When the time comes to train with a personal-defense firearm, particularly a handgun, basic marksmanship is just one part of the equation. In order to be competent and proficient, you must learn the mechanics, or what I like to call running the machine.
There is little doubt as I pen this article the cost and availability of ammunition for training and practice is a big concern for most people. The cost of several hundred rounds of centerfire handgun ammunition has to be taken into account along with the decision to enroll in professional training. Naturally, we want to train with the actual firearm we plan to use as a personal-defense tool, but feeding the beast can be an expensive proposition.
A Practical Solution
The .22 LR pistol has been a fantastic training tool for teaching new shooters for decades. I began my handgun shooting career with a Ruger Mark II pistol on loan from a friend. Introducing new shooters to marksmanship fundamentals with a .22 LR is a solid recommendation.
Unfortunately, when the time comes to learn to master the fundamental mechanics of a dynamic or fighting pistol, most standard .22 LR pistols don't quite fit the bill. Historically, few .22 LR handguns mimicked the standard fighting pistol to be used in practical training. The SIG Sauer Mosquito and Walther P22 were close, but not quite there. The requirements for a practical .22 LR pistol for training consist of identical or near-identical handling characteristics, to include all manual controls, the trigger and the ability to use existing duty holsters.
The introduction of the Smith & Wesson M&P22 pistol is one of the most significant events in the handgun training arena in recent years. The M&P22 pistol so closely replicates the duty-sized M&P9 and M&P40 pistols, the same duty and concealment holsters can used with each. From the standpoint of controls, the M&P22 pistol mimics the M&P9 with the exception of the added manual safety on the .22 LR version (though the M&P9 is also available with a manual thumb safety).
To put theory to the test, during the Student of the Gun University Fall Semester training, two young men, Mark and Don, went through the entire firearms training portion using M&P22 pistols. Mark used a Blackhawk Serpa holster and Don a Comp-Tac model, both of which were designed for the M&P9.
For three days, they ran all of the drills in the Pistol 101 and Ballistic Problem Solving course with only the .22-caliber pistols. The drills included pistol manipulation, malfunction clearing, holster/presentation drills and numerous live-fire exercises. At the end of the last day, the experiment was concluded to be a success, as both men showed dramatic improvement in all areas.
Any semi-automatic pistol needs high-velocity ammunition to run reliably. The loads ran through the M&P22s included Winchester Super-X and the CCI AR Tactical ammunition. The downside was we only had two magazines for each pistol, thus requiring more reloading time, but this problem is easy enough to remedy by picking up relatively inexpensive additional units.
Train, No Matter What
There's a difference in being a cheapskate and genuine frugality. If you can afford the cost of centerfire ammunition, you should indeed spend the money and use it during training. However, if the decision is to train with a rimfire replica now, or wait until next year and train with a centerfire pistol, my vote is to take the training now. Learn to master the mechanics of the gun and to run the machine. After the physical skill is developed while using a .22-caliber pistol, it can be easily transferred to other handguns.