Smith & Wesson's M&P22 is, according to the company, built for recreational shooting, personal protection, home protection, and professional training. I don't much buy into the idea of using a .22 LR for personal or home protection, but I have just spent the good part of an extended weekend shooting and handling the new model, and I see the M&P22 being useful for training and recreational shooting.
First off, the M&P22, which was announced in 2011, looks almost exactly like S&W's 4.25-inch-barreled centerfire M&P, and it feels really good in my medium-sized hand. It weighs 24 ounces, unloaded, and it comes with a 4.1-inch, fixed barrel. Unlike its bigger-caliber brothers (9mm, .357 SIG, .40 S&W, or .45 ACP), the M&P22 does not have interchangeable backstraps; however, the .22 pistol does compare favorably ergonomically to the standard, 4.25-inch-barreled M&Ps in other aspects. Overall lengths are virtually the same. Widths are the same. Heights are the same. And empty weight is the same as for the 9mm 4.25-inch-barreled M&P.
The M&P22 is made for Smith & Wesson by Carl Walther, GmbH, and the gun carries many of the familiar operating features of S&W's centerfire M&P duty pistols; as such, it makes a pretty good "understudy" (as one writer put it) to the bigger-bored pistols. The front sight is a white-dot, drift-adjustable post very much like the centerfire model's front sight. The rear sight is a fully adjustable, plain black, low-profile sight.
The M&P22's frame is polymer with metal internal inserts, and like the centerfire model's frame, it incorporates an integral Picatinny-style accessories rail. The rimfire's slide is aluminum alloy, whereas the centerfire's slide is steel.
The operating controls — the ambidextrous slide stop release, the magazine release, and the takedown lever — are exactly like the centerfire's controls. By the way, the M&P22's magazine release is reversible just like the centerfire model's magazine release. The M&P22 comes with an ambidextrous thumb safety similar to that on some versions of the bigger-bore models. All versions have an articulated trigger, a magazine disconnect that prevents the pistol from firing when the magazine is removed, and a loaded chamber indicator.
The really big difference between the rimfire and centerfire models is the firing mechanism. The single-action, blowback-operated rimfire pistol uses a hammer-fired mechanism, with an internal hammer. The double-action centerfire model is a striker-fired mechanism. For those of you who don't know the difference, the hammer-fired mechanism, as its name implies, uses a spring-tensioned hammer that pivots on a pin to strike the firing pin. A striker-fired mechanism uses, in simple terms, a spring-loaded firing pin that travels in line with the cartridge, thereby eliminating the separate hammer.
The real joy in any new-gun review comes with getting the gun out on the range for some shooting. I put the new M&P22 through its paces by shooting 10 different .22 LR loads, ranging in bullet weight and style from 31-grain plated hollowpoints to the age-old classic 40-grain lead solids. Also included were lead hollowpoints and plated roundnoses. I shot standard-velocity target ammo, subsonic loads, high-velocity rounds, and hypervelocity ammo. In all, I put close to 350 rounds through the M&P22, and it didn't miss a beat.
As for accuracy, well, the results on paper weren't exactly stellar. I have to admit that the single white-dot front sight and the plain black rear sight isn't the ideal combination for me for shooting at small bullseye targets. At 25 yards the front sight completely obscured a 3-inch bullseye. With my poor eyes being what they are, I just couldn't get any loads to group better than 2.00 inches. Most loads were in the 3.0- to 4.0-inch range at that distance. In the interest of full disclosure, in addition to my poor eyesight, I also had to contend with winds gusting to 30 miles per hour while shooting the new M&P22. Make of that what you will.
A more satisfying part of the shooting session came when it was time to shoot the M&P22 on my swinging steel target. In my view the primary function of this pistol is training, and so I was pleased to see the pistol shine in this type of shooting. Engaging my 4-inch-wide steel gong at various distances (from 3 yards to 10 yards), from every angle I could conceive of and on the move, was a real blast — pardon the pun. I just plastered the white dot front sight on the gong and let the shots go. Double-taps were tremendously effective, what with the nonexistent recoil of the rimfire round. Not having to deal with a lot of recoil and muzzle jump makes concentrating on trigger squeeze and sight placement a lot easier. I know that this type of shooting is important for training purposes and should be taken seriously, but you have to admit, shooting rapidly on a reactive target is a lot of fun, too.
I think the new M&P22 makes a lot of sense for anyone who shoots a centerfire M&P pistol for duty or for personal protection. It's been said that for an action to become instinctive to a human being, the action must be performed at least 3,000 times. Considering that the cost of the cheapest .22 LR ammo at my local Wal-Mart is 3.6 cents a round and the cheapest 9mm ammo goes for 20 cents per round, the cost savings of firing 3,000 training shots of .22 LR as opposed to 9mm is $492. And with that in mind, the M&P22 looks pretty good.