Sterling Model 302 .22LR pistol
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How did I find a Sterling 302? Well, it’s a long story. I’ve become a pretty big fan of auctions. Not Gunbroker-style auctions, but real auctions that move in real time.

I have a local firearm auction that I hit up every time they host an auction. I typically aim for historic, largely affordable firearms. Sometimes I see a gun get zero bids and if the price is right, I hit the bid button.

Sterling Model 302 .22LR pistol
Eighty bucks isn’t a bad price at all. (Travis Pike for TTAG)

One such firearm was a little .22LR-looking pocket pistol from a company called Sterling. I had never heard of the company, never seen the gun before, but no one put in a bid, and the opening bid was $80.

Little did I know that I had purchased the Sterling 302, a surprisingly robust little pocket pistol from the 1970s. I thought it might be a pot metal-ish little thing, but I was surprisingly wrong.

The Sterling Arms Corporation

Not only did I end up with an interesting pistol from the 1970s, but the company that made it is rather interesting, too. The Sterling Arms Corporation is a bit of a mysterious company. Kevin at the WeaponsMan blog wrote an in-depth article about Sterling Arms Corporation, and this article contains the majority of information we know about the company.

As a company, they made some interesting little weapons, including a High Standard HDM design with the barrel trimmed to nothing and chambered in .380 ACP. They made some cool pistols but, as a company, were rather secretive.

Sterling Model 302 .22LR pistol
This is a little .22LR pocket gun, but it’s surprisingly nice. (Travis Pike for TTAG)

Who designed the guns? Who knows? Where did they come from? No idea. Why did they use certain cryptic initials and numbers in the names of their guns? I dunno. They weren’t really open about it, and in the 1970s, firearm marketing wasn’t anything like it is today.

The Sterling Arms Corporation isn’t related to the British Sterling by any means. Another Sterling produced cheap revolvers out of California, but there is no evidence the companies are connected. The Sterling Arms Corporation was originally based out of Buffalo but quickly moved to Lockport, New York. The most notable thing they did was import the SIG P232.

Sterling Model 302 .22LR pistol
It’s not pretty, but it shoots well. (Travis Pike for TTAG)

The company shut its doors in 1983 or 1984. According to Massad Ayoob, Sterling Arms Corporation was sued out of existence. Long story short…a babysitter had her boyfriend over. The boyfriend found the family’s .380 Sterling. He removed the mag and, thinking the weapon was unloaded, pulled the trigger and fired the weapon, striking the child and leaving him paralyzed.

Final Firearms – The Sterling 302

Sterling made a number of seemingly odd and interesting guns, but in the mid-70s, they produced some fairly practical and seemingly boring pocket pistols. These were known as the Sterling 300, which was a .25 ACP, and the 302, which was a .22LR. According to a 1978 catalog, the Sterling 302 cost $73.95, so when you account for inflation, me picking one up for $80 is a bargain.

I figured it was a Saturday Night Special-style pistol that was popular in the era. Imagine my surprise when I picked up my firearm, and found the Sterling 302 is clearly not a pot metal Saturday Night Special. The frame and slide are blued steel. The grips might be plastic, but the gun looks fantastic.

Sterling Model 302 .22LR pistol
Trench sights present an interesting challenge. (Travis Pike for TTAG)

The gun weighs thirteen ounces, is 4.75 inches long, and is 3.5 inches tall. It’s one inch wide and sports a 2.125-inch long barrel. It has a simple six-round magazine and, predictably, it uses a simple blowback design.

Sterling Model 302 .22LR pistol
The safety is odd, but functional. (Travis Pike for TTAG)

The Sterling 302 has a manual safety mounted right above the trigger that’s easy and quick to use. Across the top, you won’t find any sights, only a trench. I’ve never shot anything with just a trench sight, so this would be an interesting adventure.

Sterling Model 302 .22LR pistol
The European magazine release isn’t fast. (Travis Pike for TTAG)

The magazine release is mounted to the bottom of the grip in a very European-style design. The weapon came in blued, nickel, or even stainless steel, with the stainless being the most expensive at all of $90.

At the Range With the Sterling 302

With a little Winchester and Federal ammo, I hit the range with the stout little Sterling 302. I set up two steel targets and one paper target. I attempted to group the weapon at 10 yards. The trench sights threw me off, and I hit substantially low in a position I felt was comfortable. In my first attempt, I created a group that was 2.14 inches at ten yards. That’s not terrible for the little gun.

Sterling Model 302 .22LR pistol
It’s tiny, and it’s pocket-sized. (Travis Pike for TTAG)

The trigger has a fair amount of takeup and gets a little stiff, but it isn’t bad. I need a class on trench sights, and I just applied a little Kentucky windage to my shooting. At ten, fifteen, and even twenty-five yards, I made effective hits.

At ten and fifteen yards, I hit a 10-inch gong with the Sterling 302. In fact, I went six for six at both ranges. At 25 yards, I went three for six on the gong and six for six on an IPSC steel target. With real sights, I think I could have done a fair bit better.

Recoil wasn’t an issue. It’s an all-steel .22LR, so this wasn’t an issue. Reliability wasn’t bad. The gun worked best with Federal Automatic, and my only issue with the Winchester is that every so often, the last round would fail to feed. The Federal Automatic worked without issue. I caused an issue myself by having my hand too high on the gun.

Sterling Model 302 .22LR pistol
Is it perfect? No, but its no Saturday Night Special either. (Travis Pike for TTAG)

That caused a problem once when shooting, which created a failure-to-feed situation. Don’t tighten up too high when shooting these little guns.

The Sterling 302 is a fun little gun, and I’m impressed by what I assumed would be a cheap little pistol I picked up at the auction. Now I want to get a few more Sterlings, especially a PPL.

 

 

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45 COMMENTS

  1. Good score as these are interesting little guns at least as good as the little Beretta’s. I too am able to score some deals just by knowing what the gun is.

  2. The basic “look” of this pistol is the same as the famed Walther PPK. I observed that immediately.
    I had one that was a “bring back” my Father brought back from WW2 and gave to me. The original holster by “Otto Sindel” was with it. I have since passed it on to my Son.

    • quote——–is that every so often, the last round would fail to feed. ——–quote

      Sterlings were known as jam-a-matics. If I remember correctly one of their guns was accidentally dropped by a woman in a check out line at a grocery store and it went off and shot someone.

      If I remember correctly sterling slides were made of cheap zinc not steel.

      Having said all that the .22 rimfire is not the gun to carry for defense and not for the reason you might think.

      I am not downgrading the deadliness of the caliber as it will kill but rather the reliability of all .22 rimfire ammunition. Even the super high grade .22 ammo will occasionally have a dude primer. I had a dud primer just last week when using a box of $23.00 high grade Eley Match Ammo nicked named by we locals as Eley Red Box. As far as junk ammo like the Remington Thunderbolt I have had so many misfires with that junk I have lost count.

      One is far better off carrying a .25 acp. The 25acp feeds more reliably and is way less likely to have a misfire. And do not down grade the .25 acp caliber as useless either as it will indeed kill someone. A Lady Cab Driver who was kidnapped and about to be murdered blew away the crazed maniac that abducted her with a .25 acp she had hidden on her person. In my own town a man was jumped by 3 thugs when he exited a local bar and he killed all 3 thugs with one shot apiece out of his .25 acp pistol.

      A small pistol like the .25 acp is so small you will not feel uncomfortable carrying it and you will never leave it at home because it was too big and heavy and uncomfortable to carry on a hot day.

      quote———I had never heard of the company, never seen the gun before, ——-quote

      You must be a young man because Sterlings were like a drug on the market not so many years ago as they were everywhere for sale.

        • If he was Pinocchio, NASA would not had to send that satellite to orbit to hit the asteroid tomorrow.

        • Will you know J-bird, it’s not all black and white in the real world.

          Like most people, gun owners are on a spectrum, some favor no regulations whatsoever, all the way out to those who believe that significant restrictions upon possession and carry of firearms is appropriate.

          I found this statement in the article rather interesting:

          “and in the 1970s, firearm marketing wasn’t anything like it is today“

          Interesting, given our present level of violence committed with guns… One wonders if there’s only correlation or an element of causation.

        • He’s lying. He doesn’t know a damn thing about fire arms. He finds stuff on the internet to copy-n-paste in his ignorant posts, even the stuff that has been disproven and is myth he tries to restate as though he is personally experienced with it. In a few past posts he has gone so far as to claim he competed with guns that don’t actually exist.

        • miner. Let’s play that game. Where do the majority of shootings occur nationwide? Blue cities for the most part.

          It would seem that banning democrats would be more logical than banning guns.

      • In my experience, it’s not just the ammo that contributes to unreliability, it’s also the action.

        Most rimfire actions are deliberately designed to be underpowered to avoid breaching the thin rear wall of the casing. This is also why their strikers are usually a rectangular shelf instead of a rounded point. Cheaply manufactured rimfire ammo tends to have thicker rear walls due to looser tolerances. Thick rear case wall + underpowered action = high chance of a light primer strike.

        The 17 cal barrel for my Rossi 3-barrel is offset so that the centerfire action strikes the rim of a chambered 17 HMR. Through several boxes and brands, I’ve yet to have a failure to fire. Barring a round that never got primed, I don’t expect to have one.

    • Sterlings were indeed junk but not the Raven pistols. Ravens were noted for being very reliable pistols but like most low budget pistols the raven did wear out rapidly when shot a lot and then yes they did become unreliable.

      It does not surprise me that yet again you admit to owning low grade junk pistols as this is what a self proclaimed independently wealthy janitor would buy (sarcasm).

      • You know what the beauty of Capitalvania is, dacian? You can be born poor, I freely admit I was. but if you stay poor that’s on you. I’ve told you before. Get a job. Get your mental illness in hand. Move out of your mothers basement. Break all ties with Fascism. You’re young enough, jerry, to still have a life.

        Yes. There was a time when I bought Sterlings and Ravens, now I buy Benelli.

        You ever pay 36 grand in taxes out of one check, dacian? I have. Ever pay cash for a house? A new car? Done that to.

        You don’t have to be stupid. You can get over it.

  3. Bought a Sterling .22 when they were still being made and found that it was a decent pistol. Mistake I made was to give it to my sister, and “upgraded” to a .25 Raven. Both guns did need a little TLC, and the Sterling was ammo specific, but the Sterling was one of those guns that should have never been discontinued. With time, and a little “tuning”, it would have been a bigger seller than back in the day.

  4. My first 22 was a Sterling 302 that I ended up selling about a decade ago. Just a few months back I picked up a Sterling 300 stainless for 85 at a local pawn shop on a whim. Fun gun and has been quite reliable, as a coincidence, I noticed after my first range trip that the serial number is exactly the same as my birthday, so I guess I’m keeping this one for the long term.

  5. Great little gun. I have a stainless family pass down with two mags. Has been flawless for me as a little shooter, except one mag causes feeding malfunctions towards the end.

  6. I forgot to add that the Sterling has no sights. That channel in the slide make a person unconsciously tip up the end of the slide to point the gun at the target when shooting it. This makes your shots go very, very, high.

    • Which was good for those 4.4 mile long shots. Naturally built in elevation, it was ahead of its time.
      A sterling example of the gunm makers art.

  7. That reminds me of the Masterpiece Arms MPA380. Same form factor, same trench sights, plastic grips, and mine was very well-made. All machined parts. It was just a bad idea made well and I sold it on GB.

  8. These were copies of the Armi Galesi pocket pistols, introduced after the GCA ‘68 points test cut off the importation of the originals.

  9. I remember these… I loved their look.

    They always reminded me of a little Galesi in my family. smooth and sleek.

    I owned one and shot two others. one in 25 and two in 22.

    Just not reliable. the 22s were fun tacklebox and trail guns.

    the 25 was too expensive to,shoot for fun (teenaged kid) and not reliable enough for carry.

    I never saw one of the 380s in the flesh but remember an article or two.

    interesting guns – just didn’t work well enough to survive.

  10. All this talk about little pistols kinda wants to make me start carrying my .25acp.
    Two shots would equal 50 cal wouldn’t it?

    • I had a friend who committed suicide with a .25acp, he lived 3 days in the hospital, shot himself in the head. I also had another friend who committed suicide with a 12 gauge shotgunm, shot himself in the head and blew his brains out literally, happened right in front of the cop shop. Pulled up, stuck the gunm in his mouth and that was the end of his girlfriend troubles.

      • “that was the end of his girlfriend troubles“

        The proverbial ‘permanent end to temporary problems’.

        And it would take 4x .25 to equal the cross-sectional area of a .50.

    • Two shots would make a 50 but it’ll never be a FJB lung blower with a 100rd clipazine
      I laugh because back in the day when these were around it was the media and politicians screaming about “Saturday night specials “ being the downfall of America and it was taught that anyone civilized wouldn’t even think of carrying a gun edc.

  11. “The child was paralyzed”…

    Kind of a petty criticism here, but could you guys leave the worst of unnecessary stuff like this out?

    So much terrible stuff going on in the world, even with politics TTAGs usually manages to keep things light and fun, which I always appreciate

    • “leave the worst of unnecessary stuff like this out?“

      Yes, it’s so much easier to market lethal weapons when media is willing to censor the messy aspects of reality concerning firearms.

      Why can’t you all just use pictures of Ralphie at Christmas opening his package from Santa to reveal a Daniel defense AR15?

      • Do you believe video games and movies are causing violence? They need to be censored?

        How about rock music and Elvis’s twitching hips? We need to protect our youth from those influences?

        Censorship always comes up with you fascists.

    • I have this exact same pistol.
      As well made as my LCP.
      No, it doesn’t like some ammo.
      The channel sight does take some getting used to.
      I only have 2 issues with it.
      1 the safety will rotate on its own sometimes.
      2 can’t find any magazines for it.
      I have 2, one came with the firearm and I found the other at a firearm auction several years ago, and it has a small piece of the plastic mag bottom broken off.
      Still shoots great.

  12. I have a 302 in stainless that I got from a relative. Thought it was a neat little gun. It is now in a zip lock bag in the back of the safe with a warning that it should not be fired and why. Since so many speak well of the 302 I will assume mine has a warn or broken part but I was not able to find anything wrong with it after several tear downs.

    I shot less than 50 rounds and it slam fired twice, I pulled the trigger once and it shot two rounds. It also slam fired once on racking the first round, no trigger pull. Luckily it was aimed in a safe direction. It also had a few failure to feeds and eject.

    If some liberal group has a gun buy back in the area I will turn it in, otherwise my son can deal with it when he gets my gun collection.

  13. I have one and the slide is steel not zinc. The reason these jam is because it a 22lr. Even the well made Beretta 21A jam. Mine work well only with Stingers. It is actually pretty reliable with them. The Raven on the other hand was chambered for a centerfire round with a FMJ bullet and of course that is going to feed better, even if it is made out of pot metal, but you better carry some extra firing pins they break a lot in this gun. The Beretta 418 that James Bond originally used is very reliable with its 25acp ammo. The Sterling 302s are fun guns that you can put in your tackle box when going fishing and plink a little while you are out there. I would not use it for self defense.

  14. I remember the Sterling, just never sprung for one. Same with the Raven.
    I still have my first EDC’s, a High Standard 22 mag derringer, a NAA 22lr mini, and an Iver Johnson TP22. I’ve retired them but still take the IJ out for an occasional spin. My only regret, not buying the IJ TP25 also. The one that got away: a Bauer Brothers copy of a Colt vest pocket 25. Now I’m a grown-up; I carry a j-frame! (And sometimes a KelTec 32 or Ruger 380.) I do love my little gats!

  15. The Sterling Arms Corporation isn’t related to the British Sterling by any means.***Another Sterling produced cheap revolvers out of California*** but there is no evidence the companies are connected. The Sterling Arms Corporation was originally based out of Buffalo but quickly moved to Lockport, New York.

    I noticed the statement in between the asterisks I marked it with. Seems to me this might clearly explain why some “Sterlings” performed better than others, as they were two different companies and firearms.

  16. ALL STEEL I WANT ONE , ME TOO ,
    HAVE A BERETTA BOBCAT ? I KNOW ONLY THREE YEAR WARRANTY , AND ALLOY FRAME , HAD ONE BREAK LUCKY UNDER WARRANTY .

  17. I picked up a Sterling 300 in the late 80’s. Feed lips on the magazine were an issue, and a little work eased the problem some, though the last two rounds always seem to fail to feed. At that time, I had zero luck finding an extra Mag or two in my area, so I ended up selling it to a coworker a few years later.
    I wasn’t and am still not a .25 ACP fan. While the .25 has more positive ignition than rimfire, it’s ridiculously priced ammo makes it uneconomical to shoot often. Perhaps if it had been a 302, I’d still own it.
    someone mentioned Zinc Casting, but I distinctly remember a magnet sticking to the slide on the one I owned, which means steel.

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