Smith & Wesson M&P 15-22, .22 LR Carbine

By Mark Wynn

Smith & Wesson M&P 15-22
Photo courtesy of Mark Wynn

Every once in awhile comes a firearm like the Smith & Wesson Military & Police 15-22 carbine that seems to not just fit in a market, but define it. Several manufacturers recently have introduced .22 LR tactical rifles or carbines that look a little or a lot like an AR-15, and so far the S&W M&P15-22 appears to be getting the most attention.

Check these specifications and features from Smith & Wesson:

  • Model: M&P15-22
  • SKU: 811030
  • Finish: matte black
  • Action: blowback semiauto
  • Caliber: 22 LR
  • Capacity: 25 rounds
  • Length: 33.75” extended, 30.5” collapsed
  • Sight radius: 15.5”
  • Barrel length: 16”
  • Barrel twist: 1 in 16”
  • Weight: (no magazine) 5.5 lbs
  • Trigger Pull: about 7 lbs
  • Upper and lower material: polymer
  • Barrel material: 4140 steel
  • Front sight: adjustable A2 post
  • Rear sight: adjustable dual aperture
  • MSRP: $499
  • Functional charging handle
  • Recessed magazine release button
  • Ambidextrous load-assist button on high-strength polymer magazine
  • Bolt catch (holds open when empty)
  • 6-position collapsible stock
  • Match-grade precision barrel
  • Adjustable front and rear sights
  • Lightweight high-strength polymer quad rail handguard (accepts all 1913 Military Standard rail adaptable accessories)

An S&W January 2009 news release summarizes the main idea:

“The dedicated .22 LR platform offers the fit and feel of the company's popular M&P15 rifle, while being chambered for the more economical ammunition. Engineered on a high strength polymer upper and lower receiver, the M&P15-22 benefits from reduced weight while retaining the looks and operating features of the standard M&P15 rifle. The M&P15-22 is standard with a six-position collapsible stock to accommodate a variety of shooters and shooting positions, an A3 style flat top upper receiver with a quad-rail handguard for easily mounting optional accessories and an A2 pistol grip for improved firearm control.

“By remaining true to the standard AR-15 design while offering all of the preferred features found on the M&P Rifle series, the M&P15-22 is well suited for a variety of recreational shooting applications while also being an extremely viable training firearm for law enforcement and military personnel.”

The M&P15-22 carbine and similar carbines by other manufacturers sell for around $500 to $600, about half the price of an AR-15 .223 variation. Couple that with .22 LR ammo at about 5 cents a shot, instead of about 50 cents a round for .223 ammo, and spouses can be told with a straight face, “Honey, this gun will pay for itself!”

Skeptical? Do the math (you know the spouse will). If you save 45 cents a shot with .22 LR and you buy an M&P15-22 for its list price, you will pay it off after only 1,111 shots (.45 x 1,111 = $499.95). We are talking serious bargain here.

With its adjustable stock length and an added vertical fore-end grip easily fastened to the bottom pickatinny rail, the M&P15-22 plants itself into your shoulder and stays right on target no matter how fast you pull the trigger. It doesn't want to quit firing. The first time I shot it is the first time I ever felt compelled to buy a brick (500 rounds) of ammo in any caliber. I went through 300 rounds in that debut and wanted to shoot more but ran out of time. Again the math: by shooting .22LR instead of .223, I saved $135. Three more sessions like that and I have a free gun. (Honest, Honey!)

The smooth-feeling pickatinny rails surrounding the barrel make customizing the 15-22 easy. In addition to adding a $21 CAA-09 vertical ergonomic grip, I've experimented with moving the front sight to improve close range parallax and mounting a Bushnell 3x9 rimfire scope. (I had to buy picatinny mounts, which cost almost as much as the scope!)

At a Virginia gun show I found an excellent Osprey International $100 sight with red or green dots, four choices of reticle and six brightness intensities to put in place of the rear ghost ring sight. Gun shows and catalogs take on a whole new interest with the four pickatinny rails offering so many possibilities. Hopefully, reason will prevail and I will not have the world's first porcupine gun.

Shooting or accessorizing, carrying or cleaning, storing or admiring, the M&P15-22 is major fun for shooters of any size, age, or experience. I cannot think of any type of shooter who would not enjoy this gun.

However, there is a big IF. You have to accept the AR-15 platform and its unique features and drawbacks. These include include the high sights and their close-range parallax issues, the absence of wood stock and blued gun metal (it helps if you dote on plastic and stamped metal parts), a very heavy seven pound trigger pull and the high tech look that sends gun foes into spasms of restrictive proposals.

Don't expect much of a discount on the S&W 15-22. I drove 150 miles round trip to a well-known discounter to find mine, but still had to pay full $499.95 list price. Which I still consider a bargain. The S&W M&P15-22 competitors I've seen cost more for less gun in my opinion. Search the web and compare them and you will see what I mean.

Although most stores seem to be holding to list price, a month later, at two Virginia gun shows, I found two vendors discounting S&W 15-22's to $450 and $440. I was seriously tempted to buy a second one!

An excellent summary is “Getting Dedicated” by Dick Metcalf in the Smith & Wesson 2009 magazine. He explains that the S&W M&P15-22 does not have the problems of conversion kits or replacement upper receivers used with .223 centerfire AR-15s. He points out that the barrel is made by Thompson/Center “which provides the superb accuracy for which that company's bores are renowned.” (In fact, S&W owns T/C, so it is actually the same company. -Ed.)

Everyone makes their own discoveries about any new product, of course, and here are mine:

At first I was not careful enough loading the magazine to make sure the top round is at a slight angle instead of being flat. That gave me a couple failures to feed and tedious picking until I caught on. Except for an occasional dud, after more than 500 rounds the 15-22 has had no problems firing my usual Remington Golden Bullet 36-grain hollow points. The 15-22 firing pin really smacks the bullet rim. Anything not firing after that is a total dud.

At an indoor range, braced on the folddown table, with a 1x green dot sight, my 15-22 achieved five-shot group diameters of 7/8-inch at 15 yards and 1-5/8 inches at 25 yards. That's as good as I can get with most other unmagnified long guns. (The diameter of a quarter is one inch.)

The pickatinney rails proved surprisingly comfortable in polymer, with no sharp edges. The quad rail nicely isolates and cools the barrel. Be sure accessories are truly pickatinney compatible and not something else that requires relatively pricey adapters the way the Bushnell rimfire scope does.

The easily adjustable stock negates any problem with length of pull, including changing from summer to winter clothes. Unfortunately, some states ban it, hence the later “compatible” edition that makes the stock not adjustable and limits the magazine to 10 rounds instead of 25 rounds. Actually I will order a 10-round magazine, since I normally shoot no more than 10 rounds at a time and the shorter magazine does not extend past the pistol grip or vertical fore-end.

Meanwhile, I bought two more 25-round magazines and a five-magazine-pouch competition rifle case. Something about the 15-22 wants nothing less. Cleaning is reasonable as the M&P15-22 hinges open in the middle and nothing unusual is required.

The only minor complaint I have about the 15-22 is its safety lever. For consistency, I think this type of safety should point forward when ready to Fire and up or down when on Safe. The 15-22 points up to Fire and forward on Safe. Since that is endemic to most if not all AR-15 designs, I am truly slobbering into the ocean. Some shooters have asked for barrel threads for a flash suppressor or silencer, but that probably will be a niche market for those willing to pay for federal permits in states allowing that equipment.

Come to think of it, every once in awhile comes not just a firearm, but a product like the Smith & Wesson Military & Police 15-22 carbine, manufactured in the United States of America, that seems perfect not just for its market but for its time. What more could we ask than our own little affordable 40 Something souvenir of EBR (Era of the Black Rifle)?

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Copyright 2009, 2015 by Mark Wynn and/or All rights reserved.