Small caliber semi-autos are effective last resort guns if sensible defensive tactics are used.
by Scott E. Mayer
Taurus recently announced that it updated the construction of its diminutive, American-made PT-22 and PT-25 pistols by replacing the lightweight alloy frames with even lighter and corrosion-proof polymer frames. The result is a 10 percent weight reduction in a pistol that is popular as a back-up or third gun option for people who take their personal defense seriously.
While certainly not the best choice if you know you’re walking into a gun fight, these little .22 Long Rifle- or .25 ACP-chambered pocket autos do serve an effective role in personal defense if proper tactics are used. Perhaps the most effective tactic with such a little gun is to use it for “dynamic cover.” That is simply returning gunfire to get your assailant to stop an attack sufficiently enough for you to escape.
It’s a tactic to employ if your primary gun is disabled or you are completely out of ammunition for it and have to shift gears from stopping an attack to escaping an attack. It is not an excuse to randomly spray bullets while running away, but rather acceptance that a little .22 is not the right tool for standing your ground.
Since precision accuracy while fleeing for your life isn’t exactly your greatest concern at that moment, a crisp, light trigger pull and fine, adjustable target sights are, in my opinion, just short of superfluous on a third gun. You won’t find either on the PT-22 Poly sample I received on loan. Instead, it has a smooth double-action-only trigger with a consistent 8 3/4 pounds pull and simple, yet bullet-proof fixed sights.
The Taurus PT line of pistols has been criticized because they’re double-action-only, so you can’t cock the hammer for a light, single-action trigger pull. They do, however, have second-strike capability. The thinking behind the single-action ability is that in single-action mode you’re better able to take a precise shot. I agree. I also hate to break it to you, but a tiny .22- or .25-caliber pistol is simply not the right tool for taking a precise head shot at a hostage taker. And if you’re down to your back-up gun and you’re stopping your escape to try and take a precision shot, you’re probably wasting valuable time needed to create space between you and your attacker. Distance more than anything is your best defensive tactic when you’re in escape mode. As for the second-strike–rimfire, more than any other type of ammunition I have ever used–tends to have a disproportionate number of misfires that do go off on the second strike.
Sights on the PT-22 consist of a ramped front milled as part of the stainless steel barrel, and a fixed, square-notch rear milled into the stainless steel slide. Neither will ever be knocked out of alignment, and with a 3 3/4-inch sight radius, won’t be providing 50-meter Olympic Pistol event accuracy, either. That said, the sample was capable of producing one-inch nine-shot groups fired offhand at 7 yards using Winchester Super-X ammunition. Sight regulation sent shots exactly to point of aim, so a fairly precise shot–even with the double-action trigger pull and short sight radius–is possible.
Something these little Taurus pistols have been praised for is the tip-up barrel design. What looks something like a slide release on the left side of the gun is actually a barrel release. Press it forward and the rear of the barrel pops up for loading a round directly into the chamber. To load the PT-22, then, simply load the magazine with cartridges, fully insert the magazine into the butt of the gun until it catches, pop up the barrel, insert a cartridge, and snap the barrel back down into the closed position. There is no need to rack the slide, which is a benefit to those who, because of arthritis or other hand weakness, are unable to operate conventional auto pistols.
Though there are more ammunition choices for the .22 Long Rifle than perhaps any other cartridge, the PT-22’s manual specifies using 40-grain bullets at 1,280 fps (Note that velocity figure is as fired from a rifle). For the PT-25, the specified load calls for 50-grain bullets at 760 fps. Those specs translate into standard velocity, round nose .22 ammo, and FMJ or Ball ammo for the .25 ACP. That doesn’t mean you can’t use other loads, it just means don’t go crying to Taurus if your gun wears out sooner than later, or your pet 60-grain subsonic Aguila load doesn’t function the gun reliably. These guns are designed without extractors, relying instead on a standard level of gas blowback to fully work the slide at a specific velocity for the empty cases to pop out against the fixed ejector. Stray from the recommended loads, and you may sacrifice reliability.
Whether to choose the .22 Long Rifle- or .25 ACP-chambered PT is cause for a spirited debate and the subject of an upcoming blog by Dan Johnson. The PT-22 is 8+1 capacity while the PT-25 is 9+1. Rimfire is less expensive to practice with and more readily available, but centerfire .25 ACP is subject to fewer misfires. Its semi-rimmed design may also lend itself to increased feeding reliability.
With these little guns, the primary terminal ballistic characteristic you want is penetration. A well placed shot and textbook expansion does no good if the bullet stops in an attacker’s outer jacket. So which is better–.22 or .25?
To compare penetration and expansion, I made a simple rig using wetted paper pulp. Cross-shredded white paper was soaked overnight in water, and then used to fill Ziplock sandwich baggies. Filled, those baggies were a uniform 2 inches thick, and I stacked them in a scope shipping box for a total depth of 16 inches. By simply firing into the end of the box from a distance of three feet, I was able to comparatively judge penetration and expansion for various loads. Please recognize that in no way am I suggesting that paper pulp replicates flesh. It’s simply a convenient medium for comparing one load to another.
Observation Number 1–from a handgun, no .22 load reliably expands. I tried standard, high, and hyper velocity hollow-point loads, and while they all penetrated a consistent five to six baggies of paper pulp, none–even hyper velocity, lightweight, hollow-points–expand reliably. In fact, the only hollow-point .22 load that showed any expansion at all was a single standard velocity, hollow-point cartridge. With a little rimfire pistol, cross bullet expansion off your wish list. It isn’t going to happen.
Observation Number 2–hyper velocity, truncated solids penetrate the most, but not so much more than standard velocity .22 round nose as to make it worth the added wear and tear on the pistol. In my comparison, those truncated, hyper velocity loads would penetrate as many as seven bags, while the standard round nose would penetrate six. Personally, I’d would definitely opt for the standard velocity, .22 round nose specified in the manual. Sure I may be giving up two inches of penetration, but the standard loads are already at a foot of penetration, and I’ll take the potentially increased reliability over those two extra inches of penetration.
As long as I had the paper pulp box set up, I used the opportunity to try some .25 ACP loads from a little “Baby Browning” knock-off I own. As with the .22 loads, both hollow-point and FMJ .25 ACP loads consistently penetrated 5 to 6 baggies of paper pulp. The one .25 ACP hollow-point I tried expanded beautifully to 0.386-inch diameter and penetrated five bags for a total of 10 inches. Again, penetration from a .25 ACP was only 10 to 12 inches, just like with the .22 loads.
Essentially, as far as penetration is concerned, it’s a wash between .22- and .25-caliber bullets. So is bullet energy, as those 1,280 fps .22 loads are really only going between 800 and 850 fps from the short-barreled pistol. Even though I’m in my 40s and fat, I can still run pretty fast–especially when I am frightened. I can also shoot better than most folks and it’s because I practice shooting a lot. So for me, all other considerations being equal the choice is the .22 because I can afford to practice with it more. Your circumstances may differ.
Ultimately, though, don’t scoff at little .22- or .25-caliber pistols. They do have a defensive role to play.