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New Kit-Gun Revolvers from Charter Arms, S&W, Heritage

A Kit Gun, by definition, is a small-frame revolver that is packed up with rest of the kit when fishing, hiking, camping, hunting, or some other outdoor pursuit are being planned. The intention of the Kit Gun is to deal with pesky varmints raiding your cooler or a coiled viper in the middle of a foot trail that refuses to move. They also help decide bragging rights around the campfire after a session of plinking empty soda cans. These revolvers have been called Kit Guns since after WWI, but S&W was the first to use the name in 1935 on the 22/32 Kit Gun, which was built on the now-discontinued I-frame. This original Kit Gun had an adjustable rear sight, a DA/SA trigger, short barrel, and a smallish grip. Since then, the features of a Kit Gun have come to include single-action triggers, fixed sights, and snubnose-length barrels. It could be argued the semi-automatic 22 rimfire pistols have usurped the revolver's position, but that is for another test.

We took a look at three of the latest packable handguns, which included a S&W Model 317-3 Kit Gun, Charter Arms Pathfinder Lite, and Heritage Manufacturing's Small Bore single action. We were looking for a lightweight revolver that was accurate enough to shoot the head of a snake at 10 yards, had the ability to accurately fire a variety of 22 rimfire ammo, and be safe should we accidentally drop the revolver while trekking through the great outdoors.

We tested at 10 yards, which we thought was an optimum distance for these rimfires and used a variety of 22 rimfire ammo, including 22 LR with a range of bullet weights and types, 22 Short, and 22 Shot cartridges. Ammo consisted of commonly found CCI Mini Mag with a 36-grain copper-plated hollowpoint (CPHP), CCI Target 22 Short with a 29-grain lead roundnose (LRN) bullet, Browning BPR 37-grain fragmenting hollowpoints, and the hot Aguila Supermaximum loaded with a 30-grain CPHP. We also tested Federal Game-Shok Shot cartridges loaded with #12 shot. We used a rest and fired the revolvers in single-action mode to gauge accuracy. Then we let loose, plinking away in both DA and SA mode, using a two-hand hold until all the ammo was gone. Here's what we found out.

A Trio of Unusual Revolvers: Worth the Trouble and Money?

Most gun owners want firearms they can shoot and have fun with, even their life-and-death carry guns. Some of us also want the unusual because we like a walk on the wild side, irrespective of whether it has any use beyond messing around with or plinking. In this Special Report, we take a look at three wheelguns for which there are little or no match ups to find, so head-to-head testing isn't possible. But even without something to shoot beside them, we can learn plenty about whether some unique, or nearly unique, handguns are worth the time and trouble to find and add to your collection as a real, firing item.

Herewith then, we look at the Nagant M1895 7.62x38mmR, the Smith & Wesson Model 929 9mm Luger, and the Chiappa Buntline 22 LR.

2016 Guns & Gear Top Picks

Toward the end of each year, I survey the work R.K. Campbell, Roger Eckstine, Austin Miller, Robert Sadowski, David Tannahill, Tracey Taylor, John Taylor, Rafael Urista, and Ralph Winingham have done in Gun Tests, with an eye toward selecting guns, accessories, and ammunition the magazine's testers have endorsed. From these evaluations I pick the best from a full year's worth of tests and distill recommendations for readers, who often use them as shopping guides. These choices are a mixture of our original tests and other information I've compiled during the year. After we roll high-rated test products into long-term testing, I keep tabs on how those guns do, and if the firearms and accessories continue performing well, then I have confidence including them in this wrap-up.

Ruger LCRx 5435 22 LR

GUN TESTS GRADE: B+ $470 The LCRx has a distinct modern look to it. The LCRx is lighter and has less capacity than the other revolvers...

Taurus 992 Tracker 2-992049 22 LR/22 WMR

GUN TESTS GRADE: A (BEST BUY) $489 The 992 Tracker debuted in 2011 and offers a unique feature for a DA/SA revolver. It has a quick-swap...

Smith & Wesson Model 617-6 160584 22 LR

GUN TESTS GRADE: A (OUR PICK) $725 The Model 617, this in its 6th design iteration, hence the “-6” in the model number, is an expensive...

A Pair of Collectible Long-Barrel 22 Magnums from S&W, Colt

In 1959 Winchester unveiled its latest brainchild, the 22 WMR cartridge. The debut of the new rimfire excited shooters since it pushed a 40-grain bullet at a velocity of 2,000 fps. A similarly size 40-grain bullet from a 22 LR at the time had a velocity of about 1,200 fps. With more speed also came good accuracy. For larger varmints like fox, raccoon, and coyote, the 22 WMR was a good choice if used at short to medium range. Plus the 22 WMR had minimal recoil and cartridges cost less than any 22 centerfire ammo.

A few months after the cartridge debuted, Smith & Wesson had a revolver chambered for it and named it the Model 48. The transition to the new round was easy for S&W since they were already manufacturing the K-22 Masterpiece chambered in 22 Long Rifle. Colt was a little behind the curve, but it did chamber the round in fewer than 1,000 of the Officer's Model Match revolvers and a very few Colt Diamondback revolvers. It wasn't until the debut of the Trooper MK III that Colt took the cartridge more seriously.

Many of our testers have experience with the round in rifles, revolvers, derringers and semi-automatic pistols. We wanted to determine what would be a good double-action revolver platform for the 22 WMR, and so we acquired two previously untested firearms, a S&W Model 48-2 and a Colt Trooper MK III, both with long 8-inch barrels. The S&W graded about 90-85% and the Colt 95-90%. These were two lovely blued revolvers with wood grips. They had obviously not been fired often, but we still went through our battery of pre-range testing of the cylinder-to-frame headspace, cylinder-to-barrel tolerance and the alignment of the chambers with the bore, using gauges from Brownells.com. All checked out fine, with the Model 48-2 cylinder gap measuring 0.002 inch and the Trooper MK III gap measuring 0.003 inch. There was no wiggle nor play in either cylinder, and they locked up tight. The screw heads on both guns also looked like they have not seen a screwdriver since the factory. These were sharp-looking revolvers in excellent condition. In doing research prior to the purchase, we collected prices for these firearms on the used market, and those price ranges are reflected in what dollar amounts we cite below:

22 Buntlines: Heritage Rough Rider and Ruger NM Single-Six

A Buntline is commonly known as a Single Action Army (SAA) revolver with a barrel of 12 inches or more. They are mostly associated with Wyatt Earp of the gunfight at O.K. Corral fame and Ned Buntline, where the revolver gets its name. Buntline was a dime novelist who penned Western sagas about cowboys, outlaws, and other gunfighters. It is agreed that much of Buntlines writing was more fiction than fact, so if Ned could take some poetic license, so did we calling these long-barrel rimfires Buntlines. The Heritage Manufacturing Rough Rider and Ruger New Model Single-Six Convertible are scaled down Buntlines with 9-inch barrels - the Ruger actually has a 9.5-inch barrel. After the team stopped yukking it up about the odd-looking long-barreled revolvers and saying things like: You need to tie a red warning flag to the end of the barrel or You need to move the target out a few more yards, the muzzle keeps hitting it or Were going to need a longer range rod, we all got back to our senses and found a lot to like in these long-barreled rimfires.

Both revolvers are blued, single action and came with two cylinders, one for 22 LR and one for 22 WMR. One thing to be aware of with a 22 rimfire convertible revolver is that the bore diameter for a 22 LR and a 22 WMR are different. Nominal dimensions are .220 for the 22 WMR, and .217 for 22 LR. Generally speaking, the 22 LR is more accurate than the 22 WMR, and there tends to be more consistent velocity and pressure on the LR rounds.

Single-Action 22 LR/22 WMR Duel: New Frontier v. Single Six

In this installment we once more pit a classic pistol that is in high demand by collectors and shooters alike against a plain-vanilla readily available modern handgun. The Colt New Frontier single-action 22-caliber revolver commands a premium at gun shows, yet the revolver is similar to the affordable Ruger Single Six. Which one is the better performer? There is an interesting slant to the tale.The Ruger is actually the classic and the Colt the upstart, in one manner of thinking. The Ruger was introduced in 1953, and while the type has undergone various refinements, the modern Ruger would be instantly recognizable to anyone purchasing the Single Six 22 some 58 years ago. The Colt New Frontier was introduced in 1970 and discontinued in 1977, although there was a short run a few years later. The Ruger was modified to accept a spare cylinder in 22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire after the 22 Magnum was introduced, a step followed by Colt. In this test, both of our handguns featured the interchangeable Magnum cylinder, which is an important advantage in a small-game hunting revolver.

Affordable 22 LR Revolvers: S&Ws Air Lite Redeems Itself

As the cost of centerfire ammunition continues to ascend, many gun owners will turn to the standby 22 LR round as a way to shoot economically, whether those pursuits include knocking over cans, punching holes in paper, or killing the occasional rodent. Of the many available guns chambered for the rimfire round, perhaps the easiest to load and shoot and enjoy is the revolver.We recently tested a trio of wheelguns chambered for the 22 round, and versions of two of them have previously been tested and graded for their utility. For example, just over a year ago (October 2007), we shot the Taurus Model 94SS4, $406. That stainless-steel gun with a 4-inch barrel got a B-, mainly because it was too heavy to be considered as a trail gun. We also said back then, "But the Taurus is a great deal less costly, so if you dont mind its weight and if you can do without extreme accuracy, it might be right for you. It looked great, performed quite well, and was easier to load and unload."We were more enthusiastic about a Taurus Model 94B2UL Ultra-Lite Nine, $375, reviewed in March 2006. We said of that gun, rated a Best Buy: "…All in all, the Taurus doesnt need a lot to make it into one of the finest 22 revolvers weve seen. As we found it, it worked well, and the price was modest."In that same issue, there were two Smith & Wessons reviewed. The 4-inch S&W Model 317-2 HIVIZ No. 160221, $691, earned a Conditional Buy because "…We liked this gun in every respect but for its trick sights. Wed throw them as far as we could, as fast as we could, if we owned this gun, and put on a black or red front post and a square-notch rear as fast as you can say HIVIZ." Next, the S&W Model 317-2 Air Lite No. 160222, $633, received a Dont Buy rating, with our staff saying, "There was nothing whatsoever wrong with this gun, and some readers might have a desperate need for it, and theyll buy it no matter what we say. …We would not buy this gun as long as its adjustable-sighted brother [the HIVIZ unit] was available, unless we had a great need for the smallest, lightest 22 revolver for some special close-range purpose."With that background in mind, we acquired a 22 revolver we havent tested, a Charter Arms Pathfinder No. 72224, a 2-inch-barrel stainless gun that MSRPs for $350. The 6-shooter weighs in at 21 ounces, more than the lightweight aluminum-alloy-frame Smiths and about the same as the Tauruses weve tested. The Pathfinder comes with a Patridge front sight, square-notch rear sight, and full rubber grips.Since we had previous reviews of what are the equivalent of guns rated D or F, (the Dont Buy-rated S&W Model 317-2 Air Lite No. 160222) and what would be an A- or A gun (the Best Buy-rated Taurus Model 94B2UL Ultra-Lite Nine), we went to Fountain Firearms in Houston (fountainfirearms.com) and got fresh samples of those two and pitted them against the Charter, bracketing it. Would the Charter hold its own against the top-ranked Taurus? Would the Pathfinder navigate our tough testing protocol and again leave the Air Lite in the cellar? Extensive shooting would establish the Charters proper place in the established Gun Tests hierarchy, or so we thought.

Affordable 22 LR Revolvers: S&Ws Air Lite Redeems Itself

As the cost of centerfire ammunition continues to ascend, many gun owners will turn to the standby 22 LR round as a way to shoot economically, whether those pursuits include knocking over cans, punching holes in paper, or killing the occasional rodent. Of the many available guns chambered for the rimfire round, perhaps the easiest to load and shoot and enjoy is the revolver.We recently tested a trio of wheelguns chambered for the 22 round, and versions of two of them have previously been tested and graded for their utility. For example, just over a year ago (October 2007), we shot the Taurus Model 94SS4, $406. That stainless-steel gun with a 4-inch barrel got a B-, mainly because it was too heavy to be considered as a trail gun. We also said back then, "But the Taurus is a great deal less costly, so if you dont mind its weight and if you can do without extreme accuracy, it might be right for you. It looked great, performed quite well, and was easier to load and unload."We were more enthusiastic about a Taurus Model 94B2UL Ultra-Lite Nine, $375, reviewed in March 2006. We said of that gun, rated a Best Buy: "…All in all, the Taurus doesnt need a lot to make it into one of the finest 22 revolvers weve seen. As we found it, it worked well, and the price was modest."In that same issue, there were two Smith & Wessons reviewed. The 4-inch S&W Model 317-2 HIVIZ No. 160221, $691, earned a Conditional Buy because "…We liked this gun in every respect but for its trick sights. Wed throw them as far as we could, as fast as we could, if we owned this gun, and put on a black or red front post and a square-notch rear as fast as you can say HIVIZ." Next, the S&W Model 317-2 Air Lite No. 160222, $633, received a Dont Buy rating, with our staff saying, "There was nothing whatsoever wrong with this gun, and some readers might have a desperate need for it, and theyll buy it no matter what we say. …We would not buy this gun as long as its adjustable-sighted brother [the HIVIZ unit] was available, unless we had a great need for the smallest, lightest 22 revolver for some special close-range purpose."With that background in mind, we acquired a 22 revolver we havent tested, a Charter Arms Pathfinder No. 72224, a 2-inch-barrel stainless gun that MSRPs for $350. The 6-shooter weighs in at 21 ounces, more than the lightweight aluminum-alloy-frame Smiths and about the same as the Tauruses weve tested. The Pathfinder comes with a Patridge front sight, square-notch rear sight, and full rubber grips.Since we had previous reviews of what are the equivalent of guns rated D or F, (the Dont Buy-rated S&W Model 317-2 Air Lite No. 160222) and what would be an A- or A gun (the Best Buy-rated Taurus Model 94B2UL Ultra-Lite Nine), we went to Fountain Firearms in Houston (fountainfirearms.com) and got fresh samples of those two and pitted them against the Charter, bracketing it. Would the Charter hold its own against the top-ranked Taurus? Would the Pathfinder navigate our tough testing protocol and again leave the Air Lite in the cellar? Extensive shooting would establish the Charters proper place in the established Gun Tests hierarchy, or so we thought.

More .22 Revolvers for the Trail: S&W AirLite Still Our Choice

In our ongoing search for the best .22 handgun for the trail, wherever that trail may take us, weve looked at a bunch of .22 handguns and have rejected quite a few. This time we mix the single-action stainless Bearcat from Ruger ($480) with a DA Model 94SS4 from Taurus ($406), and take a look back at one of our earlier test guns from March 2006, the eight-shot S&W AirLite Model 317 ($735) with "HIVIZ" sights. Below, we recap the earlier results from the AirLite first, add long-term results weve gleaned about it since our original test, and then mix in facts and opinions about the other two guns to produce grades for the Ruger and Taurus guns.

Joe Biden’s Gun Plan

Hey, at Gun Tests, we like our politicians to like guns. We don’t dig pols who want to restrict 2nd Amendment rights, aka infringe...