July 11, 2023
I’ve used various brands of .22 WMR rifles for small game hunting over the years and have come to really appreciate this cartridge. It’s only slightly larger than the .22 LR and packs considerably more punch without the muzzle blast and cost associated with shooting a centerfire .22 caliber. But while the .22 WMR has a loyal following among small game hunters, it hasn’t fared as well in the arenas of target shooting and personal defense.
Part of the reason the .22 WMR is not more popular is that there aren’t a lot of semiauto pistols chambered for this round, and that’s because the .22 WMR cartridge doesn’t lend itself easily to semiauto pistol design. But Smith & Wesson has taken on the challenge of designing a reliable, functional .22 WMR, and their M&P22 Magnum is proof that this hot rimfire round deserves a place at the table of self-defense handgun choices.
Making The .22 WMR Run
With so many .22 LR semiauto pistol options you’d imagine there would be lots of .22 WMR pistols as well, but there aren’t. That’s because almost all semiauto .22 LR pistols utilize a simple blowback-operated action. The hotter .22 WMR, however, operates at higher pressures and requires some type of delayed blowback design. Since most gun companies aren’t willing to devote the R&D time and money required to build an operating system that works.
Smith & Wesson already has such an operating system in their M&P5.7 pistol. Known as the TEMPO barrel system, this gas-operated, locked-breech action utilizes a separate barrel and barrel shroud. The barrel has a gas port near the muzzle that ensures nothing moves in the operating system until after the bullet has cleared the gun. The barrel has six round metal fins and gas from the fired cartridge cams the barrel and initiates operation. The system allows the M&P22 Magnum to cycle potent .22 WMR ammunition reliably and safely. It’s a robust design that’s easy to access and keep clean so that it continues to operate efficiently.
The M&P22 Magnum is an internal hammer-fired pistol and, although the flat-faced trigger has a relatively long take-up, the trigger is crisp. Recoil from this pistol is minimal even at a barely-there weight of 22 ounces, unloaded. With a barrel length of 4.35 inches, the pistol has an overall length of 8.4 inches and a height of 5.9-inches. At 1.13 inches wide across the controls, you could in theory conceal the gun under light clothing, but the full-size polymer frame puts the M&P22 Magnum on the large size for concealment.
The slide is made from stainless steel and comes with Smith & Wesson’s signature Armornite black nitride finish. Black nitride finishes are popular with pistol manufacturers because it’s a relatively affordable process that does a very good job protecting surface finishes. I have a .380 ACP pistol which I carry on long trail runs because it has a similar black nitride finish. I can’t imagine anything that’s harder on a gun finish than constant exposure to the oils, salts and moisture in sweat, and that gun’s finish has held up well for a decade. So, you can bet the M&P22 Magnum will survive life as a backpack or truck gun without too many blemishes.
The controls are rather basic and consist of a reversible magazine release and an ambidextrous safety and slide stop. Takedown is straightforward and requires using a punch to press the takedown pin from right to left, and removing it from the unloaded pistol. From there, the slide/spring/barrel assembly is similar to most centerfire M&P pistols with one primary exception: the barrel must be removed from the barrel shroud for cleaning. You’ll want to pay close attention to the gas port and make certain that the opening is clean to allow gases to flow effectively and give the barrel and the interior of the shroud a thorough wipe down after shooting. To prevent assembly issues, the barrel only slides back into the shroud when it is correctly aligned.
The notch rear sight is adjustable and there’s a green fiber optic front sight that is dovetailed into the slide, but the slide is cut to accommodate micro-red-dot sights. The direct mount design doesn’t require plates or spacers, and it accommodates a number of micro red dots and popular mounting footprints — I used a SIG Sauer ROMEOZero for testing. There’s also a Picatinny rail for mounting accessories like lights and lasers.
One of the best features of this .22 WMR autoloader is that it comes with two 30-round polymer magazines. That’s a lot of firepower and incredible capacity for self-defense applications. The listed price for the new S&W M&P22 Magnum is $649.
At The Range
For this test I brought a full range of .22 WMR ammunition, everything from 50-grain JSP bullets to hot defensive loads. Recoil is, as you might expect, nil, but there is some muzzle blast. The Smith & Wesson’s full-sized frame and ambidextrous controls combined with scant recoil make this an ideal pistol for teaching a new shooter the ropes. It’s also worth noting that the slide weight is considerably lighter than centerfire semiauto pistols which is good for those with reduced hand strength.
This is also a gun that compels you to shoot it quickly. I don’t recall another pistol (aside, perhaps, from the M&P5.7) that begged so relentlessly for the shooter to hit the throttle and dump the magazine. Hey, you only live once, right? Ammunition supplies are at least somewhat back to pre-COVID inventory and prices have settled down a bit. Go ahead and run the M&P22 Magnum hard. It’s worth it.
Accuracy from the 4.35-inch 1:10-twist barrel was fairly good with most groups from 25-yards in the 2- to 3-inch range and a few five-shot clusters that measured under 2 inches at that distance. That’s not gilt-edge accuracy, but it’s good enough to shoot small game and vermin around your garden or campsite with this pistol.
I like the slide cut and appreciate that the controls are ambidextrous (or reversible in the case of the magazine release). I do wish that the controls were larger and easier to operate. I understand the need to keep controls small, but the safety is much more difficult to reach and operate than the one on the new S&W M&P 10mm Performance Center pistol I was testing the same day.
As mentioned, the trigger had a lot of take up, but with a break weight of just 4.25 pounds it certainly isn’t heavy. It’s also very manageable and the integral bladed safety doesn’t interfere while shooting. I do like the large, comfortable grip and the microtextured surface. The wraparound design and grip angle blend comfort and control.
Reliability was pretty good. There were a few hang-ups, all of which were the result of the cartridge failing to properly load into the chamber and likely a result of bullet profile. To be fair, the only cartridges that had issues were the ones that were not expressly recommended by Smith & Wesson. The pistol seemed particularly unhappy with Hornady’s Critical Defense load, which is a shame because that cartridge has performed quite well for me in the past. I did not have any Federal Punch .22 WMR defensive ammo on hand, but I am curious to see how this gun handles other defensive loads. All malfunctions were a failure to close into battery that were remedied by pulling back slightly on the slide to take pressure off the jammed cartridge and then releasing the slide.
If you can find a defensive load the gun likes, the M&P22 Magnum makes a compelling case against the notion that says .22 WMRs can’t be self-defense guns. With a light slide, low recoil and 30 rounds on tap, the M&P22 Magnum could be a great home defense gun as well as an excellent camping and traveling pistol. One could shoot grouse for dinner, stumps and cans for entertainment, and be well equipped for personal defense. And, trust me, after a day at the range with the M&P22 Magnum entertainment is where this gun excels. It’s easy to operate and loads of fun to shoot. That alone is a compelling reason to own one.
Smith & Wesson M&P22 Magnum
- Type: Internal hammer-fired semiauto
- Cartridge: .22 WMR
- Capacity: 30
- Barrel: 4.35 in.
- Overall Length: 8.4 in.
- Width: 1.1 in.
- Height: 5.9 in.
- Weight: 22 oz. (unloaded)
- Finish: Black Armornite
- Sights: Adjustable rear notch, fiber optic dovetail front, optics cut
- Trigger: 4 lbs., 4 oz.
- Price: $649
- Contact: Smith & Wesson, (800) 331-0852, smith-wesson.com
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