When I was younger, it seemed like .22 caliber firearms came in a couple of flavors. For pistols, most were either dedicated target-style guns or micro-sized “hideout” style guns. For rifles, it seemed as though most were again dedicated target-style guns or more simple “plinkers” or beginners’ guns. In recent years, however, there has been a greater proliferation of “combat” style .22s and conversion kits in both pistol and carbine form, and these seem to be gaining in popularity.
I relate some personal history here as it may be helpful for the newer gun owner.
As reflected in my bio, I am not someone who grew up around guns. I was not handed a Marlin Model 60 at age 7 to plink at soda cans off the rear porch of the house. No Appleseed, no school rifle team, no scouts. I grew up in an urban/suburban area with parents who didn’t suppress my interest in firearms, but didn’t really foster it either. It was all on me once I was living independently.
If you would describe yourself as someone who owns guns primarily for self-protection, then the target or classic plinkers may not be of as much interest to you. I will grant that you can learn a lot about the solid fundamentals of marksmanship using these firearms. But, if you are like me with a limited budget and–perhaps more importantly–limited training time, training with firearms that more closely mimic those you rely on for defense can have a lot of benefits.
(**note: for the purposes of this article, “.22” refers to the .22 Long Rifle cartridge)
Benefits of Training With a Doppelganger .22
- Cost—Though you will have the initial outlay of cost to purchase the gun (or conversion kit that fits onto a gun you already own), once you have done so, you can shoot far more cheaply than you can with your full-size caliber.
- Reduced Recoil—This can have benefits in terms of less battering to the gun and less battering to your muscles. This can allow you to focus more on trigger press, breathing, and the other fundamentals for longer periods of time.
- Ease of Training Others—If you have a coming-of-age child in your home, a significant other, or a friend who is new to firearms, using the .22 can be a great way to get them some trigger experience. This is especially important, in my opinion, when training a significant other. In my own case, my spouse had zero firearms experience before we met. To help her become a viable member of our self- and home-defense team, she needed practice. I started her off with .22 caliber versions of our primary home-defense firearms, which allowed her to work on her fundamentals and weapons-manipulation skills without the weight/expense/recoil of their full-caliber cousins.
Likewise, if you have children, you can have them practice with the .22 versions at a younger age. Then, when they are old enough to use the centerfire versions, they will already have all of their weapon manipulations skills for that platform ironed out, and can just focus on learning to use a firearm with more recoil, muzzle blast, etc.
- As implied by #3 above, by using a conversion kit or a .22 version of your full-caliber firearms, you get to “keep everything the same”. Other than issues of weight and recoil, everything else should be the same. Same sight picture, same locations and manipulations for safeties, charging handles, slides, slide stop/release levers, etc. No worry about building training scars while practicing with a “target” or “plinking” style firearms and then transitioning to your self-defense systems if your .22s function the same as your full-caliber systems.
What’s Out There?
If I was just now choosing firearms for carry or home defense (see John’s article on choosing a concealed carry pistol), I would give more serious consideration to those that have .22 conversion kits available or a dedicated .22 “twin”. Luckily, these days there are quite a few that fall into this category, with new ones appearing all the time. Here are just a few examples:
Glock–Besides the much anticipated 9mm single stack, the other gun Glock fans seem to clamor for more than any other is a .22. Although Glock has failed to deliver such a pistol as of this writing, Glock fans have some options with both the Advantage Arms and Tactical Solutions conversion kits, which include dedicated .22 magazines and then a separate slide/barrel/recoil assembly that allow you to remove the Glock parts, replace with the conversion parts, and shoot .22 all day long. Advantage Arms offers more models of conversion kits, from the 26-19-17 size and then also the .45/10mm conversions. I have had the 19 sized model for several years and, though it requires true high-velocity rounds (CCI Minimags or Remington Golden Bullets), when these are used it runs like a champ.
Smith and Wesson—This company tends to listen to its “fans” a bit more so than Glock, and they offer at least two versions of their popular M&P pistols as the M&P 22. I have heard nothing but good things about these offerings.
Sig Sauer—Mosquito owners a few years back tended to be really happy or readying their torches to burn Sig headquarters in New Hampshire to the ground, such was the hit and miss performance of this pistol. Luckily, they also came out with .22 conversion kits for most of their “classic” line of P22x pistols, and people seem to have had more luck with these. I bailed on Sig (sold all of mine) before these became available, so I have no personal experience with them.
Walther—The P22 has been around for a number of years now as a decent twin of the P99. Walther doesn’t seem to be quite as popular as Glock, S&W, etc., these days, but they have a solid following and provide the .22/full-caliber battery.
1911—I’m not a “1911 guy” (go ahead, burn me in effigy!), but there are a number of .22 conversion kits and dedicated .22 pistols (Kimber comes to mind) available. I do not have much experience with these, though I used one once during the NRA Basic Pistol class that I took a number of years ago, and it worked well.
So as not to offend the revolver crowd, there are .22 versions of many popular self defense revolvers, including the Ruger LCR, Smith & Wesson J Frames, etc.
Smith and Wesson—If you are an AR owner, then the S&W M&P 15-22 may be the gun to own. Several versions are available, and, though lighter than a standard AR due to more extensive use of plastics, they can be set up virtually exactly like their full-caliber cousins. You can use the same pistol grip and stock as your AR, so you can mimic the feel and cheek weld exactly. The safety lever, charging handle, magazine release, and bolt catch lever are all located and function as they do in a “regular” AR. Magazines are available in a few sizes and are fairly cheap and easy to find, though they are proprietary.
AR Conversions—there are a few AR conversion kits out there that allow you to shoot .22 through your regular AR by merely swapping out magazines and bolt carrier groups. The advantage these have is that you will have not just similar but the exact same sights, trigger pull, weight, and manipulations, since you will be using the same gun. The disadvantages may be reduced accuracy, wear on the barrel/rifling, and some reliability issues.
Sig Sauer—if you own a Sig 55x series rifle, then it might make sense to obtain a Sig 522. This is basically just a .22 version of the 55x series. It also uses the same magazines as many of the AR .22 conversion kits, so that, unlike the S&W 15-22, you don’t need proprietary magazines.
AK—there are some .22 AK clones out there, but I do not have experience with any and so hesitate to comment about them. However, if you own an AK then it may be worth it to look into them, read online reviews, etc.
The following aren’t negatives per se, but they are worth considering if you are thinking about purchasing a .22 “twin” to one or more of your self-defense firearms.
- Ammunition availability. When the “ammo shortage” hit a couple of years ago, .22 was heavily affected. Even now, as supplies of popular centerfire calibers have caught up with demand, .22 can still be hard to find. Basic economics tells us that if the supply is low and demand is high, the price will rise. Thus, it may not be quite as cost effective to purchase a kit or dedicated .22 firearm since it will take longer/more shooting to pay off the kit or gun itself.
- Not true twins. As noted above, some of the kits or dedicated .22 firearms are lighter than their full-caliber cousins, and they will all have reduced recoil. Thus, while useful for practicing some of the fundamentals of marksmanship, some may regard them as unrealistic since recoil management, hand/arm strength, and even stance are not as vital. In my opinion, as long as you recognize that they aren’t true twins of their full-caliber cousins, and continue to practice all of the fundamentals as you should, you should be fine.
- Reduced reliability. Again, as noted above, some of the .22s can be a bit finicky when it comes to what ammunition they are most reliable with. Even the most reliable .22s for a particular firearm will still have a greater tendency to malfunction than a centerfire firearm; that is just the nature of the rimfire cartridge. However, a thinking shooter will use this as a chance to practice more malfunction clearances, so I do not consider this a major issue.
As is hopefully clear, the use of .22 versions or conversions has a lot of things going for it. Right now, there is plenty of availability of such systems, and more are coming to market all the time. If you use them in such a way as to mitigate their weaknesses and maximize their strengths, they can be a useful training tool for yourself and your family and friends. Oh, and since I failed to mention it, they are fun, too!
***What’s been your experience with “defensive” style .22s? Share here so the rest of our readers can benefit from your experience.***