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The Walther P22 - Is this for real?
By Alex Osinski
The P22 is one of the most recent offerings from Walther in an attempt to grab a piece of the growing market in cost effective target and survival pistols. Prior to the current release of the P22, Walther had made a fairly limited number of purpose designed .22 pistols, but they did have special editions of their PP series guns chambered in .22 LR. These guns have been favored by people who live in places where it can be difficult to obtain ammunition and by people who own the regular models of the guns in larger calibers, but want a cheap training option.
.22 target pistols have long had their own niche in the shooting world as the most cost effective guns for building shooting skills. In the early days, the niche had quickly grown to include a role for the humble pistols as small game hunting tools and in some cases, self defense guns. For the most part however, the .22 pistol has served the role of casual plinker. Ammo is relatively cheap, the guns are not as loud as centerfire handguns, and you usually don't need as strong of a backstop when shooting .22s, hence they are often the caliber of choice for city and suburban dwellers who shoot at indoor ranges.
For the survivalist, a good quality .22 handgun can serve several roles. For the most part, this will be training, but small game hunting is also important enough to require some gun capable of performing the task. Lastly, the .22 or any other subcaliber gun would be a weapon for defense. The unfortunate reality is that very few .22 pistols are capable of serving all of these roles. The most accurate .22 pistols tend to be delicate and impractical for carry. The most compact .22 pistols are usually dreadful on reliability and there have been very so few .22 pistols patterned on modern combat handguns that most shooters who want realistic training guns end up with a .22 conversion kit more or less permanently mounted on a standard handgun frame.
Enter the Walther P22. I have to admit, this is a gun I have not figured out, but it is pretty nifty and interesting. It is loosely based on the Walther P99, another polymer framed improvement on the wildly successful Glock. The .22 is however, built on an entirely different frame from the gun that it emulates. My first reaction to seeing this gun was "what a nifty little air pistol". I then asked the dealer if I could handle the cute little airgun as I wondered whether it was an Airsoft or .177 pellet gun. I was very intrigued upon learning that it was an actual firearm, and being the sucker of the minute with some cash in my pocket, I made a deal on the spot.
The P22 has a polymer frame and steel slide like many modern service handguns. What sets it apart from other .22 target pistols is the double action trigger and the fact that it retains a number of features normally only found on service handguns. This includes a standard accessory rail that is readily compatible with a number of lasers and lights, three dot adjustable sights, ambidextrous mag release and safety, external hammer, and a lanyard attachment. I don't think there is another .22 pistol on the market that combines these features. Everything on the gun is scaled down to .22 size, which is both intriguing and frustrating. What I notice is that it keeps the gun very compact without sacrificing any features. That keeps the gun light enough to carry in a small pack as a supplement to other guns. If you have the compact barrel installed, the gun is very small and lightweight. Almost in the league of the super compact pocket pistols on size, but definitely there on weight due to the fact that the Walther has a lightweight plastic grip assembly with a light alloy metal block holding the critical fire control parts. This is probably a better way to go than the compact but comparatively heavy Walther TPH or Jennings 22, both of which usually suffer from dismal reliability.
The P22 quickly gained a following in some class 3 circles for the fact that it is fairly easily adapted for use with a silencer. The main reason being that the gun has a fixed barrel with a bushing arrangement that is easily adapted for threading on a silencer. Walther also had a limited run of these pistols that came with threaded barrels. On that note, it has gained a status as a "must have" among the well armed crowd and I jumped on the opportunity to snag a slightly used one at a very reasonable price. Suppressors that I have seen on Walther P22s tend to be fairly compact and not particularly quiet. The noise levels most comparable to a 177 caliber airgun. This again puts some doubt in the tactical qualities of a "silent" pistol that is really not that silent, but it can make the gun very usable for training in places where the noise of a louder firearm would draw unwanted attention or complaints. You can get more sound control out of many of these suppressors by putting water in them and using ultra low velocity ammunition which will not cycle the slide.
Shooting the P22 is different from any other .22 I have experience with and this has developed to a love/hate relationship with the gun. Accuracy is not what one would expect from a target grade .22 pistol. Then again, with common over the counter prices on these in the low $200s, it might not be fair to expect the accuracy of a Ruger or Browning target pistol.
The grip of the pistol is small and seems to have been engineered around the size of the ten shot magazine. I am not sure if it is a feature I like or not. On one hand, you get little of the waste or excess bulk you have on standard field grade .22 pistols, yet this does detract from the training value of a pistol that is patterned on the features of a service gun. It is too large to be a hideout pistol, yet smallish in the grip area for a target gun. The single action trigger pull is very "Glockish" while the double action trigger pull is every bit as bad as that of a S&W Sigma - clear evidence of S&W influence on Walther these days. Lacking the accuracy of better .22 target pistols, the P22 does perform about on par with mid-grade service handguns and is more reliable than the average semi-auto .22 these days. That alone is a refreshing change from the jammatics hitting gun shop shelves that usually need a trip to the gunsmith before you can even consider thinking of putting a box of ammo through it without spending half your time unjamming the pistol. In fairness on the accuracy of this pistol (or lack of) I found it to perform about on par with various .22 conversion kits I have tried on service handguns.
Walther USA lists a scope mount on their website (at $39.95) which appears to be made of the same plastic as the frame of the pistol. In theory, it might prove more accurate than what can be achieved with the iron sights because the barrel is fixed to the frame. Again, this would not be as good as having scope rings locked right onto the barrel as you would get with a pure target pistol, but it might prove an interesting accessory for a silencer equipped P22.
Many .22 pistols are very ammunition sensitive when it comes to accuracy and it will take some experimentation to find the right ammo for this gun, but the Federal Copper Jacketed Hollow points ain't it. Test groups at 25 yards were consistently over 10" even in the hands of highly qualified competition shooters. It is also outside the realm of what one could consider usable for hunting small game. Shooting squirrels with this pistol means you have to keep your stalking skills in order and being within 15 yards will not guarantee you a hit on one of the critters. If I end up keeping the gun, I will definitely seek out which ammunition will deliver the best performance with it. It does seem to deliver good enough reliability to be a defensive pistol, but one can hardly take the .22 LR seriously as a combat option when there are better choices available.
The safety on the pistols is a very simple hammer block that follows the function of the Radom. There is no decocker, but rotating the safety downward will block the hammer from contacting the firing pin (by a frighteningly narrow margin I might ad). Strangely lacking in the decocker the gun does have the S&W standard of a magazine disconnect safety. This means the gun will not fire if the magazine is removed. The gun also incorporates the "smart" technology championed by Walther USA's parent company, Smith & Wesson. In this case, it is a "key" activated storage safety located on the side of the frame. The "key" had been lost by the previous owner, but I found the safety can be engaged and disengaged with a Leatherman tool with some effort. A replacement key can also be fashioned from a slot head screw using a file or Dremel tool.
I have not concluded my evaluation on this enigma of a pistol and have yet to determine how well it can serve in the role of subcaliber gun in the survival arsenal. In theory it is a slick idea. Good for training and hopefully accurate enough with different ammo for small game hunting. It might work in some limited tactical role due to the many service pistol features, but the jury is still out on that consideration. I would not at this point consider this to be a valid subcaliber gun for the survival arsenal, but it is an interesting and possibly useful supplementary training weapon.
Here are some links to pages with good resources for the Walther P22 owner.
Walther P22 resource page From the Armed Citizen. The writer at that site came to some of the same conclusions as I did in regard to the pistol being neither a defensive nor hunting gun, but it is a decent training pistol.