.22 Training Pistols: Pros & Cons

by Todd Louis Green

Using a .22lr pistol as a training aid is nothing new. Conversion kits for 1911-pattern guns have been around for a very long time. In the revolver world, rimfire equivalents to full size duty guns go back even further. A major resurgence of .22 training has come about in response to the 2009 ammunition shortage. SIG-Sauer and other companies now offer factory OEM conversion kits for their most popular pistols. Other companies opt for a dedicated training gun like the upcoming  S&W M&P pistol in .22lr or the well established Ruger 22/45.

The twenty-two can certainly be a beneficial tool. A .22 pistol eliminates most of the recoil and blast that can be so intimidating to beginners. For more experienced shooters, the substantially lower price of .22lr ammunition often provides the means for more live fire practice than one might be able to afford with centerfire 9mm, .45 Auto, etc. There are also times and places where a .22 — especially a suppressed .22 — can be used but larger, more powerful, louder pistols might not.

The important thing to keep in mind when practicing with a .22-cal equivalent to your normal pistol is that the .22 has essentially no recoil. Ten year old children can easily tame the kick and muzzle rise of most .22lr pistols. From a training perspective, what this means is that the .22 is not suitable for any training that focuses on the speed of firing multiple shots at a single target. Do not trick yourself into believing otherwise.

Far too many people sacrifice grip and proper sight tracking while simply going spasmodic on the trigger of a twenty-two. Then they falsely believe they can shoot a serious duty or carry gun faster, as well. Instead, that person has started to form bad habits that will actually diminish his speed when handling a centerfire pistol.

Skills you can work on effectively with a .22 equivalent to your normal pistol:

  • marksmanship
  • strong- and weak-hand only shooting
  • draw stroke
  • reloads
  • transitions
  • judgmental shooting
  • shooting on the move… With SOM, the line between good .22 training and bad .22 training is definitely easy to cross. But like transition drills, SOM training can benefit from a .22 in terms of learning how to move your feet and position your body for a stable shooting platform on the move.

Skills you should not practice with a .22lr handgun:

  • recoil management
  • sight tracking
  • rapid multiple shots on a single target
  • failure drills

Also, the more similarity between your .22 trainer and your standard pistol the more beneficial certain drills will be. While you can get marksmanship benefit from shooting almost anything, having the same trigger system and sights (or better yet, the same identical trigger and sights) will obviously translate into more direct skill building. A heel magazine release and single stack magazine is not giving you 1:1 benefit for your button release double stack pistol reloads. Malfunction clearances with an Advantage Arms .22 conversion kit will be more helpful than doing similar drills with a Ruger 22/45. And so on.

A .22lr training pistol can be an effective and economical way to practice many handgun fundamentals, but misused it can also lead to a very false sense of proficiency. By keeping in mind what a .22 can and cannot mimic, both the beginner and the dedicated shooter can wring real benefits from a sub-caliber practice pistol.

About the author: Todd Louis Green has worked in the firearms industry since 1998, including instructing for the NRA Range, Beretta, and SIG-Sauer. He has over 1,000 hours of formal firearms and combatives training. A 3-time “Advanced” rated shooter at Rogers Shooting School, Todd is also a graduate of the NRA Tactical Pistol Instructor Development program and a 3 division Master-ranked IDPA competitor. Todd is a certified Beretta, Glock, Heckler & Koch, SIG-Sauer, and Smith & Wesson armorer; certified Simunition force-on-force instructor; and certified Emergency First Responder. He is a long time member of IALEFI, IDPA, and USPSA.