22-Caliber Handgun Shoot-Out: Smith, TacSol, Beretta, Colt

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22-Caliber Handguns

In this installment, we are looking at some of the best 22-caliber pistols for all-around target shooting and training for marksmanship and personal-defense practice, with an emphasis on viability for personal-defense training. Some handguns are just fine for general plinking, but the modern shooter demands the ability to train with combat lights or even a red-dot sight. All 22s do not allow this type of versatility. Let’s look at four 22-caliber handguns and see how they stack up as modern trainers.

The 22 self-loading handgun is a great firearm that every handgunner should own at least one of. The 22 is a great trainer, and it is also a good small-game handgun, and it is even useful in some forms of competition. The absence of recoil and muzzle report compared to centerfire handguns is often touted, but recoil and muzzle blast are there, simply in easily manageable portions. The shooter is free to concentrate on trigger press, sight picture, sight alignment, and grip. Practice in offhand fire, combat practice, firing for extreme accuracy from a solid rest, clearing malfunctions and hunting game are just some of the practice that may be accomplished with the 22 pistol. For small-game hunting, excellent accuracy is demanded. For combat practice—and this is an important point—the handgun should be similar to the centerfire defense gun in accuracy. In that manner, the shooter isn’t given a false sense of security by a 22 that is much more accurate than the 9mm or 45 they use for personal defense. When practicing with the 22, the serious shooter should use the same grip and trigger press that he or she uses when mastering the 9mm or 45. Using a lighter grip or shooting fast just because the 22 is so controllable doesn’t cross over into personal defense skills; it is simply shooting for fun.

Colt 22 LR conversion unit

We collected two 22-caliber handguns and two 22-caliber conversion units for comparison. One of the handguns is a new model and the other, a relatively new and often overlooked pistol. The firearms tested included the Smith & Wesson Victory 22, Beretta Neos 22, Tactical Solutions’ Glock conversion unit, and a Colt 22 Ace conversion unit.

S&W Victory 22

Training Considerations

Another consideration for new shooters is the ability to mount both a red-dot sight and a laser light on the handgun. (Not necessarily in tandem.) The laser may be defense related, or it may be used in training to help gauge the shooter’s success in mastering the trigger. A red dot that bounces all over the wall when the trigger isn’t pressed properly is a great aid in marksmanship training.

We chose a MeoRed Dot for use with the handguns. The MeoRed has an MSRP of $520, so it is pricier than most sights that will be mounted on the 22. Visual clarity and function of this reflex sight cannot be faulted, so it made a good test optic for the pistols.

test rounds for 22 LR handguns

The mini red-dot or reflex sight for pistols is a new idea, but one that works well for us in practice. If the unit were delicate, however, it would not be a great idea, but the Meopta MeoRed has given us good service on several handguns. With the Smith & Wesson and Beretta available for red-dot scope mounting, the field is interesting and viable. The problem is that if you do not practice with the red dot, you will not be as fast as with iron sights and not fast enough for personal defense or competition. The red dot requires the pistol be aimed while the handgun is brought into action, while conventional sights are brought to the eye largely by feel, then aligned. As an example, when practicing with the 22s, one of our raters, new to the red dot, lost the red-dot aiming point every time he fired and had to reacquire the dot and aim again.

Lasers and red dots are available for less than the MeoRed that would offer good training. We found that the laser sight, by comparison, isn’t useful for training in open sunlight on the range. The laser is a short-range proposition even in dim light. The laser is pretty neat at short range when firing from around corners in the home, we felt. For marksmanship training, the laser is a great trainer for using the trigger properly. If you use a red-dot-equipped defense pistol, the red-dot-mounted 22 is an option.

Range Data

CCI Velocitor 40-gr. Copper-Plated HPSmith & Wesson VictoryBeretta NeosGlock Model 22Colt 1911
Average velocity855 fps872 fps866 fps884 fps
Muzzle energy64 ft.-lbs.67 ft.-lbs.66 ft.-lbs.69 ft.-lbs.
Smallest group1.5 in.1.4 in.2.6 in.2.3 in.
Largest group2.2 in.2 in.3.1 in.2.8 in.
Average group size1.9 in.1.8 in.2.9 in.2.5 in.
Fiocchi HV 40-gr. Lead RN
Average velocity1090 fps1110 fps1055 fps1068 fps
Muzzle energy105 ft.-lbs.109 ft.-lbs.98 ft.-lbs.101 ft.-lbs.
Smallest group1.4 in.1.2 in.2.8 in.2 in.
Largest group2 in.1.95 in.3.7 in.2.6 in.
Average group size1.7 in.1.6 in.3.2 in.2.3 in.
Winchester Super X 37-gr. Plated HPs
Average velocity992 fps1035 fps1018 fps954 fps
Muzzle energy81 ft.-lbs.88 ft.-lbs.85 ft.-lbs.75 ft.-lbs.
Smallest group1.5 in.1.3 in.3 in.2.7 in.
Largest group2.3 in.2 in.3.8 in.3.3 in.
Average group1.9 in.1.7 in.3.4 in.3 in.
Notes: To collect accuracy data, we fired five-shot groups off a solid bench rest. Distance: 25 yards. We recorded velocities with a Competition Electronics Chrony Chronograph. The first sky screen was set 10 feet from the muzzle. Ammunition notes: We purchased the CCI Velocitor for $6.49/50 from Slickguns.com; the Fiocchi HV for $4.81/50 from Centerfireguns.com, and the Winchester Super X for $20/100 from LuckyGunner.com.

Smith & Wesson Victory 22 22 LR, $341


The Smith & Wesson has much to offer. It is accurate and reliable and looks good. Hand fit is excellent and disassembly for cleaning and maintenance is easy. The fiber-optic sights are a big plus for most shooting chores.

Smith & Wesson Victory 22 22 LR

ACTIONBlowback single-action semi-auto
MAX WIDTH1.2 in.
BARRELSteel; 1:16 twist
MAGAZINE10-rd. detachable box
GRIPSCheckered plastic
GRIP THICKNESS (max)1.2 in.
SAFETYLeft side lever
TELEPHONE(800) 331-0852

Smith & Wesson Victory 22 22 LR optic

The Smith & Wesson Victory is a fresh design that isn’t similar to the previous Smith & Wesson SW22 pistols, nor is it based on the super-accurate and expensive Smith & Wesson Model 41. The Victory features a straight blowback action and a single-action trigger. The barrel is 5.5 inches long in a bull-barrel configuration. The barrel crown is well cut, and the barrel seems well balanced. The sights are excellent target-grade units with fiber-optic inserts. We like the sight design. During firing, there was no shifting of the zero, and the fiber optics did not become loose, which has been a concern with some sights of this type. The sights are fully adjustable. The fit and finish of the handgun are good. The grips are ergonomically designed hard plastic that fit all hand sizes well. They are secured by Torx-head screws. Both the front strap and the rear strap have good checkering. It isn’t deep but works well. The safety is positive in operation and easily reached by the firing-hand thumb. The controls are standard, with a slide lock that is easily manipulated, and the Browning-type magazine release works well. There is an adjustable trigger stop in the face of the serrated trigger. The trigger breaks very cleanly at 3.75 pounds. The pistol breaks down easily by backing out a hex-head screw that holds the receiver and barrel together. The bolt is then simply pulled from the rear of the receiver. This makes for quick and easy cleaning, and the zero is retained when the pistol is reassembled, as long as the barrel is properly tightened. The barrel may be changed for a longer one, if desired. The rear of the bolt is serrated for better grip.

Smith & Wesson Victory 22 22 LR

The pistol was fired with four loads. For training evaluation, each pistol was fired with 200 rounds of Winchester’s M22 40-grain load. This loading was designed primarily to burn cleanly and function in AR-15-style 22-caliber rifles, and it works equally well in the pistol. For accuracy testing, we used the Winchester Super X, Fiocchi HV, and CCI Velocitor. The pistol fired the 200 rounds on the target-training-small game course without any problem. Accuracy was good in offhand-fire combat shooting and also when fired from a braced barricade position. All raters enjoyed firing the Victory 22. Accuracy from a solid benchrest position at 25 yards was excellent. The Velocitor load grouped five shots into 1.5 inches, the Winchester into 1.45 inches, and the Fiocchi into 1.35 inches. Considering that it shot the best groups and was very consistent, the Fiocchi loading was also considerably faster than the other loads. At this point, the pistol had given an excellent overall performance for a new design. There are very few handguns we test that a pair of raters could have comfortably fired 200 cartridges so quickly with such good results.

Smith & Wesson Victory 22 22 LR

Next, we tested the viability of the Victory with the red dot. Not long ago, a special mount attaching to the receiver was required to mount such a sight, or the shooter could use a mount attaching to the grips, or a rail could be mounted on guns drilled and tapped for a rail, or some other custom solutions. Today, a new generation of pistols allows easier mounting. The Victory isn’t exactly red-dot ready, but it is easily made ready. The rail holding the rear sight is removed, and the supplied Picatinny rail is then mounted. It isn’t difficult. However, if the rear elevation screw is screwed down into the receiver, it must be screwed out to remove the rear sight. This means the pistol will have to be re-zeroed.

With the Meopta red dot added, the pistol remained lively in hand and fast on target. The pistol was well balanced and handled well. The pistol proved fast on target and useful as an understudy for training for centerfire competitions using the red dot sight. During the test, the pistol never failed to function in firing 500 22 Long Rifle cartridges. Perhaps 100 were fired with the red dot attached, so the weight of the sight did not impede function.

Our Team Said: The pistol gets an A rating as a viable 22-caliber handgun. But as a red-dot-equipped pistol, it was rated a B. This is because of the greater difficulty than the Neos in mounting a red dot. We would not have rated the pistol down a full grade had the Victory been returned to zero after remounting the sights, but this wasn’t the case. The Smith & Wesson is a good system, but this grading was based on a comparison to the Neos. Just the same, the Victory is a good 22 pistol, and we think it is a good addition to the Smith & Wesson line.

Colt 22 Conversion Unit 22 LR, $500


The Colt is a good conversion, but in this case, we feel there are self-loading 22s in the 1911 format that are a better choice. This conversion is pricey, and there are good alternatives. Finding spare magazines is tough.

Colt 22 Conversion 22 LR

ACTIONBlowback single-action semi-auto
MAX WIDTH1.5 in.
BARRELSteel; 1:16 twist
MAGAZINE10-rd. detachable box
GRIPSCheckered plastic
GRIP THICKNESS (max)1.3 in.
SAFETYSlide lock safety, grip safety

Colt 22 Conversion 22 LR

The Colt 22 conversion is all over the board in price, depending on condition and vintage. It isn’t unusual to see them priced north of one thousand dollars. The price listed is the average for a shooter grade conversion that may not have the original box. The first mark in the notebook against the Colt conversion was the price. This conversion is intended for Colt pistols and will fit and function well on most Series 70 pistols. Series 80 pistols with a firing pin block may require the conversion be modified. This conversion does not affect the trigger action. There is no firing pin block or drop safety.

Colt 22 Conversion 22 LR magazine

The conversion unit is well made and well finished. This conversion uses the famous Colt floating chamber. This was developed to allow good function with a steel slide versus the aluminum slide used on some conversions. The floating chamber gives the slide a little kick and ensures function. The Colt conversion is sometimes prone to leading. The floating chamber should be lubricated with STP motor oil. This ensures good function, in our experience. The conversion is mounted on a Colt military frame with the long trigger. The trigger action is 6.0 pounds, even and clean. When firing the Colt 22 conversion unit, recoil was greater than the other handguns by design. The floating chamber is intended to give a little kick to the slide, which not only helps in function with the light 22 Long Rifle cartridge, but also simulates recoil to an extent. It is still 22 recoil, but it is stronger than the other pistols. The conversion was supplied with a single magazine. We were able to fire 400 cartridges in the Colt combination without a single malfunction of any type, but it was slow going loading a single magazine for most of the test. That brings us to the greatest drawback of the Colt 22 conversion. There are three types of magazines we are aware of: Colt, Metalform, and Triple K. We were unable to secure a single spare magazine after looking for more than a week through the usual sources and digging further through specialty suppliers. There were no magazines for sale we could find. While some Colt magazines were listed as high as $90 for shooter grade magazines—and certain areas demand even more—we were unable to find one actually in stock. Instead, we bought a GSG M-1911 22 LR 10-round magazine (GERMM1911, $31 from CheaperThanDirt.com). This magazine may or may not function with your 1911 Colt conversion, but it fit and functioned in our conversion, except when loaded with the slide down. The magazine catch was so tight it could not be actuated. The magazine demands a slap to seat and could only be removed with the slide locked back. Not ideal, but it got us through the final day without a malfunction.

Colt 22 Conversion 22 LR floating chamber

Moving to bench testing, the single magazine was less of a handicap. The 22-caliber conversion was quite accurate at 25 yards, with groups as small as 2.0 inches and an average with the Fiocchi HV load of 2.3 inches. The fitting and well-made barrel added up to excellent accuracy potential. The pistol fired 3 inches high and 3.5 inches right, the latter of which would require drifting the rear sight to fix the windage.

Our Team Said: When considering the 22 conversion and its overall utility, we believe that in this case a shooter would be better served with a separate 22 caliber handgun or a modern SIG or Kimber 22 conversion. The fixed-sight Colt conversion is a great understudy for a fixed sight 45, and the kick of the slide, by design, helps in learning recoil control. The expense of the unit doesn’t match its utility, we felt, and the scarceness and expense of the spare magazines are even more discouraging. We rated the pistol down a grade based on expense and another grade based on the spare magazine situation.

Beretta Neos 22 LR, $298


The Neos was the most accurate handgun tested and the one that departed most from the conventional. Reliability was faultless. The performance of the handgun is good. It was the easier of the two pistols tested to accept a red-dot sight.

Beretta Neos 22 LR

MAX WIDTH1.2 in.
MAGAZINE10-rd. detachable box
GRIP THICKNESS (max)1.1 in.
WARRANTY2 years limited
TELEPHONE(800) 237-3882

Beretta Neos 22 LR

The Beretta Neos has quite a different appearance from the other handguns. It has been called a “space gun.” The Beretta features a 6-inch-long barrel. The Neos exhibited the highest velocity and energy of any of the handguns tested—important for small-game hunting—and also the greatest accuracy. The accuracy advantage over the Smith & Wesson was slight, but still evident in test firing.

Beretta Neos 22 LR

Despite the radical grip design, the Neos is comfortable, and all raters liked the fit and feel of the Neos. The fit and finish of the handgun are excellent. The trigger breaks cleanly at 4.25 pounds. There was no discernible creep in the Neos trigger, and the break was clean, although not as light as the Smith & Wesson Victory 22. The Neos was not only the most accurate handgun, it was also the most consistent in accuracy. The Fiocchi load was the fastest of the three and the most accurate in the Neos. The Neos is geared toward top accuracy, and it isn’t quite as fast handling as the Smith & Wesson Victory. The pistol sits well in hand, and it is a good firing platform versus a handgun designed for dynamic missions. The sights are top-grade adjustable designs. There is a light rail for mounting optics that runs the length of the receiver and barrel. The raters were divided on this. Some felt that the rail was a distraction when using the pistol’s iron sights. In the end, the consensus was that in slow fire, when striving for the greatest accuracy, the pistol’s rail did not interfere as much as when firing quickly off hand. In other words, the rail worked as expected for what it was designed to do.

Beretta Neos 22 LR

The magazine release is located in front of the right-hand grip panel. It is easily actuated by the forefinger. It is different, but it works well. The slide lock is conventional. Some, but not all, of the raters found manipulating the slide lock to be a challenge from the firing grip. The safety was a more serious concern. The safety is pressed down for on Safe and then up for Fire, which is the opposite of most handguns. When achieving a full firing grip with the safety on, most of the raters felt that the safety bumped into the web of the palm. Although, with the thumb down, this wasn’t noticeable, and it depends on the firing grip taken. This would not be a problem for a simple target gun, but we are reviewing the pistols with an eye toward combat-shooting practice. The safety isn’t a huge concern, but it is something to be aware of. Field stripping is simple. A plunger is pressed to release tension on the barrel nut, which is turned clockwise, and the barrel lifts off the frame.

Beretta Neos 22 LR

The pistol was subjected to the same firing test as the Smith & Wesson Victory. Results were excellent in offhand fire. We feel that the slightly longer barrel had something to do with this, but the Neos handled and fired with accuracy. In firing for bench rest accuracy, the pistol was incrementally more accurate than the Smith & Wesson Victory, but not by a great enough margin to declare a resounding showing. It was more accurate, however, with three out of three of the loads tested.

Beretta Neos 22 LR

The red dot sight was easily mounted. Simply slip it into the rail and tighten it. And when it is removed, the sights remain zeroed, as they have not been moved. It is easy to quickly sight the red dot in and begin using. The Victory Model isn’t a bad system for red dot use, and it eliminates the interference of the rails in the offhand sight picture. There is also a fiber optic component. For combat training, the Victory sights are better, but most raters liked the Neos system better for absolute accuracy. The accuracy of the pistol is excellent.

Our Team Said: We had no malfunctions of any type. The Neos costs less than the Victory, and it is easier to mount a red dot. Accuracy, velocity, and energy are better. We liked the safety location, but not the operation. We rated the Neos down a half grade based on the safety, but the pistol otherwise earned a Best Buy notation.

Tactical Solutions Glock 22 Conversion 22 LR, $333


The Tactical Solutions 22 conversion is well made, is very well machined, and is reliable and accurate enough. Spare magazines are available and affordable. A must-buy for Glock owners.

Tactical Solutions Glock 22 conversion 22 LR

ACTIONBlowback semi-auto, DAO
MAX WIDTH1.25 in.
MAGAZINE15-rd. detachable box
SLIDEBlue steel
GRIP THICKNESS (max)1.2 in.
WARRANTY1 year limited
TELEPHONE(866) 333-9901

Tactical Solutions Glock 22 conversion 22 LR

The final price of the conversion and a spare magazine was more than that of either of the 22-caliber handguns tested. The Tactical Solutions conversion unit is an upper end—barrel, slide, and recoil spring assembly—for the Glock pistol. Since this is a caliber-for-caliber conversion, the ejector is also designed into the unit. This steel slide conversion is well made and shows good fit and finish. The slide fit the Glock Model 22 frame as designed. The sights are identical to Glock factory sights with the same white outline.

Tactical Solutions Glock 22 conversion 22 LR sight

The sights may be changed for night sights or any other type as desired with any sight designed for the Glock handgun. The Tactical Solutions conversion unit is supplied with a single magazine. We ordered a spare magazine from Brownells.com for $28. The Tactical Solutions 22-caliber conversion requires lubricant in three places unlike the Glock pistol, which requires a single drop of oil. Keeping the conversion properly lubricated will result in good function. Documents for the conversion recommend using CCI Blazer and CCI Mini Mag. We had neither on hand. The conversion worked well with the same ammunition as the other pistols fired.

Tactical Solutions Glock 22 conversion 22 LR rear sight

The determining factor with the trigger action is the frame the Tactical Solutions conversion is fitted to. As an example, the Glock 22 receiver we used demonstrated a 5.5-pound trigger action. However, the force needed to reliably crack rimfire primers is greater than that needed to crack off centerfire primers. So, the striker may require more force. The trigger action with the Tactical Solutions conversion parts in place broke at 5.8 pounds.

Tactical Solutions Glock 22 conversion 22 LR magazine

Reliability was faultless when firing the pistol. We fired the same 400 cartridges in the Tactical Solutions conversion as we had fired in the other handguns. We stopped before benchrest accuracy testing and cleaned the pistols. They required no further attention. It is unusual to fire 1,600 rimfire cartridges without a single feed malfunction or failure to fire. The heel-based 22 Long Rifle bullets sometimes get bent off the center line in feeding, and rimfire priming simply isn’t as reliable as centerfire priming. This was the greatest amount of 22 LR ammunition that the raters can recall testing without a single feed or ignition problem and is something of a Gun Tests record.

When testing the Glock conversion unit, we used a TruGlo TruLite combination combat light and red laser. ($75, Glockmeister.com) This combination features a red laser and a bright combat light. Settings allow the use of the light, the laser, or both. This combination is often used on an individual rater’s personal defense handgun, the Glock Model 22 40 S&W, so it seemed wise to test it with the 22 conversion unit.

Meopta red dot

The conversion unit proved a viable training resource for the Glock pistol. With the same frame and trigger action, the feel of the unit was identical to the original configuration. The light was mounted during the combat shooting phase. We like this utility. The raters are sometimes split over whether a separate 22 pistol should be chosen over a conversion unit. After all, with a 22 pistol, you have two handguns rather than a single firearm. In this case, we feel that Glock pistol owners are better served for training purposes with this conversion of the centerfire pistol that with a separate 22-caliber handgun.

Our Team Said: The Tactical Solutions conversion unit is an excellent option, we felt. Glock shooters will find it especially viable, and the use of the pistol with a laser gives good utility in training to use the trigger action.

Combat accuracy was good. The shooters were careful not to go too fast and outpace the results possible with the centerfire unit, as this isn’t a good training decision. Fired for bench-rest accuracy, the Tactical Solutions conversion was the least accurate unit tested. However, even the worst average of a 3.0-inch group at 25 yards was viable for training.

Written and photographed by Bob Campbell, using evaluations from Gun Tests team testers.


  1. The Colt conversion segment said that there are better .22 1911s than the conversions.
    Would you recommend anything in .22 LR 1911s?


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