February 2006

Four .22s for Fun and Practice: We Praise One Walther P22

Waltherís 3.4-inch-barrel P22 has a lot going for it, including light weight, accuracy, and good shooting manners. Itís Our Pick over an older PP, a 5-inch P22, and a pricey PP Sport.

Product Coordination Editor Joe Syczylo tried the P22 in both barrel lengths and agreed the 3.4-inch barrel had it all over the longer model. We rated the shorter P22 as an Our Pick, but we issued a Donít Buy rating for the 5-inch P22. Some shooters may also want the PPs.

The quest for a small .22 LR handgun can take one to strange places. The first place one might look is in the catalogs of today’s makers, but your first surprise will be that there are not all that many small .22 LR autoloader handguns available. There are plenty of ‘em about the size of a 1911, but it seems the fine small autos of the past are almost gone. Walther offers the fine P22 in two barrel lengths. We looked hard at the longer-barrel version in January 2003, but the shorter version was something of a mystery. Both of these new Walthers had parallels in the older PP Walther, with short barrel and fixed sights, and in the adjustable-sighted, longer-barreled Walther PP Sport. We obtained both the long- and short-barrel P22 (MSRP $301 for either one) along with a copy of the all-steel Walther PP, offered recently by Southern Ohio Gun ($500). Luck was with us, because a staff member happened to own one of the fairly rare Walther PP Sports (about $1100), and made it available for testing. We put them to the test, and this is what we found.

A friend of GT bought this PP recently from Southern Ohio Gun. At this writing, there are plenty of ‘em floating around, but they won’t last forever. The PP was an all-steel pistol with excellent polishing and bluing on the slide, but with machining marks here and there on the frame. The gun was made in France, by the Manufacture de Machines du Haut-Rhin, known by the contraction Manurhin. A double-action for the first shot, the gun’s controls were just like those of the PP or PPK in centerfire calibers. Our PP held ten shots in each of its two magazines. In fact, all the guns in this test held ten shots, and all came with two magazines.

We thought this was an excellent example of the PP design. Its bluing was scarcely blemished, with only the slightest signs of handling wear in the bluing along the sharp edges. The plastic grip panels were sharply checkered and looked close to new. The barrel too was like new. Takedown was simple, just like the centerfire versions. Clear the gun, then pull downward on the trigger guard, pull the slide fully rearward and lift it, then ease it forward off the frame. The insides of the gun showed almost no wear.

The single-action trigger pull was excellent, breaking at 4.9 pounds with a touch of controllable creep, as is common with most Walthers of this type. The safety lever dropped the hammer when applied. The gun could be fired with the magazine out, which was not possible with the newer P22. The sight picture, a U-notch rear and a flat-top front post, was small but workable. The front sight was integral with the slide; the rear, set into a dovetail and driftable for windage. The gun shot close to its point of aim with all ammo, but showed a distinct preference for different types of ammo.

We [PDFCAP(2)] with Eley Pistol Standard, CCI Mini-Mag solids, and Winchester Power Point HP, and also shot them with several other types. Best grouping for the old PP was with Eley Standard, which gave occasional one-inch groups at 15 yards, centered at the point of aim, but usually only four of the shots grouped well. There were frequent unexplainable flyers. We saw a lot of vertical stringing with the PP.

The PP’s slide was loose around the barrel, and when the slide cycled, it didn’t always come to rest in the same position. The sights thus no longer looked where the barrel pointed. We wrapped the barrel with tape to close the gap, and for the short time the tape lasted, the gun shot consistent, generally smaller groups.

A serious gunsmithing “fix” for this condition might be to solder a thin steel band around the barrel where it contacts the slide, but that would hurt resale or collector value. If we owned it, we might experiment with Brownells’ various bedding compounds to tighten the fit and improve accuracy, which was certainly not as consistent as we’d have liked. Overall accuracy was not as good as we’d have liked. The vertical-stringing tendency diminished when we shot in extremely cold weather. In near-zero temperatures we had some failures of the hammer to remain cocked, and that happened with both the PP and PP Sport. But we discounted any problems with the guns that could be attributed to cold, because none of the pistols had been prepared for low temperatures.

[PDFCAP(3)]
This was our first hard look at the 3.4-inch-barrel P22, and we really liked it. We thought it would give up accuracy to the longer-barrel P22, but that was not the case. In fact, we could see no reason at all to own the longer one. Actually, if you have either one of these you can buy the barrel (about $100) for the other and convert it. This barrel-changing ability led to a problem with the longer gun, detailed below. Out of the box, we thought the P22-003 was a great-looking little gun, all business. It fit the hand extremely well, but some thought the grip was too small in circumference. We tried the (included) thicker rear-grip insert, and liked it better.

The gun was a uniform matte black, but is also available in two-tone, or in “military” colors, with dark-green frame and black slide. There is also a carbon-fiber-frame version, which is supposed to be even lighter, and there is a suppressed version for those who need it and can legally own it. The frame was polymer, and the slide of aluminum. The grip panels were formed integrally with the frame, and had molded-in dots for traction. The gun had an ambidextrous safety, and could not be fired with the magazine out. The gun also had a clever internal trigger lock that could be activated with a key that came with the package. The magazine release levers were ambidextrous, so the gun was good for lefties. Some of the parts were sheet metal, but seemed to be adequately strong for their intended purpose. The slide serrations worked well. There were extra serrations on the front of the slide for press checking, and there was a chamber-inspection slot. We could have done without the hook on the front of the trigger guard. The edges of the ejection port were razor sharp, the only sharp corners we found on the gun. We liked the sights, both the windage-adjustable rear and the replaceable plastic front. The sights had white dots and gave an excellent picture. Four different front-sight heights are available for fine tuning the P22.

Takedown was very much like that of the old PP. Clear the gun, cock it, and pull the takedown lever just above the front of the trigger guard all the way down. Then pull the slide to the rear, lift it, and ease it off the barrel to the front. The guts of the gun were mounted into an aluminum frame pinned within the polymer frame. Workmanship was excellent inside and out, we thought. Replacing the slide required the use of a small rod that came in the kit. Good luck getting the slide back in place if you lose that rod. We suggest making or securing a replacement before you lose the original.

On the range we had zero problems. We loved the trigger, which broke cleanly at about 4.4 pounds. The double-action pull was just 9 pounds and quite smooth. We tweaked the tiny adjustable rear sight for windage and got on target. No need to change the front sight. We tried several other types of ammunition, and the little Walther liked it all. This is the sort of little .22 pistol we had in mind when we began looking for guns for this article. The old aluminum-frame, 9-shot PPK/L is, we think, well replaced in today’s market with this very accurate little pistol.

[PDFCAP(4)]
Walther solved the accuracy problem of the PP by putting the front sight onto the extended barrel. It didn’t matter where the slide ended up after each shot, the sights were still aligned with the bore. There were two barrel lengths available with this fairly rare old pistol, one that barely stuck out the front of the slide, and our long one, which measured 8.25 inches. The barrel on our specimen had a slight bulge at the midway point, but it didn’t seem to have the slightest effect on accuracy, because this was by far the most accurate pistol of this test series. The gun was similar to the PP in overall configuration and finish, and was from the same French maker. The grips were extended to give the shooter a full-size handle, and one of the magazines had a matching extension. The left grip had a thumb rest molded into the checkered plastic. The slide was not just a PP with the front sight cut off. The top serrations went all the way to the muzzle. Also, the slide was marked “PP Sport.” The quality of metal polish on the slide was slightly better than on the PP, and our PP Sport showed even less handling wear.

The sight picture was perfection. The square-notch rear sight was adjustable for windage, and the flat-top front post could be adjusted for elevation, though the adjustment screw appeared to be damaged. The sights were right on the money. The front sight nut was similar to that of the modern P22 long-barrel in that it kept getting loose. But with the nut loose, the keyed sight still stayed aligned, unlike the new pistol. We doubt this older German pistol was designed with a made-to-order suppressor in mind, as is the modern P22. The front sight had to be removable on this design to permit the passage of the slide during takedown.

The trigger pull of the PP Sport had zero creep, and broke at 4.6 pounds, all in all a better trigger than on the PP. Our best groups were around half an inch, and the PP Sport did this with regularity with the Eley Pistol Standard ammunition. A few groups with best-quality Eley Tenex and Federal Gold Medal match were at least that good. The PP Sport did nearly as well with CCI MiniMags and Winchester HP, but the latter did produce the worst group of our limited testing.

[PDFCAP(5)]
We found a problem with this 5-inch-barrel version of the P22. The barrel came loose from very limited shooting. We suspect the problem was caused by the mass of the phony brake hanging on the end of the barrel. The manual even warned of this condition. If the brake feels loose, it suggested, take it off and tighten the barrel nut. To get to that nut we had to use two metric Allen wrenches (supplied) to remove the false flash hider/muzzle brake, and then disassemble the gun, find the wrench, tighten the barrel nut, and then put the whole thing back together. The barrel didn’t come loose again anytime soon after we found the trouble, but we felt all that useless weight hanging out front didn’t really amount to a significant advantage with this pistol design other than giving it a longer sight radius and perhaps contributing to that nut getting loose. Will it come loose again? Maybe, but we didn’t like the fight of getting into the guts to fix it, or just to clean it. Also, we ought to have been able to shoot the longer barrel better than the shorter one, but that didn’t happen. We got about as good groups with the shorter, lighter, simpler 3.4-inch barrel on the P22, so why bother with the extra weight and length?

Gun Tests Recommends
• Walther PP .22 LR (Manurhin), $500. Don’t Buy. We don’t think there’s a real need to buy one of these, because the P22 is cheaper, lighter, and more accurate. However, some shooters will like the look and feel of this old all-steel PP, which had a solid feel and sleek, classic lines that were missing from the modern P22. We would agree that the PP was a classic and classy handgun, well made and with a great overall feel. Shooters who prize those qualities can consider the gun a Conditional Buy.

• Walther P22 .22 LR No. WAP22003, $301. Our Pick. We liked this little .22 pistol immensely. It was completely reliable in our limited shooting, and shot very well, with many five-shot groups going around an inch at 15 yards. The impact could be fine-tuned as necessary by changing the front sight. The windage was slick and handy, we found, and adjusted with relative ease. We think this model, with its 3.4-inch-long barrel, is by far the better setup of the two P22s available, the longer one having given us fits. We think anyone in need of a fine little .22 pistol that works every time and doesn’t bust the bank need look no farther than the short-barrel P22. We thought it was an ideal fun gun, one we’d take in the backpack and not even know it’s there.

• Walther PP Sport, about $1100. Conditional Buy. Our feeling was that the rare old PP Sport was a mighty accurate, thoroughly reliable, and highly desirable pistol. Its long sight radius gave it a perhaps unfair advantage. Still, it was one mighty fine pistol, we thought. The going price of the PP Sport, far higher than the other pistols in this test, made us give it a Conditional Buy rating. Yet in our opinion, any collector who can find one should, by all means, snap it up and consider himself mighty lucky.

• Walther P22 No. WAP22005, $301. Don’t Buy. The shorter one did it all, despite its having its front sight on the slide instead of on the barrel. The slide-to-barrel fit, combined with the stiff slide spring on the short P22, seemed to return the slide to the same position well enough to give us great accuracy without resorting to weight, barrel length, sight radius, etc. The lighter pistol would be more likely to go along on the trail, and would do just as well as the longer, heavier one. At first we really liked this version with its 5-inch barrel and its false brake, but over the course of our testing, our opinion changed. In our estimation, you ought not to buy this long version.

Walther PP (Manurhin) .22 LR, $500

shot all guns

Walther P22 No. WAP22003 .22 LR, $301

Walther PP Sport, about $1100

Walther PP .22 LR No. WAP22005 $301