Review: The S&W M&P .22 Magnum

by Tommy Grant

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The newest Smith & Wesson pistol in the Military & Police (M&P) line-up is the most unique. The pistol chambers the .22 Magnum cartridge. It is old hat these days to test a reliable .22 Long Rifle. Dirty powder and heel-based bullets aside the M&P .22 KelTec P 17 and Taurus TX 22 run fine. The .22 Magnum has been mastered as well. Smith & Wesson has created a fun gun of the first order. As a plinker, small-game hunter and perhaps even a self-defense piece this is an interesting handgun.

But first a few words on the cartridge. The .22 Magnum is more reliable than the .22 Long Rifle by design. The magnum features a jacketed bullet crimped in place, while the .22 LR is heel crimped. This means the bullet is simply pressed into the case. Self-loading firearms did not exist when the .22 LR was invented. While we have whipped reliability concerns with the .22 LR for the most part, the .22 Magnum is the more reliable cartridge. Cartridge integrity is superior. Rimfire cartridges will never be as reliable as a centerfire cartridge. All of us experience a misfire or two or three in a brick of 500 cartridges, sometimes more. Although quality control seems to be getting better all the time from the old days.

A group of friends and I fired 1,600 cartridges from three different handguns—three brands of ammunition—and did not experience a single failure of any type. That has to be something of a record. The .22 Magnum also seems more ignition reliable than the .22 LR. I have to confess my surprise at the performance and reliability of modern .22 Magnum ammunition with the 30-, 40- and 45-grain loads all provided solid performance. I have always preferred 40-grain loads, and I must admit, my education grew with this test. It is good even for us older guys to broaden our horizons.

S&W M&P .22 Magnum 02

The S&W M&P .22 Magnum may be the most reliable .22 Mag. self-loading pistols yet. A common problem in most early generation semi-auto .22 Magnums occurred in feeding follow-up rounds. Quite simply, due to the length of the cartridge and its narrow circumference, the rounds tended to jam when cycling. Today, most .22 Magnum pistols such as the KelTec and Walther versions use a type of recoil retarding action. The S&W pistol uses a Tempo barrel of a similar design for the company’s 5.7 x 28mm handgun. The two-piece barrel is actually a barrel within a sleeve. Gas is bled off the barrel near the muzzle. The barrel remains locked until the bullet exits the barrel. A neat trick is a rotating barrel. Rotation is not as sharp an angle such as on the Beretta Storm but it rotates. Not only does the Tempo system improve reliability by gas operation, but the rotating bolt applies torque to the cartridge case to free the case from the chamber and eject it. The system seems to run relatively clean.

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The pistol is a polymer frame handgun with a nicely textured grip and an accessory rail for mounting combat lights. The pistol isn’t striker fired; it is hammer fired. The trigger features a safety lever in modern fashion, and the controls, including the safety, are ambidextrous with a slide lock and safety levers well suited to right- or left-hand shooters. Overall, with a trigger action breaking at 4.0 pounds, the trigger pulled clean for a rimfire pistol, which added to the pistol’s accuracy potential.

The weight of the gun is comfortable to hold or to carry at only 22 ounces unloaded, while the overall size of the pistol stretches out a full 8.4 inches and is 5.9 inches tall with a width of 1.14 inches. The barrel is 4.35 inch long. This is a good barrel length for a balance of compactness and performance.

The slide is black-coated stainless steel so corrosion should not be an issue. Other features include a fiber-optic front sight and notch rear sight that are well-suited to shooting chores. A red dot can be easily mounted if desired.

S&W M&P .22 Magnum 4

A well-designed magazine is at the heart of a pistol, and this one doesn’t disappoint as it comes with two 30-round magazines. Loading the magazines isn’t difficult at all. I usually loaded 25 in each magazine, because I was using 50 round ammo boxes.

One point to consider is that some brands of ammunition are not recommended for an auto-loading .22 Magnum. I recommend CCI MaxiMag for reliable function. I have fired other loads with good results in both the KelTec pistol and CZ autoloading rifle. The problem if you’re going to have one appears to be the occasional hang up of a case that has been dented. Evidently the cartridge cases on some other brands are not as thick as the CCI loads. Other loads are not dangerous, they simply may not feed as consistently as optimal. The hot little .22 Magnum S&W ate up “off brand” loads although I had a couple of Fiocchi cases take a big dent and cause a jam. Ultimately, use what the maker recommends if anything. If you find a good deal on cheap .22 Magnum rounds—I am still looking—it will be fine for plinking though you can expect the occasional jam; at least in this handgun.

I experienced exactly two short cycles during the entire test. The slide failed to fully close twice in the first magazine. I will write this off to break-in short cycles.  Other than the thin case tie-ups attributed to the ammunition that was the only malfunction I experienced. The Smith & Wesson ran through every round of .22 Magnum in the house, 250 cartridges, and then I patiently waited for FedEx to deliver more.

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This is a fun gun that I enjoyed firing. Emptying a magazine into a target or taking aim for range debris at long range, the pistol never failed to disappoint. You should be able to take out small game and varmints handily and quickly. As for absolute accuracy, I got around to that as well.

Firing from an MTM Caseguard K-Zone shooting rest, I settled into gauge the pistol’s precision. (It is my favorite all plastic rest—suitable for both rifles and pistols.) A good trigger, good sights and good ammunition are advantages. I suppose a few decades of shooting skill first taking instruction and then becoming a certified instructor added up as well for I managed to shoot a couple of 2-inch groups with the CCI 40 grain loads and a very nice 1.8-inch group with Federal Punch ammunition designed for personal defense were the payoff. Bench rest testing doesn’t mean as much in a personal defense scenario, however. For a small game gun, however, it means a great deal and the pistol is accurate enough to fill that role. The M&P22Magnum will prove a fine small game pistol and pest popper.

I wish .22 Magnum ammo didn’t cost as much as 9mm rounds, but it does and you can burn through it quickly with the 30-round magazines that make plinking so much fun. As for personal defense, many carry adherents will take a pass on a round as small as the .22 Mag., though the ability to control your shots, the generally compact size of the gun and the penetration it is still capable of delivering make it certainly an acceptable option to carry for some people. That is a decision each of you will need to make. All in all, the Smith & Wesson M&P .22 Magnum is a useful handgun for many chores big and small.

Smith & Wesson M&P22 Magnum

  • Type: Internal hammer-fired semiauto
  • Cartridge: .22 WMR
  • Capacity: 30
  • Barrel: 4.35 in.
  • Overall Length: 8.4 in.
  • Width: 1.3 in.
  • Height: 5.9 in.
  • Weight: 22 oz.
  • Finish: Black Armornite
  • Sights: Adjustable rear notch, fiber optic dovetail front, optics cut
  • Trigger Compression 3.0 pounds
  • Contact: Smith & Wesson, (800) 331-0852, smith-wesson.com

 

Velocity readings

CCI 40 grain JHP                                  1430 fps

CCI 40 grain FMJ                                 1390 fps

CCI 30 grain Maxi Mag TNT                 1630 fps

Federal 45 grain Punch                       1350 fps

 

Ratings

Fit and Finish ***** Comments: Excellent!

Reliability ***** Comments: I had an issue with off-brand ammo and a break-in malfunction. The pistol will run CCI, Federal, and Hornady flawlessly.

Concealment ***** Comments: This is a very nice sized gun if you wish to carry a .22 Magnum.

Accuracy ***** Comments: The .22 Magnum may not be designed specifically as a “target” gun, but it shoots like one.

Overall ***** Comments: This should really sit at 4.5 stars, but in the end is a lot of fun to shoot, and you should have one.

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