The Best Rimfire Handguns – Plinking and Beyond

in Handguns, Travis Pike

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Raise your digital hand if you learned to shoot on a .22LR? Now, keep your hand up if you still enjoy shooting the micro-sized .22LR in handguns and rifles. I’m betting a lot of hands are up. The .22LR rules. It’s small, cheap, and it has very little recoil. It’s a very popular training and plinking round and dominates the modern market. There are tons of great rimfire firearms out there, so today, let’s focus on rimfire handguns. 

Specifically, .22LR handguns. There are tons of great options out there, and I want to present five excellent options, but keep in mind I also want to present a diverse selection that represents everything .22LR handguns are good at. This list could be nothing but Ruger Mark series guns, but that’s a bit boring. 

Best Overall Rimfire Handgun – Ruger Mark IV 

The Ruger Mark series exemplifies the .22LR pistol. It’s one of the originals and arguably the gun that built Ruger. The Mark series is now in its fourth generation, and it seemingly only gets better. The Mark series is made up of a ton of different configurations. Hunting, Tactical, Competition, Standard, Target, and many more. They vary in barrel length and even grip design. The 22/45 variants use a 1911-like grip rather than the swept-back Ruger design. 

What these guns bring to the table is a very reliable semi-auto design. The only thing the Mark series does better than reliability is accuracy.

Ruger Mark iv
The Ruger Mk series are classic rimfire handguns

These are hole-punching guns that make producing tight groups very easy. They often dominate Bowling pin matches and Steel Challenge for a reason. 

Outside of being, accurate recoil feels more like a BB gun than an actual gun. The sights don’t move between shots, and moving between multiple shots or putting multiple shots on one target isn’t exceptionally difficult. The Ruger Mark series are excellent all-around guns for a variety of purposes. It’s easy to see why they make so many different models of the gun. If you only had one .22LR handgun, I would go with the Mark IV.

Best Defensive Pocket Pistol – Ruger LCP 2 

People often laugh at the idea of carrying a .22LR for concealed carry, but it can be a perfectly viable option if you plan it out correctly. Good, hard point ammo made for short barrels is the key to success, that and a small but reliable handgun. The LCP 2 .22LR Literack is a great pocket pistol for low-profile concealed carry. This ultra-small handgun is super lightweight and very easy to drop in your pocket and forget about. 

The LCP 2 in .22LR can also be a training option if you carry the same gun in .380 ACP. The gun holds ten rounds of .22LR in a very small magazine that sits nice and flush in the gun.

Ruger LCP 2
A 22LR for self-defense can be a viable option.

The Literack design makes it perfect for those with weaker hands, as does the very minimal recoil. Even the trigger is fairly impressive for a DAO pocket pistol. 

Admittedly, the all-black sights aren’t easy to see all the time. A touch from a paint pen makes the sights much easier to see and use. The little LCP 2 is surprisingly reliable. You don’t want to toss in subsonic ammo, but full-powered, preferably faster-moving ammo works perfectly. Even hotter bulk loads run reliably. The LCP 2 is a perfect dose of pint-sized power for pocket carry. 

Best Trainer – SIG P322 

The SIG P322 is a rather new option on the rimfire handgun market. It’s not based on the P320 or the P365, but something in between. In general, it’s a great stand-in for basically any modern pistol. The p322 uses 20-round magazines that bring the capacity up to meet 9mm handguns. Not all, but 20 replicates most slightly extended magazines. As you’d expect, the gun is hammer-fired, but the hammer is concealed and out of the way. 

Like any modern pistol, you can slap on a red dot, and the gun uses the Shield RMSc footprint, so you can use all manner of optics. There is a rail up front, so you can even train in low-light situations.

Sig p322 - Rimfire handgun
The P322 delivers awesome performance at a great price with tons of modern features

We even get a threaded barrel. Although it’s not obvious at first, there is an included adapter to make the threads match the standard 1/2×28 thread pitch. Heck, there is even a flat trigger shoe in the box.  

The P322 functions quite reliably, even with a red dot in place. The trigger is long but light, and the gun is very easy to control. The magazines are a bit finicky with how they are loaded, and I suggest using the included magazine loader. It’s not a perfect gun, but it’s a great trainer, and it’s affordable. The modern features and low price point take it over the top. 

Most Affordable – Heritage Rough Rider 

Speaking of affordability. If all you have is 99 dollars and a little patience, you can get a Heritage Rougher Rider during any major gun sale. Normal prices hover around 130 dollars or so for a bare-bones basic model. The Heritage Rough Rider is a single-action .22LR or .22 Magnum revolver. You can swap the cylinder to use standard or magnum rounds. 

The Heritage Rough Rider allows you to play cowboy and fire off your six shooter accurately with very little recoil. These rimfire handguns come in numerous size configurations, but even the smallest option is easy to shoot.

Heritage Rough Rider
For often less than 150 bucks you are getting a great gun.

The Heritage revolvers are quite accurate, except for the ‘boot’ model, because it doesn’t even have sights. With sights, you get a weapon with a solid single-action trigger that’s easy to shoot accurately. 

The Heritage Rough Rider’s single-action design ensures it’s reliable. If a round fails to ignite, just cock the hammer and fire the next one. There is no need to move into remedial action. Just go bang until the gun runs dry. The Heritage Rough Rider is a fun gun and is mostly a plinker, but it could be used for small-game hunting and pest control. The low price point makes it tough to leave off the list. 

Best Defensive Rimfire Revolver – S&W Model 43 

Let’s go back to the idea of using the .22LR for self-defense. There are lots of folks who’d prefer a revolver over an automatic for concealed carry, especially in .22LR. The rimfire nature of the .22LR makes it a little less reliable than a center-fire weapon. This makes a revolver attractive in case the round fails to fire. The S&W Model 43 provides you with a modern J-frame revolver, just in .22LR. 

The S&W Model 43 is an Air Lite revolver that packs eight rounds of .22LR in its tiny cylinder. That’s a good nose of bad guy repellent.

S&W Model 43
If you need a low recoil backup or even a main concealed carry firearm, the 43 delivers

The S&W 43 weighs a mere 12 ounces, making it only about an ounce heavier than the LCP 2 in .22LR. Super light revolvers typically suck to shoot due to recoil, but that’s not a problem here. The gun is exceptionally easy to shoot, even with a single hand. 

The S&W 43 has a concealed hammer and rounded edges, making it well-suited for deep concealment. What’s the downside? Well, the gun is expensive, costing more than double the LCP 2. Next, the trigger is a bit heavy, which is often done to provide a stronger hammer strike to ignite the rimfire rounds reliably. 

Ready Aim, Rimfire 

Rimfire handguns are a ton of fun. If your only goal is to have fun at the range, then any of these guns will fit the bill. If you need something more specific, hopefully, we’ve broken it down to provide you with plenty of options for the variety of roles a .22LR can fill. What are your favorite rimfire handguns, and what purpose do they serve you? 

Let us know below! 

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  • Grumpy 49 December 4, 2023, 9:50 pm

    In my earlier comment, I spoke about 22LR handguns no longer made. I preferred using my HIGH STANDARD with Federal 22LR HP ammo back in the day because I could shoot it better than the S&W model 41 using approved (target) ammo. Lucked out that I could use my HIGH STANDARD until someone found out I was using Hollow Points. (Match rules don’t allow using Hollow Points.) Latter switched to the RUGER Mk II because it was accurate with the approved match style ammo. Best 22LR handgun is also dependent on finding what brand/type ammo it prefers. Back in the day, one could buy a number of different boxes of 22LR ammo, and then find which 22LR brand/type worked best. What I think is the best 22LR handgun may never be the same one you think is best. However, the fun part is reading everyone’s different opinions and experiences with what they feel is the “best” 22LR handgun. Just please don’t try to claim the JENNINGS J-22 is one of the best!

  • Grumpy 49 November 24, 2023, 12:39 pm

    When it comes to 22 rimfire handguns, everyone has their opinion as to which is the better one. Several of the “Classic” 22 handguns are no longer made, but in their day were considered the “best”. Now, with modern manufacturing technology, any 22 handgun can be the equal to those Classics. I think my HIGH STANDARD is the equal to my RUGER Mk II, because of how it fits my hand. Is the HIGH STANDARD better than the RUGER??? SO – What 22 handgun is your personal favorite?

    • Steve December 4, 2023, 3:28 pm

      Smith and Wesson model 41!

  • Doug November 24, 2023, 11:45 am

    I’ll take my 6″ S&W K-22 over any of these guns for target shooting. It’s 100% reliable, deadly accurate and drop dead beautiful. I will say though, for a pocket pistol I do love my LCP Ruger .380. I have the newer version with the 10 round capacity and though I’d prefer to carry my .45 because I know .380 lacks stopping power, my bad back won’t let me right now. I’m working on that though. I figure carrying the .380 is certainly better than nothing, but I’d certainly not want to be on the receiving end of the Hornady self-defense loads I have it stoked with, either. Very accurate at short range and extremely reliable.

  • theburg2014 November 24, 2023, 7:41 am

    Travis, I beg to differ w/your best overall. 22LR handgun. It’s not the Ruger Mark IV. It’s the S&W SW-22 Victory. I own both & IMHO the 2 SW-22’s out preform my 2 IV’s

  • DL George November 20, 2023, 9:25 pm

    How is it that the taurus tx-22 was not mentioned. The tx-22 is the most reliable 22 I have owned. Makes my 10/22 look bad. Feeds every type of ammo. faster than one can manipulate the trigger. ?

    • LINKAVITCH November 22, 2023, 1:51 pm

      How are you comparing the TX-22 to the 10/22? That’s an apples vs garage doors comparison. Completely different guns.

  • Mike in a Truck November 20, 2023, 3:15 pm

    Notice the large cylinder window on that S&W 43 and the barrel extension to accommodate it. That’s because its built on the 357 magnum size frame as are all J frames for quite awhile now. I have the S&W 351PD in 22 magum.All summer it was my constant companion while working on the tractor on my property. Shoulder holsters arnt dead. I carried that little revolver in a Galco horizontal rig. A handgun on ones waist gets old very fast when doing physical labor.

  • Scott Smith November 20, 2023, 2:56 pm

    The Ruger Single Six in a stainless convertible should be at the top of the list IMO.
    The Glock 44 runs exactly like the centerfires and makes for a great trainer.
    Thank you for the article.

  • Dennis November 20, 2023, 2:05 pm

    On 22LR handguns, I’m unsure why you chose the S&W 43 revolver over the LCR which has a much smoother trigger and is otherwise equal or better. Possibly because you already chose the LCP2 and Mark 5 for inclusion? A mistake with that one, in my judgement, but I enjoyed the article.

  • Mario November 20, 2023, 10:19 am

    The High Standard Sentinel is an overlooked, affordable option. For the money, it’s a better revolver than the Rough Rider.

    • LINKAVITCH November 22, 2023, 1:53 pm

      I was pleasantly surprised by the Ruger Wrangler. Compared to the Single Six, I felt it was a great value for the money.

  • Bill November 20, 2023, 9:29 am

    In tests a few years ago, Browning Buckmarks were slightly more accurate than the Ruger. I have many 22s and prefer Walther and the Colts & Walthers made by Umarex in Germany. Agree that the Heritage made by Taurus is a good deal for a very reliable, accurate rimfire. Just my opinion.

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