North American Arms EARL Convertible .22 LR/.22 WMR Mini Revolver
By the Guns and Shooting Online Staff
The "EARL 1860 Replica" model is, by far, the cutest NAA mini revolver to date. It is inspired by the style of the Civil War era Remington revolvers, although the action and operation is the same as previous NAA minis. The EARL was named for the NAA designer who conceived the product and features an octagon barrel, post front sight, solid top receiver and vaguely western "plow handle" grip shape, similar to the 1858 Remington cap and ball revolver and it even has a similar, webbed, loading lever (bullet seating ram). The latter serves only to retain the cylinder pin, since the Earl fires modern .22 rimfire cartridges, not loose powder and ball ammunition.
We see the EARL as best suited for the "kit gun" role in an angler's tackle box or camper's backpack, or as a lightweight belt pistol for the big game hunter who wants to shoot the occasional squirrel or grouse for the pot without alerting the whole country. For those applications, the EARL is great.
The EARL reviewed here is the convertible model that comes with two cylinders; one for .22 Long Rifle and one for .22 WMR ammunition. The former can also accommodate .22 Short and .22 Long ammunition, while the Magnum cylinder can also shoot .22 WRF cartridges.
It was shipped in a plastic carrying case with a small padlock, instructions, warranty card and an accessories brochure with order form. A nifty full-flap leather holster, ideal for carrying in the field, was included with the revolver. NAA is the only handgun manufacturer we know of that includes a holster with their guns, a very thoughtful touch! NAA offers a wide variety of grips, holsters and other accessories for their mini revolvers; see their web site at www.northamericanarms.com for specifics.
The EARL is made from stainless steel left in the "white." The sides of the barrel and frame are polished, while the top and bottom surfaces of the barrel and frame, plus the loading lever, are left with a dull matte finish. This contrasting polished/matte finish is attractive, but we think it would look even better if the loading lever, which is left dull, were polished to match the frame.
Here are some specifications for the EARL:
The EARL uses the same basic frame and single action mechanism found in other NAA .22 WMR mini revolvers, including the Black Widow and Mini Master, and operates in the same manner. Like previous NAA minis, the revolver is fired by a spur trigger and there is no trigger guard. Reloading is accomplished by removing the cylinder, using the cylinder pin to punch out the fired cases, and inserting a new cartridge into each chamber. The reloaded cylinder is then replaced in the frame and the revolver is ready to go. This is not exactly "speed loading" and it would be difficult to accomplish in a stressful situation, but it works fine for plinking or potting small game.
If you were to carry the EARL as a "boot pistol" for personal defense (a form of concealed carry for which it is well suited), you would need to make your first five shots count, as it is unlikely that you would have time to reload. Of course, if you have the convertible Earl, you could carry the extra cylinder loaded to (somewhat) speed reloading.
Being a mini revolver, the EARL's grips are petite. The larger your hands, the worse it is going to fit. Those with small hands, especially children and women, will find it easy to shoot and control. Most of us on the Guns and Shooting Online staff found that, in order to get the first joint of our index finger on the spur trigger, we wound-up holding the EARL with only one and a half fingers wrapped around the grip. Everyone agreed that it would be well worth the extra bulk to extend the grip an additional ¼ inch at the butt.
The square groove cut into the top strap that serves as a rear sight is low and rather narrow, but the post front sight has a fine blade, so the two work satisfactorily in combination. The drawback to fine sights is that, while they are precise, they are slow to acquire and the shooter must have eyes capable of focusing on them. In the case of the EARL, middle-aged shooters whose eyes have lost some of their power of accommodation may find this a problem.
Unfortunately, the sights do not correctly indicate where the EARL's shots hit the target. As we learned at the 25 yard pistol range, the gun consistently shot 6 inches to the left and 4-1/2" high for both Gordon Landers and Rocky Hays, the Guns and Shooting Online staff members who did the test shooting. This was true with both the Long Rifle and Magnum cylinders and it is clearly unacceptable for a .22 revolver. This is why we dislike fixed sights on any handgun; we have found over the years that they seldom shoot to point of aim. The EARL's sights are so far off that it is going to take some serious bending and/or filing to correct the problem.
In terms of group size, however, the EARL performed well, delivering much better than expected accuracy from the bench rest. With the .22 Long Rifle cylinder and using Winchester Super-X 40 grain ammo, five-shot groups at 25 yards measured between 3-7/8 inches and 5-1/2 inches. Shooting Remington Golden Bullet 36 grain HP ammo, five-shot groups ran between 3-3/4 inches and 5 inches. Impressed by the EARL's potential accuracy and concentrating intensely, Rocky shot a single three-shot "bragging" group that measured only 1-5/8 inches using Super-X ammo.
Using the .22 WMR cylinder, Winchester Super-X 40 grain JHP ammo shot into 3 inches and CCI Maxi-Mag 40 grain JHP's shot into 2-7/8 inches. These were also five-shot groups fired at 25 yards.
Our EARL came out of the box with an unacceptable heavy and very creepy six pound trigger pull. It is a truism that the lighter the gun, the lighter the trigger pull should be to avoid disturbing the shooter's aim when the gun is fired. A mini gun (whether revolver or semi-auto) should have the best and lightest trigger of all firearms, even better than the top rated .22 target pistols, but they never seem to. Naturally, master pistoleros will be able to cope with this trigger better than neophyte, average, or occasional shooters. However, our test EARL's trigger is exceptionally bad (especially for a SA revolver) and definitely degraded the revolver's inherent accuracy, regardless of who was doing the shooting. We are sure the gun is capable of much better accuracy if the trigger pull was lighter and smoother. It would also be more fun to shoot. After about 75 test rounds, both shooters were nursing sore trigger fingers.
A problem with ignition surfaced when shooting .22 WMR ammunition, regardless of brand. We had about two misfires per cylinder load, but the cartridges would usually go off the second time we attempted to fire them. We have not yet figured out what caused this, as the dent in the case rim from the firing pin blow looked adequate. Clearly, however, it is a problem that must be solved before the EARL can be considered properly functional.
We also need to report that it became increasingly difficult to punch the fired magnum cases from the cylinder as the gun got dirty. This is natural, but remember that the EARL has no ejector. By the end of the shooting session we were using a screwdriver to remove fired Magnum cases.
In conclusion, we think that the North American Arms EARL is the most appealing mini revolver ever offered. It has surprisingly good accuracy potential, particularly if the horrible trigger pull were fixed. The fixed sights present another problem and are probably going to require considerable effort to rectify. Finally, we need to figure out how to make it go "bang" with every pull of the trigger. Nevertheless, the little revolver has potential and it is likely to become another Guns and Shooting Online project gun, since we intend to keep it.
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