Guns and Gear

Classic Plinkers: The Smith & Wesson K-Frame .22s

Mike Piccione Editor, Guns & Gear
Font Size:

Most, if not all of our readers know what a “plinker” is. For those who are recently-joined members of the shooting sports family (and welcome, by the way) a plinker refers to a handgun, typically chambered in .22 caliber, and mostly used for informal recreational shooting, such as at tin cans for instance, which make a “plink” sound when hit (hence the name “plinker”). There are many varieties of handguns out there that make good plinkers, and this series of articles will take a look at some of the most popular .22s among them. 

Some of the best-known plinkers are various Smith & Wesson .22 revolvers. Among these is a revolver design that was originally introduced as the “K-22”. Built on a frame (the “K Frame”) originally designed and sized for .38 caliber cartridges, the K-22s are mild shooters and consistently accurate, as well as very durable.

Starting in 1949, these K-frame 22s were catalogued in two distinct styles. One was offered for target shooting and small-game hunting. Sporting a 6″ barrel and a Patridge-style front sight, it was called the “K-22 Target Masterpiece”. The other variant was equipped with a 4″ barrel and a Baughman front sight, and called the “K-22 Combat Masterpiece”. With Smith & Wesson’s changeover to model numbers in 1957, these became the “Model 17” and “Model 18”, respectively.

The actions on K and N frame Smith & Wessons, particularly older examples, have some of the smoothest and most consistent out-of-the-box trigger pulls ever made. This lends accuracy to the K-22 series, and makes them a pleasure to shoot. I recently had the opportunity to shoot a 1955-vintage K-22 Target Masterpiece just like the one illustrated, and it is one of the best .22 revolvers I’ve ever fired.

The K-22 has a six-round cylinder, and comes with a rear sight that is screwdriver-adjustable for both windage and elevation. The rear sight notch is rectangular, and the front sight blade, a Patridge type (on the Target Masterpiece) perfectly fills the rear sight notch and makes sight acquisition and alignment easy to accomplish, even with older eyes like mine. The single-action trigger pull is the kind for which Smith & Wesson was justly famous; it breaks cleanly and crisply with no creep, and contributes to consistent accuracy. As with all older K frames, the double-action pull is of very manageable weight, and has two smooth and distinct stages.

With the weight and size of the K frame, the weight of the cylinder and six-inch barrel, and the generous, hand-filling grips, the K-22 proved to be easy to shoot. It exhibited very mild recoil that allowed for rapid and accurate follow-up shots. This is a revolver with which even an inexperienced shooter can make a tin can dance. At the range, I fired 120 rounds at fifty feet using a mix of loads ranging from Federal and Winchester bulk pack ammo, to Eley target loads, to CCI Stingers and Mini-Mags. All were fired unrested, two-handed and in both single action and double action. The results were consistent, with the Eley Tenex and CCI Stingers producing the best groups, including a number of overlapping hits.

Older K-22s and Model 17s are prized by collectors, and are typically priced accordingly, but there are very few .22 revolvers that surpass them in quality. A “shooter” grade K-22 will run in the $400 – $600 range, but if well cared for, it will give several lifetimes of accurate and dependable shooting service.

1955 Smith & Wesson K-22 Target Masterpiece, Image courtesy of Old Town Station, Ltd. / and Dan Kull. Used with permission.