Ammunition is expensive. When I was younger and had all the time in the world, reloading made it possible for me to shoot nearly as much as I wanted and helped me to develop my shooting skills much more rapidly. Reloading was, in its own way, fun. But as time passed, reloading components became more expensive, and time—for some inexplicable reason—seems to be in ever-shorter supply. I have more disposable income than ever before, yet I am also more frugal than ever before. Still, bound to the mast, I hear the siren song of the range. What to do?
When I am asked for advice on handguns for neophytes (that’s the correct word for “beginner,” by the way, not “amateur”) I generally recommend two weapons: a carry/defensive handgun (usually a Glock) in 9mm or larger, and a .22LR handgun of similar configuration—usually the Walther P22. For neophytes, two things are of significant importance: learning to shoot properly, and shooting as much as possible. That’s where the Walther comes in. Nearly a thousand rounds of .22LR ammunition may be fired for the price of 50 rounds of the 9mm “defensive” ammunition of most manufacturers. The cost of .40 S& W and .45 ACP ammunition is generally more expensive still.
I recommend the Walther because in general function it is similar to the Glock and many other handguns. If one favors a double action carry handgun, the Walther is nearly identical. Most important is that the slide be manipulated in the same manner as a carry handgun so clearance drills are identical. This leaves out a variety of excellent .22LR handguns like the Ruger Standard, Mark I, II and now Mark III pistols due to their very different manual of arms (and fiendish reassembly drill, particularly for neophytes).
The P22 is essentially a scaled-down P99, the handgun carried by Pierce Brosnan during his turn as 007. It is a polymer framed double action handgun with a magazine capacity of 10 rounds. This right side view reveals, from muzzle to backstrap:
(1) A molded in accessory rail.
(2) On the frame at the front of the trigger guard, the takedown latch which is pulled straight down to remove the slide and mainspring.
(3) The internal trigger locking device. Walther provides a key for this superfluous feature. More on this later.
(4) The near-universal contemporary disclaimer—in this case molded into the frame: “warning: read safety manual.” This is, of course, not a bad idea, but seems to assume the purchasers of this handgun have the IQ of turnips.
(5) At the rear of the trigger guard, the ambidextrous Walther-style magazine release.
(6) At the rear of the slide, the ambidextrous Walther-style (imagine that, and on a Walther too!) safety lever.
(7) Above the safety, the windage adjustable only rear sight.
The ambidextrous magazine release is really quite clever. Push down to release the magazine, which drops freely from the magazine well, though it may be necessary for shooters with large hands to slightly adjust their grip when inserting or releasing magazines. The lever is easily activated by the thumb or first finger and is as effective as the standard button magazine release found on most pistols sold in America.
The safety, however, is not an improvement on safeties like that of the M1911 pistol, which can be easily pushed down with the thumb without the necessity of readjusting the grip. The best solution is likely to manipulate the safety with the off hand as activating or deactivating it with the thumb of the shooting hand definitely requires changing one’s grip. As with the M1911, the lever is pushed down to make the weapon ready to fire, and “S” and “F” are clearly marked on the slide with white paint. It is positive in action, both in feel and in the audible click when its position is changed, but again, it is not nearly as user-friendly as a great many other handguns.
The little Walther comes with a profusion of interesting features and accessories, as illustrated by this left side view, including:
(1) The slide stop, which is quite conventional in placement and function.
(2) (From left to right) A small plastic rod that makes reassembling the pistol much easier.
(3) Several replacement front sights of different heights to make up for the lack of an elevation-adjustable rear sight. I’ve found the standard height front sight to be on target with most makes of ammunition.
(3) The barrel nut wrench.
(4) The black plastic key for the internal locking mechanism.
(5) One replacement backstrap. This neat idea is easily user changeable by removing and replacing one drift pin. I find the large backstrap works well for me, but Mrs. Manor prefers the smaller unit that is standard on the P22.
(6) Not pictured are the spare magazine—a quality stainless steel unit with a helpful loading button on the left side—and the polymer storage case.
DISASSEMBLY AND REASSEMBLY:
The P22 is a fixed barrel handgun like most Walthers, and as such the takedown drill is slightly different than many Americans might expect. This exploded view shows the Walther disassembled:
(1) Clear the weapon (remove the magazine and cycle the slide to remove any rounds from the chamber). Always inspect the magazine well and chamber visually and physically.
(2) Lock the slide to the rear.
(3) Pull the takedown latch straight downward by grasping it simultaneously on both sides of the frame. I often find polymer handguns to be a bit slippery, so I use either a piece of cloth or a small piece of rubber from a bicycle inner tube, which makes this part of the process much easier.
(4) Pull the slide fully to the rear and lift the rear of the slide up and off the rails, then allow the mainspring to move it forward to remove the guide rod and mainspring.
The weapon is reassembled in reverse order, and this is where the little black plastic rod comes into play. Inserting this into the mainspring and using it to index the spring through the guide rod hole in the slide under the barrel makes reassembling the weapon easy. If this little device is lost, you’ll surely be trying to find or make something like it.
THE FIXED BARREL:
This method of attachment offers several advantages in manufacture and use. A weapon with the barrel affixed to the frame can provide more intrinsic accuracy than weapons with moving barrels. Of course, intrinsic and practical accuracy are often two different things. It’s always a good idea, when reassembling the Walther after cleaning, to be sure the barrel nut is snug.
There are two additional primary advantages to this kind of arrangement: barrels can easily be swapped and the system works very well with suppressors (there is no such thing as a “silencer”).
Walther does in fact make a “target pistol” version of the P22 with a longer barrel and detachable barrel weight. Greater accuracy can theoretically be obtained by means of the longer, barrel, longer sight radius and the shifting of the weapon’s center of gravity forward.
It is in the use of suppressors that this system shines. The barrel nut can be easily replaced with an adapter that not only secures the barrel but allows the attachment of a suppressor. Because the barrel does not move when the slide is cycled by firing, a suppressor will tend to stay in place. Yankee Hill Machine makes several great suppressors for the P22, as well as a variety of other useful, high quality goodies, including AR pattern rifles in a variety of configurations and calibers.
Please keep in mind that owning a suppressor requires a somewhat lengthy approval process by the Federal Government and at least $200.00 for the stamp—literally a stamp on paper—authorizing ownership of a suppressor. Making, owning, or even gazing longingly at a suppressor (OK, maybe I’m exaggerating the last one a bit) without Federal approval is a felony, and one can be sure that whatever failings the Holder DOJ has, prosecuting gun owners will not be likely to be among them.
The P99 is a very ergonomically friendly design and the P22 follows closely in its’ footsteps. The nearest point of comparison might be the grip of the Browning Hi-Power. In any case, the little weapon feels good in the hand. The grooves on the front strap and particularly the little raised bumps molded into the grip are effective in keeping the weapon firmly in the hand, not that this is difficult.
The weapon is light, but sufficiently heavy to render recoil virtually non-existent if the shooter does his or her part with a proper Weaver grip/stance. Even shooting one-handed, recoil is essentially not an issue. For neophytes, particularly those skittish about handguns in general, this weapon is very much a mind-changer. The report and muzzle flash are very mild, and accuracy, particularly after the first round, is so easily attained that even first time shooters find themselves delighted with their newly found abilities after a single magazine.
The magazines are made of stainless steel and have a button on the left side that helps enormously in loading. Unlike many handguns—including my beloved Glock—magazine loading is a breeze, another positive feature for neophytes. Taking the precaution to rap the back of each loaded magazine on a solid object to seat all rounds fully to the rear, I’ve found that all of my magazines have fed flawlessly with every brand of ammunition I’ve used.
I’ve often been amazed that Glock has not produced a .22LR version of their design. I have no doubt they’d sell every one they made and more, but for whatever reason the smallest round Glock currently chambers is the .380 ACP. The single most annoying feature of the P22 is what Col. Jeff Cooper called “an ingenious solution to a non-existent problem,” the double action trigger.
In the 70s and 80s, essentially the early days of the introduction and marketing of pistols to a revolver-saturated American public, many manufacturers designed double action mechanisms to mimic the double action mechanisms of revolvers, reasoning that people brought up on revolvers and perhaps leery of the “cocked and locked” carry of the Colt M1911 and Browning Hi-Power—both excellent and safe single-action pistols—would be comfortable with double action semiautomatics. Unfortunately, in mimicking the revolver, double actions mechanisms throw away the greatest advantages of pistols: better triggers and hence, much greater shot to shot accuracy. Why build a handgun with a long, heavy trigger pull unless it is a mechanical necessity?
Enough of the public apparently thought like the manufacturers—particularly the police market—that double action mechanisms have become a mainstay of many manufacturers. And to be sure, over the last few decades, such mechanisms have been greatly improved. Still, for the first round, a long, relatively heavy trigger pull is required. This is in large part why hit rates for revolver shooting police officers in actual gunfights hover at around 25% of rounds fired, and usually worse. Officers using non-double action pistols like Glocks often see their hit rates increase to the 75% range.
After the first round, the cycling of the slide cocks the exposed hammer for each subsequent round, which provides a much shorter and lighter single action pull of the trigger, making accuracy much easier. As one might imagine, shot placement between the first and second rounds of a double action pistol can be dramatically different. As few will use the Walther as a defensive handgun, this is mostly an annoyance rather than a bug, and in practice shooting, one can simply cock the hammer (off-hand thumb, please; don’t change your grip on the weapon) for the first round of each magazine, enjoying the relatively light and short single action trigger pull from that moment forward.
There is no de-cocking lever (those things always give me the creeps), leaving two choices: shoot the weapon dry, or if pausing and holstering between shots, activate the safety. The hammer will remain cocked, but is perfectly safe with the safety activated. Interestingly, the ambidextrous safety levers help provide very secure purchase for the off hand when properly gripping and cycling the slide.
Also keep in mind that the Walther has a magazine disconnect: with the magazine removed from the magazine well, the weapon will not fire, even if a round remains in the chamber. For a weapon intended for practice, this is not a serious issue, but finding the trigger disconnected from the trigger mechanism, weakly producing no click or bang, can be disconcerting if one doesn’t know what is happening.
The sights are of the three dot type. Simply align the dots and the weapon is on target. The sights are as large and clear as those on most full-sized defensive pistols and enhance practical accuracy considerably. Even first time shooters will have little difficulty placing their shots in a small circle at ranges appropriate to the weapon and cartridge, particularly if they shoot exclusively single-action.
The P22 is a light, comfortable, accurate and plainly fun to shoot handgun. Walther’s MSRP is $379 (S&W has the American distribution agreement with Walther) but I have seen it for as much as $100 less. The gun does come with one spare magazine, but having more will surely provide a more pleasant shooting experience, and one really can’t have enough magazines. I believe George Washington said that (OK, so he didn’t; just go along with me here…). Cheaper Than Dirt currently stocks them for $25.12, which is a reasonable price for such well designed and made equipment.
I promised to mention the internal lock: don’t use it. Keep the key just in case the darned thing somehow activates by itself, but like double action trigger mechanisms, it’s an ingenious solution to a non-existent problem. There are more effective and usable means available if the P22 is to be a home defense handgun and unauthorized access by children or others is an issue.
Under stress, one of the first human abilities to degrade is fine muscle control. Unless the key is kept with the handgun—and if the goal is safety, that certainly throws safety out the window—imagine the difficulty of trying to remember where it is and how and where to insert and turn it under great stress, particularly in the dark. It may be a useful sales point for the inexperienced potential buyer, but in reality, it could easily be dangerous.
There are two other features of interest: a loaded chamber indicator and serrations on the slide near the muzzle. The loaded chamber indicator is simply a small slot cut in the top of the slide above the chamber. Under daylight conditions, it works, but is—of necessity—so small as to be useless under less than ideal conditions. It’s best to simply clear the weapon if there is any doubt and start over. The serrations actually work, but it is never a good idea to get into the habit of handling the slide with one’s hand near the muzzle, particularly with a relatively small handgun. Stick to the serrations at the rear of the slide; it’s the proper technique and ultimately safer.
I’ve introduced many to handgun shooting with the P22, and to a man and woman, they loved it. Women particularly are fond of the little weapon because it fits their hands, has essentially no recoil, allows them to shoot well the first time and is not in the least intimidating. Walther has certainly taken this effect into consideration and produces a variety of P22s in different colors, including—you guessed it—pink. My wife has told me never to buy her a pink gun or any pink shooting accessory (marrying her is the smartest thing I ever did or ever will do).
My P22 has been entirely reliable and has allowed me to shoot thousands of rounds at little expense. There are certainly other weapons that will accomplish the same tasks, but this one works well for me, and I suspect it will do the same for you.