted handgun.

The K-22 is a classic revolver with both collector and shooter value. It is a must have handgun for serious handgunners.

Do you have a favorite rimfire pistol? Share yours in the comment section.

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 (5)

  • Andy

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    17-3 also were manufactured with 4″ barrel. I have one with excellent condition :)

    Reply

  • Mark Francis

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    Had a K22 for years, bought it new in 1979, along with a model 19 in .357. The 19 was nickel plated so I sent the 22 back to S&W and had it nickeled to match the 19. Couldn’t tell them apart except for the absence of the rod guard on the 22. Shot many a rounds thru the 22, one of the sweetest little plinker I owned. Last year while at the range I noticed the rounds were going astray and going badly. Got the gun home and noticed the barrel was loose and the frame was cracked at the bottom of the barrel sleeve. Took pix of the crack and sent S&W an email. Sent the gun to them to be evaluated and to see if it could be repaired. Their response, DOA, unrepairable. Bad news cause I really liked that gun. Good news cause they covered the crack under warranty, after nearly 40 years. The couldn’t replace it with a K22 so they sent me a stainless 617. Pretty gun but it’s like carrying a 686. Put a new red dot sight on it and took it to the range this last week. I think I just found my new favorite plinker. The K22 was a great gun but this little 617, although heavier, is one fine shooting machine, especially with the added 4 rounds in the wheelhouse.

    Reply

  • Daniel W Judy

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    I have a 17-3 that I got in a trade in the late 60’s or early 70’s. Carried it in a Hunter holster while coonhunting for a few years, worked great shooting treed coons. Your article prompted me to dig it out of the safe. Haven’t shot it for years, but it was always a smooth, accurate gun. Great article Bob, thanks.

    Reply

  • Karl

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    Wish I hadn’t sold my S&W model 63 4″,currently have 6.5″model 617,as well as a Ruger SuperSingle Six 6.5″-wish I had bought the KNR9 ( 40 years ago.]
    Both are fine for target,but excessively heavy for woods carry.I carry a GP100 4″instead[with handloads].Found it a waste of $$/muzzleblast/recoil to use 22 Mag in the SingleSix and CCI Stingers burned dirty too.
    Would like to see return of CCI SGB[small game bullet] or greater availability of Aquila SSS 60gr 22LR ammo.

    Reply

    • OldGringo

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      Karl, I certainly agree the original little model 63 is a wonderful little gun. Bought one new, not sure the year, but has the pinned barrel and recessed cylinder. Great little gun; going to a grandkid one day. But I disagree on the little Aguila 60 grain ammo. I shot Whitetail at 460 yards, my longest ever on a deer, he never moved but was still alive when I got to him. Took 3 shots to the head with the model 63 and 60 grain Aguilas. Later chronoed them at barely over 600 fps from that gun. I shoot a half dozen 22 pistols and rifles suppressed, and also found the 60 grain bullets just do not do well. Almost any 22 is subsonic from a pistol and will be 1,000 fps or so from say my 1911-22. SO I just quit the Aguilas. Just my experience. Actually I also have a 5.5 inch Single 6 and love it in 22 mag. It gives about 1,400 fps in that gun, and they now have a 22 mag subsonic with the bigger 45 grain bullet. Kind of ironic, but a 45 grain bullet at 1,100 or so is pretty quiet and has more thump than those 60 grain ones.. I have never found a K 22 at a good price or I surely would own one.

      Reply

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