S&W M317 Air Lite No. 160222 22 LR
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.
Gun Tests recently tested a trio of wheelguns chambered for the 22 round, and versions of two of them had previously been tested and graded for their utility. For example, in October 2007, the magazine 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. They 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."
They were more enthusiastic about a Taurus Model 94B2UL Ultra-Lite Nine, $375, reviewed in March 2006. They 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, Gun Tests acquired the previously Dont Buyrated S&W Model 317-2 Air Lite No. 160222 at Fountain Firearms in Houston (www.FountainFirearms.com) for a retest.
How They Tested
The testers took the test guns to American Shooting Centers in Houston along with an Oehler 35P chronograph, plenty of Caldwell Orange Peel 8-inch Bullseye Targets, and several thousand rounds of 22 ammo from four companies. The test rounds included Remington Golden Bullet 36-gr. roundnose hollowpoints, CCI Green Tag 40-gr. solid-lead roundnoses, Federal Champion #510 40-gr. solid-lead roundnose bullets, Remington Thunderbolt 40-grain lead roundnose No. TB-22A ammo, and Wolf Match Extra 40-grain lead roundnose fodder.
The test team included two men and two women, and at the urging of the women, they shot both accuracy and timed sessions, the latter into a silhouette target. Reason: The women argued that these pistols are legitimate self-defense guns for some peoplenotably other womenwho dont want to carry a centerfire gun. They pointed out that any gun, even a rimfire, is better than no gun, and that as self-defense choices, rimfires were much easier to train with and carry, and they were more affordable. This lead to an interesting set of evaluation points that considered weight and capacity as important factors.
Both the bullseye session and the silhouette portion were shot at 10 yards. During the accuracy session they fired five-shot groups from a sandbag rest set on a wooden shooting bench. The Orange Peel targets showed bullet impacts instantly, so they had immediate feedback from the shot call to hit location. The accuracy testing took place on a bright, cloudless 80-degree day with variable winds coming mostly from 4 to 6 oclock.
On a separate day, the timed session had shooters at the line with guns at low ready, resting on top of the pistol benchabout a 55-degree downward angle. At a verbal command of "Go" from a timer directly behind the shooter, the shooter would raise the handgun and fire two shots into the center of a Law Enforcement Targets B-27S qualification silo target and two rounds into the silhouettes head. The monitor recorded the times with a stopwatch, and they rejected any shot fired after 2.5 seconds.
Each shooter fired five strings of four shots, or 20 shots, for a total of 80 rounds per gun. They counted any hit in the 8, 9, or 10 rings as a good shot in the silhouettes body, and any hit in the head as a good shot. They learned that this sequence highlighted flaws in the trigger and sights that werent seen in the accuracy portion.
Nothing of note had changed on the S&W Model 317-2 Air Lite No. 160222 over the previous two years. It held eight shots, including short black-rubber Uncle Mikes Boot Grips, and had very little steel, making it light. It used a bobbed hammer that allowed the shooter to cock it for single-action shooting, and Smiths smooth Clear Coat finish covered the exterior.
Smith achieves some of the weight savings by cutting deep cylinder flutes, shaving channels into the rear strap and bottom of the trigger guard, and using a stainless steel barrel liner inside an alloy barrel shroud. The cylinder, frame, crane, and barrel shroud were aluminum alloy. The closed gun was tight, due to lockup where the ejector rod fits into the barrel lug at its extreme forward tip and via a central locking pin at the back of the cylinder.
The sights were a serrated, sloped-ramp front post and a square notch cut into the top rear of the frame. These sights gave a good sight picture as long as they were strongly lit from above. In dim light, it was hard to separate them. And, of course, they werent adjustable.
As previously noted, the DA pull was too heavy. Some women, who might be the prime customers for this gun as a purse-or-pant carry of last resort, may not be able to squeeze a round off with one hand. For them, this gun would have to be re-sprung.
This gun shot good grips with Remington and Federal ammo. The center of impact was slightly high, and theres no easy way to fix that because the sight blade was integral with the barrel shroud. In rapid-fire double-action shooting, the shooters who could work the DA trigger scored 100% hits in the silhouette body and 75% hits in the head area of the target. The misses were high because the front sight was hard to see when it was level, and the testers unconsciously tended to raise the muzzle to see more of the top of the gun. The testers also noticed that the trigger tended to pinch the trigger finger pad at the back of the guard when they shot the gun double action.
The testers found that the gun worked perfectly and had decent accuracy. It was well made and had a great SA trigger pull, even if the spur made cocking the gun painful after a while. The DA pull was too heavy. It could be carried anywhere, and would fit nicely in a pocket. At 10 yards, it had reasonable accuracy and shot a little high, which was preferable to a too-low point of impact. The magazine concluded that if the gun had had an adjustable sight or laser grips, it would have been hard to be beat. The magazine rated it a solid B gun.