April 24, 2013

Phoenix HP22A .22 LR

How much does it cost to get a decent .22 "plinker," or whatever you’d like to call a .22 pistol for shooting fun in camp or on the trail? Can you get one for under $150? Or will you have to spend many hundreds of dollars? The answers may depend on your proposed use for the gun, but Gun Tests limited the use to simply having low-cost fun with a semiauto handgun, the ground was laid for the current test.

Here's what they said:

We came across a low-cost pistol at a local gun store, the Phoenix HP22A ($140 locally) and could not believe it would be any kind of performer, our opinion being based largely on its extremely low price.

Here’s what we found.

Phoenix HP22A .22 LR, $140

Inside the cardboard box we found a compact, comfortable, good-looking little pistol with enough heft and size to give it a reasonable feel. It came with a comprehensive owner’s manual, and because the operations of the gun were different from what we’re used to, our first step was to read that manual. Part of it bears repeating: "Do not put ammunition into this pistol… until you fully understand all [its] functions…." We recommend all Phoenix buyers follow that advice not because the gun is dangerous, but because doing so will avoid frustration along the way.

The frame, slide, and barrel housing of the single-action Phoenix are made of non-magnetic material, presumably zinc castings, but with steel inserts at appropriate locations, such as within the barrel, on the breech face, and where the slide presses against the hammer to cock it during ejection. Most internal parts are steel. Before you reject this gun out of hand, note that this is a similar concept to putting steel inserts into plastic guns, as done by Glock, Ruger H&K, and a host of others. Is plastic stronger than zinc alloy?

Gun Tests June 2007

This little .22 was a big surprise to us. It had a local cost of $140, and we frankly didn't expect much out of it. But when it equaled or beat the accuracy and reliability of guns costing four times as much, it got our attention.

The sight picture was exceptionally good. The squared front blade was serrated or notched to cut glare, and the rear blade had adequate width to its notch to let the sights work well and quickly. A detented screw gave windage adjustment to the rear blade. However, the gun was perfectly sighted, and we moved the blade only to get a feel for how it worked. The finish was black paint, and the grip panels were checkered plastic. There was a vented rib along the top of the gun. The external hammer was easily cocked. The slide had good serrations that made it easy to operate.

There were what appeared to be two safeties. However, the one on the slide, with its red dot, was only a firing-pin block. For most of our shooting we put it into the firing position and ignored it. The real safety was at the top of the left grip panel, and operated almost normally. When it was in the Fire position, you could not remove the magazine. Press it up to Safe, and the ten-round mag drops free. This safety button could also be used to lock the slide back, though that didn’t happen when the magazine ran empty. With the button in Safe, you could not rack the slide fully, but could check the chamber easily. Neither could you cock the hammer, nor drop it, with that button shoved upward. Once all the operations were fully understood, they all made perfect sense and became second nature to us. Our test shooters did not do any fumbling with the gun once its operations were all made clear. The instructions for the Phoenix recommended only standard-velocity ammunition. We chose to follow that recommendation with one exception. We tested all three guns with three standard-velocity loads, Remington Rifle Target, Federal Match, CCI Pistol Match, and the high-velocity exception, Winchester Super-X Power Point hollow points.

Gun Tests June 2007

The arrow points to the only safety we used, and it's in the safe position. In this position the magazine can be dropped, but the slide can't be withdrawn fully. The upper lever, on the slide near the rear sight, is a firing pin block, which is occasionally useful. The buyer must read the manual before loading this gun.

On the range we found it quite easy to load the first seven shots into the ten-round magazine, easier even than the Beretta. However, we had to work hard to get in the last three rounds. In fact, we noticed a bit of stickiness chambering the first round from a full magazine. We’d load only eight or nine rounds if we owned the Phoenix, and our fingers would thank us. The Phoenix went right to work. The sights were on the money, and the little gun made decent groups dead center at 15 yards. In the course of our testing, the groups seemed to be getting smaller. The trigger pull was clean, reasonably light, and gave good control. The rounds all fed, right from the start, just like they were supposed to. In all our limited testing we had no failures to feed, fire, or eject, other than having the help the slide go forward on occasion with ten rounds in the mag.

Gun Tests June 2007

The arrow points to the detented screw that slides the rear sight for windage. Note the protective ears. The sights were right on the money.

Takedown was very easy, though reassembly was not quite so easy. The manual had excellent reassembly instructions. We had a harder time putting the Beretta back together.

Gun Tests Report Card: With such a low price here, we expected many problems with this pistol. We had exactly none. We came to love the Phoenix. For only $140 locally priced, you get a compact, quite accurate, well-fitted, adjustable-sighted (windage) pocketable, use little .22 auto that has a very good trigger and some innovative features that got our attention. It has a lifetime warranty!