By Massad Ayoob, Gun Digest
Introduced as an inexpensive plinker and woods gun, the High Standard Sentinal .22 revolver was ahead of its time with landmark revolver design features. Perhaps most important, it broke a more than half-century logjam of design stagnation. Unfairly tarnished with a “junk gun” image, it may be the best buy in a used handgun available today.
Shooting the Sentinel
In the hand, your typical Sentinel feels like a J-frame Smith & Wesson with semi-square grip frame, but with more weight forward. The double action trigger pull also resembles the J-frame Smith, with which it shares a coil mainspring and a short-stroke double action trigger pull. This made the DA pull necessarily heavy; a Sentinel may have as much as 12 to 14 pounds pull weight. However, it will be a smooth pull, and that’s the key to good double action shooting. In single action, the Sentinel series always offered a let-off so crisp it was virtually target grade.
The overwhelming majority of these guns are encountered with fixed sights. The rear sight sits in a dovetail that can be drifted for windage adjustment if the shooter is both adroit and gentle with a brass rod and a hammer. If the gun is not on for elevation, I’ve found it’s more likely to shoot high than low. While higher, rounder front sights were produced on the cowboy versions and the JC Higgins version made for Sears, Roebuck, the Sentinel is typically found with a graceful ramp that is too low rather than too high. The sight would have to be soldered up to make it higher, or a new one made. The latter would be easy to install, since that series of Sentinel front sight secured to the barrel with an Allen screw.
A swing-out cylinder that worked by pulling forward on the ejector rod was foreign to shooters of the time, though it was later widely copied by such firms as Charter Arms and RG. Unique to these new Sentinels – and uniquely irritating – was the fact that none of them had a spring loaded extractor rod like a Colt, a Smith or even a the swing-out H&R. The shooter would punch out the last nine empties, forget to manually pull the rod back forward, and attempt to close the cylinder. The result was a jarring collision of the protruding ejector star with the left side of the frame.
1-1/8-inch five-shot group from 25 yards with Remington Thunderbolt hunting ammo, fired with much-used Sentinal snubby. What looks at first like only four holes is in fact five, with the double more visible when examining exit holes on reverse side of target. Yes, the Sentinal is accurate.
As a result, virtually all of these guns unless they are unfired will have characteristic and distinctive scarring on the left side of the frame behind the cylinder window. There is no doubt that the minor production economy of not putting in the self-returning ejector rod, a standard feature with every other name brand swing-out revolver, contributed to the public’s impression of the Sentinel as a cheap gun. It was a time when “cheap” was often seen as a synonym for “junk.” High Standard finally realized that. The 2003 Standard Catalog of Firearms notes, “The Sentinel revolvers begin with the R-100 design series and continue through the R-109 series…beginning with the R-102 series the ejector had a spring return.” The fact that the majority of Sentinels and Double-Nines I’ve run across don’t have this feature tells me that consumer interest in the guns cooled fairly quickly. As the numeric model designations went up, sales were going precipitously downward.
Next, accuracy and shooting the Sentinel
These are surprisingly accurate revolvers. They don’t have the gilt-edged precision of your true target revolver, such as the S&W K-22 or the Colt Officer’s Model Match, but they’ll keep pace with the smaller frame S&W .22/32 Kit Gun or Colt’s rare lightweight .22 revolver in the Cobra series. A 2.5-inch group or better is par for the course at 25 yards, shooting off the bench. I’ve never put one in a Ransom Rest and don’t know if the machine rest people ever even made an insert for the High Standard .22 revolver. However, I’ve learned as a rule of thumb that if five hand-held shots from the bench look and feel to the shooter as if they’ve gone off perfectly, measuring the best three will factor out human error sufficiently to get a very good approximation of what the same handgun will do from the Ransom for all five shots. By that standard, a Sentinel that hasn’t been too battered over the years should be good for 1-to 1.5-inch potential accuracy. To achieve this, however, you want to experiment until you find the most compatible ammunition. Many technical tests in The Accurate Rifle and Precision Shooting attest to this fact in match grade .22 rifles, and it’s likewise true in recreational or target grade .22 rimfire handguns. Groups I shot with Remington .22 Long and Winchester .22 Long Rifle HP had stayed in the head of the International Practical Shooting Confederation target, but in disappointing four to five inch groups, when I shot my $75 Sentinel snubby. It was not until I switched to the Remington Thunderbolt that the five-shot group shrank to a magic inch and an eighth.
The Sentinel literally had a built-in grip adapter, to which Keith alluded in the first quote above. Interestingly, only Gaylord chose to fit a grip adapter to his Sentinels. Virtually every other specimen you see was left as is by its owner, testimony to a design that naturally fits the human hand.