April 1998

Colt .22 Target Beats Ruger, Smith & Wesson Target Pistols

The Coltís consistent accuracy put it over the top in this test against the S&W Model 22A Target and the Ruger Mark II Bull Barrel.

You had to learn to walk before you could run. You had to learn to ride your first two-wheel bicycle before you graduated to a 20-speed model. What makes you think itís any different with target shooting?

Somehow believing the gun in their hand will instantly transform them into masters of the sport, far too many plunge into bullseye shooting by making an major, initial expenditure. This error is often compounded by making that investment in a caliber never intended to, and generally incapable of, deliver 10 rounds to the 10-ring at 50 yards. Weíre thinking specifically of the 9mm. Another foible is to spend the big bucks going in, then deciding you donít cotton all that much to paper-busting and having to take a heavy hit on the resale.

The most frequent scenario for the best target shooters in the world, including those who have achieved Olympic status, is to acquire their skills with a reasonably priced .22-caliber pistol. Once they had expended several thousand rounds learning the basics of breath control, trigger control, sight picture, and honed their abilities beyond the pistolís mechanical capability, they moved on to more sophisticated machines. And up.

The three pistols in this test ó the Colt .22 Target, the Smith & Wesson Model 22A Target and the Ruger Mark II Bull Barrel ó are priced under $400. They each have the potential for being excellent learning tools. Which one is best suited for the task? Which one delivers the most for the money? Our results may surprise you.

Colt .22 Target
When this manufacturer stopped making the Woodsman in 1977, it was without a rimfire pistol until the introduction of the stainless steel Colt .22 in 1994. A target version, appropriately called the .22 Target, came out a year later. This $377 model features a polymer grip with an integral trigger guard and a 6-inch bull barrel with a recessed muzzle crown. A full-length rib with adjustable sights are also standard equipment.

Physical Description
We felt the .22 Targetís fit and finish was very good. All stainless steel parts had a nice frosted silver-white finish, though the barrel was a little darker in color than the slide and frame. Moving parts had a minimum of play. The black sighting rib was securely fastened to the barrel by four screws.

The one-piece black polymer grip had molded checkering on the sides and an undercut trigger guard. It was cleanly molded and mated to the steel frame without any noticeable gaps or other shortcomings.

Both of the stainless steel 10-round magazines had removable floorplates and large follower buttons to aid in the loading process. Although their feed lips were very tight, inserting cartridges into either magazine wasnít especially difficult.

Our Judgments
This Coltís accuracy and consistency was, in our opinion, impressive for a target pistol in this price range. At 25 yards, it produced five-shot groups that averaged from 1.18 inches with Winchester T-22s to 1.38 inches with CCI Pistol Match. Furthermore, this pistol achieved at least one 1-inch group with each of the three kinds of ammunition we used.

The ventilated rib on the top of the .22 Target was grooved to accommodate Weaver-style scope rings, allowing the installation of an optic sight, and was the mounting surface for the open sights. Our shooters said the patridge-type front blade and the white-outlined rear blade contrasted with each other very well and provided a satisfactory sight picture. The rear sight had click-adjustable windage and elevation screws.

We thought the triggerís ungrooved 1/4-inch-wide face was a little on the thin side for a target pistol, and the pull was about a pound too heavy. After only a hint of creep, it released cleanly at 4 1/2 pounds. There was no noticeable overtravel.

There were no malfunctions of any kind during the test. This Colt fed, fired, and functioned flawlessly. The gripping serrations on the slide were deep and easily accessible from the rear, but the sight rib prevented access to the slide from the top.

The .22 Targetís bull barrel made it slightly muzzle heavy. The pistol tended to point a little low, but target acquisition was good. Our shooters said the comfortable grip was long enough for all fingers of the shooting hand, and its angle allowed the hand to be positioned close to the barrel. As an additional plus, the shape of the tang tended to make the hand feel like it was in a glove.

Our learning curve on this pistol was a little slow. The operation and location of most of the controls were unconventional. Manipulating the slide catch was easy because it was located in the usual place on the left side of the frame. However, the magazine release was located on the right side of the frame. It was easy enough to depress with the trigger finger, when we remembered where to find it.

The manual safety was a crossbolt in the rear of the frame. When pushed to the left, it locked the sear and blocked the movement of the slide. We found the crossbolt hard to operate with the shooting thumb. Mostly, a complete change in grip was necessary to engage or disengage the safety. But, operating it with the fingers of the support hand was easy.

This pistolís other safety feature was a cocking indicator in the rear of the slide. When the internal striker was cocked, a red dot was clearly visible.

S&W Model 22A Target
Introduced in 1997, Smith & Wessonís Model 22 Sport series of stainless steel .22 LR pistols come in a variety of configurations. The subject of this test, the Model 22A Target, is one of the two target versions. It features a 5 1/2-inch bull barrel with a recessed muzzle crown, a wooden target-style grip and a full-length rib with adjustable sights. Suggested retail price of this model is $237.

Physical Description
In our opinion, the Model 22A Targetís workmanship was more than acceptable. Its stainless steel parts, such as the barrel and slide, and alloy frame had a uniform matte black finish. Two steel 10-round magazines with black plastic followers and removable floor-plates were furnished with the pistol. No cosmetic flaws or sharp edges were found. Moving parts had a minor amount of play. Three screws kept the sight rib solidly attached to the barrel.

The large two-piece grip, which covered the entire frame, was made of gray and black laminated hardwood. It was styled like the grip on an expensive match pistol. The grip had dual thumbrest/trigger finger channels and a flared bottom. The logos on the sides were laser etched. Both halves of the grip mated well and were held securely in place with two screws apiece.

Our Judgments
As far as target pistols go, this Smith & Wesson can be classed as inexpensive. But, in our opinion, its low price was not reflected in this .22ís accuracy. It produced five-shot average groups of 1.15 inches at 25 yards, the smallest of the test, with Winchester T-22s. We considered this to be quite good. Groups opened up to 1.50 and 1.73 inches with the other two loads we tried.

Our shooters said the Model 22A Targetís sighting system provided a well-defined and consistent sight picture. The full-length rib, which was slotted for Weaver-type scope rings, had an integral post-type front blade. The rear sight was recessed into the rear of the rib. It had a large, plain face and click-adjustable windage and elevation screws.

Movement of the trigger, which had a grooved 5/16-inch-wide face and a fixed stop on the back, was very good. After a small amount of take-up, it released evenly at 3 1/2 pounds with no overtravel. The trigger pivoted downward when pulled, rather than moving straight to the rear. Some of our shooters found this to be distracting at first, but they became used to it after shooting about 100 rounds.

Functioning was 100 percent reliable with the three kinds of .22 LR ammunition used. However, we thought the slide was very difficult to grasp firmly enough to retract. Its tear drop-shaped indentations provided very little slip resistance. Furthermore, the sight rib would not allow us to grasp the slide from the top. Not being able to bring the slide to the rear, or losing control of it altogether, was commonplace.

In our opinion, the Model 22A Target was a little less muzzle heavy than the Colt .22 Target in this test. Pointing was easy, as was bringing the pistol on target. Although shooters with large hands thought the grip was comfortable, those with small hands said it was too wide and too deep. The gripís large size also moved the hand away from the trigger, lengthening the trigger reach.

Another drawback of the grip was that it extended past the bottom of the frame, making the magazine relatively difficult to insert and remove from the magazine well. To seat the magazine, a finger or two had to negotiate the well channel and then push the magazine up until it locked into position. During unloading, the magazine wouldnít drop free and had to be removed by inserting a finger into the recessed area in the front of the magazine well.

Learning this Smith & Wessonís controls wasnít a problem. The magazine release, which was recessed into the front of the grip, could be depressed with one of the fingers of the shooting hand. The slide catch and the two-position safety lever were located in their usual places on the left side of the frame. Initially, we couldnít get the manual safety to engage. After numerous attempts, and a good amount of lubricant, we were able to get it to engage. But, it still operated stiffly.

Ruger Mark II Bull Barrel
Based on a handgun introduced in 1949, Rugerís Mark II series of .22 LR pistols has been around since 1982. This model utilizes a bolt, instead of a slide, that is housed in a tubular receiver. The frame, which isnít part of the receiver, is two stamped pieces welded together. One of several target versions offered is the $310 Bull Barrel model. It features a 5 1/2-inch bull barrel with a recessed muzzle crown and adjustable sights.

Physical Description
Our Mark II Bull Barrelís appearance was good. All of its metal parts had an evenly-applied shiny blue/black finish. Each of the two 10-round magazines provided with the pistol had a follower button on the left side to aid loading and a removable floorplate. There was a moderate amount of play in some moving parts, such as the trigger and the bolt.

Both of the grip panels, which covered the sides of the frame only, were made of black plastic. Each panel was covered with deep, sharp molded checkering. They were securely held in place by two screws each. Fitting of the grip panels to the frame was faultless.

Our Judgments
We thought this Rugerís 25-yard accuracy was more than acceptable for a .22 in this price range. It yielded five-shot groups that averaged from 1.25 inches with Winchester T-22s to 1.55 inches with CCI Pistol Match ammunition.

All of our shooters felt the Mark II Bull Barrel had the least desirable sights of the test, but they did provide an adequate sighting reference. The front sight, an undercut patridge-type blade, was tall and prominent enough to be acquired readily. However, the rear sightís small face was comparatively hard to find and see clearly. This sightís click-adjustable elevation screw could be turned with a standard-size screwdriver, but a very small screwdriver was needed for the windage screw.

We considered the grooved 5/16-inch-wide triggerís movement to be half-pound too heavy. The pull had a slight amount of creep, but released cleanly with 4 pounds of rearward pressure. There was no discernible overtravel.

At the range, this Rugerís functioning was absolutely reliable. Manually operating the bolt wasnít a problem. Nothing blocked the shooterís access to the back of the bolt, which had serrated ďearsĒ that could be grasped firmly.

Our shooters found that the Mark II Bull Barrel was the least muzzle heavy pistol tested, and sat evenly in the hand. This, combined with the angle of the grip, made pointing natural. Target acquisition was the fastest. The comparatively slender grip wasnít what we would call hand-filling, but it fit most hand sizes reasonably well.

The slide catch was in its usual place on the left side of the frame, but this Rugerís other controls werenít conveniently placed. The magazine release was located on the bottom of the frame, so it had to be manipulated with the fingers of the support hand. But, we had no problems locking the magazine into the magazine well or removing it from the pistol.

The manual safety was a sliding two-position button at the left rear of the frame. It also had to be operated with the support hand. When moved upward to the engaged position, the safety locked the sear.

The Mark II Bull Barrel yielded muzzle velocities that averaged from 909 to 1,065 feet per second. This, in our opinion, wasnít significantly different from the velocities of the other .22 pistols in this test. Speed isnít especially important when punching holes in paper targets.