Best .22LR Handgun: I tested 8 of the most popular options
The .22LR is one of the most popular cartridges on the market today. It is also by far the most popular of the rimfire cartridges. While technically a ‘rifle’ cartridge, many handguns have been chambered in 22LR over the years. Given their immense popularity, I decided to test eight of the most popular rimfire handguns for a Youtube video.
Of the 22LR handguns tested, the best overall performer was the Taurus TX-22 for its accuracy, handling, build quality, and price. This gun represents the best balance of features and is a great value compared to the other guns on our list.
This is certainly a surprising conclusion to a lot of people, but I’ll get into more detail later on. For now, let’s look at the handguns reviewed, ranked from overall best to worst:
|Rank||Handgun||Accuracy||Trigger Weight||Physical Weight||Price|
|1||Taurus TX-22||A-||4.85 lbs||1 lb 1.4 oz||Buy it from Sportsman’s Warehouse|
|2||Browning Buck Mark||A||4.00 lbs||1 lb 15.9 oz||Buy it from Sportsman’s Warehouse|
|3||S&W SW22 Victory||A-||3.80 lbs||2 lbs 5.1 oz||Buy it from Sportsman’s Warehouse|
|4||Walther PPQ||B||4.00 lbs||1 lb 6.3 oz||Buy it from Sportsman’s Warehouse|
|5||Glock 44||C||7.50 lbs||0 lb 14.7 oz||Buy it from Sportsman’s Warehouse|
|6||Ruger Mark IV Lite||A-||4.25 lbs||1 lb 10.8 oz||Buy it from Sportsman’s Warehouse|
|7||Heritage Rough Rider 16″||A+||2.50 lbs||2 lbs 14.1 oz||Buy it from Sportsman’s Warehouse|
|8||Keltec CP33||A||2.25 lbs||1 lb 9.6 oz||Don’t buy it. Doesn’t feed reliably.|
Why these handguns?
Since 22LR is so popular, it’s no surprise that there are a lot of handguns out there that are chambered for this cartridge. Instead of trying to test every single 22LR handgun on the market, we instead decided to focus on 7 of the most popular options. The wildcard in the bunch was the Heritage Rough Rider which got thrown in the mix for fun.
Narrowing the field means we left plenty of handguns out of this comparison. If your favorite handgun is not on the list, it’s not because we don’t like it, but rather we just didn’t have the room. However, we did try to get a good selection of what’s out there, so this ranking should be thought of as a benchmark for the market. Do you have a favorite rimfire handgun? Let us know in the comments!
Many people see handguns as primarily a self-defense firearm. Of course, the 22LR is not the first cartridge that comes to mind when the topic of self-defense is brought up, these rimfire handguns were compared with a bit of a different mindset. People who buy 22LR handguns will most often use them at the range or for backyard plinking at small targets.
The criteria we were most concerned with were therefore ergonomics, handling, ease of use and maintenance. Price was also factored in, but we were careful not to lean on price too heavily. After all, the cheapest gun on the list is only about half the price of the most expensive, so all the guns in this ranking are all pretty affordable. We wanted to find the best value rather than the cheapest price.
One bit of criteria which we tested, accuracy, is presented in a unique manner. Instead of giving hard numbers, we instead sought to compare these guns to each other so they’ve been given a grade from A+ to C. If one gun had exceptionally poor accuracy it would have received a D or an F, but it didn’t turn out that way.
An ‘A’ grade is what we considered to be great accuracy for plinking or practice from around 20 yards away from the target. The ‘B’ and ‘C’ grades are for acceptable or passable accuracy but nothing special. Of the eight guns tested, we gave six of them an A-, A, or A+ rating since the accuracy for those guns were very comparable to each other.
#1 – Taurus TX-22
The Taurus really surprised us in our tests with excellent overall value. Usually, Taurus isn’t the first name that comes to mind when thinking about quality but it is clear that the Albany, New York conglomerate hit this one out of the park.
To start with, the accuracy of this pistol is fantastic. My best group was 0.575 inches at 20 yards. Two other handguns in our group shot slightly better groups, but with a difference of less than a tenth of an inch. Aiding in accuracy are the sights which, although not the best of the bunch, still did their job well.
Another strong point for this gun that we all liked was the handling and ergonomics. The TX-22 feels good in the hand, well balanced, and the controls are right where you need them to be. If there is one thing we would have liked to have seen on this particular pistol, it would have been a Piccatinny Rail to mount a red dot.
The build quality is great as well. All three of us appreciated a solid, common sense design that is easy to field strip and clean. While it might not be the most rugged pistol out there, it can certainly handle regular use and it doesn’t need to be coddled to work well. Due to the polymer frame, the TX-22 weighs in at 1 lb 1.4 oz making it the second-lightest pistol in our comparison and an excellent choice for kids.
The trigger was also one of the best in our sample group. At 4.85 lbs, the trigger pull was about in the sweet spot if it were a center fire cartridge handgun. It might be a bit heavy for a 22LR, but the trigger pull is very smooth and Taurus’ “Pitt-man Trigger System”, or PTS, allows for fast follow-up shots due to a crisp, short trigger pull.
Like many guns, the TX-22 comes in a few varieties. For magazine capacity, the Taurus comes in both 10+1 and 16+1 options, offering plenty of capacity for target practice. All but one variation has a threaded barrel and their competition models have an adapter plate for red dots.
#2 Browning Buck Mark
Coming in at $400, the Buck Mark is the 3rd most expensive handgun in this comparison. But like many Browning products, that money is well spent on a fantastic rimfire pistol. Being made mostly from a single piece of CNC-machined aluminum, the Buck Mark is a sturdy, solid pistol that is a pleasure to shoot.
Unlike some of the guns on this list, the Buck Mark is an old design going back to 1985. Despite the age of the design, Browning has kept this gun looking and feeling fresh. We were impressed by the ergonomics and the cool styling of the gun. While the TX-22 is mostly black polymer, the Buck Mark is shiny aluminum and steel.
The option for a red dot is great as well since the sights are workable and decent, but nothing spectacular. Better sights would probably improve the accuracy of this gun but it was already the third most accurate in our sample group. Aiding in the accuracy is a great trigger which rivals or exceeds the quality of the TX-22.
One area we felt this gun needs improvement is in it’s ease of disassembly. To disassemble the gun for cleaning, it is necessary to dig out a hex wrench and take several screws out of the gun. This might not be that big of a deal on the bench, but in the field it would be a pain if for some reason the gun had to be taken apart.
#3 S&W SW22 Victory
The SW22 Victory brings a lot to the table for $390 and overall we think this is a good gun. This is because of the great accuracy, fantastic build quality, decent trigger, and consistent feeding. The 3-dot sight was also pretty good. One thing we thought this gun could improve on is the grip, which felt a bit weird in the hand. The gun is also heavy.
Starting with the design, the Victory is made from stainless steel. This is a solid choice that gives the gun a durable, flashy finish that should hold up to daily use. The barrel is interchangeable, and the blowback design is fairly simple and operates well. S&W has a long tradition of building 22LR pistols and the Victory is a culmination of all that experience.
The fiber optic sights on our sample worked well, and the fine nature of the sights aided in accuracy, helping it edge out many of the other pistols on the table. The trigger was also fine, but really there wasn’t much to praise other than it did the job.
We had a couple gripes about the gun as well. First, at 2lbs 5oz, the Victory was the second heaviest pistol of our samples with only the Rough Rider being heavier, and that’s only because the Heritage had a 16 inch long barrel! The second feature we ran into that we didn’t like was the shape of the grip. For Ricky especially, the grip just didn’t sit right in his hands.
Now, keeping those things in mind, the Victory is still a darn good pistol. Grips can be changed and the extra weight can be handled with practice. Overall we liked the gun enough to place this in third out of eight. To us, this is an above average gun that could be better, but certainly does a lot of things right out of the box.
#4 Walther PPQ
The previous two guns on the list could be considered ‘target’ pistols, but for number four on our list we pivot back to a more traditional looking semi-auto. Walther is a name well known for making self defense pistols, but they also make a 22LR variant called the PPQ. This gun only has average accuracy, but makes up for it with a good design.
First, the design of the PPQ is excellent. Controls like the slide release are ambidextrous, making this a suitable choice for south-paws. The gun fits well in the hand and has enough weight that it handles well when shooting. Furthermore, field stripping and cleaning this gun is simple.
While the gun shoots consistent groups, they aren’t as accurate as we’d like. Partly this is due to the sights. Yes, the ones which came with our sample did the job, but they didn’t exactly help the shooter make tight groups. Lastly the trigger wasn’t all that great, but still usable. All these combined made for a mediocre shooting experience.
With a price of $370, the PPQ is in the middle of our price range for 22LR pistols and overall represents decent value for those looking to practice self-defense shooting techniques or short range target practice. As a hunting gun or long range plinking, the PPQ just doesn’t do the job as well as we hoped.
#5 – Glock 44
When it comes to centerfire handguns, Glock is a go-to brand for American shooters. The Austrian name is renown for making quality pistols for decent prices. The Glock 44 is a 22LR pistol trying to live up to that reputation, but coming up short in a few places.
For starters, the trigger on the G44 is very heavy at 7.5lbs. This would be considered heavy for a 12 gauge shotgun, let alone a little 22LR pistol! To make matters worst, the travel on the trigger is quite long. A drawn-out, heavy trigger pull is annoying at a minimum, and at worst it affects accuracy. Unfortunately, this is the case with the G44.
Accuracy is average or below average. Considering there are cheaper options out there that shoot much tighter groups, the G44 disappoints in this regard. A better trigger would go a long way toward tightening groups, but I suspect that it would still be an average shooter at best.
Sights are another issue. Now, changing sights is nothing new for Glocks, but for the G44 we feel that better sights are a must for accurate shooting. The stock sights consist of a wide front post and a broad-notched rear sight that leaves a lot of room for error. On a self defense gun that’s rarely used past 10 yards, that might be fine, but for plinking it’s a deal breaker.
Weight is a problem too. The Glock comes in at 14.7 ounces. While some guns on this list are considered heavy, we feel the G44 is too light. Pulling a heavy trigger on a light gun makes accurate shooting more difficult.
While Glock usually makes a good product, we think the G44 needs some refinement to be a great handgun. And it’s for these reasons that we placed the Glock fifth out of our lineup.
#6 – Ruger Mark IV
This choice is sure to rub some people the wrong way, but when it comes to 22LR handguns, we think the Mark IV is a pretty weak showing compared to the other guns on this list. Maybe we had a bad copy, maybe not. What we do agree on is that our particular sample wasn’t cutting the mustard.
The problem is that we purchased this gun with a wooden grip. The grip is absolutely terrible. It’s so fat that it was difficult to reach the mag release and made the gun hard to hold. In the picture above, you’ll see we switched to a much better grip. After that, this gun likely would have moved up several spots in the testing, but at the time of the review, we only had the wooden grip option.
While there is no threaded muzzle on our sample (even though it LOOKS threaded, it’s not), which is annoying, there are a couple of models that include this feature. What this gun gets right is that it looks great and it’s easy to take apart. So at the very least, the Mark IV will be easy to maintain. That’s about it as far as things we liked.
The accuracy of this gun is underwhelming. This is partly because of the poor sight picture but the shape of the grip isn’t helping either. Nobody expects a pistol to shoot like a rifle, but we do expect small groups from a name like Ruger. Feeding issues are fairly common for semi-automatic rimfire guns, but this Ruger had an unusually high number of issues.
For a $550 gun, we expected a lot better. As far as value goes, it’s pretty poor.
#7 – Heritage Rough Rider 16″
We decided to include this pistol just for fun. At $199.00, the Rough Rider is certainly the cheapest pistol on our list. While it lacks many things, there are a couple of reasons why someone would want to buy this handgun. First, the 16-inch long barrel is a conversation piece if we’ve ever seen one. Second, the mechanism might not always fire but it is a very, very simple gun to operate.
One thing the Rough Rider 16 inch has going for it is accuracy. It is the most accurate of the guns we’ve tested. It’s pretty easy to see why that is. The Rough Rider has a rifle-length barrel, meaning that not only is the muzzle over a foot closer to the target, but the bullets are leaving the barrel at 22LR rifle velocities.
Besides the long barrel, the sights aren’t bad either. Rough Riders of all barrel lengths are sold with either a ‘cowboy’ style sight that consists of a front ramp and a long groove on the receiver, or a cheap set of 3 dot fiber optic sights that can be adjusted with a screwdriver. Buyers can decide which style they would prefer for this gun.
Another feature to note is the safety lever. Yes, this revolver has a safety, which is quite unusual among pistols and almost unheard of for revolvers. On the backside of the cylinder housing, to the left of the hammer is a lever that can be flipped down. This safety prevents the hammer from resting on the firing pin.
The biggest issues are the sloppy trigger and consistently light primer strikes. When shooting just for fun, this isn’t a deal-breaker since the revolver can keep being cycled until every round has been fired. For more serious situations like competition or (god forbid) self-defense, the Rough Rider is pretty much useless.
#8 – Keltec CP33
We noticed that out of our samples, a couple of guns had some significant issues that people ought to be aware of. The Keltec CP33 is one of those guns.
There are some things to like about the CP33. First, it’s the most accurate gun in the lineup that doesn’t have a stupidly long barrel. The sights and trigger are also pretty decent, which no doubt aid in the accuracy of this firearm. The ambidextrous safety and three-position AR-style selector are interesting features that make this gun stand out from the crowd a bit.
However, there are many things holding this gun back. First, the design is hideous in my opinion. Aesthetics aside, the gun had initial feeding problems that we were able to (mostly) solve after breaking it in. Keeping this gun clean is a nightmare, and so is the finicky magazine. Besides all that, the magazine release and the grip of this gun are awkward.
At $500, this gun really isn’t good value for money either. It might not be the most important feature of a handgun, but nobody wants to pay a lot of money for a frustrating gun.