The Best .22 Caliber Pistols for NRA Bullseye

posted on September 15, 2015

For those of you whose targets must gong to let you know you’ve scored, and whose shooting uniform includes a pair of running shoes, here’s an introduction to real shooting—Bullseye (quickly becoming known as Precision) Pistol. NRA and the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP) are the principle organizers of Bullseye/Precision Pistol shooting in the U.S. and Canada. Emphasis is on accuracy and precision rather than pure speed, as is the case for IDPA (International Defensive Pistol Association) and IPSC (International Pistol Shooting Confederation). NRA Bianchi-style Action Pistol shooters are noted for their requirement to be proficient at both speed and accuracy.

Bullseye/Precision Handguns
Popular NRA (including Law Enforcement) and CMP matches include smallbore (.22 cal.) pistols; centerfire revolvers in .32 cal. and above; and semi-automatic service pistols in both 9mm and .45 cal. Since many Precision/Bullseye shooters begin with a .22 cal. pistol, and because pistol leagues often only shoot .22s, we decided to contribute to the discussion of which .22 cal. models are most popular. For help, we asked Amanda Carter of Larry’s Guns to tell us which models were most likely to be seen on the firing line. She ran a poll on the web site with the following results.

Notes from Amanda Carter:

"I combined votes for the following pistols: The Benelli MP95 and Benelli MP90: The difference between the two is the grip and trigger group. The MP95 has an ambidextrous grip and a plastic trigger group. The MP90 has an adjustable, anatomical grip and an aluminum trigger group. The MP90 trigger is more adjustable than the MP95.

SIG/Hämmerli Trailside and Hämmerli X-Esse: Hämmerli and SIG partnered to make an inexpensive plinker version of the X-Esse and called it the Trailside.

They stopped making Trailsides in 2004, but the X-Esse is still in production. Hämmerli 208(s) and 215(s): There are slight differences between the 208 and 215 as well as slight differences between regular models and “s” models."

The Top Three

Smith & Wesson Model 41
The Model 41 is a semiautomatic pistol developed by Smith & Wesson after World War II as a competitive target pistol. It was designed with a 105 degree grip angle, the same as the Colt M1911 pistol, to maintain a consistent grip angle during training and competition.

Two prototypes, numbered X-41 and X-42, were produced in 1947 and improved in the years that followed. By 1957 the Model 41 was made available to the public when Smith & Wesson built 679 units. Production increased to 9,875 the very next year. Various short and long barrel models were produced during its lifetime. The Model 41 was dropped from production in 1992. Two years later, Smith & Wesson returned it to production as the Model 41 (New Model). The photo depicts the author’s gun with custom hand stocks from Vitarbo, sleeved Walther barrel and UltraDot scope. Learn more about the Model 41 here.

Hämmerli 208s
Hämmerli is a Swiss manufacturer of firearms used predominantly in target shooting, particularly in Olympic shooting events governed by the ISSF (International Shooting Sport Federation). The Hämmerli Company was founded in 1863 by Johann Ulrich Hämmerli to make rifle barrels for the Swiss Army. In 1950, Hämmerli produced Olympic rifles that were used to win gold medals at the next four Olympics. In 1966, production began on the famous 208 pistol using a blowback semi-automatic design. In 2006, Hämmerli was purchased by Umarex, who moved production of the Hämmerli brand to Walther’s factory in Ulm, Germany. The 208s is the last version of Hämmerli’s venerable 208 series of target .22 LR pistols. Discontinued in 1998, they are still highly sought after by the serious shooter. Learn more about the 208s here.

Hämmerli X-Esse
Earning three spots in the Larry’s Guns online poll, Hämmerli originally established a benchmark with its .22 target pistols with the 208/215(s) Sport/Standard pistol target handgun, followed by the 280 and SP20. While all three models are popular among champion shooters, they are expensive.

Top-level shooters often invest in an identical back-up gun as insurance to maintain their lead standings. Recreational shooters, on the other hand, typically purchase guns at a lower cost threshold. To fill this need, Hämmerli produced the X-Esse model. Sigarms imported a less expensive version of the X-Esse—the Trailside. While Sigarms was importing the Trailside, a non-compete agreement prevented import of the X-Esse. When Hämmerli was purchased by Walther’s owners (Umarex) in 2006, the Trailside and the agreement were discontinued. Walther currently produces and exports the Hämmerli X-Esse pistols. Learn more about the X-Esse here.

The Rest of the Pack

Pardini SP
Born in 1941, Giampiero Pardini has been one of the most prominent marksmen in Italian target shooting. Introduced to shooting in 1970, Pardini challenged himself in all the handgun shooting events, but ultimately favored the Free Pistol events.

His first foray into manufacturing began with the modification of a Free Pistol, followed by the creation of a new trigger mechanism, and finally a complete pistol, with which Pardini fired a series of record scores. Named the PGP 75, this first free pistol became popular enough that Pardini eventually retired from competition in the 1980s to dedicate himself to the work of a gunsmith. The SP (.22 LR) has a fully adjustable trigger with six removable steel weights with springs in the front of the gun that act like an active recoil absorber and provide the ability to adjust the balance. Learn more about the SP here.

Inventor, gun designer, self-taught engineer and entrepreneur Bill Ruger wanted to produce a new handgun. Having acquired a WWII souvenir Nambu pistol from a returning U.S. Marine, Ruger successfully duplicated the pistol in his garage. Using the Nambu’s silhouette and bolt system, Ruger produced his first prototype. Once partnered with Alex Sturm, production began in 1949. The sleek traditional design, reminiscent of the classic Luger pistol, has been a popular model for countless pistol shooters.

The Mark III is blowback operated, meaning the initial explosion of the cartridge powers the cycling. It uses an internal cylindrical bolt for its action. However, the bolt recoils out of the pistol, rather than pushing a slide back. Learn more about the MK III here.

Established in 1981, Bob Marvel Custom Guns has built a reputation for accurate and reliable custom pistols. Marvel’s work evolved from building pistols out of his basement, to customizing or rebuilding a variety of pistol models used for competition, personal protection and concealed carry. In the late 1990s, Bob Marvel and Lamonte Drees, both employees of Marvel Products (created to meet quantity demand at the time), developed a popular .22 conversion unit.

Marvel Products changed hands in 2002, was renamed Marvel Precision LLC, and continues to specialize in top quality .22 cal. conversions. In 2003, Bob Marvel left the company he founded, partnered with Advantage Arms for a time, and has since returned to making a variety of highly accurate match and defensive handguns. His most popular model is the 1911 .45 caliber match pistol with guaranteed accuracy of 1.5” or less at 50 yards.

More than 40 national records and 20 national titles in bullseye competitions are attributed to competitors who shot a Marvel gun. For more information about the Marvel go here, and for more on Bob Marvel go here.

High Standard
Founded in Connecticut in 1926, the High Standard Manufacturing Company is now located in Houston, TX. The company began as a supplier of deep hole drills and specialty machines to numerous firearms companies. In 1932, the company purchased the Hartford Arms and Equipment Company and began making .22 cal. pistols.

Development continued and significant sales of .22 cal. pistols were made to the U.S. Government, which trained hundreds of thousands of servicemen in World War II using

High Standard pistols. During the war, the company also produced thousands of .50 cal. machine guns and machine gun parts, in addition to various pistols for the military. By the 1950s, the High Standard .22 pistol was the gun of choice on the NRA pistol competition circuit.

After several new owners, High Standard Manufacturing Company, Inc. acquired the company assets and trademarks in 1993. Its Connecticut roots are continued with their National Parts Distributor, G.W. Elliott Inc., located in East Hartford, and Bob Shea from North Haven, working with their Custom Gun Shop. Learn more about the High Standard here.

Benelli MP90S
Benelli Arms is an Italian firearms manufacturer founded in 1967, best known for high quality shotguns. Benelli and Benelli USA have been owned by Beretta since 2000.

The entire Finnish military shooting team uses the MP90S. It employs a semi-automatic fixed barrel operation using the inertial, blowback system. The feed is through sequential loading with a 6-round magazine. Like most of these guns, the trigger is completely adjustable. The sights are of a square-section type, with fixed front sight and a rear sight with lateral and vertical adjustment. Learn more about the MP90S here.

Walther GSP
The Walther GSP, Gebrauchs Sport Pistole (Sport Pistol for Standard Use), is a single-action, precision target shooting pistol made in Germany by Walther Sportwaffen. It has the same technical base as the Walther OSP and thus is almost identical in outward appearance, albeit slightly longer and heavier than the OSP.

The GSP was introduced on the world market in 1968 and was chambered for .22 LR. The anatomical, adjustable walnut grips are also available, on order from Walther, for left-handed shooters. In 1988, Walther introduced a fully adjustable (for pull, stop, and angle) two-stage trigger that athletes could purchase as a retrofit option. Learn more about the GSP here.

Hämmerli 280
Introduced in the early 1980s, the 280 was discontinued in 1999. The 280 was, and still is a very good target handgun that established an excellent reputation for accuracy, handling and reliability.

However, even after the introduction of the 280, the Hämmerli 208 remained the choice of champions in Sport Pistol events because its weight and balance suited the female and junior shooters for whom that match was intended. Learn more about the 280 here.

Beretta Neos
Neos means “new” in Greek, and Beretta’s American design staff began with a clean sheet when drawing up this new line of .22 pistols. The Neos features a new design, modular construction that allows personalization and the flexibility for many shooting disciplines. Learn more about the Neos here.

Browning Buck Plus UDX
Since the Buck Mark was first introduced in 1985, fans favor the design as a natural pointer. The Buck Mark trigger is smooth and crisp, breaking slightly over 4 1/2 pounds. The Pro-Target rear sight is fully adjustable for windage and elevation. The heavier contour barrels on the Buck Mark feature a target crown. Learn more about the UDX here.

Feinwerkbau AW93
The AW93 (Altenburger & Westinger ‘93) is a descendant of the Soviet XP-86 Olympic gun designed by Haidurov, with Feinwerkbau re-engineered tolerances, improved finish, and a recoil-compensation mechanism.

The AW-93 uses a blowback design. Offered are two types of slide lock levers and two magazine follower knob sizes. Magazines with small follower knobs will not lock the slide back automatically. The other slide lock/release is a longer lever extending forward from above the trigger. Neither magazine will lock the slide back with this slide lock. This is the .22 cal. pistol that 12-time National Pistol Champion Brian Zins shoots. Learn more about the AW93 here.

All photos by Alex Sutherland.


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