Fun guns: Double Action .22LR Revolvers

My interest in firearms is multi-faceted. A significant chunk of my interest is in the use of a firearm as a tool of personal defense. I’d rather avoid shooting people if at all possible, but there are some people who insist on threatening the lives of others and for such people there is no more effective medicine than a bullet to the face. Apart from that, I have an appreciation for the firearm as a machine. I’m the sort of guy who likes taking a Garand apart and looking at how all the pieces fit together and interact with each other to make up the extraordinary capability we see in the repeating firearm. Sure, it’s old hat to us now, but for most of human history that Garand was beyond human ability to produce. Now I can hold it in my hands, made from good walnut and the highest quality ordnance grade steel, and it works beautifully. I own firearms that I’ve never fired or even bought a round of ammunition for solely because I found some aspect of their function or design to be interesting. When I was a kid one of my favorite shows was The A-Team, and my abiding memory of that show is watching the Mini-14’s they were using cycling. Not Mr. T’s chains, or the van, or Hannibal’s one liners…watching their guns work fascinated me more than anything else. As a reformed history major, I also have an appreciation for firearms as instruments of history. I may not be able to understand the plight of the average British soldier at Verdun, but when I pick up an old surplus Enfield it’s almost like making physical contact with the history that the weapon has lived.

Guns can also be a hell of a lot of fun. Throwing an 870 Wingmaster up on the shoulder trying to catch a bead on a woodcock you rustled out of the brush. Buzzing through a mag from an MP5 on full-auto, or a belt through an M60E3. Firing a Colt Anaconda at a coconut. Showing my buddy Scott what happens when you fire a .223 V-Max round into a big generic can of a substance dubiously labeled “BBQ BEEF”. All were an absolute hoot.

I know some folks like to believe that everything related to firearms has to be super, duper, uber serious all the time, but let’s face facts: Shooting stuff is fun. There’s nothing wrong with having fun. A bunch of the dudes making serious faces in their multicam at whatever ultra high-speed carbine course they’re doing this week might wish to deny it, but they’re probably there because they’re having fun. Their tricked out mid-length carbine with the lightest rail system in existence and two stage trigger system made of adamantium is certainly a capable weapon, but their primary use of the thing brings it more into kinship with a nice set of golf clubs than the tools of violence relied on by the sort of guys who hunt down Osama Bin Laden.

and there’s nothing wrong with that. One’s manhood does not diminish because he likes buying AR’s and kitting them out, even if you’re doing it in a zombie green theme. You don’t become a social leper if you enjoy a firearm or a class that has no practical relevance to your daily life. Or, rather, if you do then it’s a sign you were hanging out with some people who have severe personality problems and you’re better off without their company. Trust me.

So having established that it’s perfectly OK to own guns for purposes other than shooting tangos in the face, are there firearms that exist solely for general merriment? Absolutely. One of my absolute favorites is the double-action .22LR revolver.

One of the most sought-after DA .22 revolvers, the S&W Model 18
One of the most sought-after DA .22 revolvers, the S&W Model 18

I have a thing for revolvers that borders on the unhealthy. I’m often on the gun auction sites late at night just ogling older production blued double-action revolvers, usually in .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum, or .22LR. For general merriment nothing beats using a good .22LR revolver on tin cans, or poker chips, or trying to light a strike-anywhere match using a .22LR bullet fired from a revolver. It sort of makes you feel a bit like Ed McGivern or Tom Knapp. If you’re really feeling saucy, you can try hunting squirrels with an iron-sighted double action .22LR revolver.

Most of the .22LR double action revolvers you can find are based on revolvers in “real” calibers. Smith & Wesson, for example, has built J and K framed .22LR revolvers that handle very much like bigger-bore revolvers. Pictured is a Smith & Wesson model 18, a .22LR revolver designed to mimic the feel and handling of a S&W model 19, the Bill Jordan inspired combat magnum that saw heavy adoption by law enforcement in the US and elsewhere. The model 18 allowed for more economical practice on a revolver that offered the same sight picture and trigger pull a police officer would find on his duty sidearm, and regular practice with one translated directly to his ability to shoot the issued weapon with proficiency.

Sadly I had to let go of mine because it had a problem with the barrel, but it has since been replaced with a S&W model 34 “Kit gun” and a recent production model 317. I shoot them both as often as possible because they’re an absolute blast whether I’m trying for the best possible bullseye accuracy at 25 yards or trying (emphasis on the word trying, there) to hit a horsefly that’s been foolish enough to land on the target while you still have ammo. One of the best range outings I ever had was arriving at the outdoor range to find it absolutely crawling with a swarm of grasshoppers. As I was the only vertebrate around, everything was safe and so I decided that this was the perfect job for a .22LR. I spent the better part of two hours popping grasshoppers. With a handgun! Sure, by trying to hit such a tiny target I was practicing the skills of obtaining a very precise sight picture and good trigger control, but it really doesn’t seem much like work when you’re doing all of that so you can watch a fat grasshopper explode.

…and that’s the really great thing about a .22LR revolver. Not only are they cool in their own right and an absolute blast to use, there’s no finer tool in the world for teaching the shooting fundamentals. The person who learns how to shoot the double action revolver well can pick up any handgun they like and, from an accuracy perspective at least, acquit themselves nicely on just about any shooting task. I always try to get new shooters to do some work with a rimfire revolver because they find the lack of recoil soothing and I find that it helps them understand a good trigger pull better than any other handgun. I’ve taken people who could barely hit paper and in an afternoon heavily featuring a rimfire revolver I’ve had them down to hitting 1″ squares on command at 7 yards.

The .22LR revolver lends itself to use with rewarding targets like in-the-husk walnuts or in-the-shell pecans. If you have a garden and right now you’ve got more tomatoes than you can eat or give away, the ones that are a bit past their prime make for excellent rimfire targets. I’ve even gotten self-labeled gun-hating hippies to giggle when they experienced the joy of watching a crab apple explode when hit with a round from my revolver.

Revolvers today are sort of seen as a bit of an anachronism, but for general fun and merriment I enjoy shooting a revolver more than I do just about anything that doesn’t have a full-auto setting. Do you have kids? Do you have friends that want to go with you to the range? Then consider maybe skipping that next AR build and buy yourself a nice old double action .22LR revolver and make going to the range a social thing.

…just don’t stay up later than me putting in bids on the ones I’m trying to buy, OK? That just wouldn’t be cool.


  1. After reading your article; you really seem to know your stuff. I have all of those guns too–python, diamondback 22, 45/22 ace kit, mini 14 50-100 rnd drum etc., etc. and several of the large cal. full autos. But, nothing seems to beat my Ruger 10-22 electric motor driven 50-100 rnd creation. It uses a 12 volt rewound sewing machine motor driven by a 12 volt electric drill battery. Trees, tomatos, avocados, possums, squirlls, jack rabbits. Doesn’t matter, it eats it all in short order. I also like my 1911/22 ace 50 rnd drum creation too.

  2. Um, if it has a motor turning the crank, it’s legally defined as a “machinegun” under US law. . . MANUAL crank = OK, POWERED crank = NFA violation = 10 years in prison + $10,000 fine.

    Call the ATFE Tech Branch if you don’t believe me.

  3. Dirt clods are another fun reactive target- spent an enjoyable afternoon doing just that with a 6″ 617 at 20+ yards.

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