The Underappreciated Smith & Wesson 22A

The Smith & Wesson Model 41 has earned its place among the world’s finest .22 target pistols for good reason. And the SW22 Victory has been getting good press alongside Ruger’s Mark IV, which now joins the world of guns that can be taken down (and reassembled) by mere mortals. But what of Smith & Wesson’s forgotten 22A, which was made in their Houlton, Maine factory alongside handcuffs and other handgun parts?

The short answer: the 22A is a mixed bag, but given that new (or nearly new) examples can be found in the $200 range right now, they may be one of the best target .22LR bargains going.

The basics: the 22A features an aluminum frame and a rather hefty steel barrel that includes a full-length Weaver rail. Like Ruger’s Mark IV, the 22A can be field stripped with the push of a button. The sights are ample and adjustable from the factory, and the Ruger-esque magazine has the finger catch on the follower that makes loading very easy.

There are two downsides to the 22A that are worth mentioning. The first is the rather quirky recoil spring spacer that is plastic, and flimsy, and easily broken. Anyone planning on putting any decent number of rounds through a 22A would do well to invest in a half-dozen of these bits, and others have noted that a polite call to Smith & Wesson might even score a few of these bits gratis (and if not, Brownell’s sells them).

The second downside is the magazine release button on the front of the grip. Being on the front of the grip makes it truly ambidextrous, but it’s also not conducive to reloading at speed. With the stock plastic grip it’s not bad to use, but with the larger wooden factory grip (which I have) it’s a pain to depress. If I was ever going to compete with this gun, I’d need to come up with some other solution to make it more viable.

While we’re talking about downsides, I will also mention that the cuts in the slide don’t fit my hands particularly well for manual cycling. I don’t know what material the slide is made out of (and whether machining new and more aggressive cuts would even be possible), but it’s something that’s taken me some getting used to.

Acknowledging these quibbles, the 22A is a pleasure to shoot. Even with the heavy 60 grain Aguilla Sniper Subsonic rounds, the recoil was barely felt and target re-acquisition was nearly instantaneous. I have shot this gun with both the stock plastic grips and the Altamont factory wood grips, and the nod definitely goes to the wood grips that are great for shooters (like me) with big mitts, and which help absorb the .22’s recoil traveling through the light aluminum frame.

The factory sights were definitely configured for 6:00 sight alignment, but they are surprisingly comfortable to use. I also decided to pop a Trijicon RMR on the Weaver rail for fun, which gave the gun a bit of an other-worldly appearance. In both sight configurations I was cutting 3″ groups at 25 yards with the subsonic rounds, and that tightened up to about 2″ with my favorite (and much more stable — at least, in this short barrel) Remington Vipers. Trigger break was delightfully clean and the reset, while a bit soft for my taste, was positive. A half-dozen off brands of ammo all cycled through the 22A’s action without a hitch.

Takedown of the 22A is straightforward: the button on the front of the frame releases the barrel, which can then be pivoted back. As I mentioned before, the Achilles’ heel is the plastic recoil spring spacer, but everything else is logically arrayed and easy to get to.

Serious competitive shooters will likely pass on the 22A for a variety of reasons, and that’s why guns like the Smith & Wesson Model 41 exist. But a 22A, at roughly a fifth of the cost of a Model 41, will provide more plinking and casual target shooting enjoyment than its low price tag would suggest.

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