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What Happened to the USFA ZiP .22?

We take a look at a real novelty of the mid-2000s...the USFA ZiP .22...an affordable and fun plinker that ultimately disappeared. Why? Come find out...

What is a zip gun? Well, it can mean different things to different people.

USFA ZIP .22 LR
The USFA ZIP .22 in all of its glory.

Zip gun is a term often applied to cheap homemade guns or improvised firearms. People used to make little .22 LR zip guns from car antennas or zip shotguns with two pieces of pipes and a nail.

The term zip gun was also applied to a weapon once called the “future of fun.” This moniker was given to the gun by USFA, the company that made the ZiP .22.

How can it be the “future of fun” when it isn’t even around anymore?

It made quite a splash after its announcement and debut. USFA promised an affordable and fun plinker with a novel design that fired America’s favorite plinking round, the .22 LR.

As owners of the ZiP soon found out — it was far from fun in practical use. To figure out what happened in this long and somewhat tragic story, we start in December 2012.

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Sleigh Bells Ring

It was that most wonderful time of the year. People were preparing for Christmas, it was cold, and SHOT Show 2013 was gearing up.

USFA ZIP .22 LR
No one expected to see anything like this.

But for those that couldn’t go to SHOT, Douglas Donnelly, the owner of USFA, brought a website to life detailing their new USFA ZiP gun.

Prior to the ZiP, USFA, or U.S. Firearms Manufacturing Company, was known for producing high-quality Colt Single Action Army replicas. These guns were well respected and a favorite of Single Action Shooting Society members.

By and large, USFA made extremely high-quality handguns before their introduction of the ZiP. (Photo: Gunsmagazine)

In stark contrast, the design of the ZiP was about as far as you can get from a single-action army revolver.

USFA’s little ZiP became a bit of an overnight sensation thanks to its wild design.

A mostly polymer handgun that’s also a bullpup and feeds from Ruger 10/22 magazines is a surefire way to raise some eyebrows. It was delightfully odd, and they promised an MSRP of less than $200.

USFA ZIP .22 LR
Longer magazines can make all sorts of guns look goofy, but this took it to a whole new level.

In January 2013, SHOT Show the ZiP premiered! The design was so weird that it drew crowds.

Aside from its simple blowback operating mechanism, everything else about it was bizarre. Your hand wrapped around the rear of the gun, your trigger finger rested below the ejection port, and below the trigger sat a support position for your middle finger.

USFA ZIP .22 LR
The photo above depicts using the rods to charge the ZiP.

A set of rods that sat above the barrel allowed you to charge the weapon or recock the trigger to try and restrike a cartridge that failed to ignite.

USFA ZIP .22 LR
The “restrike” rod required the user to put their hand perilously close to the end of the barrel in order to attempt to re-fire a faulty cartridge.

Unfortunately, the gun suffered from constant failures at SHOT Show 2013 range day. At the time, this was blamed on the cold temperatures of range day, but it would foreshadow future problems.

The Market Impact

The ZiP was released to gun stores later that year and promptly failed to impress. I know because I purchased one.

Like many owners, I was so excited to go plink, only to be disappointed.

USFA ZIP .22 LR Failure
This round failed to eject properly, causing a pretty deep-seated stovepipe failure. Stoppages like this are extremely common.

Early guns constantly malfunctioned. If you fired more than three rounds without a malfunction, consider yourself lucky.

USFA quickly released an upgrade kit to solve those issues — it didn’t.

USFA ZIP .22 LR
Although somewhat difficult to tell, you can see the bolt (located above the magazine), is actually plastic. This was one of many design flaws.

The ZiP shipped with two springs. One for hot loads like CCI stingers and one for standard bulk pack stuff, but it didn’t matter which one you used.

At first, owners were advised to only use 10-round Ruger 10/22 mags. They later released spring upgrade kits for the BX25 mags to attempt to get them to feed fast enough.

USFA ZIP .22 LR
Nothing like a little website advertising directly on the gun, right? At least people would know where to go to try and find upgrade parts.

However, I can say from experience it didn’t matter. No magazine worked. The plastic bolt simply cycled too fast for magazines to feed properly.

No Stopping Now

USFA and Doug Donelly doubled down and threw their back into the project. He sold off all the USFA revolver tooling to support the ZiP gun.

He saw modularity as the key to the gun’s success.

Although the modularity turned out to be somewhat of a joke, some people ran with it for fun. (Photo: u/KennyFSU)

There were promises for threaded barrels for suppressors. We also got different rails, you could attach red dots to the gun, or a different top cover would let you use Glock sights.

Heck, an SBR stock was even released.

There was also a promised drop-in kit and barrel that would make the weapon a single-shot .22 Magnum. The kit never appeared although I suppose it would have been a better option than what was essentially already a single-shot gun.

A look at the SBR stock for the ZiP. This is the very definition of going all-in. (Photo: TTAG)

In the end, the shoddy reliability of the ZiP killed any potential success.

Final Thoughts

Donelly went all in to realize his dream with the ZiP, and in the end, it cost him. The lack of sales and failure of the ZiP bankrupted USFA, and they eventually lost their FFL.

USFA ZIP .22 LR
The ZiP was definitely unique and innovative, but also serves as a cautionary tale of manufacturing and chasing dreams with reckless abandon.

Reportedly only a few hundred ZiP guns were ever produced. I still own mine, but lord knows the last time I shot it.

Maybe it’ll be worth something someday — If not, I own a meme and a conversation piece, so I guess that was worth the small sum I paid.

What are your thoughts on the USFA Zip? Let us know in the comments below! Interested in some .22 LR pistols that actually work? Check out our hands-on review of the 9 Best .22 LR Pistols/Handguns.

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4 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar
    Tad

    I'm even more upset about the demise of USFA now that I know this story. THIS is what he sacrificed being the source of some of the best single action revolvers on the market for? There are two dimensions of bad judgement here.

    October 17, 2022 12:43 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Scott

    "Donelly went all in to realize his dream with the ZiP, and in the end, it cost him. The lack of sales and failure of the ZiP bankrupted USFA, and they eventually lost their FFL."

    Like the gun he too was crazy, zany, goofy, and stupid. I mean, USFA did a fine job with their guns, made some really high-quality handguns and that's where they should have stayed instead of going with this stupid .22 idea.

    Its ok to be innovative, and even have some things that don't fit the traditional ideas. But Donelly going all in on this abortion, nothing going for it other than its weird and dangerous and malfunction uniqueness, was stupid and I seriously wonder if his dream was LSD induced.

    October 17, 2022 10:04 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Jursey

      Aye, but in the end, it was his company to do with as he liked.

      October 17, 2022 6:56 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Brett Russell Pierotte

    I also read somwhere that the Zip had neither an ejector or extractor and that it was this design flaw that added to the firearm's lack of reliablity. Is this true?

    October 15, 2022 5:40 pm
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