August 2006

U.S.-Made .22 LR Popguns: The Taurus DAO PT-22 Is Our Pick

A .22 LR would not be our first choice for serious backup, but any gun is better than nothing at all. We think the cheaper Taurus is a better buy, but we still liked Beretta’s Bobcat.

The basic size of the two test guns was similar, but the Taurus PT-22, left, had an extended magazine which let us get all our fingers onto the gun.

There are a few clever innovations in handguns that have specific usefulness to certain groups of individuals. One of these is the pop-up barrel that permits loading one round into the chamber of semiautomatic pistols without the need for weak or possibly arthritic hands to work a slide. This feature has been mighty handy over the years for a few folks, to our certain knowledge. We found two modern .22 LR pistols with this feature and decided to see just how well they worked in the field, and against each other on the target.

They were Beretta’s Model 21A Bobcat, $250; and Taurus’ PT-22, Model 22B, $227, both chambered for .22 LR. The mechanisms were a bit different, the Beretta being DA for the first shot and SA thereafter for all 7+1 shots, and the Taurus being DAO for all its 8+1 shots. But we thought they were within a nickel of each other for overall size and usefulness. Each gun came with just one magazine. Neither gun had an extractor, nor did they need one. With the open-top design, spent cases had lots of room to get out, and all fired rounds from both pistols ejected perfectly, as it turned out.

Either pistol could be carried in the pocket, and it seems to us that’s the service for which they’re designed. Our general feelings are that a .22 LR would not be our first choice for serious back-up work, but hey, any gun sometimes is much better than nothing at all.

We won’t recommend any specific usage for these tiny pistols. We’ll leave that up the individual; but if you own one of these you should expect to be able to shoot it inexpensively, hit your target, and have some fun with it. In that vein, we thought either gun could be used easily and well as a single-loader for training purposes. Let’s see what else we found out about them:

Beretta offers a couple of variants on this light (12.3-ounce), little-pistol design in both .22 LR and .25 ACP, but the company website (www.berettausa.com/) doesn’t tell what the specific differences are. One version that costs $50 more might be nickel plated, but we’re guessing. The company offers a stainless-steel version (look for the clue-word INOX) that weighs 4 ounces more and costs $325. Prices range from $250 to $325 for the options, all of which are DA/SA, and all of which are called the Bobcat, whether in .22 LR or .25 ACP. The .22 LR versions hold seven rounds and the .25 versions hold eight, plus one in the chamber if desired. Gone are the neat little Minx .22 Short and the Jetfire .25 ACP, both of which were SA only, requiring them to be cocked for the first shot. If it matters, that was easily done, but the Bobcat is not easy to thumb cock. Beretta also offers the Tomcat, a similar size pistol in .32 ACP, with a pop-up barrel.

We liked the look of the Beretta. Its matte-black metal finish was in contrast to the shiny, black, checkered-plastic grip panels. There were vertical serrations on the front and back straps, and though we could get only two fingers onto the grip they were enough. The gun felt secure in the hand. There was minimal room for the trigger finger between the trigger and the spring-steel trigger guard, but our crew found it to be adequate. On the left side of the frame was the lever to release the barrel. Shoving it forward resulted in the barrel flying open, and if you had a round in the chamber, it’s now gone — unless you controlled the flying barrel with your off hand. The trigger guard is a spring that drives the barrel open, and it opens in a hurry. Both sides of the slide were well plastered with the company address, logo, and various warnings. One note stood out: "Made in USA."

The barrel, its rear lug, and the front hinge piece were all steel. So were the slide, hammer, trigger, trigger guard, the magazine and its release button, and the safety. The frame was aluminum alloy. The magazine button was flush with the left grip panel. Pressing it was difficult to accomplish accidentally, but not too hard when you really wanted to get the magazine out, though we found this had to be done with the left hand. The magazine popped out easily whether loaded or not, something the Taurus’s didn’t do. The safety could be put on with the gun cocked or not. The Bobcat would fire with the magazine removed. The Taurus would not.

The little Beretta could be carried cocked and locked, though for a pocket carry that’s a doubtful method, we thought. Better to leave the hammer down, leave the safety off (down) and use the double-action system for the first shot. As noted, the barrel could be popped up for inserting a round, but we found it difficult to close. We had to either use the release button or use lots of force to close it, and the first few times we tried, the barrel didn’t fully latch. Cocking the hammer with the controlling hand’s thumb required a lot of force, on the order of 10 pounds or more, so it’s not a recommended thing to do for fastest action, we thought. The single-action trigger pull measured a hefty 7.2 pounds, and the DA pull was 10.5 pounds.

The sights were poor. They were small and hard to see, not the sort of thing elderly eyes would like. The front was a tapered blade with a vaguely flat top, and the rear was a tiny cut in the slide with beveled sides and rounded top surfaces. We would have liked the sights to be twice as big and better defined.

We tested both guns with [PDFCAP(2)]. We used CCI’s Stinger HPs, CCI Velocitor HPs, Federal’s AutoMatch (bulk), and Remington/Eley Target Rifle. We also tried various other types and configurations to see if we could expect any feeding problems. We encountered one failure to feed (with each gun) within the first dozen rounds, and then no further problems, except that the light-recoiling Remington/Eley Target Rifle failed to cycle the Beretta’s slide reliably. The Beretta hit five to six inches low at 15 yards, and about three inches left. We didn’t like that, and there’s no easy way to change it. This poor sight regulation might be okay for self defense at close range, and in that scenario you wouldn’t be able to see the sights anyway, but without doubt the poor sighting would make it hard to bust a tin can at that range.

[PDFCAP(3)]
Taurus has a variety (28 versions) of finishes available for this gun, such as nickel or blue finish, pink pearl, gold accents, fancy wood, etc., to please the most discerning … man or woman about town. Some color combinations would be embarrassing to show in public, we thought. The gun comes in .22 LR or in .25 Auto. The latter holds 9+1, and all the former hold 8+1 rounds.

This was a very attractive DAO pistol with checkered wood grip panels. Again the gun was marked "Made in USA," and the overall size was just a shade larger than the Beretta. The gun was mostly matte black, but the sides of the slide that bore the maker’s markings were polished slightly, and the nicely checkered wood panels added color. The magazine had an extension that let us get all our fingers onto the gun. The grip shape was close to that of the Beretta, but lacked — nor did it seem to need — the serrations on the straps. The wood panels felt fat, but most of this feeling came from their front edges, which we thought could have been rounded more. With wood panels, the owner can do that himself, if he cares to. There was a storage lock built into the rear grip strap that required a special key.

The magazine button was big, and in a position similar to that on a 1911. Pushing it did exactly nothing, unless the magazine had at least one round in it. Empty, the magazine remained in the gun and had to be pulled out for loading. We found we could work the slide of the Taurus easier and with more comfort that that of the Beretta, thanks to the wide slide serrations on the Taurus. Of course that’s not necessary because of the pop-up barrel, unless you prefer to carry the gun (either gun) with the chamber empty and chamber the first round from the magazine.

The pop-up barrel system worked well on the Taurus. Closing it was far easier than with the other gun. And the Taurus had sights! They were big enough to see, and they gave an excellent picture. Okay, they could have been larger, but they weren’t bad. The long front blade was integral with the front barrel lug, and serrated to cut glare. The rear was a squared notch incorporated into the slide, with a vertical cut in its rear face to reduce glare. As with the Bobcat, all the key parts of the Taurus were steel, and the frame was alloy. The DAO trigger was unquestionably one of the finest of those mechanisms we’ve had the pleasure of using. It was smooth, precise, easy to use, and gave excellent control to the gun all the time. It permitted faster and more accurate shooting than with the Beretta. We all loved it. The only thing you had to learn was to fully release the trigger between shots. It would not do to short stroke it on the rebound. The trigger had a long stroke. The nicely curved shape of the trigger itself aided the great control and comfort of the system. In actual numbers, it took a measured 8 pounds to pull it, but it felt like a lot less.

The PT-22 had a safety lever that went up for safe. We could see little use for it, except to add mental security to a gun carried loose in the pocket with a round chambered. As noted, the gun could not be fired with the magazine removed.

Gun Tests Recommends

Beretta Model 21A Bobcat .22 LR, $250. Buy It. We found the Beretta worked very well shooting double taps at 5 yards. Hits were good, and we could tolerate the DA/SA pair, but we could not shoot the Beretta as fast as we could the Taurus. As long as the hammer was cocked it was not too bad, but a better SA trigger pull would have been a great boon. The safety was stiff enough to stay on quite well for cocked and locked use, but none of our shooters liked that setup. We started with the gun in the hand for added safety during our fast shooting. We thought this little gun would have benefited greatly from a reduced single-action pull, better sights, and better sight regulation. It was completely reliable with proper ammo. The gun felt good in the hand, was secure and comfortable to shoot, it never bit us, and we pretty much liked it. Grouping was on the order of three inches at 15 yards. We’d have liked more accuracy, but we’d accept this.

Taurus PT-22, $227. Our Pick. On the range, we had only one failure to feed during the first magazine full, but thereafter the Taurus fed and fired and ejected everything we threw at it including some truncated-cone hunting-type .22 bullets. The gun printed several inches high at 15 yards, which we found to be less objectionable than the low hits we got with the Beretta. We could hold under a mark and hit it much easier than holding high.Given that neither gun shot precisely where it looked, our shooters all declared they could live with the Taurus easier. Accuracy was a shade better, with occasional bursts of brilliance, which in fairness we also got from the Beretta. But we liked the look of the wood grips better, the DAO trigger was a dream, and the PT-22 cost less.

-Written and photographed by Ray Ordorica, using evaluations from

Gun Tests team testers.

Beretta Model 21A Bobcat .22 LR, $250

four types of ammunition

Taurus PT-22 .22 LR, $227