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The world's greatest handgun cartridge.

I've long since lost count of the number of people who have asked me, "What kind of pistol should I buy?" I have to answer with another question, "What do you intend to do with it?" They usually respond, "Oh, plink and target practice a little. Carry it along on hiking, fishing and hunting trips. Hunt small game. And keep it around the house for protection." That's a lot of ground for any one handgun to cover. But, on balance, I believe a quality .22 rimfire best fills the bill!

Revolvers and autoloaders chambered for the .22 rimfire are generally far less costly than similar centerfire handguns. The .22 rimfire gives away nothing in terms of accuracy. And with the wide range of .22 ammo available, from .22 CB Caps to hyper-velocity .22 Long Rifles, you can just about choose any desired results at the receiving end. There are many things that a .22 Long Rifle handgun can do better than a .44 Magnum. Megaton terminal impact isn't always an asset. Caved-in cardrums and a bruished palm are often the most poignant memories of a session with a massive magnum. Shooters unaccustomed to the brutal recoil of a .44 or .41 Magnum, or even a .357, could be better served by a mild-mannered, soft-spoken .22 rimfire for about 90 percent of their time on the firing line or in the field.

A .22 Long Rifle pistol is clearly the premier plinker. You can enjoy a protracted plinking session without mortgaging your home, or spending long hours at the reloading bench. Rimfire .22 LR ammo isn't burdensome. A couple of boxes dumped into a coat pocket can provide hours of fun. The reduced recoil and minimal muzzle blast of the .22 handgun encourages care-free plinking at random targets. Virtually any reasonably accurate handgun will do, be it a single or double-action revolver, or a semi-automatic.

Targets are numbered only by the limits of your own imagination. A variety of exploding objects, such as inexpensive clay pigeons, Necco candy wafers, over-ripe tomatoes, oranges, squash, etc. from the local market, make interesting targets. Small fry can stalk animal crackers as earnestly as real lions and tigers! Soft drink cans still qualify for the reclamation bin, even after you shoot them to shreds. And the only thoughtful thing to do is to carry them out with you rather than litter the outdoors.

Plinking at paper targets is far more entertaining if you use colorful life-sized images of squirrels, foxes, bobcats, and even deer, made and marketed by Outers. Outers makes a practical target carrier as well, consisting of a sturdy steel verticle post, sharpened to plus easily into the ground, flanked by four flat steel arms. Plastic clips are provided to stretch the targets between the arms. The arms unhinge to stow along with the center post in the handy two-foot-long plastic case provided. You can gain a better appreciation for the newly popular game of pistol silhouette shooting, by plinking at Outers' new one-fifth scale blck silhouettes of chickens, javelina, turkeys, and rams, printed in rows of five images each on heavyweight paper.

Actual pistol silhouette competition is little more than post-grad plinking, firing at steel effigies of wild chickens, pigs, turkeys, and sheep, set up in rows of five each, at ranges of 25, 50, 75, and 100 meters, respectively. The course is fired twice, for a total of 40 rounds. Each of the steel cut-outs must be knocked from its perch--in exact order-to count as a hit. Some target ranges have a maximum range of 100 yards, or 9.6 meters. International Handgun Metallic Silhouette Association (IHMSA) and NRA rules both provide for registered competition at reduced ranges--given small scale targets. Target Masters, Dept. GA, 9847 Glenoaks Blvd., Sun Valley, CA 91352, markets three-eights scale silhouettes which can be fired in official matches at 25, 50, 75, and 100 yards, instead of meters.

Successfully mastering silhouette calls for more sophisticated equipment than does mere plinking. Rules preclude the use of a .22 WMR handgun, or the use of hot-loaded .22 Long Rifles, such as CCI Stingers, Federal Spitfires, Remington Yellow Jackets and Vipers, or Winchester's new Super Max ammo. Most competitors opt for standard velocity ammo in any case, because it has ample energy to send the steel cutouts cartwheeling, and is usually more accurate. Utmost accuracy is the prime requirement of any handgun chosen for silhouette shooting. Almost as important is target adjustable sights, free from blacklash, because of the elevation adjustment is changed as each successive range is fired.

A mainstay of .22 rimfire handgun silhouette shooting is the tip-up single-shot Thompson/Center Contender pistol, available with a tack-driving, button-rifled, 10-inch bull barrel, which qualifies under IHMSA rules as a cataloged "production" gun, competing on even terms with other out-of-the-box pistols. Equipped with the interchangeable .22 Long Rifle 14-inch bull barrel, the T/C Contender-becomes an "unlimited" pistol, successfully competing on equal terms with costly custom guns.

In response to the demands of silhouette shooters, Thompson/Center has immensely improved the Contender in the past several years, dividing the locking bolt into independently locking halves, and beefing up the coil spring for a more secure lockup, greatly improving accuracy. They revised the leverage of the squeeze-to-open trigger guard for a softer release, and made the already-crisp trigger even more brittle and easy to adjust for zero takeup and backlash. Also silhouette-inspired was the new undercut Patridge front blade and finely adjustable deep-notched rear blade. The visible-hammer, manual-cocking pistol had built-in safeties in abundance, but even so, they added a manual safety button to the hammer for good measure.

The T/C Contender can switch barrels in a matter of minutes. Coupled with dual frame-mounted firing pins, that ability allows it to handle a multitude of barrels, chambered for cartridges ranging from the .22 WMR to .30-30 Winchester.

Another single-shot tip-up pistol that shares this rare asset is the Merrill Sportsman, manufactured by Jim Rock of Rock Pistol Manufacturing, Fullerton, California. A production line, semi-custom gun, the Merrill features crisp adjustable trigger, target sights, ambidextrous thumb shelf and "dead man's" safety, that locks when pressure is released. Jim is well acquainted with the needs of pistol silhouette shooters, being an inveterate competitor himself. His lovely daughter, Dana, is herself a perennial champion.

Ruger rimfire revolvers are also often encountered on the silhouette firing lines. Bill Ruger tailored his 9-1/2-inch barreled New Model Single-Six to the requirements of silhouette shooters, with Patridge blade front sight, backed by a micrometer-adjustable square-notched rear.

Created in the image of the pioneer days Peacemaker, the Ruger Single Six revived the single-action revolver after it was declared dead and buried after World War II. Introduced in 1973, the revised New Model Single Six utilizes a transfer bar to carry the impact of the hammer to the frame-mounted firing pin, allowing you to carry six live rounds in the cylinder without fear of accidental discharge should the gun be dropped on a hard surface, hammer down.

The Ruger Single Six is also available with 4-5/8, 5-1/2, and 6-1/2-inch barrels. The 6-1/2-inch lengh makes a viable silhouette gun, sacrificing little velocity or aiming precision, and doubles as a fine field companion, as well! With the alternate .22 WMR cylinder included with every gun, it becomes a formidable hunting handgun.

Autoloader fans may prefer a full-bore target pistol, such as the Smith & Wesson Model 41, to afford the high degree of accuracy required to become a serious competitor in silhouette. It also boasts a crisp, fully adjustable target trigger and checkered walnut stocks with ambidextrous thumb shelves. With a 7-inch heavy barrel, it affords the muzzle heft to dampen those inevitable tremors that make 100-meter rams so elusive. The sharply-defined undercut Patridge post front sight and micrometer click adjustable rear complete with picture.

Smith & Wesson recently made the Model 41 immensely more versatile by offering an interchangeable Field Barrel, with red-insert sloping ramp front sight, and rugged field-style adjustable rear sight. The ever-popular Smith & Wesson Model 17 K-22 Masterpiece, with 8-1/8-inch barrel topped by target sights, is also an excellent choice for silhouette shooting.

For many, formal NRA National Match target shooting hasn't lost its lure. With an accurate .22 Long Rifle pistol, you can stand elbow-to-elbow with the top guns across the nation, and give a good account of yourself--enjoying the cameraderie. If you don't wish to, you need never enter the centerfire phases at all.

A budget-priced pistol that can hold its own on any firing line is the autoloading Ruger Mark II Target Model, with 6-7/8-inch button-rifled tapered barrel, topped with target adjustable sights. Optional barrel lengths include a 5-1/2-inch bull barrel which doubles well as a field pistol, and a 10-inch slightly-tapered barrel aimed at silhouette competition. Ruger recently revised the auto, with a new 10-round magazine in place of the old nine-shot version and a bolt stop.

A somewhat larger investment can net you a High Standard Victor autoloading pistol, among the top-ranking target guns made in the United States today, with 5-1/2-inch heavy barrel, topped by a full-length ventilated rib, holding some of the finest O.E.M. target sights made. A detachable muzzle weight is included. The wide, serrated target trigger is fully adjustable and crisp. Checkered walnut grips are available with thumb shelf for either right of left hand. A .22 Short conversion kit is available including barrel complete with rib and sights, slide, and two magazines, for use in International Rapid Fire competition.

For those of you who prefer to shoot from a carpet of pine needles rather than a concrete slab, there is a wide array of .22 rimfire handguns, any one of which can become your best friend on the trail. The above-mentioned Ruger new Model Single Six is available in corrosion-resistant stainless steel, making it virtually impervious to the ravages of weather. The stainless Single Six can be had in all four barrel lengths, but bearing in mind that it will be holstered at the hip for many arduous hours for every one spent in actual use, it pays to compromise on a nominal 5-1/2-inch barrel.

The importance of a comfortable, secure holster can hardly be over-stressed. An excellent choice for frontier-styled revolvers is the Safariland Model 43, lined with elk suede, and featuring the exclusive Safariland "Sight Track," which resists that assaults blades that can cut an ordinary holster in half. The Safariland Model 73 Cartridge Pouch easily holds several boxes of .22 ammo, and swivels to dump cartridges smootly into the palm of the hand, as they are required.

Whether touring the wilderness or horseback, by four-wheel drive, or just shank's mare, your .22 rimfire holster-handy handgun can afford entertainment by way of casually potting pine cones, augmenting your limited larder with rabbits, squirrels, etc., and preventing pack rats, porcupines, and assorted other vermin from raiding the rest. Should you somehow take a wrong turn and end up temporarily misplaced, a .22 rimfire handgun can comfort and sustain you--even provide a reasonable level of protection in the event that you encounter marauding wild animals.

I long ago gave up lugging a .44 Magnum revolver along on big-game hunts. The rationale is apparent on the face of it. If I can't bag my game with a centerfire rifle, what chance have I of bringing it down with a big-bore handgun? A big-bore handgun isn't even a good instrument for delivering a coupe de grace. Fired into the head, it may well ruin your mount. Fired into the body, it's often inadequate. On the other hand, a .22 Long Rifle High velocity solid point delivered behing the ear usually ends all activity with no harm to the cape.

Because I'm usually overburdened with camera gear when hunting, I resent even more any added bulk or weight. For that reason, one of my favorite backup handguns is the time-proven Smith & Wesson .22/32 Kit Gun--one of the first produced following WWII, with Baughman sloping front sight and fully-adjustable rear blade. Addition of Pachmayr neoprene Presentation Compac grips made the gun far more controllable without addin greatly to its size. In recent years, Smith & Wesson sagely began producing the Kit Gun in stainless steel, making it even more an ideal trail companion.

Other fine double-action revolvers in the kit gun category are the Charter Arms Pathfinder with a 3-inch barrel, available in blued steel or stainless, and the 4-inch barreled High Standard Sentinel, with round butt, checkered walnut grips, and .22 WMR fitted spare cylinder. Both boast micrometer adjustable sights and ample accuracy to make the best use of them.

It's a short step from packing a pistol on the trail to consciously hunting with it. In general, you can hunt any small game with a .22 pistol that you can hunt with assurance using a rimfire rifle, except perhaps at somewhat closer range. The range limitation is imposed by the greater difficulty of hitting with a handgun, plus an inevitable loss in velocity resulting from the shorter barrel, and the pressure loss between the cylinder and barrel gap when using a revolver.

You should shoot at no animal beyond the distance at which you can reliably place your bullet well within its vital zone, ahead of the diaphram, in the head or chest. Shots below the belt usually result in a lingering, painful death--something to be avoided at all costs! A valid rule of thumb would reduce rifle range by one-third when using a pistol. Thus such animals as rabbits, squirrels, and woodchucks, that are generally taken with a rifle at a maximum range of 100 yards, would be fair game for a skilled pistol shot at 66 yards. Medium-sized predators, such as foxes and bobcats, should be attempted no farther away than 50 years. And the tough, tenacius coyote is stretching it even at a sure-fire distance of no more than 35 yards.

Whatever the distance, choose your aiming point as carefully on such vermin as a ground squirrel or chuck, as you would on a mule deer or whitetail. Resist the temptation to just blaze away at the whole animal. This inclination is most compelling with an autoloading pistol, because quick follow-up shots come so fast and easily. For the sake of humane kills, just pretend that you're shooting a single shot.

Hunters should always test the grouping ability of themselves and their guns on the target range before going afield. Fire from the same positions you expect to use in the field--offhand, sitting and kneeling, plus two-handed across sandbags--to simulate those rare occasions when nature provides a downed tree, rock, or other natural rest. Realistically, you shouldn't shoot at animals any farther away than you can reliably direct a 3-inch cone of fire. You may discover that you're a better shot than you thought. However, remember that the excitement of hunting may cause some extra wobbles.

If you're to supply a stew pot with squirrels, don't feed your pistol anything more destructive than .22 Long Rifle Winchester Super-X Dynapoints, which according to my highly reliable Oehler Model 33 Chronotach exit the slick, button-rifled bore of my 6-1/2-inch bull-barreled AMT Lightning autoloading pistol at a respectable 1,153 feet per second (fps). A rifle only gets about 10 fps more. In a Ruger revolver, that only slips slightly, to 1,128 fps. Dimple-pointed 40-grain Dynapoint bullets have the happy facility of expanding to dime diameter without blowing the tiny beasts to smithereens. Through the shoulders, they'll anchor any medium-sized rabbit without ruining it for eating.

For anything from our sinewy Western jack rabbits on up to hard-to-stop coyotes, I recommend using one of the ultra-high velocity .22 Long Rifle cartridges such as Federal's Spitfires, Remington's hollow point Yellow Jackets and solid point Vipers, or Winchester's new Super Max, CCI Stingers started it all. They remain the fastest and certainly among the most accurate. From the AMT Lighting, they tached a formidable 1,326 fps! The far more expensive .22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire, WMR, ammo only gets 1,480 fps from a handgun. In fairness, it should be mentioned that the .22 WMR packs a greater contrast in foot pounds, because it delivers a 40-grain hollow point, rather the 33-grain Penta-Point of the Stinger. However, the explosiveness of the Penta-Point just about offsets that advantage.

A handy distance to sight in at is 50 yards. For all practical purposes, you can hold dead-on from the muzzle to the theoretical maximum range of 66 yards. With the ramped 1/8-inch Patridge post and Micro target adjustable rear sights zeroed at 50 yards, the Lighting groups about 3/4-inch high at 25 yards, and approximately an inch low at 66.

The AMT Lightning is an excellent field pistol, as well as being accurate enough to hold its own on the firing line. The tubular stainless steel receiver is milled to accept tip-off scope mounts, making it a good candidate for adding a scope sight. The Lightning features a 10-shot magazine, a bolt stop to hold the slide back after the last shot, thumb safety button left/rear on the stainless steel frame, a wide, serrated target trigger with Allen head screw for backlash adjustment, a smooth, creepless release, a lip jutting out from the bottom of the trigger guard to facilitate two-hand holding, and finally, Pachmayr checkered black neoprene grips with handy ambidextrous thumb rests.

A durable, precision-fit hip holster for the AMT Lightning is Uncle Mike's padded black Nylon #6, with stout webbing belt loop and snap-down safety strap. A more elegant leather holster is the Bianchi Model 89L ".22 Protector," lined with soft silicone-suede, featuring Bianchi's exclusive metal-reinforced "Sight Channel." A matching deep-molded double magazine pouch is also available.

Many autoloading pistol fans share an emotional attachment for the fine old Luger pistol of World War I fame. It has the same appeal for them that a single-action revolver does for us old Roy Rogers fans! Even as Bill Ruger rescued the single-action revolver, so did Stoeger Industries keep the Luger alive, in the form of a new all-steel .22 LR recreation of the famed toggle-action self-loader, with the same incomparable grip shape and angle. It is currently available in a beautifully-fitted and finished cased commemorative "American Eagle" edition, that makes a comedy and competent field sidearm.

One of my all-time favorite field guns, the Harrington & Richardson top-break Model 999 is also now offered in an engraved "Presentation Grade," cased with a bronze medallion. This fine gun was originally designed by a handgun engineering pioneer, the famed Walter Roper. New from H&R is their swing-out cylinder, heavy-barreled 600 and 900 series, with full-length ribs, grooved to accept tip-off mounted scopes, such as their own 3x20mm M-435.

For personal defense, .22 rimfire handguns have just one thing going for them. There are more of them out there than just about anything else. And the first requirement of a defense handgun is simply that it be there when needed! If you already have a .22 Long Rifle revolver or autoloading pistol, and can't be inspired to buy something more potent, it's you that I'm talking to.

Anything you speak of defense, it implies that you're under attack, presumably in your own home, or perhaps near your RV--where, it's legal for you to have a gun. It's highly probable that your attacker(s) will be unarmed, or merely carrying a knife or blunt instrument, in which case your smallbore handgun should act as a deterrent. Failing that, it should be adequate to stop your assailant before he can harm you or your family--if you act fast enough! Before you can be justified in using brute force your opponent must pose a direct threat to you or your family's life. He must indicate with words or actions that he intends to do just that. And he must be close enough to carry out his threat. That gives you a lot to think about before you squeeze the trigger!

A surprising number of small handguns are apparently designed for defense. Among the most practical is Charter Arms' eight-shot, double-action, stainless steel autoloading Model 40 .22 Long Rifle, with open sights, burr hammer, and thumb safety on the slide. The gun is large enough to offer accuracy and easy controllability, yet small enough at 21-1/2 ounces, with a 3.3-inch barrel, for easy concealment.

Even granting that a .22 rimfire pistol or revolver isn't the ideal answer for every purpose, properly selected with a bias toward the greatet need, it is by every measure the most versatile and satisfying handgun going!
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Title Annotation:.22 long rifle and associated pistols
Author:Lachuk, John
Publication:Guns & Ammo
Date:Sep 1, 1984
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