by Richard Mann - Thursday, October 28, 2010
The first thing to get your attention when you look at the Walther SP22 M1 will likely be the cocking levers on each side of the forward part of the slide/barrel housing. The housing will be the second thing that piques your interest. Unlike most semi-automatic pistols, where slide operation occurs externally, the slide on the SP22 is contained inside an aluminum housing. Externally, the right and left cocking levers are all that move.
The fact there is no slide movement over the web of the shooting hand is a good thing for teaching new shooters, who often like to wrap both thumbs around the rear of the grip. On the other hand, if you typically shoot with both thumbs forward, the cocking lever can tap your thumb during recoil. This is not painful and after it tapped my left thumb twice I remembered to bend it slightly down along the contour of the grip when shooting.
The cocking levers may initially be distracting and that is exactly what a friend thought when I asked him to shoot the SP22. While they may complicate holstering, they do simplify operation of the slide when chambering a round from a new magazine or when clearing the handgun. They also make the slide very easy to operate from the underside with your non-shooting hand. After firing 100 rounds, my friend commented that the external cocking levers were functional and convenient. The SP22's internal slide locks to the rear after the last round is fired but there is no independent slide lock on the pistol.
The third thing I found unusual about the SP22 was the location and operation of the safety. It is positioned directly above the trigger and easily disengaged with the trigger finger and engaged with the thumb of the non-shooting hand if you're a right-handed shooter. It is a bit unorthodox, but very easy to operate.
Aside from these unique and apparent differences, further inspection reveals the frame is just as uncommon. The grip can be removed and replaced with a smaller, junior-sized grip or an adjustable, wooden, match grip. The versatility is made possible because of the all-steel, internal frame onto which the grip is attached via a roll pin.
The magazine catch, located at the bottom rear of the grip, is pushed to the rear to release the magazine. The SP22 magazines do not drop free. If you like being able to "lock" your gun, behind the magazine release there is a hole where a key, supplied with each pistol, can be inserted and turned to lock the hammer, disabling the firearm.
As far as features that are more conventional, the SP22 has a loaded-chamber and cocked-hammer indicator and comes with two, 10-round magazines. It also has a fully adjustable rear sight but getting back to the unique theme, the triangular front sight can be rotated to one of three positions allowing the shooter to control the visible width of the sight.
With the help of a friend, a total of 350 rounds were fired through the Walther SP22 M1. There was only one malfunction and it was due to the cocking lever impacting my left thumb and preventing full cycle of the slide. This occurred during the first magazine. In addition to accuracy testing, I dumped several magazines as fast as I could pull the trigger—the SP22 ran perfectly. Two of those magazines were a mixture of ammunition including high velocity, standard velocity and sub-sonic.
Shooting results from the ammunition that performed best doesn't tell the entire story. I fired three groups with Wolf Match Target ammunition that measured under an inch at 25 yards. A single flyer in each of the other two groups opened them to more than two inches, but I'll take credit for those. The average for 25 groups fired at 25 yards with five different loads was less than two inches. Aside from the "Glocky," striker-fired trigger system it seems all new handguns are going to, I liked the SP22 M1. I even began to like the trigger after 200 rounds or so.
There are four basic models of the Walther SP22 pistol; the M1 version (tested) comes with a 4-inch standard barrel, the M2 version has a 6-inch standard barrel and the M3 and M4 models have 6-inch match-grade barrels, an adjustable match trigger and quick-release magazine catch. Models M1, M2 and M3 have the Hi-Grip—a medium-sized polymer grip—while the M4 comes with the adjustable, shaped, wooden match grip with hand support.
An almost endless variety of options are available for the SP 22. You can convert the M1 version to a M2 and you can install top and bottom Picatinny rails on the barrel housing. A variable-weight Picatinny rail can be installed that can hold a laser. The upper rail will accept a Nano Point Red Dot sight or a 2x20 mm scope. There's an optional, quick-release magazine catch, a rear Truglo sight and three different grips. All are available directly from Walther, and the tools necessary for their installation are supplied with each handgun.
Considering how well the Walther SP22 M1 shoots, its modular construction and the wide array of available options and accessories, this may be one of, if not the most versatile .22 LR pistol available. Rimfire handguns are usually used for target shooting, hunting, training new shooters and plinking fun. With this one's design and accuracy, however, it shouldn't be long until it finds its way to the firing line in competitions. The SP22 M1 in its standard configuration, with or without the addition of one or more of the available accessories, should do a good job at any of these tasks.
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