Gun Review: Smith & Wesson M22A-1

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(This is a reader-submitted review as part of our gun review contest. See details here.)

By Zac Eaker

Shooting guns is probably the most fun you can have with clothes on. Unfortunately, as fun as it is to take your favorite 1911, GLOCK, or wheelgun to the range, it’s not exactly cheap to kill paper bad guys. That’s where the .22 long rifle comes into play.

It’s not as cheap as it once was, but it still is a fairly affordable way to hone your point and shoot pistol skills. However, a large portion of .22 pistols are cheap, clunky hunks of metal that aren’t exactly reliable or accurate. And clearing malfunctions every third shot is in no way fun. So what gun should you choose?

Personally, I believe that life is too short to shoot the cheapest hunk of junk you can find. Luckily, high quality .22 pistols like the Smith &Wesson M22A-1 can be had for less than $250.

Fit and finish

The M22A-1 has a simple design, but it works. It looks good, and it has everything it needs to be a comfortable and effective gun. It comes with a surprising number of features included straight out of the box, including a full length Weaver style rail for mounting optics, a large patridge front sight, a rear sight that is adjustable for windage and elevation, and an aluminum alloy frame.

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Oh, and I cannot forget my favorite thing about this gun…the trigger. The trigger on the M22A-1 is the best trigger I have ever used. It’s single action, with just a little bit of slack, and then the cleanest break you can imagine. It breaks like a glass rod, which is something I hear people say all the time about all kinds of triggers, but that’s exactly what it feels like.

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The full length Weaver rail actually is the cause of my biggest gripe with this gun. Since it runs along the entire length of the gun, it sits above the slide. This makes it a little difficult to get a good grip on the slide, and it also causes my thumb to feel sore after a few hours of shooting. This issue would probably be remedied if I wore some of those cool operator gloves, but I’m not nearly tactical enough for that.

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Two magazines are included with the firearm, and they work well. I have had no magazine-related issues. They are metal, and even though they are not much thicker than an actual .22 round they seem very sturdy. They do not bend at all, even when I really put some force into it.

Another thing I really like about the magazines is that they don’t just drop out when you hit the magazine release. They are pushed out, making speedy reloads a breeze. However, since the magazines sit flush with the bottom of the grip, getting them to lock into place can be a bit difficult. You either need to slam it in or get it placed just right on the heel of your palm when inserting a fresh magazine.

Firing

The alloy frame and the 5.5” barrel make the M22A-1 feel very front heavy, but while firing, you don’t notice it as much. Being a .22LR, the gun doesn’t have much recoil to begin with, but the heaviness of the barrel keeps the pistol on target even with rapid fire. The virtually nonexistent recoil coupled with the amazing trigger, make this gun an absolute pleasure to shoot.

However, the .22 long rifle isn’t exactly a cartridge known for its outstanding reliability. So, as expected, I have had a few minor issues. I’ve gotten almost one thousand rounds through this pistol (in the high 800’s if you want to be exact) and I have had a few stovepipes. I also had one instance where I had to actually remove the barrel and pull a round out of the chamber with a pair of pliers. I firmly believe this was due to the fact that I was using the cheapest bulk ammo I could find. While using CCI standard, I had zero malfunctions. Every round fired, ejected, loaded the next round. No exceptions.

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Accuracy

I am by no means a professional shooter, but the M22A-1 doesn’t seem to care. I can consistently get roughly three-inch groups while standing at 25 yards. I’ve gotten smaller groups and I’ve gotten larger groups, but three-inch groups are typical.

Field stripping

Field stripping the M22A-1 is just as easy as shooting it. You simply grab the barrel, push the takedown button, lift up and push back towards the slide, and the barrel and top rail come off. Simply lift the slide off and the recoil spring and guide rod come off too. That’s it. No tools required (looking at you Browning Buckmark.)

Summary

All guns have high points (except Hi-Points…I’m kidding…kind of) and low points, and the M22A-1 isn’t an exception. It has a couple of minor ergonomic issues and it doesn’t take GLOCK mags, but it has the best trigger I’ve ever used. Other than that you have an accurate pistol that is a blast to shoot.

Specifications: Smith & Wesson M22A-1

Action: SA
Caliber .22 LR
Barrel Length: 5.5”
Capacity: 10+1
Safety: Thumb and magazine
Grips: Synthetic
Sights: Adjustable
Weight: 34.4 oz.
Price: $329 (that’s MSRP while in production, around $245 now)

Ratings (out of five stars):

Style * * * *
The design is simple but effective. It’s a good looking gun.

Ergonomics * * * *
It’s kind of front heavy, but it feels great in hand. The rail position and awkward magazine release detract some, but not enough to be a deal breaker.

Reliability * * * *
Runs perfectly with good ammo. Had a few hiccups with the cheap stuff.

Customization * * *
Most optics that fit a Weaver style rail and a few different grips.

Carry *
Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

Overall * * * *
The M22A-1 is a solid pistol. Reliable, accurate, and fun as hell. The perfect trigger makes up for a few minor ergonomic flaws. All-in-all, it’s a really nice gun for a really nice price.

comments

  1. avatar junkman says:

    I will take my Ruger Mark III Hunter any day of the week–the trigger is beyond any reproach, supremely accurate & does not jam with any type of ammo–it is also drop dead beautiful compared to the S&W

  2. avatar jwm says:

    It don’t take Glock mags and it uses unobtainium for fuel? No thanks. 🙂

    1. avatar James69 says:

      and doesn’t cost $800…… 🙂

  3. avatar James69 says:

    You can switch the barrel out for a longer one easier than changing the upper on an AR. I have one of these with the round barrel. This pistol WILL cycle the 60 grain bullets as well.(possum smashers) I had a Ruger 22/45 that would not cycle them. I installed a red dot and the oversized target grips, mag changes are very slow, it’s a tack driver with good ammo. Mine’s approaching the 2000 round mark and still going. The mags are a bit pricy but are like the author said VERY well made and have a loading post so you can just drop the rounds into it.

    1. avatar jwm says:

      My 10/22 won’t reliably feed the 60 grainers. The only ammo it don’t like. But the 60 grainers work really well, as in accurate, out of my Russian Winchester and my single six.

  4. avatar stuartb says:

    My first gun, and I love it. Great to be able to swap out the barrels too (4″, 5.5″ or 7″). With an optic it on the rail the accuracy rivals my 10/22

  5. avatar Aaron Watson says:

    I’ve had one of these pistols for about 5+ years, and the rubber grip has started
    separating from the plastic. Super nor Gorilla glue have had the ability to adhere
    the 2 dissimilar materials.

    I agree with the overall assessment, but I just haven’t gotten the scratch together
    to get this niggly cosmetic issue resolved, and it is my wife’s favorite auto-loader.

    I may just have to bite the bullet, pun intended, and get some new grips for it, as
    it is, indeed, a fun li’l gun.

    1. avatar James69 says:

      Couldn’t hurt to contact S&W they may lend a hand or paracord it..lol.

    2. avatar Hoplopfheil says:

      You can find the original Smith laminated wood grips from the target model on eBay, or get custom ones from Altamont.

      Or get a cheap replacement set of the plastic ones on eBay.

      1. avatar 16V says:

        Or Amazon. There are a tremendous amount of gun parts available on Amazon.

  6. avatar Art out West says:

    Hi-Point carbines are very decent guns for the money (I don’t like the pistol). My 4095 only set me back $200. Dollar for dollar, it is a pretty practical defensive carbine. It is also a fun plinker, truck gun, and ranch rifle, as well.

    Sure, I like my AK, AR, and SKS quite a bit better, but they all cost more than the 4095. If I was poor, and wanted a defensive long gun that my wife, or a child could use, I’d go for the Hi-Point. On the other hand, $200 will buy a decent pump shotgun as well.

    Also, I wouldn’t say that the M22A-1 “looks good”. I think it is a little “ugly”. Still, like the author said, it is a great gun, especially for it’s price point. The Ruger Mark Series, 22/45, and SR22 all look cooler though.

    1. avatar jwm says:

      I’m a die hard shotgun for hd fan. But the pistol caliber carbine has a lot going for it especially with smaller statured people or older folks.

      1. avatar Art out West says:

        I love them all (shotgun, carbine, AK, AR, SKS, revolver, pistol, etc.). Personally, I’d feel more comfortable with a 12 gauge pump for home defense rather than the 4095. On the other hand, my wife is a delicate girly girl. I can’t see her using a 12 gauge (or even a 20). Hopefully, I’ll eventually get her trained with the AR15. So far, all she has been willing to shoot is the .22lr. Even a .22 is better than nothing.

    2. avatar James69 says:

      Had the 9 carbine. 3 inches low @ 100 yards. Accurate.(PMC 124’s) Put a scope on it to “just see” impressed me. No idea on the energy at that range, better than a rock. Cost vs utility it’s a good deal.

      1. avatar Apresto says:

        I have the .40. Also put a scope on it just to see. Saw stars. Scope was too big – scope bite ensued.

        Seriously, not a bad carbine for the price. Really hate their pistols though.

        1. avatar Art out West says:

          Even though I defend the Hi-Point carbine, I also strongly dislike the pistol. I had one for a short period. The carbine has a lot more going for it.

          Scope bite from a PCC is pretty funny.

  7. avatar Apresto says:

    “All guns have high points (except Hi-Points…”

    Okay, that’s funny.

  8. avatar Hoplopfheil says:

    These are great, and they seem to understand what a 22 pistol should be better than the replacement SW22 Victory does.

    If you remove the magazine disconnect, the mags are easier to fully seat, and they still drop free. I did that to mine.

  9. avatar Dennis says:

    I bought one of these when I was instructing LTC classes in MA a few years back. In MA all students need to shoot 50 rds each during the course. This was a very good training pistol. Reliable, almost no recoil and accurate with little to no jams, unlike the Walther P22 I had previously used that would jam every couple of rds with numerous brands of ammo. Try getting through a range session with ten students and a firearm that jams 3 out of 5 rds…

    My only complaint about it is the plastic inside the slide which bends easily. I always feel like it will break when assembling the gun.

    Overall a great gun for just over $200 in most stores.

  10. avatar Swilson says:

    I’ve always just had revolvers for .22 handguns because friends and family with semi-auto .22’s always seemed to have issues with them. Of course, this was mostly back when I was a kid and I’m sure things have come a long way since then, so I’ve been on the lookout for a decent .22 semi.

    1. avatar Apresto says:

      I really like my Walther P22 and I had a .22 PPK/S as well. The trick with .22 semi-autos is to use higher quality ammunition. Stingers and the like never had issues in either gun, and Eley .22 of all types always worked well too. It’s the regular bulk stuff (Winchester, Federal, etc) where semis don’t cycle well. Have the same issue even in my old Marlin 795.

    2. avatar jwm says:

      The biggest problem with .22 semi auto pistols is the cartridge. It’s rimmed and a rimfire. There’s just no way around that fact and it does cause a slightly higher % of reliability problems than center fire auto loaders.

      If I was in the market for a .22 semi pistol I would buy as good quality as I could afford and just accept that it will hang up on occasion.

  11. avatar alexander says:

    Two items to add to this review. Do not use Thunderbolt ammo. It is very dirty and has a lot of blowback residue, which flies in all directions (including backwards) and can hit the user. Second, the gun is front heavy (as mentioned in the review); my 10 year old daughter would get tired quickly when shooting it. Otherwise, it is good for low cost shooting and for training new shooters.

  12. avatar Chris in SC says:

    I purchased one of these a year ago. I was looking for a .22 pistol but really couldn’t afford the alternatives. One of these showed up at my LGS for $200. I love it. It shoots about everything, it’s easy to take down and it’s accurate. I think it is one of the underrated pistols out there. Get one while you can.

  13. avatar Greg says:

    Nice looking firearm.
    I will however stick with my Ruger MKIII Bull Barrel Target model.
    Eats anything I put in it.

    I consider it the AK47 of .22lr pistols.

  14. avatar Andrew in Ohio says:

    I’ll tell you guys of my terrible 22A experience. I owned one of these a number of years ago and at first I was quite happy with it. The first thing that went wrong was one of the magazines’ base plate broke off while loading it one day. S&W doesn’t sell replacements, but will send a replacement if you call. Shortly afterward it happened again. I was wanting to buy a pack of maybe 10 couldn’t find any for sale. Everything was fine after that for another couple thousand rounds. One day though, the gun wouldn’t cycle. It would fire, but I had to manually cycle the bolt. Upon disassembly I found the frame had cracked on both sides where the bolt meets the barrel. There is a trigger pin that runs through this area and it is definitely a weak point in this design. This left my frame held together with only the trigger guard. I sent it back to S&W after calling and explaining the problem and they told me to send it in. A couple weeks later they called back and told me I needed to go to an FFL to pick it up. Strange I thought, but no matter, I gave them my LGS info and a few days later I received a call to go get it. Turns out they sent another gun with a new serial # resulting in my having to have another background check and costing me $25. They could’ve quite easily copied my old serial # but chose the lazy route and passed the cost on to me. I never even shot the new one. I sold it quite quickly for $150. If they still made the 22S (stainless frame) I’d consider getting one since the gun is quite accurate and a pretty fun plinker, but the magazine base plates are still a weak point. I guess I just got burned with a bad experience. No more S&W for me thanks.

    1. avatar Hoplopfheil says:

      You can buy mags on MidwayUsa now. The 22a and 22s are discontinued in favor of the Victory.

      Was your pistol one of the recalled models?

      1. avatar Andrew in Ohio says:

        No, it had no recalls on it. I think just having the slide hammer away at the frame for a few thousand rounds is what did it. Just a flawed design. Or maybe my frame just had a bad casting. Still, it’s the only gun I’ve ever owned where the frame nearly broke in half.

  15. avatar Ditto says:

    Wow, is this ever strange. A few weeks ago I learned about the 22A-1 from a friend at the range. Inshot his gun and loved it. Just a few days ago, I picked up one for myself. And now here is a review of the gun.

    The biggest “likes” for me: great trigger, simple but very effective target sights, and excellent grip.

    Negatives so far: not the most reliable gun. Have had more than a few stovepipes. Also, as the review states, getting the magazines in that last “click” sometimes needs a good whack with the heel of a hand.

    Otherwise, an excellent target .22. Fun to shoot and accurate, too.

    1. avatar Hoplopfheil says:

      Consider taking the magazine disconnect out. It makes the mags a bit easier to fully seat. They still drop free, but they don’t JUMP out like they do with the MD still in.

  16. avatar JJ says:

    Can you really be happy (satisfied) with these sights? They are just dull, you better have pretty full sun. Also don’t find the gun as front heavy as the Victory or Buckmark or Ruger,

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