The Broke Shooter’s Guide to Cheap .22 LR Handguns
Forget all those fancy guns. Rimfire pistols shouldn’t cost much. By my calculation, if you spend more on a .22 handgun than a case of ammo, you’re doing life wrong. Maybe you competition guys are rolling your eyes. Go ahead, swaddle your Hammerli and scurry off back to your three-man pistol league. And, while we’re at it, stop giving us dirty looks at the range. My car is meant to smoke like that. My .22s are meant to be shot hard, in high volume, and as cheaply as possible. Here are the handguns that do just that.
If You Want a Revolver Like the Single Action Army…
Heritage Manufacturing Rough Rider
This U.S.-made six-shooter evokes cowboy classics like the Colt Single Action Army and it can be yours for the price of a hard night at the saloon. Standard models have alloy frames, steel cylinders, and notched-in rear sights. Four barrel lengths are available, ranging from the 2-inch Bar Keep gun, to a 16-inch hunter model reminiscent of the sidearm Jack Nicolson’s Joker used to shoot down the Batwing. For a little more coin, there are interchangeable .22 WMR cylinders, black-oxide or Cerakote finishes, and a laundry list of exotic grip options. If that isn’t enough, there are currently 18 special edition models in production, tricked out with graphics like American flags and bomber girls.
…For a Few Dollars More
The Ruger Wrangler
Maybe the night at the saloon was particularly good, and you walked away with some extra cash in your pocket and no stab wounds anywhere. Might as well spend that on a single-action with a Ruger pedigree. Ruger’s Single Six, Bearcat, Blackhawk, and Vaquero revolvers are arguably the best mass-produced single-actions of all time, and that includes the original Colt SAA. No, they don’t have the romance or history, but they are better guns. Change my mind. The new Wrangler isn’t included among them, but it’s still a sixgun with a phoenix on the side. It’s cerakoted, inexpensive enough to make this list, and I doubt you could wear it out in a few lifetimes.
If You Want a Modern Trainer…
American Tactical Imports GSG Firefly
The buzzword in rimfire right now is “training,” whether it’s precision rifle shooting or familiarizing a rookie with a centerfire handgun. This German-made 10+1 DA/SA pistol was previously imported as the SIG Mosquito, and it replicates the immensely popular P226 at about 85 percent the size. The controls are identical to that longtime hip-rider of the U.S. Navy SEALs, from the ambidextrous safety and decocker to adjustable combat sights. The zinc alloy slide and frame with an over-molded polymer grip give the pistol a full-sized feel. It tips the scale at almost 25 ounces, or about 10 ounces less than its full-size big brother unloaded. If you shoot a SIG, and want a pistol to train with, this one is a no brainer. If you’re committed to Glock and want the new .22 LR G44 that’s okay, too, but you’ll pay twice the price.
If You Want a Pocket Pistol Like the Berretta 21A Bobcat…
Taurus 22 POLY
As the popularity of small 9mm carry guns has risen, rimfire pocket pistols have faded from the spotlight, which is a shame as they carry well in a blazer pocket and are damn fun to shoot. Among the most famous pocket pistol designs is the “tip-up” barrel that dates back to the early 1900s, which Beretta took mainstream in the 1950s with the original Model 950 .25 ACP. Similar to a break-action shotgun, the barrel tips forward on these guns for loading the first shot directly into the chamber. When fired, the blowback action takes up rounds from the diminutive grip-housed magazine in typical semi-auto fashion. Older Berettas in good condition like the Model 950 (which was also available in .22 Short) can fetch collector prices. The Bobcat 21A, which is still in production in .22 LR, runs around $400. But fear not, you can get a polymer copycat from Taurus that does almost everything the Italian guns do, only lighter, and at half the price (the Berettas do have an exposed hammer for single-action shooting; the Taurus is DAO).
If You Want a 1911…
A full-size 1911 with no recoil that’s cheap to shoot and costs ¼ of a good .45? Sign me up. This affordable Chiappa has all the same 1911 controls as John Browning’s world-famous centerfire design. It’s a perfect trainer if you carry a government-issued model or want to introduce a new shooter to running this classic handgun. The frame and slide are a proprietary cast “Chiappalloy,” definitely not cheap pot metal or, what’s enough to make 1911 guys have heart palpitations, plastic. It field strips more or less like the real thing, though much of the internals are different, such as a fixed barrel and the left grip panel, which can’t be removed without damaging the gun. There are 4-inch and 5-inch models, along with compact, target and tactical versions with much of the features you’d expect. What I like best about this gun is it feels like a real shooting iron with the gravitas of a larger-caliber piece.
If You Want to Be James Bond…
James Bond dispatched bad guys instantly, and at incredible distances, with his dainty Walther PPK chambered in the mostly forgotten .32 ACP. For anyone wanting to feel like a spy these days, the .22 LR version of the PPK, the PPK/s 22 from Walther, is a good option—but it’ll set you back $350. For about half the price you can go with the Phoenix HP22A. It won’t feel the same, run the same, or really even look the same if you take a hard gander at this pawn shop special, but it’s … close? My favorite thing about the HP22A is reading the $40 used pistol listings on gunbroker.com, of which there are many. At least half mention a “police auction find,” which goes to show that criminals are often broke. On second thought, be a good guy and just pony up the extra cash for the Walther.
Screw the Budget…
Volquartsen Black Mamba
The rimfire specialist of Carroll, Iowa, debuted this beauty at SHOT Show a few years ago. It’s a refinement and update of their Scorpion competition pistol. The Black Mamba is built on the Ruger MK IV 22/45 polymer frame, so it disassembles with a push-button to make cleaning more tolerable. It comes with a 4.5- or 6-inch threaded stainless steel barrel, the very excellent Volquartsen trigger, and is wrapped in pic rails. Like its namesake reptile, everything about this pistol is fast—the way it points, the bolt speed, and the return to target for a second—or tenth—shot. Yes, it’s expensive, but so are children. Treat yourself.