By Bob Campbell,
When making a handgun purchase there are many factors to consider. Size, weight, power and accuracy are important considerations. The intended use is especially important.
For real utility and overall usefulness the handgun at the top of the list should be a .22 caliber handgun. The .22 is secondary to a powerful center fire for personal defense, but not for practice and You Really Need A .22 in building marksmanship skills.
If the .22 caliber handgun operates in a similar manner to the centerfire defense handgun that is a plus, but not completely necessary. Learning to control the handgun and fire accurately goes much more smoothly with the .22 caliber handgun. There are .22 caliber versions of center fire handgun that are accurate and offer good service. The trigger action, safety and controls are similar to the centerfire handgun and this makes for good commonality in training. But as long as the revolver shooter uses a .22 revolver and the person carrying a centerfire self-loader practices with a .22 caliber self-loader, the practice sessions are viable. In other words, the understudy need not be a doppelganger.
Practice time is essential and the .22 caliber handguns allow practice without the presence of excess recoil flash and blast. You may concentrate on trigger press, sight alignment and sight picture.
As an example a good training schedule might be 200 rounds a month with the .22 and 50 rounds with the 9mm or .38 defense handgun. It isn’t intended to take the place of practice with the centerfire handgun but to supplement the larger calibers.
When using the .22 you will experience failures to fire and more malfunctions than with the centerfire, although this varies with different types of ammunition and handguns. This is simply the nature of rimfire construction. The priming compound is applied to the cartridge case rim and crushed and ignited by the firing pin. The heel based bullet pressed into the cartridge case rather than being crimped in. This is why the .32, .38 and .44 rimfire cartridges were abandoned for service use so long ago. The centerfire primer and a bullet crimped into the cartridge case is much more reliable.
So, the .22 isn’t ideal for personal defense based both on reliability and wound potential. But the caliber offers excellent
training and during the course of this training you will experience and clear malfunctions. You will also have to clean and lubricate the .22 more often to keep it running acceptably. If the centerfire handgun malfunctions at any time past a modest break-in period then you need to get to the bottom of the malfunctions quickly. It may be shooter related and it may be the handgun. With the .22, malfunctions occur occasionally and are simply par for the course. Don’t avoid the .22 for this reason.
On the flip side I recently tested four .22 caliber handguns and fired some 1,600 rounds of CCI, Federal, Fiocchi and Winchester ammunition. There were no malfunctions of any type with these Ruger and Smith & Wesson handguns. This is exceptional but with proper maintenance not out of the question.
There are conversion units including a slide, barrel, recoil spring assembly and magazine that convert the centerfire handgun to .22 caliber operation. This is OK as far as it goes. The Sig, Kimber and CZ variants are excellent
However, I like to practice with the .22 and sometimes carry the centerfire while practicing with the .22. The conversions are about as expensive as a dedicated .22 caliber handgun. Some strongly prefer the conversions for commonality of grip and trigger action. I use both but tend to use the .22 handgun more than the conversions.
There are uses for the .22 caliber handgun other than personal defense practice. Among these is informal target shooting and small game hunting and pest control. The .22 is decisive on small game to perhaps fifteen pounds and has anchored much larger game.
I occasionally carry a .22 when hiking and scouting. The Ruger MKIII is among the most accurate and reliable of modern .22s and rides easily on the belt. The most likely threat in these areas is a reptile. If I have a need to use the .22 for foraging it is deadly on small game such as the plentiful squirrel. If injured and reduced to foraging I doubt larger game would be a consideration. Also, if this is part of your plan, be certain to have a skinning knife along and a means of starting a cooking fire.
The .22 isn’t at the top of my list for personal defense but the Ruger MKIII is easy to use well and accurate. Sending high velocity hollow point bullets into the adversary’s cranio-ocular region would serve. The Ruger MKIII standard model is lighter than the heavy barrel target versions and about as accurate in practical terms in offhand fire.
An equally reliable and accurate handgun is the Colt Woodsman, long out of production but a wonderful field gun. The Smith & Wesson Victory .22 and the Browning Buckmark are also good handguns. I also use a Colt Ace .22 that fits 1911 holsters nicely. The modern Sig 1911 22 and the Colt Government .22 are good choices with acceptable accuracy potential.
In revolvers the double-action swing-out cylinder .22 is a good understudy for the centerfire revolver. The two-inch barrel versions seem very popular; however, the four-inch barrel revolver with its long sight radius is much more accurate and easy to use well for practical shooting, especially for beginners. The Ruger SP 101 is an excellent choice among double-action revolvers.
While .22s are great handguns for recreational use and small game, if the .22 is a dedicated trainer then there are criteria that may be stressed. Treat the .22 the same as the centerfire handgun when you drill. Fire, recover from recoil, and allow the trigger to reset just the same as you do with a center fire handgun. It is easy to become quite smart and fast with the .22, and quickly. But that is part of the game if it is just a game. If practicing for personal defense with the .22 then be certain your practice is completely viable and relevant as compared to the centerfire, versus practicing with the .22 alone.
Grip the .22 just as tightly as you grip the harder-kicking 9mm or .38 or .45, whatever you carry. Naturally if the .22 is your only firearm these rules may not apply. Do not go faster with the .22 than you are able with the 9mm
As an example, if you are able to draw and fire and get a center hit with either in 1.5 seconds, practice with the .22 pays off. If you draw and fire at a target at 7 yards and stitch the target with ten rounds in the same time it takes to make four or five hits with the 9mm.
need to slow down with the .22. Make practice time with the .22 viable. Once you reach a certain level of competency with the .22 you will never equal this with the 9mm because of recoil. Don’t be discouraged, be all you can be, but keep .22 practice relevant.