This article, "Two for Half the Price," appeared originally as a Tech Wisdom column in the December 2017 issue of Shooting Illustrated. To subscribe to the magazine, visit the NRA membership page here and select Shooting Illustrated as your member magazine.
I like to shoot a lot. With the price of ammunition what it is, especially .45 ACP, I’m looking to lower my costs by buying a conversion kit or springing for the price of a new gun and shooting less-expensive .22 LR ammunition. I am mainly interested in target shooting, but also like to practice concealed-carry drills with my 1911. If I decide to go the conversion route, what are the pros or cons of fitting a .22 LR conversion kit to one of my centerfire pistols?
William Edwards Phoenix, AZ
Having a little experience in the design and development of .22 LR pistol conversion kits for various guns, I believe I can give you some worthwhile advice as to what to look for in converting one or more of your existing centerfire pistols to shoot less-expensive .22 LR ammo.
If economy is one of your most-prominent considerations, I recommend a conversion kit as opposed to buying a whole new gun. The price is usually less than half of a complete gun and the ease of swapping the components back and forth is little more than field stripping the pistol for regular maintenance.
I usually recommend buying a kit made by the manufacturer of the base gun, if possible and if it suits all the shooter’s needs. This is not to disparage those of aftermarket manufacturers, some of which are as good, or better, than the OEM products. However, others can be poorly made, causing the owner to spend more time trying to get it to work satisfactorily than using it for the originally intended purpose.
From a mechanical perspective the .22 LR pistol conversion kit, which usually consists of a slide, barrel, recoil spring with guide rod, ejector and magazine, has to fit the frame properly to function as expected. By following the instructions included with the kit, all parts should work smoothly as anticipated. If not, contact the manufacturer.
Typically, reliable function of .22 LR conversion kits merely requires cleaning and lubricating the unit as recommended by the manufacturer. Most of the common .22 LR ammo has a tendency to be dirty as a general rule, with carbon and bullet-lube buildup around the breechface and chamber areas, which will affect the cycle of operation if left unattended. Conversions with tight chambers, while more accurate, need regular attention to attenuate extraction problems.
In addition, most manufactures recommend a specific brand or type of ammunition to ensure reliability with their products. It would be wise to stick with their recommendations since they have put thousands of rounds downrange to validate what works and what doesn’t. Venture outside of those recommendations at your own risk. A good, broad-scoped guideline for most .22 LR conversion kits to ensure reliable function is to use high-velocity ammo manufactured by a reputable, name-brand company.
From a practical standpoint, only the more-expensive conversion kits will meet your needs. What’s missing with the majority of conversion kits on the market today is the slide locking rearward on the last shot. Though not a big deal, this deviates from the handling procedures of how your centerfire pistol works and may interfere with techniques like practicing an emergency reload. If economy is the goal, there are many drills that can be practiced without that feature.
Since most of the slides in the .22 LR pistol conversion kits are made of aluminum, the weight and balance of the pistol will be different, which may not matter, but should still be considered. The external dimensions of conversion kits are not always 100 percent accurate, which may make holster fit a concern, especially those who use a non-adjustable holster for their centerfire pistol.
Some conversion kits come with fixed sights. If accuracy and hitting various-size targets is a concern, opt for kits with adjustable sights. Variations in ammunition available today justifies the added versatility.
There are lots of considerations regarding the benefits of .22 LR pistol conversion kits for centerfire pistols; the largest being that you’ll have more trigger time without breaking the bank.