January 06, 2021
By Payton Miller
Back in 1960, when the .22 Magnum rimfire round was introduced, a large part of its appeal was due to a simple claim. Namely, from a 6.5-inch revolver barrel, the standard 40-grain loading handily exceeded .22 LR velocities from a rifle barrel. This was gospel until the advent of lightweight-bullet, hyper-velocity .22 LR loads like the CCI Stinger made their appearance and altered the “velocity gap” considerably. At least it did until lightweight-bullet .22 Magnum loads appeared and the “gap” opened up again.
Regardless, there are now at least as many revolver models chambered in .22 Magnum (a.k.a. .22 WMR) as rifles. And since there are more different models of .22 Magnum revolvers than there are different companies turning them out, let’s break things down by maker. Here’s a quick look at some very interesting .22 Magnum revolvers in alphabetical order by manufacturer. (All prices are subject to change.)
The .22 Magnum snubnose revolver is now a fact of life in the CCW arena. In fact, Hornady offers a Critical Defense 45-grain FTX load specifically for it that will produce 1,000 fps out of a 2.0-inch—or 1.87-inch—barrel. Likewise, Speer offers a 40-grain Gold Dot JHP loading of the .22 Magnum for short-barreled handguns that has a rated muzzle velocity of 1,050 fps. And Winchester offers a personal-defense Defender .22 Magnum loading that carries a 40-grain PDX1 JHP bullet that’s rated at a velocity of 1,295 fps. All that brings me to the Pathfinder from Charter Arms, the company that first gained prominence for its .44 Special Bulldog revolver back in the 1960s.
Charter has three cosmetic choices for its .22 Magnum snubbie: black/anodized, pink, or matte stainless/black. All are six-shot traditional SA/DA guns weighing 11 to 12 ounces with an MSRP of $394.80. If a snubbie isn’t to your liking, the company also has a 4.2-inch-barreled Pathfinder with adjustable sights for $425.60.
One entry into the convertible cylinder single-action sweepstakes (I’ll get to others in a bit) is the Italian-made Chiappa 1873. Obviously a Peacemaker-pattern sixgun, this one sports a 4.75-inch barrel, black plastic grips, an alloy frame, and a steel-lined alloy cylinder and barrel. The MSRP is $183.
European American Armory
This well-known Florida-based importer offers the Bounty Hunter, a German-made (Weihrauch) series of .22 Magnum/.22 LR convertible cylinder six- and eight-shot single actions. Barrel lengths are 4.75 and 6.75 inches, and finishes include blue and nickel. The MSRP ranges from $374 to $413, depending on model.
The Heritage Rough Rider is the best deal in terms of a frontier-style single-action .22 Magnum/.22 LR convertible. Ruger started the interchangeable cylinder concept with the Single-Six decades ago, and the idea lives on in a large part of Heritage’s rimfire lineup, which includes barrel lengths from 4.75 to 16 inches They come in a variety of finishes, and even though you can get ’em with a six- or nine-shot cylinder, I’m sticking with the original six-shooter concept and Heritage’s RR22MB4 model. It has a black finish, walnut grips, and a 4.75-inch barrel. Even though you’re not going to get full .22 Magnum pop at this barrel length, it’s still a considerable boost. MSRP is $184.
North American Arms
Although they are Derringer-sized, North American Arms’s revolvers are actually single-action, spur-trigger “Mini-Revolvers” that pretty much set the standard in terms of concealability. Of the models chambered in .22 Magnum, in my opinion, the top choices are the Pug Mag and the Black Widow. All have a five-shot cylinders.
The Pug Mag sports a heavy 1.0-inch barrel, slightly oversized pebble textured rubber grips, and your choice of an XS White Dot or a Tritium sight. Overall length is 4.6 inches; weight is 6.4 ounces. The MSRP is $328 to $347, depending on the sights. For $360, you can get the PUG-DC that includes a .22 LR conversion cylinder (which, from an economical practice standpoint, isn’t a bad idea).
For a bit more ballistic potential, the heavy, vent-rib, 2.0-inch-barreled Black Widow may be the way to go. It can be had with fixed sights or Marble Arms adjustable sights. All Black Widow models feature stylishly unfluted cylinders and oversized grips with the distinctive red hourglass logo. They can be had with a black PVD coating or with a matte stainless finish. The MSRP for the Black Widow models runs from $288 to $353 depending on the configuration.
Introduced in 1961, the company’s highly successful Single-Six Convertible single-action revolver was a hit because it allowed the use of relatively inexpensive .22 LR ammo in one cylinder and the more potent but pricier .22 Magnum in the other. Changing cylinders took about as much time as it did to load one.
In 1973 Ruger went with the New Model transfer-bar firing system that allowed safe carry with the cylinder loaded “all the way around.” Later, of course, variants came thick and fast—stainless steel, myriad barrel lengths, adjustable sights. The .22 Magnum culmination came in 2012 with the non-convertible Single-Nine—a nine-shot, 6.5-inch-barreled, stainless-steel single-action revolver featuring the company’s excellent adjustable rear sight and a fiber-optic front. At this writing, the MSRP is $699.
I’m still pretty attached to my Old Model Convertible—a 6.5-inch, fixed-sight original that shoots to point of aim at 25 yards with Hornady 45-grain FTX .22 Magnums and Winchester Super-X 40-grain JHPs. I’ve had it since I was 15 years old. Even when I was young, dumb, and broke, I managed to pony up for the more expensive Magnum ammo. Why? Well, I guess I just enjoyed that far more authoritative whack when I pressed the trigger. The MSRP on the current Single-Sixes ranges from $629 to $699. All versions have adjustable sights and can be had in stainless steel or blued steel with barrel lengths of 4.62, 5.5, 6.5, and 9.5 inches.
Ruger certainly hasn’t ignored the .22 Magnum when it comes to the double-action revolvers, either. The stainless-steel/alloy, 1.87-inch-barreled LCR and 3.0-inch-barreled LCRx were both envisioned as defensive guns for those unable to handle the recoil of a centerfire snubbie.
The LCR is double-action-only. There’s no external hammer, so don’t go looking for one. The sights on the LCR are fixed; those on the LCRx are adjustable. The 3.0-inch SA/DA LCRx does have an external hammer for your thumb-cocking pleasure. The MSRP on both the LCR and LCRx is $579. To further enhance the comfort level, both feature Hogue Tamer Monogrips.
Smith & Wesson
Initially, Smith & Wesson broke into the .22 Magnum market in 1959 with the double-action Model 48. It was a six-shot medium-size K-Frame, essentially the old Model 17 K-22 Masterpiece chambered for the .22 Magnum. It was available in 4.0-, 6.0-, and 8.38-inch barrel lengths. The original Model 48 was discontinued in 1986, but it enjoyed a full-lug, stainless-steel resurrection of sorts as the Model 648, produced from 1989 to 1996. It was recently reintroduced with a 6.0-inch barrel and an eight-round cylinder. The MSRP on the current Model 648 is $752.
The Model 48, in all its blued, carbon-steel glory, lives on as part of S&W’s Classics Series and is offered with either a 4.0-inch barrel or a 6.0-inch barrel. The Model 48 Classics retails for $997.
In keeping with the boom in concealed-carry handguns, S&W also offers a pair of defensive small J-Frame snubbies in .22 Magnum. The Model 351C is a hammerless seven-shot double-action revolver featuring an XS White Dot front sight, a matte black finish, and a weight of 11.5 ounces. The Model 351 PD—a 2.0-inch descendant of the classic J-Frame .22 Magnum 3.5-inch-barreled Model 51 Kit Gun—has an external hammer and similar dimensions, but it features a Hi-Viz orange fiber-optic front sight. These snubbies are priced at $689 and $766 respectively.
If you’re less than enthusiastic about the .22 Magnum as a defensive tool, how about a gun that fires two of them with each press of the trigger? Standard’s S333 Thunderstruck delivers exactly that. It’s a double-barreled, double-action-only revolver with an eight-round capacity. It weighs 18 ounces and features twin 1.25-inch-long barrels. Essentially, you get four squeezes of the trigger before you’re tapped out. But by the time that happens, you’ve delivered eight shots.
It’s made of anodized aluminum with a polymer grip and features an integral articulated trigger safety. The MSRP on this one-of-a-kind handgun is $429.
The company’s 992 Tracker series brings the .22 Magnum/.22 LR convertible cylinder concept into the double-action realm, although the Brazilian outfit isn’t the first to do so. High Standard made a DA convertible cylinder model before going out of business long ago.
The current Taurus 992 Tracker series pretty much has the hunting/plinking/informal target niche well covered. All four models feature adjustable sights and nine-shot cylinders. Two are matte stainless with your choice of a 6.5- or a 4.0-inch barrel. Two have a matte black oxide finish with the same barrel-length choices. All are substantial medium-frame guns with full-lug barrels and tip the scales at 40 to 46 ounces. All four feature Taurus’s distinctive ribbed rubber grips. MSRPs range from $639.45 to $691.95.
In its heyday, Colt offered a couple of excellent .22 Magnum revolvers. One was the single-action New Frontier dual-cylinder convertible in various barrel lengths. Then there was the double-action Mark III Trooper. And finally, there was an ultra-rare .22 Magnum variant of the double-action Officer’s Model Match. I had the pleasure of examining an NIB specimen many years ago, so I know they exist (only about 800 or so were made).
Naturally, all of these guns, particularly the Officer’s Model Match, are going to be extremely pricey if you’re lucky enough to stumble across one at some dusty Mom and Pop gunshop or at an auction. But Colt is resurrecting several of its classics, and maybe with a little bit of luck, one of these gone-but-not-forgotten revolvers will be reintroduced. Who knows?