July 25, 2022
I’ve long admired firearm manufacturers that not only build a great product, but are also willing to expand proven lines to give users a greater degree of choice and variety. In handguns, we often see this as different-size models within the same family, each distinct for its barrel and slide length, frame size and magazine capacity and upgraded feature sets such as optic-mount cuts and suppressor-ready barrels. The approach ensures consistency for consumers; the guns look the same, the controls are in the same place, and they often use the same magazines, albeit in different lengths.
Today, shooters can choose the right tool for a job without needing to sacrifice familiarity and proficiency. The FN 509 series of 9mm pistols are such an example. The striker-fired semiautomatics are available in 14 configurations that include two color options, black and flat dark earth (FDE) and four sizes: Standard, Midsize, Compact and the long-slide (LS) Edge configuration. Further varieties exist as packages, such as the Low-Profile Optics-Mounting System (MRD) plate kit for attaching red-dots optic, and the Tactical models that are both optics-and suppressor-ready with a threaded barrel.
With such an array, shooters participating in nearly all handgunning pursuits will find a 509 model that suits their interests. Those with varying needs can also invest in more than one gun while maintaining familiar handling and certain compatibilities. For example, the standard 509 could be a duty or bedside pistol; the Midsize and Compact 509 models reduce the gun’s size to better facilitate concealment or smaller hands, and the LS Edge is a great pistol for defense or for shooting in competitive matches.
FN takes this concept to another level with an all-new platform developed in partnership with a master of rimfire manufacturers: Umarex. The new 502 mimics the look, feel and functionality of the 509 series, but offers the fun and budget-friendly benefits of the .22 LR cartridge.
The value of using down-sized calibers has likely been understood for as long as we’ve had metallic cartridges. Examples of “Boys”- and “Drill”-type rifles abound both in the U.S. and with 19th and 20th century European powers. Smallbore firearms offered military instructors a low-recoil, low-cost option for developing marksmanship in recruits and teaching operating procedures. During basic training for the U.S. Army, I remember firing several 9mm tracer rounds out of an AT4 trainer for practice before being allowed to fire one anti-tank rocket from a real launcher. And with handguns, I always think back to the 1930s- and ’40s-era Colt Ace models in .22 LR that were economical stand-ins for the Model 1911 and .45 ACP cartridge. Even recently, we’ve seen new commercial model .22 pistols that replicate the look and feel of popular handguns. There’s the Smith & Wesson M&P22 Compact ; Glock G44 ; and Taurus TX22 series. Many were developed by Umarex, too, including several HK rimfire models.
Still, the FN 502 is special. In my mind it stands out for two reasons. First, the 502 mirrors its centerfire siblings, and the attention to detail with regard to aesthetics and functionality is excellent. Second, the 502 offers a suite of upgrades that you don’t find among many of its rimfire counterparts.
The look of the FN 502 is a dead ringer for the FN 509 Tactical. While it doesn’t fit in exactly the same box as any specific 509 model, it is dimensionally closest to the 509 Midsize. The same holds true for its weight. Typically, rimfires are lighter than comparable centerfire pistols because they have small, lightweight barrels and aluminum slides. The pressures and recoil generated by .22 LR cartridges are far less than 9mm. (SAAMI’s max for .22 LR is 24,000 psi, while most rounds fire at closer to 11,000 psi; this compared to SAAMI’s max pressure for 9mm of 35,000 psi and 38,500 psi for +P rounds.) Because the .22 doesn’t deliver much kick, engineers are able to use lighter materials and less rugged designs to mass produce rimfire replicas. Wisely, though, FN didn’t opt for the lightest trainer possible; instead they designed the FN 502 to possess nearly the same heft as the 509 models, much of which comes from a 4.6-inch, cold-hammer-forged steel barrel.
I got my first look at the 502 during a media event at the JL Bar Ranch in Sonora, Texas. The focus was on testing FN’s updated SCAR rifles (with non-reciprocating charging handles). At the end of that event, FN representatives pulled me away for a sneak peek at the 502. I was in awe; it looked and felt exactly right. At the time I noted the three-pattern full-diameter texturing on the grip, a distinctive feature on the 509. It was perfectly replicated on the 502. The takedown lever, bilateral slide stops and magazine release are all where they’re supposed to be — and they are the same size and design as the 509’s! The same can be said for the markings, slide serrations, dustcover’s rail and suppressor-height sights. These all-mimic parts common to most 509 pistols.
Only three details give the 502 away as not being a 509 centerfire. First, the designators “502” on the left side of the slide and the Umarex (UX) and German (DE) markings on the right side of the slide and frame. Next, the 502 has an ambidextrous manual safety lever. It is well-sited, easy to use and offers a positive click when manipulated between safe (up) and fire (down). Finally, is the knurled, rowel-style hammer. Still akin to another FN pistol — the hammer-fired FNX series — the hammer is the gun’s greatest departure from the striker-fired 509 series.
Although we all tend to love made-in-America products — and we may wish that all FN products would come lock, stock and barrel out of the company’s Columbia, South Carolina, plant — I applaud FN for partnering with Umarex for the FN 502 project. Rimfires are tough to get right, especially pistols. The operational tolerances of the blowback mechanism tend to be tighter and more finnicky than recoil-operated centerfires. Rather than a mechanical lockup between the slide and barrels, blowback guns require a specific amount of slide mass to seal the chamber for firing while still helping to fully cycle during recoil. Making a semiautomatic pistol work reliably given the market’s wide variety of .22 LR ammunition is no mean feat. We know that Umarex is one of the best at getting it done right.
Adding functionality, FN ensured the 502 was optic-and suppressor-ready. Regarding the latter, the barrel is threaded ½-28 to accept most direct-thread suppressors. In my case, it was a great fit for Silencer Central’s Banish 22. The 502 also mimics the 509’s sighting arrangement with a series of interchangeable mounting plates to support most popular red-dot sights. Rather than metal plates though, the 502 uses polymer components.
The optic-ready feature is especially noteworthy. Remember how rimfires are tough to get right due to a slide’s reciprocating mass? Prior to the 502, no one had figured out how to get a .22 pistol with a slide-mounted optic to run well. Believe it or not, a few ounces added to the top of a slide can severely diminish its ability to cycle due to the relatively low power provided by a .22 LR cartridge. There is not a lot of wiggle room in the math of momentum, but somehow the 502 reliably functions with a spectrum of ammunition types, with or without an optic mounted. Brilliant.
Reliable & Accurate
After seeing (but not shooting) the FN 502, I could not wait to receive G&A’s evaluation sample. When it arrived, my focus was twofold: Let’s confirm its accuracy and reliability. In my opinion, a solid rimfire trainer needs to possess both. While I considered the addition of a red dot to be a boon to accuracy, I needed to be convinced that adding a dot sight would not detract from its reliability. To that end, I set out with two optics and three loads of .22 LR ammunition. I used both a Trijicon RMR and a Crimson Trace CTS1250 to test the mounting system. There were no issues. I also had a varied load selection for accuracy testing: Browning 40-grain round nose; CCI 40- grain segmented hollowpoint, subsonic; and Federal Premium Punch 29-grain flat nose. Suffice it to say, the FN 502 shot very well.
Several groups fired for accuracy from 25 yards produced three and four bullet-holes touching out of five. And Federal’s defensive round produced the best five-shot group of the day: 1.17 inches! CCI had the best five-group average, which measured 2.12 inches, and the average for all 15 groups was 2.71 inches.
I did find, as with any .22 pistol, that hand placement is important. If you prefer a high, thumbs-forward shooting grip (as I do), be sure not to touch the slide. The added friction slows the slide cycle enough to cause a stoppage. Be diligent and the 502 will run like a sewing machine.
I upped the ante with a reliability test that can be pretty tough for .22s. The gun comes with two magazines, one 10- and one 15-rounder. I filled them to maximum capacity with a random mix of the three loads on hand. The exercise tests both functionality of the magazines and the pistol’s ability to feed and fire a varied diet of pressures. If one ammo type is anemic, this test would reveals its weakness. There were no stoppages. A couple of times, the 15-round magazine caused a slight hang up when the slide wasn’t vigorously released forward. That issue seemed to work itself out during the course of the day. The 10-round mag presented no issues at all. With both magazines, the 502 ran through the mixed bag of ammo.
Overall, the FN 502 exceeded my expectations for accuracy and reliability. If I’m honest, there is no way that my test sample is going back to the factory. The FN 502 is the high-water mark for rimfire replicas, and it’s a testament to engineering prowess of both the FN and Umarex. Try one and you’ll find that the 502 is a ton of fun to shoot, and worth the price of admission.
FN 502 Tactical
- Type: Blowback operated, semiautomatic
- Cartridge: .22 LR
- Capacity: 10+1 rds. or 15+1 rds.
- Barrel: 4.6 in., 1:16-in twist
- Overall Length: 7.6 in.
- Width: 1.4 in.
- Height: 5.4 in. (w/ 10-rd. mag)
- Weight: 1 lb., 5.7 oz.
- Finish: Anodized (aluminum)
- Sights: Suppressor-height, black post and notch
- Trigger: 3 lbs., 2 oz. (tested)
- MSRP: $499
- Manufacturer: Umarex (Germany)
- Importer: FN America, 800-635-1321, fnamerica.com
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