November 2008

Affordable 22 LR Revolvers: S&W’s Air Lite Redeems Itself

We dissed S&W’s 317 aluminum-frame 8-shooter in a previous evaluation, but this time is different. Taurus’s gun shot great—when it shot—and Charter Arms might be a bargain for some.

As the cost of centerfire ammunition continues to ascend, many gun owners will turn to the standby 22 LR round as a way to shoot economically, whether those pursuits include knocking over cans, punching holes in paper, or killing the occasional rodent. Of the many available guns chambered for the rimfire round, perhaps the easiest to load and shoot and enjoy is the revolver.

We recently tested a trio of wheelguns chambered for the 22 round, and versions of two of them have previously been tested and graded for their utility. For example, just over a year ago (October 2007), we shot the Taurus Model 94SS4, $406. That stainless-steel gun with a 4-inch barrel got a B-, mainly because it was too heavy to be considered as a trail gun. We also said back then, "But the Taurus is a great deal less costly, so if you don’t mind its weight and if you can do without extreme accuracy, it might be right for you. It looked great, performed quite well, and was easier to load and unload."

We were more enthusiastic about a Taurus Model 94B2UL Ultra-Lite Nine, $375, reviewed in March 2006. We said of that gun, rated a Best Buy: "…All in all, the Taurus doesn’t need a lot to make it into one of the finest 22 revolvers we’ve seen. As we found it, it worked well, and the price was modest."

In that same issue, there were two Smith & Wessons reviewed. The 4-inch S&W Model 317-2 HIVIZ No. 160221, $691, earned a Conditional Buy because "…We liked this gun in every respect but for its ‘trick’ sights. We’d throw them as far as we could, as fast as we could, if we owned this gun, and put on a black or red front post and a square-notch rear as fast as you can say ‘HIVIZ.’" Next, the S&W Model 317-2 Air Lite No. 160222, $633, received a Don’t Buy rating, with our staff saying, "There was nothing whatsoever wrong with this gun, and some readers might have a desperate need for it, and they’ll buy it no matter what we say. …We would not buy this gun as long as its adjustable-sighted brother [the HIVIZ unit] was available, unless we had a great need for the smallest, lightest 22 revolver for some special close-range purpose."

With that background in mind, we acquired a 22 revolver we haven’t tested, a Charter Arms Pathfinder No. 72224, a 2-inch-barrel stainless gun that MSRPs for $350. The 6-shooter weighs in at 21 ounces, more than the lightweight aluminum-alloy-frame Smiths and about the same as the Tauruses we’ve tested. The Pathfinder comes with a Patridge front sight, square-notch rear sight, and full rubber grips.

Since we had previous reviews of what are the equivalent of guns rated D or F, (the Don’t Buy–rated S&W Model 317-2 Air Lite No. 160222) and what would be an A- or A gun (the Best Buy–rated Taurus Model 94B2UL Ultra-Lite Nine), we went to Fountain Firearms in Houston ( and got fresh samples of those two and pitted them against the Charter, bracketing it. Would the Charter hold its own against the top-ranked Taurus? Would the Pathfinder navigate our tough testing protocol and again leave the Air Lite in the cellar? Extensive shooting would establish the Charter’s proper place in the established Gun Tests hierarchy, or so we thought.

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