For most of my working life, I’ve been an instructor in some field of endeavor — riding instructor, flight instructor, computer instructor, shooting instructor, etc. In each of these disciplines, the key to successfully integrating a new user into the fold is smoothness. I used to cringe when I heard of a pilot taking one of their friends flying for the first time and subjecting them to loops and rolls along with steep climbs and descents. I always tried to make someone’s first ride so smooth the newbie didn’t feel the moment when they left the ground or arrived back on it. Starting a new shooter should mimic that type of experience, and the best way I know to start a new shooter is with a .22 firearm.
The industry has blessed us with a few .22s that mimic larger caliber guns, and these are perfect for starting new shooters. They are also great for ongoing proficiency training. In fact, I use them for my own proficiency. Shooting any gun correctly and being accurate will improve your skills as a shooter. If you shoot a .22 that is a twin of a larger caliber gun, the transference of any developed skill is going to be high. Your training won’t cost as much, and it won’t put as much wear on your hands and shoulders. It won’t be a 100% substitute for shooting the higher caliber gun, but it will help and in some circumstances be a necessary step in training.
What kind of rimfire/centerfire twin combinations are there? A lot of the .22s in my collection are fun to shoot, but they don’t have a direct correlation to any of my centerfire guns. That’s why I’ve added rimfire guns that do match centerfires to my family’s collection whenever possible. The M&P is one of the earliest examples. In my training to become an NRA Instructor, I attended classes with groups of people, and paying attention to what they were shooting was part of my education.
M&Ps were prevalent. When I asked their owners why, the most common response was related to felt recoil. Many felt the ergonomics of the M&P mitigated a lot of the recoil normally felt in a handgun. When I tried the M&P and compared it to the handguns I’d been shooting, I had to agree. As a trainer, I’ve found the M&P to be a great platform. The fact that S&W made a .22 version that was the same size and configuration really made it a winning combination for me.
I’ve looked for others because shooting .22 handguns such the Ruger Mark series, Browning Buck Mark, and S&W Victory may be fun, but those guns are all built more like WWII Lugers than any modern defensive handguns. One of the handgun centerfire/rimfire matches I found was the Colt .22 1911 made by Walther. Another relatively new combo that works well for training is the Taurus G3 and TX-22. The G3 is a purpose-built, full-size defensive handgun, and the TX-22 is not only a .22 LR that is the same size and roughly the same configuration, but it loads and operates more like a centerfire than most rimfire semi-automatics.
The Glock G44 is very similar to the G19 and it, too, has a magazine that loads more like a 9mm than most .22s. In addition to guns such as the TX-22 and G44 there are conversion kits. The conversion kit I have for a SIG P229 makes shooting the gun cheap and fun because it’s a SIG and it’s recoil-free.
Having a .22 caliber revolver that matches the operation and ergonomics of a larger caliber of the same model is also beneficial. Ruger’s SP101 is available in multiple calibers starting with the .22 LR. Heritage, Uberti, and Ruger all offer .22 versions of the SSA-style revolver. You can shoot them all day on a rimfire budget, and anything you do to improve accuracy will transfer directly to shooting .357, .44, or .45 SSA revolvers.
It works for long guns, too. I started shooting .22 rifles at around nine years old. Hitting a squirrel with the rifle required more concentration and a steadier aim than with a shotgun. At Boy Scout camp, I went through hundreds of cheap rounds earning progressively higher junior marksmanship badges until I had them all. The time spent shooting .22 rifles as a kid meant when I started shooting an M16 in Basic Training, the Drill Sergeant didn’t have to spend much time with me before I qualified.
I’ve got a few lever-action rifles, including a .30-30 and .44 Magnum. I also have a Henry .22 lever-action that I encourage the grandkids to shoot and enjoy shooting myself. In fact, plinking with that lever-action .22 can result in hours of fun. Every trigger pull that results in a ‘pinged’ aluminum can or a hole at or near the center of a target will result in a much better chance of success when shooting a .30-30 at a deer or the .44 at a hog.
Another fun option is .22 Magnum. Rock Island’s .22 Magnum 1911 has almost no recoil, but it is very loud and spits fire. A gun like that could be used in a self-defense situation because the scary, loud, fire-breathing bark will make someone think you’ve shot at them with something much bigger than it really is.
Several of my .22 LR revolvers also come with .22 Magnum cylinders. These make it easy to swap from one caliber to another. Shooting a .22 Magnum is a great way to help a new shooter get accustomed to handling something with a little noise and bite — without experiencing recoil.
Rimfires may not be great personal defense or big-game hunting choices, but they sure can help get your skills to the point where you’ll be more likely to have success with larger caliber guns when the need arises. The going rate these days for .22 LR ammo is running as cheap as $3.50 per box of 50. That doesn’t match the 50 cents I paid for a box as a kid. However, in today’s dollars, that’s a bargain that can keep you shooting when money may be too tight to buy more expensive rounds.
On days when my family or shooting buddies and I go to the range just to have fun, we take more rimfires than centerfires just so we can shoot a lot without worrying about our pocketbooks or wear-and-tear on our hands and shoulders. My recommendation for anyone who is serious about developing and maintaining shooting skills is to get at least one .22 handgun, one .22 rifle and shoot them both a lot.