Plinking supreme: Smith & Wesson's new .22 defines why a rimfire should accompany you on every range trip and beyond.
The very first firearm I ever purchased and shot was a Smith & Wesson SW40VE in .40 S&W. The gun is also known as a Sigma. It's a compact semi-auto that's a great budget-minded self-defense gun, but with the perspective I have now, I have a hard time imagining a worse first gun for anyone. Upon hearing this pistol was my introduction to firearms, former Firearms News editor Bob Hunnicutt said that it's a miracle that I stuck with the shooting sports because of it. That's not a knock against my Sigma, which despite some reports has been an eminently reliable pistol. It's more a criticism of my choice in firearms. But, hey, I didn't know any better and the gun was a smokin' deal. Everyone has to start somewhere, my starting point just wasn't conventional.
As a first gun, the Sigma has some drawbacks. It takes the proverbial John Deere to pull the trigger (mine measures in at 10 1/2 pounds--and that's with some tuning), and it's quite snappy in the ,40-cal chambering. But I owe my shooting and hunting hobbies--and my career--to that gun.
I was in college at the time I bought my Sigma, and the $200 or so price tag was appealing. This was back when ammo was relatively cheap, and I dumped buckets of bullets through the gun at Chuluota Sportsman's Club as I attended the University of Central Florida. Despite the gun's shortcomings, it was a gateway into the shooting sports for me. I didn't care that it recoiled hard for a newbie, and I mastered its subpar trigger throughout hundreds of rounds. I also got three roommates into shooting using that gun. Shortly after I got it, I wanted to get into shooting disciplines other than punching paper or shooting up old toilets and printers. This led me to buy my first shotgun, a Trap model Remington 1100, with which I shot dozens of rounds of trap. I then bought a Ruger 22/45 Target Model and got pretty decent at metallic silhouette. Then came the AKs, other handguns and then I got into building ARs. Not too long after that came serious rifles and deer hunting, which is my No. 1 passion to this day. All of this is thanks to what some might call a substandard autoloader. I'd beg to differ.
If I were in the market for a first firearm today, I think it would still be a Smith & Wesson. But it wouldn't be a Sigma, or the more refined M&P series. It would be something that makes a whole heckuva lot more sense, the new Victory .22.
When I did get into rimfires, my first was a Ruger 22/45 Mark III Target Model. Like the Sigma, I still have it to this day. It's a fantastic gun, and one I used to great effect in the aforementioned silhouette matches. I got it back when you could have a box of 500 rounds of .22 for less than $15.1 wish I'd kept records of how many of those boxes I put through this gun, because it'd about fill a landfill. In all those thousands of rounds, most every malfunction I experienced was due to a faulty primer rim (when priming compound doesn't get spread to evenly throughout the rim) or a gummed up magazine that left the bullets to nose-dive onto the edge of the feedramp. The gun's accuracy hasn't degraded as far as I can tell, and with good ammo it's as reliable as ever. That said, the 22/45 lacks a few of the refinements that the new Victory boasts.
Outwardly, the guns look like they were cut from the same cloth, and in a lot of respects they are. They're both semi-automatic and feed from single-column 10-round magazines. The grip angle of the Victory is a little steeper (closer to 90 degrees) than the 22/45, and I prefer the Ruger's angle as it points more naturally for me. But the grip on the Victory is more comfortable. It's rounder and fatter and offers more on which to grasp. The trigger of the Victory breaks at 3 pounds, 5 ounces, and the Ruger breaks at 3 pounds, 8 ounces. The Victory's trigger is adjustable for overtravel via a tiny Allen screw. The Victory's pull features a smooth pull that culminates in a nice clean break, whereas my Ruger's is gritty, likely a function of the decade's worth of grit and crud accumulated in it. The last point of the Ruger that I prefer is the sights. The front is a plain black blade with an adjustable squared notch serving as the rear sight. These are much more precise that what the Victory features, but the Victory's sights are more user-friendly. Those unfamiliar with handgun sights will find the Victory's fiber optic three-dot system easier to learn and use. As the model of the gun implies, the Ruger's are made specifically for knocking over metallic targets up to 100 yards. At distances like that--and even closer ranges--the Victory's fiber optic dots glow too brightly and become distracting. I found them overwhelming when shooting the Victory from the bench, but when it came time to perforate cans and moving targets, the fiber optics really shined.
When it comes to taking the guns down for maintenance, the Ruger is about as easy to service as a VW (to the uninitiated, they're nightmarish). It's overly complicated and quite irritating. The rear sight of mine shows dings from where it was grazed by a ball peen hammer as I was trying to free the takedown pin in a moment of frustration. I even broke the hinge on the frame you need to take it down, so mine will likely never be field stripped again. It's such a pain in the rear that some genius invented a takedown tool just for this gun. It's called the All-In-One Tool by the Right Tool Co. If you own one of these guns, go to Brownells' website and buy it. You'll thank me later. I hated taking down that gun so much that I simply got to the point that I wouldn't do it. Period. But I digress.
Taking down the Victory is much simpler. All it takes an Allen wrench. Underneath the barrel is a screw that secures the barrel to the triggerguard. Removing this screw allows you to pivot the barrel upward and slide it off of the frame. Brilliant. Once you've done this, you can begin something that's impossible with the Ruger, unless you employ a gunsmith: swapping the barrels. Joel Hutchcroft, Shooting Times editor, previously reviewed the Victory and put Volquartsen barrels on the Victory and tricked it out as a competition gun. You can interchange the barrels with aftermarket units or suppressor-ready ones. A threaded barrel is an option direct from S&W as well. You can also swap the rear sight for a 1913 rail that will accommodate red dot sights, which are increasingly common on pistols these days. The degree of customization you can dump into the Victory makes it the AR-15 of rimfire pistols. No doubt the aftermarket will be ramping up offerings of grips and other sights, offering a further level of customization.
To round out the nuts and bolts, the gun weighs 36 ounces unloaded, is 9.2 inches long, 1.1 inches wide, and 5.6 inches tall. With the exception of the plastic grips, the whole thing is stainless steel. The match-grade barrel is 5/4 inches long. The grip features checkering on the front and back and texturing on the side panels, all of which makes for a very inviting grip. The muzzle has a recessed target crown, which gives a finishing touch to the barrel. A recessed crown is a nice touch on a .22 pistol because it protects the muzzle from damage if the gun is dropped or jostled around in a range bag or truck. All of this adds up to an incredibly soft-shooting, sensible rimfire and bunches of fun.
If the gun looks familiar, it's because it looks similar to the now-discontinued 22A. The 22A was Smith & Wesson's budget-level .22 that was plagued with a recall and a funky mag release. The Victory is a much more refined design and has features that both casual plinkers and serious target shooters will appreciate.
The Victory is manipulated in much the same way that other popular ,22s are, with a stationary receiver and moving bolt. To' cock it, insert a loaded magazine, grasp the pistol with your shooting hand, and then pinch the serrated cocking tabs on either side of the exposed part of the bolt. Let it slam home to chamber a round. Flick the thumb safety off, and you're ready to roll. Cocking the gun can be challenging for weak-handed shooters as there it a bit of resistance at first, much like drawing a compound bow. Once the initial resistance is overcome and the hammer is cocked, it's a smooth draw the rest of the way back.
The Victory is operated via the simple blowback principle that is common among .22 firearms, meaning the force of the spent case impinging upon the bolt causes the bolt to slide rearward, ejecting the spent case upon contact with the ejector. If the magazine is not exhausted, the recoil spring brings the bolt forward again, stripping a fresh cartridge from the mag and chambering it. The receiver has a feed-ramp built into it to keep operation humming along nicely.
I took the Victory out with a stash of Eley match ammo, some paper targets and some old aluminum cans. What day at the range with a rimfire would be complete without putting holes in some cans? You might say it's my way of recycling. The Victory had one hiccup in 200 rounds and it occurred when a round took a nose-dive onto the feed ramp, jamming the forward movement of the bolt assembly. Other than that, the pistol barked away as I pulled the trigger, making cans dance with each shot. On paper, accuracy hovered around the 2-inch mark at the 25-yard line. Again, the huge, glowing fiber optic dots made precise aiming a challenge, and they'd have to go if I were going to compete with this gun. But then again I might slap a red dot on top and go that route. As an alternative, there are built-in iron rear sights on the rail that replaces the fiber optic unit, which offers a different sight picture but no adjustability.
At any rate, what can you say about an accurate, easy-to-shoot and well-made .22 that costs $409 retail? I shared my ammo stash with photographer Mike Anschuetz, and he thinks it will make the perfect pistol to get his wife into shooting. I can't help but agree. The Victory is easy to manipulate, accurate, has no recoil to speak of and is affordable. This is the stuff that first guns are made of, not eardrum-piercing .40-caliber autoloaders. The Victory will certainly accompany me to the range until my arm is twisted to send it back to Smith & Wesson. But I'd be remiss if I didn't also haul the old Sigma to the range now and then, just to stay sharp. After all, I learned pretty decent trigger control from that gun, and I have it to thank for the fact that I'm writing this today.
A SURVIVAL PISTOL, TOO?
The more you shoot it, the more the SW22 Victory .22 makes all kinds of sense. Although .22 LR ammunition can still be hard to find on shelves, shooting the .22 is affordable enough for just about anyone. Plus, it makes a lot of sense in a bug-out bag or for survival preparedness. Ammo is small and unobtrusive, it recoils and reports lightly and it's ideal for collecting small game. But back to the bag part of bug-out bag.
SOG has made knives for everyday carry (EDC) as well as specialized tools for professionals since 1986. SOG is named after the famously badass Spec Ops bunch, the MACV-SOG (Military Assistance Command, Vietnam--Studies and Observations Group), when founder Spencer Frazer faithfully reproduced the MACV-SOG's Bowie knife. Most recently, SOG has released a line of packs that are designed to be used by operators and travelers alike. I found the Prophet 33L pack to be the ideal bug-out bag for a host of reasons.
For starters, I like the fact that either of the side flaps can easily and securely hold an AR-platform rifle (shown is the ARP300M pistol from Midwest Industries) or a bolt-action rifle, like my Weatherby Vanguard. In the rounded top compartment, I stashed the Victory and spare magazine as well as a multi-tool. This could also hold sunglasses or other fragile items that need to be quickly accessible.
Inside is all kinds of MOLLE attachments and a spacious 33-liter main compartment, a spot for a hydration pouch, zippered pockets, a quick-release daisy chain and a laptop sleeve. Externally it's got an aluminum suspension system, a hip belt and grab handles all over, including one on top if you choose to carry it as a duffle bag. It's really clever and versatile and more than capable on handing everything you'd need in a grab-and-go bag. www.sogknives.com
ACCURACY Eley Target Rifle 2.09 Eley Club Xtra 1.94 * Note: Accuracy is the result of three 5-shot groups fired from a sandbag rest 25 yards from the target.