Some of the most fun you can have on a free day is heading out to your shooting range to hone your shooting skills or to simply have fun. You can plink targets with just about any caliber, but one of the most popular and more cost-effective calibers to use is the .22 long rifle/.22LR.
.22LR is one of the most popular rifle and pistol calibers in the United States. Not only is it incredibly affordable, but it’s light recoiling, accurate up to 50 yards, and versatile for multiple purposes, making it one of the best and, arguably, most fun calibers to shoot.
While .22LR is popular on rifle platforms like the Ruger 10/22, we’re going to be focusing on the array of pistols chambered in this cartridge. There are quite a few options on the market that could each be a solid choice to bring to your next range day.
So, What is a .22 Pistol?
Simply put, it’s a pistol that’s chambered in .22LR. Like we said before, these pistols are often used for a variety of purposes ranging from recreational shooting and introducing new enthusiasts to handguns to hunting pests and small game.
There are a lot of benefits to using .22LR. Compared to other popular pistol calibers, .22LR is very inexpensive and you can often buy upwards 500 rounds for as little $50. Additionally, .22LR has an incredibly soft recoil impulse, making it a great starter round for those who aren’t used to shooting larger calibers.
For newcomers, recoil can be uncomfortable since they haven’t developed their fundamentals yet. Instructors will often use a .22 caliber pistol to train and introduce new enthusiasts to shooting, gradually working up to larger calibers. If you’re new to shooting, starting with a .22 pistol is a great way to learn the fundamentals and reinforce good habits that will set you up for success when you step up to something like a GLOCK 19 or SIG P320.
While it’s a great caliber, .22LR doesn’t come without its drawbacks. To start with, it has very limited ballistic power. While it’s great for hunting small game and pests, it has very little power compared to other handgun calibers. This makes it less effective at distances past around 50 yards. It’s also not as effective as a defensive caliber, but we’ll touch more on that later.
Another big drawback is the ammunition itself. 22.LR is a rimfire cartridge and doesn’t have a traditional centerfire primer. Instead, the primer is found within the rim of the cartridge, hence the term ‘rimfire’. While this isn’t necessarily a problem, rimfire cartridges have been known to not have as much consistency with primer strikes. Though this isn’t always the case when using high-quality ammunition, lower-quality ammo may leave you more prone to issues.
Popular Pistols Chambered in .22LR
Since .22LR is one of the most popular and readily available calibers available, there are a lot of manufacturers producing pistols chambered in it. Some of the most popular handgun manufacturers are Ruger, GLOCK, and SIG Sauer. Below are some of the best models they offer and their features.
Ruger Mark IV
Ruger has been producing .22 pistols for quite some time, and as such, they’re often regarded by many as one of the premier producers of .22 pistols. They offer a wide variety of pistols chambered in .22LR, but one of the most popular is the Ruger Mark IV. The Mark IV is the latest design in the long running ‘Mark’ series of pistols from Ruger. Originally, it started as the Ruger Standard Pistol in the late 1940s, with the later models being the Mark II, III, and IV respectively. Since its inception, it’s often regarded as one of the best .22 pistols for target shooting and competitions.
The Mark IV has a wide spectrum of variations, with some having just standard iron sights, and others having threaded barrels, lightweight frames, and continuous picatinny rails. The Mark IV Standard Pistol is essentially a modern take on the classic Ruger Standard Pistol design. It comes standard with a 4.75- or 6-inch barrel, 10-round capacity, polymer grips, and a blued finish. It weighs 28.2 or 30.1 ounces depending on the model.
In addition to the standard, the Mark IV 22/45 Lite is another great choice. It’s much lighter, utilizing a polymer frame instead of aluminum. They come standard with adjustable target sights, but there’s an option for an additional picatinny rail as well. Lastly, they have a shorter 4.4-inch barrel that’s threaded for suppressor use.
Both options are great pistols for recreation or target shooting. The Mark IV Standard is usually priced around $430 to $500, while the Mark IV 22/45 Lite ranges from around $550 to $650, depending on the model. The Mark IV is a solid choice, regardless of which variant you choose.
GLOCK is considered by many to be one of the best handgun manufacturers around. GLOCK handguns are known for being impressively reliable and utilitarian, with the GLOCK 44 being no exception. Currently, it’s the only handgun in GLOCK’s lineup that’s chambered in .22LR.
The GLOCK 44 has the exact same dimensions as the GLOCK 19, one of their most popular handgun models. It has a 4.02-inch barrel length, 10-round capacity, and comes standard with an accessory rail for lights. Unlike the GLOCK 19, the GLOCK 44 features an all-polymer construction. Both the slide and frame are made of a durable polymer. This type of construction gives the GLOCK 44 a very light overall weight (only 16.4 ounces when loaded).
Usually, this pistol hovers around the $400 price point, but when they’re on sale, they can drop below that price. If you already own a GLOCK 19, the familiar controls, shape, and size make the GLOCK 44 an easy pistol to pick up and begin training with.
SIG Sauer P322
Our final entrant is from another highly regarded handgun manufacturer. We are of course talking about SIG Sauer. Their P322 pistol is one of the newest pistols in SIG’s lineup, and like GLOCK, it’s also the only one of their current production pistols chambered in .22LR.
The P322 is similar, but not identical, to SIG’s P365 XMACRO pistol. The P322 has an overall length of 7 inches, a 4-inch barrel, an alloy slide, and a polymer frame. What sets the P322 apart from the other entrants in this list is the features it comes with. It has the largest capacity of the three, coming with a 20-round standard magazine capacity. Likewise, it comes standard with adjustable fiber optic sights and is optics ready. Some models even come with a SIG ROMEOZero mini-reflex sight for enhanced accuracy, making shooting targets even easier.
Even though it has a lot of premium features, you might be surprised to learn that you can often find the P322 under $500. Usually, you can expect to find the P322 priced around $400. Keep in mind that this model doesn’t come with any additional compensators or optics like some other models. Those models will cost more since you’re adding an optic into the package.
Which one is best?
Just like there isn’t a best handgun brand, there isn’t a best .22 pistol. The best pistol is the one that best fits your needs. If you’re looking for a good inexpensive trainer, the Ruger Mark IV Standard, GLOCK 44, and SIG P322 are great options. For precision and target shooting, the Ruger Mark IV 22/45 Lite is a great option that offers more versatility, albeit with a price increase.
Can a .22 Pistol Be Used for Defense?
Many enthusiasts may decide to opt for .22 pistol for defense because of their light recoil and light weight, but are they really a good choice? In most cases, .22LR, like most rimfire calibers, is not recommended for personal defense. While .22 pistols are easier to shoot, the weak terminal ballistics and the inconsistencies in ammo quality make it a sub-par choice for defense.
If you’re set on using a .22 pistol for personal protection, we recommend stepping up to a larger variant of the .22LR, the .22 Magnum/.22WMR. .22WMR cartridges use the same bullet as a standard .22 LR, but the casing is almost twice as long, allowing each load to have more powder per cartridge. While this does increase the recoil, it only increases it by a little. .22WMR has better terminal ballistics and is generally more reliable when compared to .22LR.
All that being said, .22WMR is still a small rimfire cartridge, so it suffers from ammo inconsistency and doesn’t compare ballistically to larger centerfire cartridges. Our pistol caliber guide goes even further on this topic.
If you’re looking for a firearm for self-defense purposes, we recommend checking out our guide on using guns for self-defense. It breaks down the most popular firearm variants used for self-defense and some of the best calibers to use.
.22 pistols are some of the best options available for a budget-friendly range day. They’re great for reinforcing the fundamentals of shooting, practicing proper shooting techniques, and introducing newcomers to firearms.
If you’re looking at getting a .22 pistol as a new enthusiast, we recommend taking a look at some of our other articles. Our new pistol owner’s guide goes over everything you’ll need to know as a new firearm owner, while our article on the basic pistol shooting stances teaches you the fundamentals of proper stances to set you up for success. There isn’t a better time than now to get educated and start training.