Gun Review: Walther PPK/S .22

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Dr. No was the first James Bond movie but the sixth book. In it Bond (James Bond) begrudgingly exchanges his .25 ACP Beretta for a Walther PPK chambered in the much more powerful .32 ACP, described as having “delivery like a brick through a plate glass window.” [Click here for the clip.] The PPK was available in .380 as well, but that wasn’t a popular or well-known caliber in Europe. Although the Mossad are still partial to .22 for close range wet work, one assumes most people would buy a pistol chambered in the relatively small caliber for newbie instruction, target shooting, and plinking fun. Walther’s PPK/S .22 allows you to do this with 007 style . . .

New for 2013, the Walther PPK/S in .22 long rifle is very much like the centerfire PPK in almost every way, from controls to weight and size to machining, fit, and finish. With millions of casual 007 fans out there, I must say that I think it was a great idea to offer the PPK in this chambering, which makes the pistol and the shooting more affordable and likely more fun. It’s certainly better for introducing new shooters to the sport, as recoil from a straight blowback .380 can be pretty stout.

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In The Box

The /S version was created by Walther to meet the new ‘sporting purposes’ importation requirement under the 1968 Gun Control Act. ‘S’ stands for Sport, and the frame is taller – i.e., the grip is longer – than the standard PPK. That actually makes the pistol a bit more pleasant for target shooting and plinking, as your otherwise-dangling pinky has a home. Probably a good choice for the .22 version, which I’d assume won’t be a popular CCW option where the extra size or weight would be less desirable.

In the black plastic Walther case, along with the PPK/S, is a 10-round magazine, a gun lock, an owner’s manual, warranty card, an NSSF safety pamphlet and a ziplock baggie with some parts and tools in it. Included are two replacement front sights – one taller and one shorter than the sight installed on the gun – for adjusting point of impact for elevation, a thin punch for pushing out the pin in the front sight, an Allen wrench for adjusting the rear sight for windage, and a wrench for removing the barrel nut. All in all pretty good kit, although I wouldn’t mind a second magazine. They’re available online for around $28.

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Although it has been quite a while since I’ve handled a centerfire PPK, it’s my understanding that the controls on the /S are identical. The magazine release is a thumb button high on the left side of the frame behind the top of the trigger guard. The slide-mounted safety flips up for ‘fire’ and down for ‘safe.’ That’s the opposite of most guns with frame-mounted safeties, but is the norm for guns with slide-mounted safeties – neither the location nor the operation is something I’m used to.

The safety is also a decocker, and pushing down on it safely drops the hammer. Unlike a lot of pistols, the slide can be racked with the safety engaged. Doing so automatically lowers the hammer as the slide comes forwards. Oddly enough, upon doing this or upon decocking, the trigger remains in the more rearward, single action ‘staged’ location even though the hammer is now down, and then the trigger springs forwards to its double action position as you flip the safety up to ‘fire.’ Some complicated German lockwork must be going on inside there.

The slide locks back on empty, but there’s no external slide lock/release control. You’ll have to insert an empty magazine if you want to lock the slide back. To release the slide, either eject the magazine and then pull back and guide the slide forwards, or insert a full magazine and slingshot it (which will chamber a round, of course).

Fit and finish on my nickel-plated version is quite good, with my only nitpick being the font and/or sharpness of the roll marks on the slide. It isn’t the same as on the centerfire version here. Slide-to-frame fitment is decent, machining and apparent parts quality (hammer, sights, safety, trigger, etc) are all very good, especially for a .22. Lots of metal, and very little plastic other than the grip panels. It feels like a real pistol, rather than like a reduced size, reduced quality, more plastic, lighter weight .22 version of a real pistol, of which plenty options exist.

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With that said, I don’t know what the slide or frame are actually made of except that I’m fairly certain it isn’t steel due in part to the impression I get just from feeling and tapping it and from the fact that it doesn’t attract a magnet (and I don’t believe it to be stainless steel). The breech block insert appears to be steel, as do most of the small parts and controls mentioned above. No further conjecture from me and I have not heard of any durability issues, but I bring it up due to some folks’ concern over zinc alloys and “pot metal” slides cracking in some .22 pistols. So far so good here, but I only have just under 300 rounds through my example at this point – mainly due to trying to conserve my dwindling .22 reserves.

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Field stripping is accomplished just like Bond’s PPK. Pull down on the hinged trigger guard, pull the slide all the way to the back and lift it up at the rear, then guide it off the front of the frame. The recoil spring uses the fixed barrel as a guide rod. That’s it! Field stripped.

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At the front of the barrel, a nut can be unscrewed in order to remove the barrel from the frame. However, a more common reason to remove that nut would be to install a thread adaptor. For instance, to effectively extend the barrel out the front of the slide and provide 1/2×28 threads for mounting some sort of muzzle accessory like a compensator, fake suppressor for the easy secret agent look, or real suppressor to more fully satisfy your inner Bond. Thread adapters for Walther’s P22 fit the PPK/S just right! I just picked up a Tactical Innovations one at my local gun store where I then shot the video below, but these guys also have some cool offerings.

 

On The Range

In the video above, you’ll see that it had a few hiccups right off the bat. My PPK/S apparently wanted a little bit of a break-in period and also benefitted from some lube – it came pretty darn clean of anything from the factory. You can actually see it getting better and better during that first range outing, and a couple hundred rounds later it cycles more reliably than it did then. That said, it still definitely prefers more powerful ammo (100% reliability so far) to weaker bulk box stuff (still has some failures to eject or to fully cycle the slide far enough back). With a suppressor, it ran the Winchester bulk with near perfect reliability whereas it would still suffer about one stoppage per mag without the can. I believe that a lighter mainspring (hammer spring) would also cure it of its dislike for weaker ammo while still providing solid primer strikes.

Now, some of it was my fault. Or, if I really felt like it, I suppose I could try to blame it on the design of the gun, but it was actually more of a training issue. You see, the slide is quite tall and has ‘skirts’ that cover the sides of the frame all the way down to right along the top of the trigger guard and along the top of the grips. It’s lower, as compared to the mini beavertail frame extension, than I’m used to. Basically, the only exposed frame is in front of and behind the grip panels (front- and backstrap, mostly).

All of this meant that I sometimes rode the slide a little bit, whether it was with a thumb or two on the side – a thumbs-forward grip does not work here unless you ‘fly’ them off to the side – or with the web of my shooting hand on the underside of the cycling slide. Although I never suffered painful slide bite, I could tell that it was contacting or rubbing on my right hand. With weaker ammo that was barely cycling already, any friction on the slide was a deal breaker. I actually think this gun might be shot best with a single hand, making sure not to hold it too high up on the grip due to how low the sides of the slide actually hang.

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Aside from struggling to remember to modify my normal shooting grip, shooting the PPK/S .22 was a real pleasure! Recoil is minimal and absolutely controllable due to the weight and construction of the pistol, but it still offers enough kick and feedback to be a lot of fun to shoot. I have some heavier, all-steel .22 LR pistols that barely move when you fire them, and the PPK/S gives you more of the sensation of shooting a ‘real gun’ than those do.

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Despite the short barrel and short sight radius, the pistol was very accurate for me for plinking purposes. The steel sights are sharp and there is plenty of light around the front blade to help with quick acquisition. If the front blade had a dot or was otherwise not the same solid black as the rear sight, my rested target accuracy would have been better. I found the factory-installed front sight to hit right where I wanted it and the rear sight required no adjustment either.

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The trigger in single action is pretty good. It’s fairly short with just a little creep before the break and, as far as DA/SA guns go, I’d say it’s up there in the good+ to almost-very-good category. There’s a couple millimeters of slack that you don’t have to repeat if you ride the reset, which gives enough of a ‘click’ feel that doing so accurately is pretty easy. Walther states 6.6 lbs for the single action pull but I was consistently measuring much closer to 5 lbs. The overall shape and contour of the trigger works well for me. I really wouldn’t change anything in the SA trigger pull category here at all.

The trigger in double action is crazy heavy. It’s super heavy in the centerfire PPKs as well. Walther says it’s 17.5 lbs. DA and I measured that amount exactly once. It was between 17 and 20 lbs on other tests. I believe the gun was consistent, but I just struggled to hold the darn thing still and keep the gauge on the same spot on the trigger each time while pulling that hard.

There’s the exact same amount of slack in DA as in SA (possibly it’s moving a firing pin block out of the way if it has one, but I’m not diving into the mechanics of this gun), and the overall DA pull is consistent – no stacking. It’s a bit gritty, but not horrible and I’d expect it will smooth out with time (assuming you ever pull the trigger in DA).

Bottom line: it isn’t actually physically difficult to pull the trigger with your finger – at least not for me – and it certainly ups the safety factor if you chose to carry the gun in DA with the safety disengaged. My accuracy in DA was just fine and I attribute that to the consistent pull right up to the break.

I thought the location of the mag release would be weird but it wasn’t an issue at all. That and the safety work just fine. The safety has nice, positive clicks at either end and smooth travel in between. The decocker function is easy to operate. The magazine drops free, empty or full, and loads easily even without one of those thumb button things that you see on many .22 LR pistol mags.

The lack of an external slide lock is not an issue for me as I have become quite used to my Beretta Nano, which is my EDC tun and has no external controls whatsoever other than a mag release. I could see this being slightly annoying if you’re using the PPK/S to introduce new shooters to pistols, however. You’ll need to keep an empty mag handy or you won’t be able to lock the slide back on command.

Conclusions

Bottom line: this is a really fun gun at the range. A good trigger, excellent accuracy, good reliability with quality/stronger .22 ammo (solid primer hits, btw), good ergos and overall solid, quality feel and heft make it a pleasure to shoot. It’s definitely a nice looking gun, too – anybody can identify it as the James Bond gun. “Cool factor” is there in spades, but in a caliber that’s easy to shoot, afford, and enjoy.

I believe there are a couple of .22 LR pistols in the same price range that are more reliable and accurate, but they don’t generally operate the same way as a centerfire or look much like a ‘normal’ pistol. For instance, a Ruger Mark III or 22/45 with their internal bolts. GREAT guns, but I find it easier to teach new shooters on something a little more ‘standard.’ Assuming our number one goal here is fun, I’d put the PPK/S .22 near the top of the list.

My personal experience with semi-auto .22 LR pistol reliability when the whole slide reciprocates isn’t great – I typically expect at least some ammo sensitivity. The PPK/S appears to cycle better than average now that it’s been broken in and I have learned to keep my grubby mitts off the slide. While plenty of other options compete on price and reliable cycling, the real deal steel feel of the PPK/S and the James Bond cachet give it something extra. Especially with a can on the front!

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Specifications:

Length:  6.1”
Barrel Length:  3.3”
Height:  4.9”
Width:  0.98”
Weight:  24 oz
Capacity: 10 rounds of .22 long rifle
Trigger Pull Weight: 17.5 lbs DA, 6.6 lbs SA (as stated by Walther. SA ~5 lbs as measured)
MSRP: $449 Black Finish, $469 Nickel Finish. Typical retail price $346 and $376, respectively (see GrabAGun, KYGunCo, etc)

Ratings (out of 5 stars):

Accuracy: * * * *
Given the small size, short sight radius, and black front sight I was much more accurate with this pistol than I expected to be. The fixed barrel certainly shoots straight, and I think the mechanical accuracy potential of the thing is way higher than I could get out of it.

Ergonomics: * * * *
Frame fit and angle are nice. Trigger is nice. Controls are fine, although I’m not a fan of slide-mounted safeties. Easy to manipulate the slide. Overall, comfortable and very good ergos for a sub-compact.

Reliability: * * * 
Three stars (average) in comparison against my experience with direct competitors, meaning sub-$400 semi-auto .22 LR pistols with reciprocating slides. Some distaste for light-loaded ammo. 100% reliable with stronger stuff. Overall, I think it’s about average for .22 of this sort.

Customize This: * *
As far as I can tell, the only aftermarket option that exists are thread adapters that are technically sold for the P22, but fit the PPK/S .22 perfectly. These would give you the ability to mount compensators, flash hiders, fake silencers, real silencers, and other silliness onto the barrel. Normal PPK/S grip panels won’t fit, and I can’t seem to find aftermarket options. Same for sights. At least not yet… (I believe the gun has been on the market for about 8 months). Most holsters for the PPK should work.

Fun Factor: * * * * *
I’m James Bond, beotch!

Overall: * * * 
A fun-to-shoot .22 option. Decent gun to teach first timers, but interesting and accurate enough that you won’t get bored with it either. I wish it ran cheap-o ammo better. If it did that, cost a bit less, or was made of steel/aluminum instead of zinc alloy this would be an “above average” four star rated pistol.