Every gun owner should own at least one .22LR firearm. The ammo is ubiquitous…and affordable at around 5 cents a round.
.22 Long Rifle can be used for hunting, target shooting, practice, plinking, and even defending yourself in a pinch. There are even competitions you can enter with rimfire firearms like the .22LR that can be loads of fun.
Now, we’ve talked about the Best .22LR Rifles before, and I’ve talked about my competition Browning Buckmark before, but we’ve never gone over the best .22LR handguns, other than the occasional mention of things like the awesome NAA revolvers for pocket carry options.
Today, that changes.
I want to go over the best .22LR handguns to own for more than just the purposes of pocket carry. These guns are perfect for everything from last-ditch survival options to fun range toys.
They’re also great first guns for kids, and wonderful training tools. And unlike kids, they’re incredibly cheap to feed, with 5000+ round cases regularly coming in under $300 if you catch them on sale.
Table of Contents
Choosing a .22LR Handgun
For me, there’s a few things I’m looking for in a .22LR handgun.
First, accuracy. The humble .22LR is a surprisingly accurate little round at close ranges, so it’s worth getting a gun that can hit what you aim it at. You’ll have a lot more fun hitting those cans setup on a hill than you will watching shots land juuuuust a hair away from them.
Next, shootability and ergonomics. I want something that I’m going to enjoy shooting, not something that’s difficult and forces you to be accurate in spite of it. This is one of my problems with the NAA mini-revolvers.
Sure, they’re also surprisingly accurate, but anyone who tells you they’re easy to shoot is lying to you, or has never experienced the wonder of a full-size firearm firing .22LR.
Finally, availability and aftermarket support. There’s nothing worse than a $200 gun with $50 mags. I want something that has a lot of support and options available.
As far as aftermarket support, rimfire handguns and rifles (particularly the Ruger 10/22) have a ridiculous number of aftermarket manufacturers making improved triggers, stocks, conversion kits, sights, extractors, magazines, mag releases…the list goes on and on.
And with the low cost of entry (usually sub-$400) to a rimfire firearm, you can experiment a little more and really go all out on the upgrades and accessories, without much worry that you’re going to ruin something expensive.
1. Ruger Mark IV
There are a number of excellent .22LR pistols with designs that harken back to the iconic Luger shape (of 9mm Luger fame).
This design is as robust as it is prolific, and has a long development history that began almost a decade before John Moses Browning’s masterwork, the 1911.
The Ruger Mark IV is perhaps one of the finest examples of this design, managing to capture the classic lines, while updating the older toggle-lock design to a simple, but modern blowback design.
It is a 10+1 capacity, magazine fed gun that is a pleasure to hold and shoot, and the heavy bull barrel makes recoil management a cinch. If you’re used to shooting centerfire cartridges of any size, this gun is going to feel like an absolute pushover by comparison.
Long plagued by complaints from owners that the Ruger Mark X series was a pain to take down, the new Mark IV solves that problem effortlessly.
In previous models, reinstalling the frame was relatively easy, but then you had to try and finagle the bolt-stop pin back in, and it was a nightmare fit to make a grown man weep in frustration.
Now, press a button on the rear of the slide, and the gun opens up almost like an AR-15, ready to be cleaned, lubed, and reassembled without fuss.
Like the other two Luger-centric pistols on this list, the Mark IV is as accurate as the ammo and your skill will allow, so don’t try blaming the gun for your misses. Fortunatley, as with any .22LR, practice is cheap, and so is good ammo (relatively speaking) so no excuses.
What’s your take on the Mark IV?
2. SW-22 Victory
The SW-22 Victory is the newest of the three Luger-inspired guns on this list, and S&W have approached the design with their typical eye on quality of materials and design.
Of the three, I’d call it the most reliable, even if only by a little bit, especially with mixed ammo. I was shooting ammo that came from a ziplock bag, several different bullet types and manufacturers present, and I had not the first issue with the Victory.
Like the Mark IV, it’s a 10+1 capacity, mag-fed firearm with a bull barrel, typically a 5.5 inch one, but there are a host of options available from Smith and others.
Where it falls short of the other Luger-style guns here is in aftermarket support (just barely) and accuracy, although it’s certainly a close thing and it could very well just have been me having an off day as I only tested it during one range trip following what I will charitably call a late night.
Fortunately for the SW-22, it also has one of the lower MSRPs of any of the Lugeresque options here, so if you’re looking for something that’ll get the job done without breaking the bank, this is certainly a strong contender.
The one other thing I’ll note is that Smith and Wesson took a beating for a while on their M&P triggers in their handguns (something that has been rectified in the 2.0 series). The triggers were not good, certainly not by comparison to S&W’s other triggers, particularly in their revolvers.
The SW-22, despite coming out around the same time as the older generation M&Ps, was not cursed with such an affliction.
The trigger on this thing is damn good, and while aftermarket options and some carefully applied gunsmithing knowledge can certainly make it better, it’s perfectly adequate for most folks out of the box.
Check out our full review of the SW22 here.
3. Browning Buckmark
Next, we have the final Luger-style gun on the list, and my personal favorite, the Browning Buckmark.
The Buckmark is mostly my favorite because it was one of the first guns I purchased for myself, many years ago, but there are other, more objective reasons as well.
First, it has the nicest trigger of the three out of the box, which for me was big benefit. I really enjoy a nice, crisp trigger that makes accuracy easy, and the Buckmark certainly has that.
It also has a ton of factory options available, which makes it easy to find the Buckmark that best suits your needs.
The one area that really drags it down is, well, taking it down.
To clean the other two Luger knockoffs, you have either a button to push or a pin to rotate, and that’s pretty much it. Baddabing, baddaboom, you’re done.
The Buckmark requires you to remove the slide bridge which is annoying enough by itself but it also means you need tools, yes tools, plural, to take the thing down.
Yes, it’s just two allen wrenches, and no, it’s not particularly difficult, but it is needlessly complicated, and it leaves me feeling guilty every time I take it to the range because I know all that dirty rimfire shooting I just did is going to make my gun a pain in the ass to clean.
Of course, the Buckmark also excels in other areas, and like just about every mag-fed gun on this list, comes in a 10+1 capacity, and like the Mark IV and the victory, it also comes with a 5.5 inch bull barrel. For aftermarket accessories, I’d have to again recommend Tandemkross, just like I would for the Ruger and the Smith above.
Reliability wise, I’d put it above the Mark IV and below the Victory, and looks-wise, I’d put it at the top of the heap, but you may think differently. That’s fine, this is America and you’re absolutely free to be wrong.
4. Walther P22 QD
The legendary Walther P22 was noted for it’s awesome trigger, clean design, and tactical styling.
All in all, it was an excellent little gun save one thing: it only worked when it felt like it, and overly-tight tolerances meant you got maybe one mag of reliable function out of it before it needed to be cleaned again.
The new QD model solves this issue, and updates the classic design while keeping the amazingly nice trigger that blows most other factory pistol triggers out of the water.
Best of all, the P22 is a DA/SA pistol so you have that second-strike capability if you have a light primer strike, which is a common issue with .22LR ammo.
In DA mode, you’ll be dealing with a stiff but smooth 11lb trigger pull, and with the hammer back you’ll get an incredibly crips break right at 4lbs of pressure.
Honestly, this is the gun I’d have if I could only own one from this list. It has a 10+1 capacity just the like the other mag-fed options here, and while it doesn’t have a lot of aftermarket support, it doesn’t need a whole lot.
If you’re going to carry an easy-to-shoot .22, this is the way to go as well as it is one of the more reliable options, while being a reasonable size to carry, unlike the 34-38oz behemoths we’ve covered so far.
The slide serrations also make it easy for those with low hand strength to rack in a round, and the sights, while kind of a cheap polymer, are more than accurate enough for self-defense distances.
That being said, the gun is great fun to shoot at the range, and its quite the looker. Walther certainly didn’t skimp in the design department on this thing.
Like most of their guns, there’s a little bit of the James Bond about it, and I really like that. Plus, it’s usually found under $250 and I’d call anyone charging much more than that a ripoff, so there’s really no reason not to have one.
5. Heritage Rough Rider .22
If you’re looking for something a little more classic, but just as fun, the Heritage Rough Rider is a strong contender. A single-action six shot like those wielded by your favorite Western heroes, the Rough Rider might just have the best fun-to-money ratio of any gun on the list.
The single action and loading-gate design means you have to pull back (or fan) the hammer for each shot and load and unload each round individually. No speed loaders, no slapping an ejection rod to spit all six spent shells to the ground at once.
All in all, it’s a very slow-paced, almost zen experience to shoot one, and you can really stretch a box of ammo for several afternoons at the range.
It’s also a great gun for working on your accuracy as the low round count and almost-but-not-quite painfully slow reload will have you picking and placing your shots carefully.
The trigger is surprisingly good, no doubt a product of the simple single-action design more than anything, but that’s okay. It’s more than good enough for the gun’s real purpose: having the most fun for the least money.
Yeah, it’ll shoot snakes or discourage predators of the two and four-legged variety, and it’ll certainly make a good training tool for youngins and new shooters, but fun is what this gun is all about.
And the price certainly helps. You can get fancy commemorative versions, and versions with nice grips, and ones with interchangeable .22 Magnum cylinders, and all that, but the base version, with a .22lr cylinder and a 6.5” barrel will set you back between $100 and $125.
Not bad at all, I’d say.
6. Ruger GP-100 .22
Next, we have one of the most legendary DA/SA revolvers to ever exist, the Ruger GP-100. For a long time, Ruger’s legendarily tough GP-100 was only available in a 6-shot .357 model (which I own and adore), but as of late, I’m seeing more and more .22LR versions on the shelf at my local gun store.
I can’t sing the praises of the GP-100 enough. Its rugged monolithic design means that it’ll almost certainly outlive you, and possibly your children and grandchildren as well if it’s cared for at all.
You could also probably bury it in the dirt somewhere for the sole purpose of having it dug up 200 years from now, and it’d probably still work (and be of great help to the revolution’s fight against our robot overlords circa 2200).
The .22LR version is a ten shot model available with a 4” and 6” barrel, and its just about as accurate as you could want, something that’s in no small part due to the better-than-average trigger and factory fiber optic front sight post.
It is one of the pricier guns on this list with a typical going price of about $650, which sounds like a lot if you don’t realize you’re getting one of the best, if not the best, .22LR revolver around.
I know there’s roughly a billion other options out there and I can already hear the comments like “what about this Bersa” and “what about that NAA” etc, etc. Now, I don’t want to discourage those comments (quite the opposite) but I can only make this list so long, and I have to start drawing lines somewhere.
That about does it for this one. These .22LRs are sure to make you smile, and are great for everything from defense to hunting to plinking and target shooting. I own, or have owned all of these save the Victory, and I regret selling the ones I don’t have anymore. Plus…ammo is cheap and getting more and more plentiful. Find our favorite .22LR rounds here.
This should about cover any use you should have for a .22LR handgun, but if you’re looking for something specific (how about a .22LR Rifle), or wanting to pick my or your fellow commenter’s brains about any of these guns, or even one that’s not on the list, be sure to drop a comment below!