Smith & Wesson .22 Plinkers Worth Getting Excited About
April 07, 2017
In 1856, four years into their corporate partnership, Horace Smith and Dan Wesson developed the world's first cartridge revolver.
Known as the Model 1, this repeating handgun revolutionized firearm design and secured Smith & Wesson's place as one of the nation's premier firearm manufacturers ahead of the Civil War.
Much of the Model 1's success was due to the fact that it utilized the self-contained cartridge Smith and Wesson developed two years prior.
In fact, the S&W Model 1 was the first successful rimfire handgun design. Nearly 160 years after the debut of the Model 1, S&W is still rolling out new rimfires worth getting excited about.
Smith & Wesson SW22 Victory
Smith & Wesson's new SW22 Victory is an innovative approach to the semiautomatic rimfire pistol concept utilizing a a blowback action. Blowback certainly isn't new to the world of rimfire semiautomatics, except that the Victory differs from its long-established competition: Browning, Colt, High Standard and Ruger.
The SW22 is actually easy to disassemble for maintenance. Taking the pistol apart requires the removal of just one hex-head screw. There's no need to follow online tutorials or try to keep up with loose components.
The Victory is everything we love about .22 pistols and fixes the one thing we hate about them — routine maintenance. It's a design that is long overdue.
Like other blowback guns, the Victory's receiver is fixed. There's no moving slide, and the action is cycled by the rearward pressure of the fired cartridge. The blowback operation has been perfected over the decades, most notably in Ruger's Mark I/II/III line.
Like the Ruger guns, the Victory has a fixed barrel — in the SW22's case, it is a 5½-inch pipe with a bull profile that lends well to accuracy.
The frame, barrel and bolt are all constructed of stainless steel, and all the exterior metalwork is given a satin stainless finish. The polymer grips are textured and have well-positioned finger cutouts that secure the gun in hand.
The grip profile is slightly rounded, which helps stabilize the gun and comforts the feel more than traditional slab-sided grips. Inside the grip we insert a 10-round magazine. The Victory comes with two of them.
Not only are the Victory's sights fully adjustable for both windage and elevation, the front and rear sights feature fiber-optic tubes that glow intensely, even under midday light and as dusk approaches. Smith & Wesson includes a 5-inch plastic Picatinny rail with integral rear sight. With just one screw, swapping out the fiber optic rear for an optic rail is straightforward and simple.
Want to get deep into Bullseye shooting? Volquartsen Firearms already has a lineup of high-end aftermarket target barrels that are ready to go.
The SW22 is currently available in three configurations: stainless steel with or without a threaded muzzle and one given Kryptek's Highlander camo pattern. All share the same black polymer grips. Prices span $409 to $459.
At the range, the Victory proved to be both accurate and fun to shoot. Of the five loads tested, one, Lapua's Midas, managed to average under .8 inch for five shots at 25 yards.
The Aguila load was a close second, averaging just 1.1 inches at that same distance. None of the ammo used averaged more than 2 inches at 25 yards from a bagged rest. Pretty impressive, but the Victory showed a clear preference for the round-nosed lead bullets.
The jacketed Aguila SuperExtras suffered a few misfeeds, and the gun had more issues with Remington's truncated-cone Viper load. Otherwise, function was more than acceptable. Both magazines had a tendency to pop the top cartridge into an upright and dysfunctional position when the spring was released, so we had better luck pressing the cartridges down one at a time without fully compressing the spring.
The plastic trigger tested 4 pounds on a Lyman gauge where takeup was light, but a bit of creep was present. Besides many other user-adjustable features, the Victory has an adjustable trigger stop.
The gun's controls — a metal-reinforced rear safety, slide stop and textured magazine release button — are all well positioned and easy to use, and if you've shot a few semiauto rimfires, operation will be intuitive.
The 39-ounce SW22 is well balanced and points naturally. It has an excellent grip angle. It's very accurate.
However, if you want to wring every bit of accuracy from this pistol, it's easy to do by swapping barrels, adding an optic and adjusting the trigger. Even in its most basic form the SW22 Victory is a well-thought-out pistol that finally makes cleaning a blowback .22 a breeze.
Smith & Wesson Model 17
In 1899, Smith & Wesson introduced the .38 Hand Ejector Military & Police revolver, a popular and lasting design that helped place the brand at the forefront of 20th century handgun development.
The gun was built using what would become known as Smith & Wesson's K-Frame, and that K-Frame begat one of the most popular rimfire revolvers ever, the K-22. In the 1950s, Smith & Wesson started assigning their handgun model numbers and the K-22 became known as the Model 17.
Although it's undergone a series of minor changes over the years, the Model 17 was — and is — one of the greatest .22s of all time. It was never cheap, but it was always built to such a high standard that many shooters were willing to invest in one and prepared to hand it down to the next generation.
At $990, the new Model 17 Masterpiece still isn't cheap, but these are only made by S&W's legendary Custom Shop — fitted by hand, one at a time. For many of us that grew up with K-22s or M17s, this is an opportunity to reacquire a revolver that has become very hard to find in original form. The new Model 17, stamped "17-9," is pretty faithful to the original, but there are a few differences.
The primary aesthetic difference is that the 17-9 now wears laminate wood grips whereas the older versions had walnut. The design of the rear iron sight has changed only slightly, and this new gun features a recessed target crown and smoother trigger.
The bore diameter is a bit larger than the original, and there is now a key lock above the cylinder release latch. However, for the majority, the new gun is a doppelgÃ¤nger of the original.
S&W's new Model 17-9 has a reputation to fulfill, and any gun that goes by the nickname "Masterpiece" had better perform as advertised.
Like all Smith & Wesson K-Frames, the 17 is hefty at 40 ounces unloaded, but that's because of the prodigious amount of forged steel that goes into the manufacturing of this gun. Cylinder movement is tight and smooth.
Like earlier models, the 17-9 has a black, micro-adjustable rear metallic sight with a vintage rectangular profile. The front is a Patridge-style post pinned to a ramp, and the top of the barrel sports S&W's characteristic serrated rib (though the rib on the new gun is slightly narrower than the original).
The frame and cylinder are still forged of carbon steel, and the metalwork is an excellent blue. The grips bear cross-directional checkering, as does the wide target hammer. Its purpose is summarized with a 6-inch barrel giving the 17-9 an overall length of 11 inches.
Having grown up shooting the K-22, I was prepared to be critical of the Model 17, but for the most part I was impressed. Function was flawless, and accuracy was very good. The best groups averaged just over an inch at 25 yards, and the Model 17's wide sights — which you might imagine are something of a handicap — are capable of enabling good shooting.
Lapua's Pistol King ammo was the most accurate and turned in groups that measured an inch. CCI's 36-grain Mini Mag load was a close second, and its jacketed hollowpoint design and high velocity would make it a great round for dispatching small game.
Since this gun is (almost) mechanically identical to the last generation, there's little chance you'll have any issues with this revolver regardless of how many thousands of rounds you put down the barrel. With a 5- to 6-pound single-action trigger pull, it is a tad heavy, but I expect that over the long term the trigger will lighten as the revolver is used.
The Model 17 trigger was the cleanest in the group of S&W's new rimfires, with no creep or overtravel. The wide hammer spur — my original K-22 didn't have one — is a hit, but I think the laminate grips are a miss.
It's not that they aren't functional or durable, but I wish it still wore a proper set of walnut. Other than those nitpicks, this new 17-9 is a fantastic plinker and a "Masterpiece" for the next generation beyond me.
Smith & Wesson M&P15-22 Sport
Most gun reviews start at the range so that writers can gather tangible data needed for a thorough evaluation. I took a detour with the new M&P15-22 Sport. To me, dropping this rifle on a pair of sandbags and crunching numbers made about as much sense as plucking out single-note tunes on a Fender Stratocaster. Sometimes when you have an axe, you have to grind.
A bag of leftover fruit provided the targets I needed for tactical apple alley, and I even threw a few plastic pop bottles downrange for old time's sake. Then, with a magazine topped-off with Federal Auto Match ammo, I went to work.
Ostensibly, we need a legitimate reason to buy a new gun. If that's how you feel, you could make the case that the M&P15-22 is a great training tool, and that's no stretch. The controls are the same as they are on the company's 5.56 centerfire M&P15s, and one could use this rifle for low-noise, low-cost, low-recoil training.
It's a great gun for introducing new shooters to the sport with special thanks to the adjustable stock. If you need a tough gun to dispatch small critters and vermin, then the M&P15-22 certainly qualifies for duty. Plus, by popping the rear pin and tipping the upper forward, the action can be quickly accessed for cleaning.
The real reason to buy this gun, though, is that it makes a trip to the shooting range a whole lot of fun. The polymer upper and lower keep weight to an absolute minimum. It's just 5 pounds. And with a collapsed length of only 30.7 inches, it's pretty short! Functionally, it's very similar to an AR-pattern rifle except with the operating system.
Centerfire M&P15s in the Smith & Wesson stable rely on a gas impingement system, while this rimfire repeater utilizes the tried- and-true blowback design. This .22LR version has a functional charging handle, a two-position safety that mimics its larger bretheren, a shell deflector and genuine Magpul MBUS folding sights.
The 10-inch polymer handguard with modular M-LOK design surrounds the carbon steel barrel, and there's plenty of room for mounting optics up top. For the range portion of the test, I pulled a Burris Veracity 2-10X scope from another AR and within a few minutes had it mounted on the M&P15-22 Sport.
That's one other great benefit to owning a rifle like this: The multitude of AR accessories that have flooded the market will also work with this rifle. A .22 being tested at 50 yards doesn't really require that type of high-end glass, but it sure made it simple to drill holes in paper.
Accuracy ranged from merely good to superb. There were a handful of nearly ½-inch groups turned in using the Lapua Center-X ammo, and Federal's Target loads provided nearly that level of accuracy. The trigger broke at just under 5 pounds, but there was a bit of creep. (Although, by the end of my time with it, I was pretty familiar and could anticipate when the hammer would drop.)
The M&P15-22 had a preference for hot loads, and the slowest loads, which also happened to be the most accurate, had a few failures when the returning bolt bit down on an empty case that didn't eject properly. With higher velocity loads, there were no issues.
The only other qualm I had was that the sliding buttstock rattles on the buffer tube (which is really a molded extension of the upper). It's just a personal annoyance and has nothing to do with proper functioning.
Other than that, it was easy to quickly fall in love with this rifle. If I come to buy it, I imagine myself spending a lot of time hunting vermin and small game and running carbine drills.
Chances are I'd just keep shooting apples and pop bottles, which is fine because everyone needs a rifle for that.