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

Smith and Wesson K frame rimfire revolver left profile

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.


About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (7)

  1. I guess I am about to commit heresy, so if you don’t want to be freaked out, stop reading in 3….2…..1

    I have one of those pre-war K-22 First Model pistols, verified by the S & W historian Roy Jinks to have left the factory on July 29, 1935, and delivered to H&D Folsom Arms Co. in NYC. My query became the next known whereabouts of this gun. Now for the heresy….my gun, like all my guns, is a shooter. I bought it for $100 in 2001 to shoot, so it makes regular trips to the range. It is the first gun I use to introduce a brand new shooter to handgun shooting, due to the ease of operation, low recoil, and accuracy.
    Those new shooters gain confidence and enjoyment from putting rounds on target quickly. It has also been used to dispatch the occasional sick/wounded small critter. Before anyone asks, it is not for sale.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

    1. 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.

    2. Supposedly[only supposedly]per Aquila ad:24″ gelatin penetration at 200 yards.That to me,wold make it a “mini-sniper” in a rifle.Getting trajectory/ sighting in data from Aquila is the “RUB”.I don’t care if a chuck crawls back into its hole-saves me burying the thing.I did not like 22Mag in 6.5″Single Six-recoil like a 38Special and lots of muzzle blast-flash.I’m better off loading 38 Specials in 4″GP100[and possibly cheaper too].I also had bad results with CCI Stinger @@LR in the SS-burn dirty.Wish CCI was still making their SGB[“small game bullet”]22LR ammo.
      To me,the 60gr Aquila is perhaps better than a 25ACP in a pocket pistol.
      A tip,if you want low recoil,load a 358 or other diameter round ball in a centerfire case.Very mild but decent diameter.

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