Choosing a .22 handgun to be used for defense, hunting, or recreational shooting can involve some pre-planning before making a decision.
For example, in the mid-1950s, a back country Indian woman in Canada planned well enough to stay alive when a grizzly bear came knocking at her cabin door and as she opened the door, the bear stood up with opened mouth and promptly ate 10 rounds of .22 hollow point fired by her Ruger 22 Standard Automatic.
Seconds later, there was an empty Ruger 22 autoloader and one stone dead bear. Not the best choice at the time, however she was alive to tell the tale.
Browning Buck Mark
Rock Island CF 1911
Smith & Wesson M&P 22
Beretta M9 Rimfire
Ruger MK IV Hunter
Ruger Single Six
RUGER - LCR Revolver
S&W 617 K Frame
Taurus Tracker 617
Ruger used this story for many years as an ad for their Ruger Standard 22 pistol. It must have worked because the Ruger Standard was one of my first, and I still own 22 rimfire handguns today.
Action Type - What Is Best for You?
Handguns are built as wheel guns (revolvers) or semi-autos and there are differences between these two basic types. You should understand these different handguns before you put down your hard-earned money on one of them.
Important to note is that the 22 Long Rifle (LR) is a very poor choice as a defensive weapon in any situation. The cartridge is a great small-game tool in the field and for plinking or serious training, it is the go-to tool for sure.
Zeroing the pistol is mandatory, and a solid rest is being employed in this example to maintain the best chance of gaining good accuracy information.
Best .22 Automatic Pistols
1. Ruger SR 22lr Pistol
This auto-loading pistol is made up of a slide, frame, and stacked magazine. With each depression of the trigger, the weapon discharges a single round until the magazine has been emptied.
Auto-loading pistols can have double- or single-action triggers. Single action means the hammer will need to be cocked to fire each round while the double-action lets you carry with one round chambered.
However, some double-action pistols with exposed hammer allow the shooter to use the hammer as a single action style to gain better trigger pressure release for more accurate shooting.
The Ruger SR 22 is just one example of this type of pistol. Ruger SR 22 sells for a MSRP from $ 399.99-$429.99, depending on how the handgun is dressed.
This handgun carries a polymer frame and aluminum slide, making it a lightweight carry gun. A Picatinny rail is installed on the slide’s underside to allow lights or a pistol laser sight to be mounted.
Two magazines that carry 10 rounds each come standard, and it has a good set of three-dot sights installed.
I have tested several models of the SR22 during the past few years and found them to be reliable, and a good serviceable pistol for the price. Generally, this pistol is best for camp or field gun carry, small game applications, and general target practice.
2. Browning Buck Mark
Browning Buck Mark double-action is another good option. This handgun has a very nice trigger and is accurate as well. I have owned several of these handguns.
With a magazine capacity of 10 rounds, it carries staying power, and barrel length will vary depending on the exact model you’re buying.
Depending on the extras on the gun, it can sell from a MSRP of $379.00-$549.00.
3. Smith Victory
Smith offered this new double-action autoloader in 22 LR two years ago to enter the basic general purpose handgun market. The gun can field strip like nothing in seconds and this makes it special.
The Victory mounts a 5.5” barrel that is interchangeable with longer or shorter pipes. If you want to shoot targets, you can make a switch from a nice carry-length barrel to a longer target style.
The magazine capacity on this gun is 10 rounds, and it features a polymer stock, and a Kryptek Highlander finish. Total carry weight is 2.25 lbs.
I test-fired this handgun at the Smith & Wesson booth at Shot Show two years ago and was impressed with the balance and accuracy of the light 22 autoloading weapon.
4. Rock Island CF 1911 Pistol
Unlike some autos that are double-action only, the Rock Island CF 1911 Pistol is single-action only. Patterned after the Government Model 1911 45 ACP, this gun gives you the ability to train with a system much like the larger 45 Government pistol because of the less-expensive 22lr ammo.
Very workable for general target and carry-field applications, the Rock Island handgun is a good buy for the money.
Grip safety, left side slide release, cocked and locked slide controls make this a real 1911 style handgun. MSRP $469.99 - $699.99, depending on add-on elements.
5. Smith & Wesson M&P
Personally, I carry the larger caliber version of the Smith & Wesson M&P Compact rimfire pistol and it is a sweet package as a cross-over training and general field-use weapon. The general rule of gun fighting is to shoot like you train and train like you shoot and this handgun is a budget-friendly option for you.
This handgun is hammerless but retains a soft trigger that utilizes a trigger-disconnect system for safety but is also available with a manual safety and a training aid like that applied to Smith & Wesson big bore service weapons.
A word to the wise. After 26 years on the street carrying a handgun, and a lifetime of gun writing, I won't buy a handgun that is not equipped with manual safety but it’s your call here.
The magazine capacity is 10-1 and will not fire with mag removed. And comes with the combat style sights.
Police officer training with his hammerless double action only weapon.
This is a good pistol for combat style use. Again, this makes the M&P a training officer’s masterpiece.
6. Beretta M9 Rimfire Pistol
Built exactly like the Beretta 92F big 9mm or 40 caliber pistols, this 22lr handgun is a great training piece because of its general size and feel against the big bore gun. This weapon is a cop’s 22 LR handgun to be sure.
When my police department made the transition to automatics back in the day, officers often turned to the Beretta 92F because it felt good to the hand, and was accurate and dependable.
7. Ruger MK IV Hunter
As the last auto-loading option in this review, I have selected the Ruger MK IV Hunter. Similar to my own MK III, the MK IV Hunter that has the new push-button, quick field-stripping deign that requires no tools whatsoever.
Offered in milled stainless steel and built like a New York bank vault, the MK IV is a first-class field or target applied autoloader.
I shot mine for years in a league-style target club without a single hitch
Best .22lr Revolvers / Wheel Guns
I love the revolvers so much that when my police department went to autoloading weapons, I carried my S&W Combat Magnum in 357 until I was about to lose my stripes if I didn't change.
I still carried a Smith & Wesson J frame “Chiefs Special” in 38 +P as a belly gun along with a Smith 5906 9mm Luger when working dog watch (12:00AM to 8:00 AM).
The bottom line is that my obvious total trust is in a wheel gun if things got nasty.
Because wheel guns are simple and you get exactly what you see, a real faith develops around the revolvers when there is a real chance that your life could be on the line. Handguns at that time are not sport, but life and death.
In the 22 LR bracket, there are some great revolvers that act as training aids to the bigger bore guns, and Ruger stands tall as a major supplier of these shooting systems.
Even without training, revolvers are outstanding.
1. Ruger Single Six Convertible
Ruger has long been a leader in designing and selling single-action 22 caliber revolvers.
Today these guns are offered in eight shot and six shot cylinder system that shoot both WMR and 22 rimfire ammo with a quick change of the gun’s cylinder.
The bottom line here is, for the hunter or general outdoor person, the “six shooter” by Ruger is hard to beat.
In the Ruger stainless steel Single Six, we find a very well-made handgun that is built to last a lifetime standing up to hard use by a trapper, small game hunter, or backpacking canoe camper who spends massive amounts of time in the deep wilderness.
When chambering the 22 WMR cartridge, this gun has defensive capabilities. Many a street cop has carried a two-shot leg gun of this chambering in a boot, or leg holster as a stay-alive last- ditch tool.
I do not recommend the 22 LR as a defensive cartridge in any gun type, but I do believe the 22 WMR is an effective last-chance delivery system.
The convertible cylinder system used by Ruger should be considered when buying a rimfire handgun for general purpose use. You’re getting a two-for-one deal here.
2. Ruger Bearcat .22 Revolver
I have owned a Ruger Bearcat for almost 30 years. In fact, I have own several of them and traded them to collectors because I shoot them, and I don't collect them.
The Bearcat has changed a bit from the old brass frame backstrap models of the 1970's.
The current Bearcat is built with its grip frame backstrap set more like that of a birds head grip wheel gun and gives the shooter a bit more hand room.
The early guns were very small in the grip area and not well balanced for actual shooting.
The Ruger Bearcat is small overall, and I had a custom holster made for mine by a local saddle shop here in western South Dakota.
These guns look light but hit as hard as any 22 Long Rifle today. I have shot everything from badger to big mama rattle snakes (Dakota buzz worms) with mine.
3. Ruger LCR Double-Action
This is a 22 Magnum revolver and comes right at the line for serious self-defense work. Unlike the 22 LR, the magnum round has some added horse power.
I have interviewed doctors who have patched up shooting victims and they report that damage done with this weapon is nasty, to say the least.
The double action revolver has Hogue grips, 1.875” barrel, Ion Bond Diamond Black finish, and has a MSRP of $499.99.
The hammer system is designed for inside pocket carry, and the hammer will not get caught up on clothing when withdrawn quickly.
I know cops who cut the hammers off Smith & Wesson J frame snub-nose revolvers to reproduce this feature.
4. Ruger SP 101
The Ruger SP 101 is the flagship model in the whole Ruger line when it comes to a one-gun-does- it-all revolver.
This gun has been being built by Ruger for many years and stays in the inventory because it can deliver great results at a very fair price.
Built of machined stainless steel from a single block of metal to start, this revolver is bank vault- tough. Designed without any side plates at all that can weaken the frame of the gun, this revolver is bullet proof and can be regarded as a lifetime firearm.
For officers, guards, or regular folks still carrying wheel guns, the Ruger 101 is a solid training weapon in 22 LR.
It will react in terms of weight and balance the same as the 357 Magnum in this pistol model.
Offered with a half-covered shroud over the ejector rod and a 4.2” barrel, the handgun is street tough.
5. Smith & Wesson K Frame
Introduced world-wide in 1899, the Smith & Wesson K Frame is still being built and sold like it had hit the market yesterday.
Now, I am a Smith & Wesson guy to the core. Carried one on the job (26 years) and carry one today like it was attached to me with rivets.
My five friends in the little Air weights J frame cylinders are never going to let me be a victim. (there are sheep and there are sheep dogs, I prefer the latter)
As for the K frame hang on, because this is a masterpiece in wheel gun building art. The S&W 617 K Frame is all stainless steel with a trigger as smooth as silk, and accuracy is displayed in both double- and single-action shooting.
The weapon mounts a 6” barrel with target grade open sights. For target work, training, or general field carry, the gun is the queen of the market when it comes to a very solid, well-designed wheel gun system.
6. Taurus Tracker
This Taurus 22 LR model handgun is unique in design because it carries a 9-round cylinder. It is convertible from 22 LR to 22 Magnum with a switch out of cylinders. This twin cylinder system allows for general purpose use and a touch of defensive quality as well.
Offered with a non-fluted cylinder, the gun is a striking piece of firearms eye candy, and I consider it one of Taurus's best designs.
A hot summer day on the range.
With stainless steel construction and a flat gray finish, the gun is a trapper or hunter’s dream for a carry weapon. A full barrel shroud and vent rib complete the mean package.
3.3 lbs. total weight with both a double- and single-action design.
Author runs as many handguns a possible through extensive stress testing, accuracy work, and general use drills giving way to a wide range of available information about different models. Some guns don't make the grade and are dropped out of the program.
Got an opinion on anything here? Give us a bit of feedback if possible. I like to hear what others folks think of various products, and also their experiences with them overall. Please don't be reserved about saying what is on your mind. I am looking forward to a visit.