Walther P22 Pistol: Quirky, But Irresistible
By Mark Wynn
If you've waited in vain for a .22 LR version of a favorite centerfire semiautomatic pistol like the Springfield Armory XD, maybe it's time to settle for the Walther P22. Although not as elegantly simple as the XD, the P22 feels great and offers economical fun for the whole family, especially for plinking and casual target shooting.
The P22 is about 3/4 the size of the Walther P99 9mm grandchild of the Walther PPK immortalized by James Bond (and Hitler, who committed suicide with one in 1945). Smith & Wesson has been the American distributor of Walther products since 1999.
Here are the main Walther P22 specifications from its Operating Instructions and waltheramerica.com (my expansions in parentheses):
I bought my P22 with red laser sight new at a 2009 Virginia gun show for $386 including 5% tax, about $100 under the list price of $490. The P22 also is available as P22 Target with 5-inch barrel that can be converted to the 3.4-inch barrel and vice versa. I'm passing on the 5-inch barrel conversion unit because it adds expense and complexity for no notable gain in intrinsic accuracy.
The P22 is more versatile with the red laser sight mounted under the barrel, so at the gun show I added a $20 nylon holster that nicely accommodates the laser. Later from Walther I bought another finger rest magazine.
The Walther on-line site lists five versions of the P22 (black, blue, nickel, brushed chrome plus “target military” olive). Including other sources, various combinations of barrels and sights range from about $319 to $500.
The Walther P22 is irresistible, but quirky compared to what I'm used to. For example:
· Being able to change barrels from standard 3.4-inch barrel to 5-inch or vice versa. (I like the idea but don't intend to do it.)
· The magazine release is the back third of the trigger guard pressed down. (I don't like it; it's even easy to confuse handle finger grooves with trigger guard magazine releases.)
· When the safety is on and a magazine is inserted, the external hammer will fall when the trigger is pressed. (The P22 doesn't fire, but I still don't like any trigger or hammer movement when on Safe.)
· Cleaning is reasonable, except after the slide is taken off, the exposed spring needs a mounting pin to get aligned back under the barrel during reassembly. (I don't like it.)
· The front sight is a plastic pop-in and there are also two slightly shorter sights for “elevation adjustment.” This also allows a flat plug insert when the 5-inch barrel is used. Changing requires prying the front sight out with a screwdriver, which causes concern about the front sight getting lost or later coming out inadvertently. (I don't like it.)
· While the XD has a raised metal piece to show when a shell is in the chamber, the P22 has an open slit inviting dirt and lint. (I don't like it.)
· The Walther laser sight accessory has a little red light on the back of each side to further alert the shooter when the laser is turned on, especially if accidentally. (I like it.)
· Like an increasing number of modern designs, the P22 comes with an interchangeable frame backstrap for altering the grip. (I prefer the slimmer standard version, but like the option.)
· Without a magazine, the trigger pulls freely without moving the hammer. Some shooters prefer a gun that will fire regardless of whether a magazine is inserted. (So do I.)
· Current versions come with a built-in keyed gun lock. Some shooters like that, but many do not, feeling that sooner or later the gun may lock itself. If there is any problem with the key, or it is lost, the gun might as well be a rock. (I don't like it.)
Only about half a foot long long and weighing a pound with laser and full magazine, the P22 feels surprisingly hefty, like a medium size larger caliber pistol. It's comfortable in a hand that wears men's Large size gloves, but not too large for smaller hands.
There is confusion about whether it is okay to dry fire the P22 when the manual safety is on to prevent the hammer from striking the firing pin. The Operating Instructions do not mention dry firing. I agree with traditionalists who never dry fire any rimfire unless a snap cap is inserted.
The P22 metal magazine readily accepts a full load (10 - .22 LR cartridges) without balking at the last couple shells or failing to feed. Only high velocity ammo should be used. After the last shot, the slide stays open.
Information and comment about the P22 abound on line. Some concerns mention cracked zinc slides, but most are about magazine issues that have been corrected in factory modifications. Ammo selection is the usual .22 LR compatibility search.
My P22 does fine with Remington Golden Bullet 36-grain hollow points. I've fired about 500 rounds with no problems, except an occasional dud. As for accuracy, at an indoor range, braced on a bench, shooting five rounds with open sights and then five rounds using the laser, at 10 yards I was happy to achieve a 2.75” group.
For most plinking and target shooting, the P22 seems most effective at 15 yards or less, which is almost the 50 feet the laser is preset for. The laser sight is a great addition, although it may require tweaking to get it and the “iron” sights zeroed at the main distance you prefer (10 yards for me).
I highly value the P22 for plinking and casual target shooting. Its looks and success have prompted some to consider it for home or personal defense, in spite of the historic consensus that .22 LR is not a viable defense caliber.
No doubt about it, the Walther P22 is a paradox. It would be more mentally comfortable with a simpler trigger pull system and safety features like the Springfield Armory XD. Opinions differ as to whether the P22 is tough enough to be a legacy gun passed along in families. After about a decade of production, the P22 has certainly satisfied a lot of .22 LR shooting needs and preferences.
Have fun with the P22. Don't take it too seriously and don't head for a shrink if the P22 makes you want to skulk around going “Bang, Bang” at imaginary villains and announce yourself at socials as: “Walther, James Walther.”
Copyright 2009, 2011 by Mark Wynn and chuckhawks.com. All rights reserved.