Rimfire plinking pistols should be fun to shoot and easy to operate and maintain, and if they offer a little more for the buck, even better. We recently came across three 22 LR semi-autos we thought would be fun to shoot and which offered threaded barrels for suppressor use — a definite upgrade over the basic 22 LR tube. Our test candidates were the Ruger 22/45 Lite No. 03900 P45MK3ALRPFL, $499; the Smith & Wesson Model M&P22 No. 122000, $419; and the Walther Arms P22Q QAP22522 Tactical Pistol with Hi-Viz Sight and Threaded Barrel, $440. The sizzle on these steaks is supposedly their suppressor adaptability, so let’s start there.
The S&W and the Walther pistols are both made by Walther, and both pistols feature the same suppressing solution at the muzzle. The Smith has a 4.1-inch blued-steel barrel with a threaded rifled sleeve whose muzzle thread specs are M8x.75. A barrel nut covers the threads when a suppressor isn’t affixed, and is removed by a provided spanner wrench that fits into two cuts on the nut. The Walther came with an adapter, a half-inch long steel piece, that screws onto the threads exposed when the barrel nut is removed. It steps up the thread specs to the more common 1⁄2×28 U.S. designation, which accepted our test suppressor, a Silencerco Sparrow SP-1505 22 LR, which we shot at the site of and under the control of Tactical Firearms (TacticalFirearms.us). The S&W lacked the adapter, which would add another $45 to its price tag. In contrast, the Lite’s threads were protected by a knurled ring that could be unscrewed by hand.
Underneath, the barrel was already threaded at 1⁄2×28. Externally, the ring was integrated into the Lite’s lines. The shooter could choose to leave the adapter on the M&P22 or P22Q for faster switches between unsuppressed and suppressed firing, but the bulbous adapter isn’t the most cosmetic piece we’ve seen.
There were other problems with the S&W and Walther muzzle treatments, we believe. The top of the Ruger polymer front sight sits 0.4 inch above the aluminum shroud and 0.875 inch above the boreline, more than enough to clear the 1.062-inch-diameter Sparrow (half its diameter being 0.531 inch). The tops of the Walther and S&W front sights were 0.565 inch above the borelines, making very little of the sight available above the suppressor. Were their sights visible and somewhat usable? Barely, but yes. A solution for the two Walther-made pistols would be to add a laser to their accessory rails, an option not readily available on the Ruger. But the Ruger’s shroud top is drilled and tapped for a scope base, and the Q and M&P are not, so adding your choice of red dot to the Ruger would be easy if you preferred an optical sighting solution.
Because of the sighting disparities, we didn’t shoot record groups with the suppressors on. But we did look at average velocities and found that most of our chronographed test rounds showed a small uptick in speed with suppressors on board (see table on page 9). It was an enjoyable experience to shoot without having to wear hearing protection. If any of the ammo had been supersonic, we would have worn protection to deal with the sonic crack. Most shooters who are new to suppressor use note that the devices are quiet, but not in-the-movies quiet — it is hard to meet the fictional expectations of Hollywood. Some other quick notes about the Sparrow. Because the 22 LR round is not copper jacketed, molten lead and carbon debris will explode into the silencer when the projectile exits the muzzle. It is possible for a 22 suppressor to fill with lead and become heavy and ineffective. To avoid this, 22 silencers must be disassembled for cleaning and regular maintenance.
Silencerco’s Multi Part Containment (MPC) technology allows the 22 Sparrow to be easily disassembled for cleaning and maintenance after heavy use. This is achieved by applying two tube halves before sliding the outer tube on the rest of the assembly. The outer tube can be easily removed, and the tube halves are free to pull away from the baffles without having to rotate or slide. Just pull off the tubes, clean the components, and reassemble.
The 22 Sparrow handles 22 LR cartridges as well as 17 HMR, 22 WMR, and the 5.728mm FN, and it’s rated for full-auto 22 LR machine guns. It weighed 6.5 ounces and measured 5.08 inches in length. Our testers said the silencer helped stabilize the front ends of the test pistols, improving follow through. Also, we didn’t shoot fast enough for the can to build up much heat, so handling it wasn’t a problem. According to the manufacturer’s specifications, it will produce a 41dB sound reduction when fired in the Walther P22 using CCI Standard Velocity cartridges. MSRP is $499.
We also looked carefully at function with and without the cans, but we couldn’t definitively say the malfunctions that occurred were related to the suppressors. Much more likely, it was ammo that a gun didn’t like, and the cleaner and better lubed the guns were, the better they operated. Inside our 200-round break in, the Ruger had feeding problems which dissipated after it was cleaned. The S&W had no malfunctions at any time in the test. The P22Q had more problems than the others, which we detail below. We had read that the Walther’s manual said to use only high-velocity ammo, but we could not locate that warning in the manual.
How We Tested
We first stripped, cleaned and lubed the pistols. Then we broke them in with a variety of ammo. The break-in rounds were CCI Quiet Ammunition 22 LR 40-gr. Lead Round Nose, CCI Stinger 22 LR 32-gr. Plated Lead Hollow Point, Remington Golden Bullet 36-gr. Hollow Point, and Federal Champion 22 LR 40-gr. Lead Round Nose.
To collect chronograph data, we used a CED M2 Chronograph. For accuracy shooting at 15 yards, we fired five five-shot groups with CCI Green Tag, Remington Subsonic, and Armscor Precision 36-gr. hollowpoints. Here’s how the guns performed during our test:
Walther Arms P22Q QAP22522Tactical Pistol 22 LR, $440
U.S.-based Walther Arms, Inc. was formed January 1, 2013 and has been selling, marketing and servicing all but three models in the Walther portfolio. Models now sold and distributed by Walther Arms, Inc. are the P22, PPK-PPK/S 380 ACP, and the PK 380. In May 2013, Walther Arms, Inc. announced that all Walther products were being sold and distributed from its corporate headquarters in Fort Smith, Arkansas.
Our test version of the pistol joins an extensive list of others in the P22 line, both regular length and target length, differentiated by their 3.42-inch and 5-inch barrels. Slide finishes are either matte-black or nickel, and the grip frames are black except for the #5120315 option, which has a OD-green bottom half. Also, the #5120329 selection (CheaperThanDirt.com #12-0218308, $467) comes with a Walther laser, which would solve the sight-height suppressor problems we alluded to earlier.
We found this suppressor-ready model selling for $340 to $422 online. We were anticipating a good performance from the P22 because older models have done very well in previous tests. Compared to the earlier models, the new P22Q has two more notches on the rail and lacks the stippled pattern on the grip. The P22 is a 3⁄4-size rendition of the Walther P99. Because of the P22Q’s grip-style changes, previous iterations looked a lot more like that Walther 9mm with a hammer added.
The QAP22522 was a DA/SA blowback-operated semi-auto that weighed in right at a pound unloaded and only slightly more, 16.9 ounces, loaded to capacity (10+1 rounds). Our team said it felt great in the hand, and was notably trimmer and smaller than the others.
The steel barrel had a rifled sleeve that functioned as the bore. The two easily screwed into the breech block. As we noted above, the P22 came with a muzzle-thread adapter, which the Smith lacked and the Ruger didn’t need. Within the polymer frame is a lockwork of stamped and MIM steel components. The polymer frame incorporated a textured grip, and the package came with one additional backstrap. A slight press with hand pressure on a proper-size punch got out the rear grip’s retaining pin, and we easily installed the flatter housing. We tried both, but preferred the original. The slide was made of zinc alloy, suitable for a rimfire’s low recoil. Slide retraction effort was a light 9 pounds double action and 6 pounds single action, that is, with the hammer cocked. There were grip serrations front and back. All of our test team, including several women, remarked at how easy the slide was to work.
The barrel, recoil spring guide, extractor and ejector were made of steel. The solo stainless-steel magazine (#512600) had a polymer follower and bump pad. We’d prefer to have at least one more in the box. We found nickel-plated replacement magazines (#512604) for sale online and in stock around $23 each (CheaperThanDirt.com #2-MGWA512-604).
Sights as shipped consisted of a metal ramp front sight with a Hi-Vis Green Tube. Two additional polymer front sights come with the pistol to adjust elevation, but they’re white-dot style. Elevation adjustment is changed by mounting front sights of different heights. If weapon fires too low, a lower front sight should be mounted. If it fires too high, a higher front sight should be mounted. Changing the front sight requires disassembling the slide from the frame. To change the front sight, use a screwdriver to press the sight out of its seat in the slide. A ridge holds the sight in place. If the sight is installed incorrectly and the ridge is broken, the sight will not stay secured. The polymer rear sight is adjustable for windage and has two white dots bracketing the rear-sight notch. To make corrections, a small screwdriver fits into the adjustment screw on the rear sight’s right-hand side. Even with windage being easy to adjust, getting the point of aim to match the point of impact was vexing, to say the least, because every elevation change required breaking the gun completely down. Another way to get the elevation perfect would have been to start with a too-tall polymer front and simply dress it down with a file. That would have been easier, we believe.
If you wanted other sighting options, we would consider adding the HiViz Walther P22 Fiber Optic Front Sight package (CheaperThanDirt.com #2-NPWAL2012, $25). The sight height is 0.215 inches, equivalent to the factory #3 front sight. The Hi-Vis package comes with six Litepipes in red and green, a carry case, and an Allen wrench to install the sight. And/or, buy the #512104 laser separately (MidwayUSA.com #991458, $130).
Elsewhere, the rear-slide-mounted ambidextrous safety operates in reverse from how many popular guns work — safety down to fire. Here, it’s safety up to fire — that is, the safety lever is aligned with the barrel, whereupon an “F” appears uncovered in the slide notch were the safety lever operates. The lever basically changes the orientation of a hammer block. On Safe, a ridge on the block doesn’t allow the hammer to fall on the firing pin. On Fire, that ridge rotates downward, out of the way, allowing the hammer to strike the pin flush. The safety also locks the firing pin so the gun can’t discharge. If the hammer is cocked, putting the safety on leaves it cocked. You can lower the hammer by grasping it firmly with thumb and index finger on its sides, and pressing the trigger. Using only one hand, our shooters had issues operating the safety lever with the trigger-hand thumb. Regardless of left or right handedness, they had to rotate the gun in the palm about 30 degrees to reach the lever and set the gun to Fire or put it on Safe. Or use the off hand.
We don’t like the location and operation of the ambi mag-release paddles. If the gun shoots open after the last shot — normally when you would change magazines — the trigger sits right over the release lever. For single-hand operation, none of our shooters had thumbs long enough to reach around and push the lever down, so that necessitated rotating the gun in the hand enough for the trigger finger to push the lever down. That also meant pushing on the side of the trigger, which we didn’t like. Of course, using the support hand is the answer, but the trigger hand (left or right, doesn’t matter) has to release the pinky-finger grip to clear the magazine bumper that forms the bottom of the grip. Of the controls, only the slide stop wasn’t ambidextrous in operation.
At the range, the Walther shot very consistently with all three test rounds: 1.1-, 1.2-, and 1.3-inch average group sizes. Reasons: Even though it suffered from a shorter sight radius (4.7 inches), the green Hi-Viz sight was easy to read and align. We fired it single action, so we were able to take advantage of the 5.3-pound single-action break weight and the shorter 2.2-inch trigger span.
However, after about 300 rounds of break in, we suffered stoppages with all three record ammunitions. The main problem was slide drag, we believe. The first round of a new magazine often would stop the slide from going into battery — it felt like the slide hesitated about a half inch into its forward travel. We think that was because the hammer was dragging on the slide. We could open the slide fully, then ease it forward and the hammer would “catch” the slide, holding it in place. Another problem area was the feed ramp. It had an abrupt angle and it wasn’t polished smooth, and it seemed soft-lead uncoated bullets would stutter before they went home. Of course, magazines are always a possible culprit, but we only had the one to try, so we couldn’t blame the malfunctions on one bad mag. Internally, it wouldn’t hurt to polish the slide-contact points. And replacing the springs with stronger ones could solve everything.
Disassembly was easy, and we learned a trick to make reassembly easier. With an empty and reverified empty gun and magazine, pull the takedown tab on the frame down. Then pull the slide to the rear, lift it, and ease it forward off the barrel. This is similar to the takedown for the PPK, but the recoil spring is on a small rod that falls out when you remove the slide. That’s the weak point of this design, because you need a slave rod to capture the spring before you can reassemble the gun. Rather than using the tool, compress the spring onto the guide rod, push the guide rod through the front of the slide and hold the spring compressed. Then lower the slide onto the frame and release the guide rod. Then to finish, lower the rear of the slide onto the frame, push the slide forward, and push the reassembly tab upward.
Our Team Said: We really enjoyed messing with the P22Q Walther, but we can’t recommend it. We had extensive malfunctions with it, and while such problems aren’t life-and-death issues as with a carry gun, they are major irritations for the plinker. We may put this gun into rotation as a Before & After item and see what it takes to make it run properly.
Smith & Wesson Model M&P22No. 122000 22 LR, $419
There are three versions of the M&P22: our test gun, which comes with a single 10-round magazine, the 222000 (12+1 and threaded barrel) and the CA Compliant 122002 (10+1 and no threaded barrel). We agree with S&W, in that the M&P22 is sure to be a popular addition to the M&P line of semi-auto pistols. The M&P22 pistol combines the look, feel, and familiar operating features of the M&P centerfire pistols. Compared to the M&P 9mm #209001, the M&P22 is close in several dimensions, including OAL (7.6 inches for the 22 and 7.63 inches for the 9mm), barrel length (4.1 inches for the 22 and 4.25 inches for the 9mm), height (both at 5.5 inches), sight radius (both 6.4 inches), and unloaded weight (23.8 ounces for the 22 and 24 ounces for the 9mm). Oddly, the 9mm has a much larger capacity, holding 17+1 rounds compared to the 22’s 10+1 or 12+1 counts. Also, the M&P22 does not come with interchangeable backstraps like the M&P9 and M&P40. Made by Walther for S&W, the M&P22 usually lists for between $330 to $390.
We handled an M&P22 alongside an M&P9 and noted how much alike they felt in size, weight, and ergonomics. The M&P22 has an ambidextrous slide stop and thumb safety. Our left-handed shooters noted how easy the pistol was to work for them. Also, the magazine release can be installed to operate from the right or left side. To reverse the magazine release, field strip the firearm and find the mechanism that retains the magazine catch located inside the magazine well. Move the magazine release spring from the magazine release recess, then slide the magazine release half-way out of the frame and hold the magazine release while moving the magazine release spring around the end of the magazine release. Slide the magazine release all the way out of the frame. Then insert the magazine release from the right or left side of the frame according to your preference.
We’ll get to the only other problems we had with the pistol up front. The M&P22 ships with only one magazine, and additional magazines (both 10- and 12-round versions) were out of stock on the company’s website. They listed for $32. We were unable to locate any in auctions for less than $50 apiece. (However, shortages may ease at any time.) Also, as we noted up top, the Smith didn’t come with a thread adapter. You can find these adapters at Advanced Armament Corp, Gemtech, and other locations. Brownells sells a Gemtech thread adapter for $45 (#100-008-127WB).
We didn’t have functional issues with the M&P22, but we thought the company did a smart thing in the manual with this statement: “Some brands of ammunition may cause difficulty in extracting cartridge cases from the chamber. If this situation occurs, thoroughly clean the chamber with solvent. If this condition persists, we recommend changing to another brand of ammunition. Smith & Wesson has found wide variations in primer sensitivity between some brands and types of 22 LR ammunition. Smith & Wesson recommends that before you put your 22 LR handgun into regular use, that you fire several boxes of your brand of ammunition through it to determine reliability of ignition. If ‘failure to fire’ occurs, try different types or brands of 22 LR ammunition until a reliable loading is found.” The blowback single-action pistol uses an internal hammer for ignition.
At the range, the M&P22 showed the widest variation in accuracy with the test rounds: 0.9-, 1.0-, and 1.3-inch average group sizes. One of the shooter-related reasons for its accuracy were a single-action hinged trigger pull weight of 4.1 pounds, even though the trigger-travel-to-break distance was 0.44 inches. Also, the sights were relatively easy to get on target. The rear sight is fully adjustable for both windage and elevation. The rear screw controls the elevation. Windage adjustment is made by loosening the provided 1⁄16-inch Allen set screw and moving the sight left or right. Of course, move the rear sight in the direction you want your bullets to move on target. Tighten the set screw after the sight has been adjusted to the desired position. For adjusting elevation, rotate the adjusting screw at the top/rear of the sight clockwise to lower the rear sight or counter-clockwise to raise the rear sight blade. Raising the rear-sight blade will raise the group. The sight radius was 6.4 inches, just behind the Ruger’s 6.5-inch measurement. Like with the Walther, we would add slightly taller dovetail-mounted sights for suppressor use, or we would add a laser to ride on the three-slot rail.
The M&P22 has a loaded-chamber indicator, an opening at the front of the breech block. The M&P’s serial-numbered metal frame is housed inside a polymer shell — a fact made plain by a window above the grip on the right side. Two pins behind the thumb safety and above the front of the trigger guard join the frame and polymer housing. The rear of the black-anodized-aluminum slide displays the scalloped slide serrations used on the M&P pistols. Our shooters said they provide plenty of gripping surface for drawing the slide rearward, especially when considering the low amount of effort (3.5 pounds) needed to retract the slide.
We had no issues learning or operating the controls. As delivered, on the left side of the pistol were the takedown lever, slide stop, and thumb safety. When the lever points to about 10 o’clock, the gun is on Safe and the shooter cannot pull the trigger to release the hammer. With the lever at 9 o’clock, the gun is set to Fire. The polymer trigger guard was integral with the polymer housing, was larger than the Ruger’s guard and lacked the front hook and grooves of the P22.
Our shooters said the black polymer grip with fixed backstrap was hand-filling. It was noticeably longer and thicker than the P22 and was rounder than the 1911-style grip on the Ruger. The magazine basepad formed the bottom of the grip, which was long enough for all of our shooters to handle comfortably, in contrast to the P22, which was too short for some hands.
If you have extra magazines, the bottom of the M&P22’s grip has a huge well entrance that would be hard to miss. When we pressed the magazine-release button, the magazine ejected easily. The slide locks back on an empty magazine, or even without a mag, you can lock the slide open by pulling the slide back and pressing up on the slide stop. The M&P22 won’t fire without a magazine inserted.
Our Team Said: The M&P22 didn’t falter with any of our test rounds. The owner simply has to find ammo his gun likes, and trial and error is the only way to do that. For this test, the M&P22 drew the white bean as far as malfunctions. We liked the fit and feel of this pistol, and we heartily recommend it for the M&P owners who want to shoot rimfire for practice, because it should fit many holsters for M&P centerfire guns. If you don’t like the hinged trigger, Curtis Hooker at MiniFirePistons.com makes a solid aluminum trigger ($50) for the M&P22. We’re not endorsing it, just letting you know it exists. If you buy the M&P22, not having enough magazines will aggravate you, so we suggest negotiating for as many as you can afford when you buy your pistol, or be prepared to put in notifications across the web to be advised when the magazines are in stock.
Ruger 22/45 Lite No. #3900P45MK3ALRPFL 22 LR, $499
Our discontinued test gun is the gold-anodized Lite version that is substantially like the black-anodized #3903 that’s still listed on the Ruger website. Even though the #3900 isn’t cataloged any longer, a quick web search finds many still for sale. In both the Lite and standard forms, the 22/45’s claim to fame is that it duplicates the feel of a 1911. In addition to the identical grip angles, the 22/45 features the same fire-control locations (manual safeties, magazine releases, and bolt hold-opens) as the 1911. Also, its trigger feel is classic Bullseye, making it a low-recoil complement for a centerfire 45.
The barrel is a heavy bull design in appearance, but the exterior bulk doesn’t translate to weight. There’s a 4.4-inch-long stainless-steel barrel sleeve inside the fluted aluminum shroud (which is also drilled and tapped for Weaver bases), making the unloaded weight with an empty magazine only 23.6 ounces and a loaded weight (10+1 rounds) of 23.8 ounces. Of course, the Zytel Polymer frame is light in weight as well.
As we noted above, the Ruger’s sights were tall enough to see over our test suppressor, and because they were fully and easily adjustable, they would be easy to center, even with bullet weights varying between 26 grains to 40 grains and velocities varying by hundreds of feet per second.
At the range, the 22/45 shot the smallest bench groups in the test with Armscor 36-grain rounds (0.8 inches) and pretty well with the CCI and Remington rounds, both at 1.1-inch average group sizes. Part of that accuracy was due to the wide, comfortable trigger, which offered a small amount of take-up (0.180 inch) and then a solid stop followed by a 4.7-pound break. After the shot broke on the Ruger, we had to release the trigger completely by moving the finger forward until the trigger reset. The trigger guard was smaller than the others and lacked any texturing, which is fine for the target shooter/plinker.
Retracting the Ruger’s bolt ears, which pull back the breech bolt, took a little getting used to as we switched between guns. We kept trying to slide the shroud rearward, rather than grabbing the ears. Bolt retraction effort was a modest 6 pounds, so even arthritic hands could work the action successfully. However, the edges of the ears were very sharp, and one shooter cut his thumb on them.
The Ruger was not as ambidextrous as the others, with the safety appearing as a frame-mounted button near the trigger guard on the left side only, ditto that for the slide-stop button, and the magazine release was not reversible. Other notable features were that the Ruger had a loaded chamber indicator, used a magazine disconnect, and lacked a Picatinny rail.
Our Team Said: After break in, the Ruger fed flawlessly with all our test ammos. Its suppressor-attachment scheme was better than the others, in our opinion, so if we were buying one of these rimfires with plans to use cans extensively, we’d prefer the 22/45 Lite. Also, if our self-defense handguns were 1911s, we would pick the Ruger ahead of the others; but if we owned centerfire Smiths, we would take the M&P22 ahead of the Ruger. Both the Ruger and Smith present sizable profiles: the Ruger is 8.5 inches in OAL and the M&P22 7.6 inches, with the latter being more than an inch longer than the P22. We liked all three of these rimfire pistols and would certainly buy either the Ruger or Smith without worry.
Written and photographed byGun Tests Staff, using evaluations from Gun Tests team testers.