Every handgun shooter I know owns a plinker. More often than not, it’s a .22, and it usually gets a lot of use.
Why a .22? Simply because .22 ammunition is plentiful and relatively inexpensive, compared to centerfire cartridges. .22’s don’t make a lot of noise, they don’t produce much recoil, and the guns chambered for them come in a wide enough variety to suit every taste and budget.
Right now I only own two—a pistol and a revolver—and to say that they get shot a lot is a gross understatement.
Whenever a friend lets me know that he/she would like to try shooting, or when a parent asks me to teach a child how to handle a firearm, it’s invariably the .22 handguns that come out of the gun safe.
For some reason, it’s usually the pistol that gets picked up first. It’s a Walther P22, and it isn’t quite as intimidating as the revolver, a Smith and Wesson Model 17-8.
The Walther P22 that I now own is actually my second.
I wore out the first one within a year of purchasing it, by firing over 30,000 rounds of .22 Long Rifle ammunition through the little gun.
I can definitively say 30,000+ rounds, because it was the only .22 pistol that I owned until the Model 17 arrived. I customarily kept all my ammunition receipts during that time (a practice I still observe to this day).
Quite a few first-time users learned to shoot with that gun, and it’s hard to think of any other handgun I owned that provided so much enjoyment. The P22 is that much fun to shoot!
The Walther P22’s Appeal
It’s hard to put a finger on the things that contribute to a gun’s “fun” factor, but I’ll try and go through the elements that seem to make it up.
Start with size—the Walther P22 is a smallish pistol, and it doesn’t look intimidating at all, especially to first-time users.
It is also extremely light (just over 17 ounces), which makes it very easy to hold at arm’s length, even for a 10-year old.
As I mentioned earlier, I regularly initiate shooters into the Art and Science of Pistolcraft, and the men, women, and children I teach all love this gun.
Because it’s a .22, it doesn’t kick much, so newly-initiated shooters are less likely to develop a flinch from using it. It has excellent ergonomics, and it’s endowed with features you would normally expect to find on larger, more expensive handguns.
Not everyone likes the way it looks, of course. An acquaintance at one club I go to once commented that it looked “too badass” for a .22 pistol. Personally, I like the way that Walther styled it—the handgun has a distinctly ‘tactical’ look and feel to it, in spite of its diminutive caliber.
Adjustable Grip Size
Walther’s P22 is one of the few .22 handguns that offers interchangeable palm-swells, a feature which allows you to adjust the grip size to fit small, medium, and large hands.
Years of experience have convinced me that shooting an ill-fitting handgun doesn’t do much for your ability to hit what you’re shooting at. Obtaining results that actually reflect a shooter’s ability is a big ask, when the shooter can’t even get an index finger around the trigger properly.
When you move up to the larger calibers, the experience of firing a handgun that doesn’t fit your hands can be downright painful.
Being able to tailor a handgun’s grip size to suit a shooter’s hands goes a long way towards enhancing shooting enjoyment. It also makes it easier for you to assess how well a newbie is progressing on the range.
The rear element of the P22’s three-dot sights is fully adjustable for windage and elevation, which is a definite plus when you’re trying to squeeze the last bit of accuracy out of a gun.
As a bonus, the P22 also boasts a picatinny rail on the underside, where you can attach a factory-made (or aftermarket) scope-mounting bracket. This accessory allows you to use a reflex sight or a pistol scope when you want to extend the range of the little gun, or practice IPSC speed shooting drills using the red dot.
P22 Controls and Features
As previously mentioned, the P22 integrates a lot of features only previously available on full-size, defensive handguns.
To start with, it fires both double- and single-action, which makes it useful for practicing your defensive handgun skills (minus the cost, the noise, and the recoil that comes with using cartridges like the 9mm Parabellum or the .45 ACP).
It features an external hammer, which can actually be lowered over a live round to provide 10+1 round carrying capacity.
In the normal scheme of things, a .22 LR pistol is never carried for purposes of personal defense, since the cartridge isn’t conventionally viewed as a man stopper. If a P22 is all you happen to have on you when a dangerous situation presents itself, however, you’ll happy to know it can pinch hit for a larger-caliber defensive handgun.
A slide-mounted manual safety is provided—on both sides of the gun. The safety is designed to prevent the hammer from striking the firing pin when it drops, and represents an extra margin of safety when you’re lowering the hammer over a live round.
(1911 users should note that the P22’s safety operates in reverse of John Browning’s design—flicking the lever down engages the safety, while flicking it upwards readies the gun for firing.)
Walther handguns also employ a ‘paddle’ style magazine release, which is ostensibly less likely to accidentally pop a magazine while you’re gripping the gun.
The magazine release is located where the trigger guard joins the grip, and is operated by swinging the lever downward. This control lever is accessible from either side of the pistol. Operating it, however, obliges you to shift your grip on the handle, to make way for the lever’s downward movement.
For shooters who like to brace the index finger of their support hand in front of the trigger guard, the P22 provides a trigger guard with a scalloped front edge, the same as you find on every Glock pistol.
My particular version of the P22 has the shorter, 3.4-inch barrel, and it won’t shoot as precisely as a longer-barreled Ruger, for example.
The sight radius is short, which makes a significant difference in accuracy, at ranges beyond 15 meters. For accurate work at 15 meters and beyond, I have found that the pistol performs better using red-dot reflex sights, whose accuracy is not contingent upon sighting radius.
Using good .22LR ammunition, and fired from the bench on a cushioned rest, I can vouch that the P22 is capable of delivering 2-inch groups at 25 meters.
While this can hardly be considered match accuracy, it’s adequate for picking off rodents and pest birds whenever the need arises. It’s all the accuracy a plinker needs, when you’re blasting plastic bottles or perforating aluminum cans on a Sunday afternoon.
I’m pretty sure that there are shooters out there who can make the P22 perform better than I can, so your own mileage will certainly vary.
Symptoms of Wear
The P22 that I own now, my second one, is getting pretty close to the end of its days as I write this. I can no longer accurately estimate how many rounds have gone through it, since I now own two .22 pistols and two other rifles that share the same ammunition. It’s starting to show the same symptoms of wear as the first one, when I discarded it.
The lock-up is getting loose, and the slide has more side-to-side play than it used to have.
I’ve also noticed that it will sometimes fire a cartridge before it’s fully chambered. This invariably results in a ruptured shell casing, whose effects you’re likely to feel on your hands and on your face. (That’s the reason we wear shooting glasses, right?)
When the time comes to replace this P22, I won’t really mind. Guns, in general, are incredibly durable machines, but I have long since accepted the fact that machines do wear out, and that they eventually need to be repaired or replaced.
I still take this second, almost-worn-out P22 to the range from time to time, and it continues to provide heaps of inexpensive enjoyment whenever it gets the chance.
It’s a pistol that doesn’t tire you out, even after you’ve gone through 200 rounds of .22 LR; maybe that’s the biggest fun factor of them all (!)