North American Arms The Earl .22LR/.22WMR
November 20, 2017
Named After the North American Arms gunsmith who originally developed it, The Earl is a five-shot, single-action mini-revolver that's chambered in .22 Magnum. Though diminutive in size, it was designed to resemble an 1860s-era percussion-fired revolver with its octagonal barrel, top-strap sight channel and blade front sight. Also sending our thoughts back to the Old West is its spur trigger (like the trigger on some vintage Colt revolvers) and the faux loading lever, which is used here to secure the cylinder pin. Mechanically, this lever exists more for aesthetic reasons than safety or function, but the extra steps involved with working the lever to remove or install each cylinder contributes greatly to the fun factor of using this handy rimfire.
The Earl is available with either a 3-inch or 4-inch barrel, and with or without a spare cylinder chambered in .22 Long Rifle. Many readers might wonder why a .22 Magnum cylinder won't accept .22LR ammunition given that the .22LR is shorter. The reason is that the thickness of the case on the .22LR is smaller than the .22WMR, so when you try to shoot a .22LR in one of these .22WMR cylinders, you'll likely end up with a lot of slop, a misfire-inducing light hammer strike on the back of the case's rim and a split case. Conversely, a .22WMR round won't fit into the chambers of the .22LR cylinder. If it did, the cylinder's lockwork is so precisely fit, the extra girth at the rim would prevent the cylinder from being installed.
Precision is the attribute of NAA's handguns that I admire the most. Each one of these work like you'd imagine the gears in a watch made by the hands of craftsmen who had spent their entire life learning their trade. Really, it's that good. Lockup and cycling is so tight and exact that I believe these to be among the nicest working revolvers you can buy — albeit miniature.
With the hammer cocked, the sight channel machined into the topstrap is made available for aiming, and 51/2 pounds of single-action pressure is all that's required to send a round out of its eight-sided barrel. Though The Earl is available with a more easily pocketed and concealed 3-inch barrel, I prefer this 4-inch gun for its longer sight radius.
At the range, I used this classic sight configuration to produce a few incredible five-shot groups that measured less than 13/4 inches at 15 yards. That said, it was difficult to produce groups smaller than 4 inches at G&A's standard pistol-test distance of 25 yards. Keeping that in mind, the results from shooting either .22LR or .22WMR out to 15 yards are probably the most applicable to the practical distance given the activities this revolver would be used for. It'd make for a convenient pocket revolver for country living, target shooting or plinking. And people or children with small hands or dexterity challenges would find that shooting The Earl is a gas, as they'd say in the old days.
The Earl can be bought without a .22LR cylinder, which is marked "L" to distinguish it from a .22WMR cylinder. Though about 50 feet per second (fps) of velocity was lost when shooting .22LR versus .22WMR load, muzzle flip is slightly reduced and there seems to be an improvement with accuracy potential. The extra cylinder takes the price of The Earl from $300 to $330, and it's worth it.
Of all of NAA's guns, this is my favorite. It's cliché to say that shooting a gun is "fun," but working the lever and shooting The Earl is exactly that.