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.22 Magnums

Winchester introduced the .22 Magnum, also known as the .22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire (WMR) in 1959 as a rifle cartridge. Even before Winchester offered long guns for the new rimfire, both Smith & Wesson and Ruger were at least advertising sixguns chambered in .22 Magnum. In 1960, Ruger took the next step and offered a Convertible Single-Six, a .22 Long Rifle revolver with an extra cylinder chambered in .22 Magnum.

The great advantage of the .22 Magnum in a revolver is the fact that it gives us the equivalent of a .22 Long Rifle from a rifle barrel in a much easier to pack sixgun. However, there is a problem.

Bullet diameters for the .22 Long Rifle and .22 Magnum are not the same, with the latter being larger. Ruger’s .22 LR Single-Six barrels had a bore diameter of .216″ while the .22 Magnum Single-Six barrels were cut at .223″. To offer a Convertible Model required not only an extra cylinder but also a compromise bore diameter. The dimension settled on was .219″ or slightly too large by .003″ for the .22 Long Rifle and .004″ undersized for the .22 Magnum. I’ve often heard complaints from shooters that one or the other of the Convertible cylinders will not give good accuracy. I have not found this to be the case. After 50 years of shooting .22 Convertibles, I conclude it’s just a matter of finding the right ammunition for each cylinder.

Targets shot with the Freedom Arms Model 97 with auxiliary .22 Magnum
cylinder in place. Amazing accuracy from this classy sixgun.

The lineup

Let’s start with the super single six. Four years after the introduction of the Convertible Models the adjustable sighted Super Single-Six arrived with a fully adjustable rear sight matched up with a square-blade front sight on a ramp. To me the Super Single-Six with its two cylinders has been one of the most useful revolvers ever produced. It’s exceptionally rugged and has always been relatively inexpensive. My favorite length is 51/2″ and I have acquired three of these to eventually go to my grandsons. CCI’s Maxi-Mag +Vs clock out at 1,725 fps and shoot into 1″ from this handy barrel length. And, as with all other Ruger revolvers the Super Single-Six became a New Model with a transfer bar in the early 1970s.

Targets shot with S&W’s 83/8″ K-frame and 4″ J-frame .22 Magnums
show they can deliver the goods.

Freedom Arms

There are many excellent .22/.22 Magnum sixguns available, however there is no doubt in my mind, the best available is the Model 97 from Freedom Arms. The Model 97, introduced in 1997, is just slightly smaller than a Colt Single Action and is the most accurate .22/.22 Magnum I have ever encountered. With its price tag (about $2,000), this is exactly what we should expect. At 25 yards, with a scope in place, groups average well under 1/2″. With the right ammunition, such as the Federal Premium loaded with the Sierra JHPs, it’s right at 1″ for five shots at 50 yards.

Mine has a 71/2″ barrel and is just as easy to pack as a Colt Single Action. However, for my eyes the best accuracy requires the addition of a scope, which is easily mounted on the Model 97 by simply removing the rear sight. And for those who think Convertible .22/.22 Magnums are not as accurate as single-cylinder sixguns, this one places several versions of .22 Long Rifle loads into less than 1/3″ at 25 yards.

With the .22 Mag cylinder in place, the Ruger Super Single Six
still delivers great accuracy in spite of Ruger’s compromise
bore diameter to accommodate .22 LR and Magnum.


S&W has, at least to my knowledge, only produced purebred .22 Magnum revolvers or .22 Long Rifle revolvers with never the two being combined. That has not kept them from being some of the finest of the Magnum sixguns. The Model 48 is the Magnum counterpart of the K-22/Model 17 Long Rifle sixguns. I have to say my favorite Smith & Wesson when it comes to the .22 Magnum is the 83/8″ Model 48, which not only shoots accurately but with its longer barrel also squeezes a few extra feet per second out of the .22 Magnum.

Most .22 Magnum loads from this sixgun group right at 1″ or less, with the Federal Premium 30 Sierra JHC staying at less than 1″ while clocking out at over 1,600 fps. At the other end of the Smith & Wesson Magnum scale is the Model 651 Kit Gun with its stainless steel finish and 4″ barrel. This sixgun fits so easily into a pocket and carries so unobtrusively as to make it a favorite on camping, fishing, or hiking outings. It may be small and short barreled, however with CCI Maxi-Mag HPs the muzzle velocity is almost 1,300 fps and groups in less than 1″ at 20 yards.

Two of John’s favorite pocket pistols, .22 Magnum-style, are the Earl and Top-Break
(now out of production) from North American Arms, especially when used in conjunction
with the new CCI self-defense rounds.


For many years I always carried a Freedom Arms Mini-Revolver in my shirt pocket. These are now long out of production, however North American Arms has taken up the slack. Their little Earl is a 4″-barreled, 5-shot, spur-trigger, “boot gun.” Actually, it not only fits in a boot but also a jacket pocket or even a deep shirt pocket.

My current always-with-me .22 Magnum Pocket Pistol from North American Arms is the 5-shot top-break reminiscent of the old Smith & Wessons of the frontier era. Neither one of these .22 magnums are for plinking, target shooting or hunting varmints, but they rather have a higher calling. These are easy to carry, last ditch, save your hide pistols. CCI has recently offered a self-defense .22 Magnum round and that is exactly what I keep these constant companions loaded with. Yes, a .45 or 9mm would make a much better choice for self-defense, however they don’t fit in a shirt pocket.

Two easy packing .22 Magnums are the 10-shot semi-auto
AMT and the 6-shot Smith & Wesson J-frame.


The original AutoMag II which is, of course, now long out of production, was and still is an interesting .22 Mag semi-auto. Fortunately, High Standard has brought it back and it is available from them. My original has a 6″ barrel while a dear friend of mine carried a 41/2″ version as a backup gun while working as a Federal LEO. When it first came out it wouldn’t function very well, however it turned out this was an ammunition problem, which was quickly corrected. This is an excellent varmint pistol with CCI Maxi-Mags +Vs clocking out at over 1,600 fps and grouping into less than one-inch. Don’t forget Kel-Tec’s .22 Magnum auto, their PMR-30, is available too, and Handgunner reviewed it in our Sept/Oct 2013 issue. It was a dandy.

While .22 Long Rifle sixguns can be used on some of our larger varmints, the .22 Magnum is a much better choice, and the extra cost of the ammunition is paid for by the extra power delivered. Whether it’s a Convertible Model (which is certainly the most versatile) or a purebred .22 Magnum-only sixgun, they provide a lot of shooting pleasure — and a surprising amount of power!

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By John Taffin

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