By David Higginbotham
Browning Arms Company
What happens when you shrink a 1911 down to 85% of its original size and optimize the new gun to fire .22LR? What once was a serious fighting tool becomes a stellar fun-gun. Not to take anything away from Browning’s new rimfire series. These are capable, accurate pistols. Yet there’s something novel about shooting a small 1911. It makes me smile. So how did they manage to produce such a spot-on homage, and how does the 1911-22 line stack up with the rest of the rimfires?
Let’s start with the obvious technical mastery. Arriving at a model wasn’t as hard as it could have been for Browning, thanks to computer modeling. Still, the design team prototyped several sizes to insure that they had a consensus about a just-right-size. Steel would have been overkill for a rimfire, so the frame is made of an alloy. The slide is machined from aluminum. The two are finished in a phosphate that echoes the look of the martial 1911s of years past.
Inside, the blued steel barrel sits in a stainless block. To protect the rifling, the barrel has what Browning refers to as its Target Crown, which is a recess at the end that leaves a protective lip (or crown) around the end of the barrel. The 1911-22 A1 has a barrel that’s 4.25 inches. The gun is just 7.125 inches. It weighs in at 15 ounces. This mirrors the later A1s, and even has an arched mainspring housing.
The Compact model’s barrel is just over 3.625 inches long. The whole pistol is just 6.5 inches overall, and it looks more like a Commander-sized replica. It takes down and cleans up just like a 1911. The parts are all analogous, down to the (plastic) guide rod. The spring tension is tight, and the smaller tolerances make it harder to manipulate. Perhaps if my fingers were 15% smaller, I wouldn’t feel so oafish. It feels like I’m trying to take down a 1911 while wearing winter gloves.
Magazines are steel and plastic and similar in construction to the mags currently in use with the Buckmark line. It is a solid, spring-fed design that feeds reliably and is easy to load. They do like to be kept clean, though, so insure that that is part of your process. If not, they get a bit sticky. This doesn’t mean that they jam, but they get harder to load.
The 1911 has some standard safety features. Both the A1 and the Compact have right-handed safeties. In addition, they have grip safeties. They will not fire when the magazine is not in the gun.
The sights on these two are also an homage to the original 1911s. The front is less of a traditional steel blade. It is polymer and angular. The rear sights are black with a micro notch that can be challenging in low-light situations. Even in full light, the sights are functional but not ideal. Yet this is a tribute, of sorts. If you want more versatile sights, the other models of the 1911-22 have other options.
The Browning 1911-22 is scaled down by a thin 15%, yet the size is what defines it. The pistol is a rimfire, obviously, and the smaller round performs exceptionally well in the gun.
Shooting the 1911-22 couldn’t have been any more enjoyable. The longer of the two was exceptionally accurate. There is almost no muzzle rise. The pistol snaps back, but the weight of it helps hold it in place. The trigger breaks are clean and very 1911-like. The A1 broke at 5 pounds, even. The Compact broke at 4.25 pounds. Clearly it isn’t an exacting science, or a match grade trigger, but they were both functional.
We ran several flavors of .22 through the 1911-22s. Everything worked well. High-velocity CCI Minimags were the best for the long-range accuracy, but even the subsonic rounds fed and ejected well. This is a helpful feature, as .22LR is still inexplicably scarce. Even with the wide fluctuation in fps between the top end and the subsonic, the blowback action worked perfectly.
The targets for this review show some of what the 1011-22 line is capable of. I want to be clear about the intended use of these guns. They’re plinkers. These are fun guns. There’s no need pretending that they’re meant for competition. The accuracy they are capable of is admirable. Look at the target strings. We were shooting from close distances, anywhere from 10 to 25 yards, but the ragged groups are respectable. And the guns are capable of really reaching out. At one range session, we were hiding from a driving spring rain, and I took aim at a 12-inch steel torso more than 70 yards out. I missed the first three rounds, and one of the last ones, but dropped six on the plate. And I could repeat that magazine after magazine. 70 yards. With a 3 inch .22LR. In the rain. This is a fun gun.
After determining that the guns worked, we tortured them a bit. We ran them without any lubrication, and later in the pouring rain. We dropped it in the mud at the range, rinsed it in a gutter, and kept on shooting. When I finally broke it down, it was in bad need of a good cleaning, but the gun never faltered. Once cleaned and greased up, the guns look like it did out of the box.
The only aspect of the design that I don’t favor (though I completely understand it) is the magazine disconnect. The 1911-22 won’t fire if the magazine isn’t in the gun. It is a safety feature, I’m told. When I’m locking up my single actions, I will drop the mag, rack the gun a couple of times to make sure it is clear, point the gun in a safe direction and pull the trigger one last time. I’ll get used to the disconnect, I guess.
More on the philosophy
Here’s an amusing anecdote. When I was at the range, zipping little bits of lead against a steel plate that was almost completely obscured by the front site of the 1911 22, I could see that my cameraman was getting agitated. We’d been shooting for a couple of hours, but he was getting visibly miffed.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“It isn’t fair!” he said. “That gun is perfect. It is the perfect gun to teach a kid how to really shoot.” He picked up the A1, lined up on the plate at 70 yards, and pulled the trigger. Pop. Pause. Ping. “Now there are going to be generations of shooters who learn on single actions.”
I knew what he meant. He’s not a single action man. He can run a 1911 like a champ, but there’s a polymer framed pistol on his belt. He is very brand loyal, and yet there’s not a scaled down polymer trainer available from Austria.
Let’s go back a bit. I learned how to shoot with a Savage Model 101, which is a diminutive Peacemaker copy. Though it looks like a revolver, it isn’t. It is a single shot. As such, I consider it one of the absolute best handguns for teaching kids some basic handgun skills. It is dedicated single shot, which cuts out that much more potential for error. When my son’s ready to shoot handguns, he’ll start with the Savage. I’ll follow it up with a 1911-22. No question. When he’s ready to learn how a pistol works, this is where he’ll start. Talk about cornering the market.
Yet, even though it is small, it is not so small that you can’t get a good grip on the pistol. It fits in my oversized mitts quite nicely. Not as well as a nice single stack 1911 with thin grips, but close enough. I feel a bit larger than life when I’m holding the Brownings, like the gun is actual size and I’ve inexplicably grown. That said, the feeling wears off quickly. After a magazine or two, I stopped thinking about the novelty of the gun’s size and began shooting. Once I began hitting what I was aiming at, I forgot all about the teaching potential. It was just like any other gun.
Browning debuted with a traditional 1911-22. The A1 model will be instantly recognizable. As interest in the gun has grown, so has the available product line. They now offer models that are tricked out like more custom 1911s (with skeletonized hammers and beaver tailed safeties). They have recently launched a polymer-framed version that is even lighter than the originals. It shaves off a whole ounce, and comes in a desert tan.
There are a lot of really good rimfire pistols these days. The prices on these range from $599 to $669 (if you want a slick version, with a rail). As all of us who want one get one, the prices should settle in a bit lower. I’d expected them to come in a bit lower than this.
How will the 1911-22 do in the market? We can only watch and see. There’s a sweet spot in the .22 market that is decidedly less than $600. While many of us will pony up for a 1911 that’s made in America, we (most of us) seem to be less picky about the national origins of our rimfires. Yet the Buckmark, which is an exceptional gun, is holding steady in this price bracket. And there are other American-made guns that have carved out a niche with similar pricing.
In the end, I think this pistol will appeal to a wide variety of shooters. It would make a fine teaching tool. It is a fantastic bit of nostalgia for 1911 fans. With a decent load in the gun, there will be some who would say it could make a passable carry gun for someone with arthritic hands. I think it is a good candidate for either a toolbox or a tackle box. Since I received these two in for review, I’ve shown them off to all of my local shooting friends. Two have already placed orders. They pick them up. They look down the sights and pull the trigger. The smile widens. That right there is just about as honest as a review can get.