May 2006

A Brace of Full-Size .22 Autos: We Would Buy The Wolverine

You and Buck Rogers will love the Whitney Wolverine from Olympic Arms an odd but very shooter-friendly gun but SIG-lovers will buy the heavy Mosquito no matter what we say.

Either you like or hate the looks of the Whitney Wolverine, but everybody loved its performance. The space-age, vent-rib, SA .22 had excellent accuracy and a fine trigger that let us wring it all out.

Need a full-size .22 pistol? We’ve looked at smaller pistols and revolvers recently, but some want or need a larger .22 pistol, for whatever reasons. Happy to oblige, we grabbed two pistols that we thought would fill the hands better than anything smaller, and put them against each other in the hands of our test team. The pistols were the Whitney Wolverine ($280), Olympic Arms’ remake of the Space-Age-looking older design which used to have an aluminum frame; and SIG’s Mosquito ($390), a close copy of that company’s larger pistols, with similar shape and finish but made somewhat smaller overall. The Wolverine was much lighter than the Mosquito, and it had a grip shape that not everyone will like. The Mosquito, which felt great in most hands, cost a bunch more. Was it worth it? Let’s see what we found.

Our first look at the Wolverine resulted in mixed feelings. Some of us loved the look and grip angle, and others hated them. Fair testers that we are, we withheld final judgment until all the smoke had cleared from the firing range.

From the Olympic Arms website we learned: “The original Whitney Wolverine pistol went into production in 1956…. Its radical ‘space age’ design…pointed naturally for most shooters.” We beg to differ. Those of us with lots of time on a 1911 found that the “natural” pointing of the Wolverine gave it a 15- or 20-degree angle upward. This would most likely result in shooting the moon, not the target.

The pistol came with extra-cost wood stocks of fancy checkered cocobolo wood. These were indeed lovely, and compared with the gun’s standard black plastic grips, they immediately justified their extra cost. For the latest prices on grips, spare magazines, and a neat-looking nylon holster, phone Oly Arms at (360) 456-3471 or email your questions to

The Wolverine is basically a plastic-frame gun (originals from the 1950s were aluminum-framed), and it weighed about the same as the long-barrel P22. The maker recommended high-velocity .22s in the lone ten-round magazine, but we found the gun functioned perfectly with our light-recoiling Eley target ammo, despite the extreme cold weather of our test conditions.

The sight picture was excellent. We noticed the dovetailed rear sight was finger loose, so windage adjustments were easy. Obviously the sight would have to be staked or glued in place once the gun was sighted for the individual. There were no provisions for elevation adjustment. However, the gun shot very close to its sights. The tubular bolt had a cutout that opened into the ejection port as the bolt cycled. There was no way to keep the bolt open, and it did not stay open after the final shot. The gun had a thumb safety on the left-rear corner, and it worked backward from most. Down was on, and it could only be put on with the flat, external hammer cocked. The gun could not be fired with the magazine removed. The magazine release was a thumb latch at the bottom of the grip. Loading the ten-shot magazine was essentially impossible unless you knew a trick. Insert a cartridge into a conspicuous hole in the magazine follower and use it to pull down the follower as you feed rounds into the top. The manual suggests using the takedown tool to do this job, but we’re sure these will be left home when you go to the range — unless you put it on your keyring with the loop provided. It’s good planning by Oly Arms to have made the hole .22 size.

The trigger pull was superb, breaking cleanly at 4 pounds, and the large, wide trigger surface gave excellent control. The fully loaded magazine, we found, didn’t want to seat easily into the gun. We had to press hard and make sure the catch snapped into place. But once it was in there, we experienced the joy of making [PDFCAP(2)] with this pistol. In fact, the only pistol in the test that shot consistently better than the Wolverine was the rare, costly Walther PP Sport. Many groups were right at the 1-inch mark.

Takedown was perhaps the most unusual of any firearm we’ve seen recently. With the gun unloaded, you first unscrew the plastic (!) nut at the muzzle, and then the guts can all be pulled out the back. The gun is essentially a plastic tube with a gun fitted inside. And it’s all very clever, and actually quite simple. Workmanship was excellent everywhere we looked, inside and out. We found takedown to be far easier than the manual led us to believe, but be sure to read the manual before you attempt disassembly. There are some small parts, and if you lose one of ‘em you’re out a gun until you get replacements. The manual had a few tips that made reassembly easy.

The SIG Mosquito seemed to be a well-made and attractive pistol, all matte black, with a full-size polymer frame that had what we thought was a great-feeling grip. The separate plastic grip wrapped around the back strap, and was lightly textured. The front strap of the plastic grip frame had horizontal serrations that we liked. The SIG website shows various color options for this pistol, but the options add tremendously to the cost. A green-frame version, lists at $460, the same as a two-tone version. The extended, threaded-barrel version costs $500.

The German-made gun had five control levers on its left side, but only one on the right, the ambidextrous safety lever. On the left was the magazine release, and though it looked like it could be switched to the right, we could not find any info on this. The takedown lever was at the left-front of the frame, just above the front of the trigger guard, and it didn’t want to stay in place. It easily rotated 360 degrees to wherever you wanted to put it. The detent for the normal position, pointed aft, was insufficient, we thought. Just behind that was the decocking lever, followed by the slide stop, which held the slide open after the last shot. The latter two parts and many of the internal pieces were stamped sheet steel. Takedown was simple. With the gun unloaded and magazine removed, rotate the takedown lever until it’s pointing forward. Then grasp the slide and pull it all the way back, and lift it (like on a Walther PPK), and then slide it forward off the front of the barrel. The spring and its keeper then are loose and will fall out. The pocket for the slide spring appeared to be made of pot metal (zinc casting), and it was loose within the slide. This didn’t inspire confidence, but the gun did work properly. The slide keeper behind the spring-pocket piece also appeared to be a pot-metal casting, or perhaps bare aluminum.

The polymer frame held an aluminum subframe; various pins held the main parts onto the frame. The barrel housing and its retaining bolster appeared to be aluminum alloy. The barrel itself was a steel insert. The feed ramp was aluminum. The gun came with two slide springs, one stiffer for hotter .22 loads if they’re going to be commonly used. We did our testing with the normal spring.

The slide itself was of carefully made and machined aluminum alloy. It had a steel insert for the breech face that also extended to become the stripper bar for loading cartridges and for cocking the hammer during cycling. We had occasional hitches reinstalling the slide. It looked like it was in place but would not move forward until we fiddled with the slide position. However, we didn’t have to resort to the installation pin as used by the Walther P22. Don’t forget to turn the takedown lever rearward when the gun’s all back together.

The frame had a rail for adding a light in front of the trigger guard, which we thought was a dubious item for a .22 pistol. However, one version of this pistol is now sold with a protruding, threaded muzzle — presumably for a silencer — and with clandestine ops in mind, a light rail makes some sense. This rail can also be used to attach an optional ($120) red-dot optical sight and base. This SIG was noticeably heavier than the Whitney Wolverine. Those of us who didn’t care for the grip angle of the WW really took to the SIG, at least until the trigger was tried.

The Mosquito could not be fired with the lone ten-shot magazine removed, but the hammer could still be lowered with the decocker. Putting the ambidextrous safety on did not drop the hammer. The gun could, therefore, be carried cocked and locked, but the safety didn’t allow easy use by any definition. On was down, as with the Wolverine. We loved the sights and sight picture of the Mosquito. The rear was adjustable for windage, and elevation was by installing higher or lower front-sight inserts, which came with the gun. The sights had yellow dot inserts, which helped the picture in some light. We found that elevation was fine with the normal insert. There was also a key-driven storage lock within the butt of the SIG.

The trigger pulls, DA and SA, were awful. The trigger itself was plastic, with lots of curve to it. The SA travel was three-stage, the first stop coming at about 2.5 pounds, a second distinct stop at a few ounces more, then the final break at 6.2 pounds. The DA trigger didn’t move until the 8-pound mark had been passed, and it exceeded our 12-pound electric Lyman scale when the trigger was no more than halfway back. It stacked badly from there, and we estimated the final break at about 15 pounds, perhaps more. The ads for this pistol say your trigger finger will get itchy. We think it will get mighty sore before any itching starts.

On the range we had a few failures to feed with the relatively low-recoiling Eley Pistol Standard ammunition, the slide failing to come far enough rearward in most cases. But the gun was very new when that happened. After some shooting time, feeding with that ammo improved, but never became fully reliable. We had no failures with the much hotter CCI Mini Mags, nor with Winchester’s Power-Point HPs. A target (five shots, 15 meters) accompanied the gun, showing a group of 1.5 inches. Our 15-yard testing showed groups on a par with the factory target, all of which we thought were disappointing. The P22 Walther made better groups with similar ammo. On average, we came to expect about 1.5-inch groups from the Mosquito with best ammo. Perhaps a search for the best fodder will produce even better average groups, because we found, even in our limited testing, the SIG Mosquito had distinct preferences.

Gun Tests Recommends
• Whitney Wolverine .22 LR, $280. Buy It. We could not fault the Wolverine, despite the fact that some of us did not like the grip angle at all. The gun worked very well, even in extreme cold with light target ammo. The grouping was excellent, and in fact our only complaint was about the loose rear sight. But a drop of glue can fix that. If you need a good knock-about pistol that won’t cost an arm and a leg, we suggest you look into the Whitney Wolverine. Oly Arms gives it a lifetime guarantee, not all that common in today’s firearms world, and that says a lot.

• SIG Mosquito .22 LR, $390. Conditional Buy. We loved the feel of this pistol in the hand, but didn’t think it shot as well as it ought to have, all things considered. We were repulsed by the trigger pulls. By contrast, the Whitney Wolverine had a near-perfect trigger, and shot circles around the Mosquito. We also thought the SIG was too big and heavy for most .22-pistol purposes. We realize many folks will prefer the look and feel of this pistol to the Wolverine, and will never be happy with its Buck Rogers look. But if you want to hit your target, save a C-note off the top, can do without the dubious DA trigger so many seem to love, and want a dream of a trigger pull, go with the Wolverine. We’d steer clear of the Mosquito unless we were in love with the SIG pistol world. But if you love the top-heavy look and feel of the SIG pistols, you’ll be right at home here.

-Text and photos by Ray Ordorica from Gun Tests field evaluations.

Whitney Wolverine .22 LR, $280

very small groups

SIG Mosquito .22 LR, $390