Crimson Trace

December 6, 2017

A Flyweight -- Airweight and Tiny

Why would anyone carry a .22 revolver for self-protection? And who would? We're not talking about some government or mob assassin, we're talking about someone who may have to use deadly force for self-protection.

I know one current member of service, already retired from one active municipal police career and now on his second, who's carried a 22 – Magnum or LR – revolver as a second and third gun. They weigh practically nothing and he shoots them just fine.

The currently prevailing wisdom is that the 9x19mm cartridge is the 'best' self-defense handgun cartridge. Why not load that into a revolver? Two reasons: First, bullet pull on the semi-auto cartridge in very light revolvers is a real problem. An unfired bullet can pull free of the case during recoil of other cartridges being fired, possibly tying up the gun. Next, you need "clips" to hold the loaded rounds – if you want to reload it after being fired. There's no really good, compact way to do that. Fumbling about with tiny rimfire cartridges is no easier but the rimfire revolvers hold more ammo to start with.

A banged-up right thumb gave the opportunity for some "weak hand" practice with the little gun.
Why a revolver at all? This story is about revolvers, but it's also because the revolver is a unique envelope for a small, easily concealed, readily available handgun. That's part of the reason it hasn't died out. Besides, the thesis of this piece is that certain people gravitate to the .22 rimfire cartridge – LR or Magnum – for critical reasons unrelated to "stopping power."

The first time I heard of the concept of the "old man gun" it was from Claude Werner – but I believe that elderly and infirm folks have considered that issue over a period of generations. Someone with rheumatoid arthritis can't tolerate the jolt of a "relevant self-defense load" (if there is any such thing out of a conventional handgun), but some still have the hand strength to operate the trigger-cocking pull on even the stiff action of a rimfire DA revolver.

Other afflictions prevent the use of centerfire rounds as well. Add to this the increased capacity of the rimfire double-action revolver and we have an interesting combination for the older, less-able set.

Back in 2015, I posted this bit of information in the Tactical Wire:

Fifty years ago, a very savvy gunman had already written about it.

"The one light loading that I would like to see would be the airweight model Cobras and Chief Specials chambered for the new .22 RF Magnum load. This is a wicked little cartridge and would add little to the weight of the light models (five .38 Special cartridges weigh about as much as the Chief airweight), and would make a wonderful addition to the "hide-out" field, particularly for officers working in hot countries where usually a coat is not worn during the hot summer months." (p.77) – and –

"A recent letter from Doug Hellstrom, Smith and Wesson's dynamic young executive vice-president, says that they are working on the problems attendant to marrying the .22 RF Magnum to the Chief airweight—and there are lots of problems. Aluminum cylinder and barrel with steel liners are indicated to keep down weight. The big problem, however, is devising a method to keep the hot gases from eating through the aluminum frame above the junction of cylinder and barrel. If this problem can be whipped it should result in the perfect hideout gun. It will not only outreach a switch blade, but will pack plenty of close range authority into an easily carried and concealed package." (P.79) © 1965: Jordan, William H. "Bill," No Second Place Winner.

He was Assistant Chief Patrol Inspector of the U.S. Border Patrol, experienced lawman and game hunter. To say he'd participated in and seen a lot of action, including shootings of people and game would be an understatement. If he thought a snub .22 Magnum was a good idea, I'm not going to call it stupid.


That was in a feature about the S&W M351C, a seven shot .22 Magnum "Centennial" style revolver. I've since gotten the Smith & Wesson M43C, an eight shot trigger-cocking revolver in .22 Long Rifle.


Both guns weigh in at around 11 ounces and both have a "white ball" for a front sight – the factory literature says it's from XS Sights. Both guns have heavy triggers, befitting the mission of making shooting deliberate and setting off rimfire cartridges.

I've carried each of those guns – the LR and the Mag – in the Safariland Model 27 IWB holster. An open-top inside-the-pants holster, it features a J-hook to enable wearing it with any belt. A polymer insert prevents the holster from collapsing inside the waist and aids in reholstering.

Planning to carry any gun for self-defense requires that you check to see point of impact for your chosen loads.
I've had the M43C along on several range outings now, a great asset as the 22 is easy to shoot. The first trip saw the use of CCI-Stingers, a 'hyper-velocity' .22 LR. They shot very low at 15 yards. Winchester 40 grain Super-X was closer to point-of-aim at seven yards, but the extraction was tough. I had to use the wood bench to clear the rounds out.

As I'd had a recent minor injury to the proximal joint of the right thumb, I quickly moved the gun to my left hand for shooting. Even the .22 LR out of such a light gun was uncomfortable in the banged up right hand. I used a "neck hold" on the 50-yard IPSC-style steel target and found it easy to hit with the tiny gun.

But that's a lot of target.

I found Federal 40 grain out of their 'range pack' hard to extract as well. As to the Remington "Golden Bullet" and promotional "Thunderbolt" loads, both hit under the front sight and both extracted easily from the tiny terror's chambers. Something about the chambers in that cylinder make extraction a problem for some loads and not for others.

This reduced-size B-27 target was shot at ten yards with the S&W M43C and Remington "Golden Bullet" ammo.
On my latest excursions with the 22 Centennial, I worked on my trigger control, something the 22 revolver excels at, and cleaned the rimfire dueling tree (more-or-less hexagonal steel paddles about 4 ½" across) from thirty feet.

I'm not sure what to make of the rough extraction; maybe it's a warranty issue, maybe it's nature of the beast. It's sure a little shooter and I've very impressed with the gun overall, so I will be checking on that issue with Smith & Wesson.

Being a 22 means people are more likely to shoot it more than, say, a 38 or 357 in a near-same size package. Shooting it more means being more competent with it and being competent translates into being confident. That's a very good thing when it comes to self-defense hardware.

- - Rich Grassi