Trigger time builds skill. Live fire requires ammo. Cheaper ammo allows for more skill-building practice. Ergo, the rationale of what the great gun writer Jan Stevenson called “understudy guns”: firearms that work the same as a large-caliber service handgun but are chambered for the .22 LR.

One of the best of these is part of the Smith & Wesson Military & Police series, the semi-auto M&P22. The original model had a 4.1-inch barrel and a proportionally sized frame. I tested one for a gun magazine and liked it so much that I bought the test sample to keep. Smith & Wesson recently introduced the M&P22 Compact, a smaller version. I recently hit the range to test the M&P22 Compact, compare its design against the full-sized M&P22 and figure what this new model might do for you.

Hands On

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The M&P22 Compact is very similar to its centerfire brethren in terms of design and operation. The trigger feels like a larger M&P’s, but the Compact comes with both an ambidextrous thumb safety as well as a magazine disconnect.

Most firearms tested in gun magazines come directly from manufacturers, and there is always the suspicion in the minds of some that these are special, slicked-up specimens designed to impress the gun writers. The M&P22 Compact I tested here was privately purchased by my friend and shooting buddy Allen Davis from the ProArms Gun Shop in Live Oak, Florida.

The M&P22 Compact features a 3.56-inch barrel that is threaded, because sound suppressors are enjoying a new renaissance, weighs 15.9 ounces with its aluminum slide (almost 9 ounces lighter than the full-sized M&P22) and has a shorter butt. Unlike the larger version of the M&P22, the Compact’s slide stop lever is on the left side only. It does not have the interchangeable backstraps of the centerfire M&P series, and its grip frame is roughly comparable to the smallest of the larger-caliber models.

The magazines have the spring-depressing button on the left side, instead of the usual right. This seems to discombobulate some shooters, but really, all we have to do is turn the magazine so the bullet noses are up when the cartridges go in, and it works fine. The larger M&P22 is designed around a 12-round magazine, with a specific “California-compliant” SKU available that includes 10-round magazines and a non-threaded barrel. This M&P22 Compact is sized properly for the three 10-round magazines it came with.

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The full-sized M&P22s are produced for S&W by Walther in Germany and will be for the foreseeable future, I’m told. Those models carry a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $419. The M&P22 Compacts are made right here in the U.S.A., at S&W’s Springfield, Massachusetts, plant and carry an MSRP of $389.

Standard centerfire M&P pistols can be had with ambidextrous manual safeties, or with magazine disconnector safeties, or with none of the above, but not with both. The M&P22s differ here: At this time they come in only one flavor, and that is with a manual safety and a magazine disconnector that prevents a chambered round from being fired if the magazine is not seated fully into the pistol.

Because the .22 LR versions have their barrels affixed to the frame, the takedown process is not the same as with a centerfire M&P. Moreover, the disassembly/reassembly procedure is slightly different between the standard and compact versions of the M&P22. We hate to violate the testosterone code, but fellas, read the owner’s manual!

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While standard centerfire M&P pistols come with fixed sights, Smith & Wesson outfits the M&P22 Compact with a white-dot front sight and an adjustable, two-dot rear sight. Shooters can adjust the rear sight for windage with the provided Allen wrench.

The trigger pull is very much in line with Smith & Wesson’s other M&P semi-autos. The trigger reach is short enough for small fingers. An average adult male hand will, if the barrel of the M&P22 is in line with the long bones of the forearm, contact the trigger at the distal joint of the index finger. This is the sweet spot that double-action revolver shooters call “the power crease,” and it gives tremendous leverage—and therefore, very good control—to the shooter.

The two-piece trigger of this pistol allows it to be fired even if pressure is applied only to the very edge of the trigger, as opposed to the triggers of some other striker-fired guns that must be pressed from the center to activate the trigger safety. Using a Lyman digital trigger pull gauge, my M&P22 Compact’s trigger pull weighed an average of 8.8 pounds. The trigger has a long, light take-up followed by a short, smooth “roll” of firm resistance, with a clean break and a relatively short and fast trigger reset.

Your standard M&P pistols come with fixed sights. Those on the M&P22 Compact are adjustable. They’re not as positive in repeatable click adjustments as, say, the industry-standard BoMar units of yesteryear, but they’re adjustable, and on this type of pistol that seems to be a very good thing.

Compact Performer

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Allen Davis, a five-gun IDPA Expert and division champion, demonstrates how easy it is to keep the Smith & Wesson M&P22 Compact on target while firing rapidly at the range. Living up to its name, this new rimfire semi-auto weighs almost 9 ounces less than its full-sized M&P22 predecessor.

Allen Davis, a five-gun Expert in IDPA and a division champion in that sport, put his little S&W M&P22 Compact onto a Caldwell Matrix rest on my range. From the 25-yard bench, he tried ammo from three big manufacturers.

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Winchester’s “M&P ” load, which came with his gun, was a 40-grain, copper-jacketed round nose. As the testing began, “4+1 syndrome” immediately became apparent. The first shot went way high, resulting in a 5.4-inch group, but Allen’s subsequent four shots went into 1.3 inches and the best three clustered into 1.15 inches.

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Though the shooters experienced a bit of “4+1 syndrome” while testing the M&P22 Compact, it still produced tight groups at 25 yards, including this cluster with Winchester’s “M&P” load.

Next came Remington’s hyper-velocity Viper load, whose truncated-cone projectiles clustered into a five-shot group measuring 2.75 inches center to center, with no discernible “4+1.” The best three formed a 1.86-inch group. The “4+1” syndrome reared its head again with Federal’s 38-grain copper-plated hollow points. The top-most shot went high and resulted in a five-shot group of 4.65 inches. The next four were in 2.45 inches, though, and Allen’s best three with this load were in a snug 1.10 inches.

We ran several hundred rounds of assorted .22 LR ammo through this pistol, deliberately not cleaning it so we could assess its reliability. There were no extraction failures, stoppages or jams.

There were, however, approximately eight failures to fire on dud rounds. All of these, ironically, were with the Winchester “M&P” ammo. I witnessed a couple of these. None were the results of light hits. None of those cartridges were “sleeping,” either—additional tries under a firing pin proved that they were dead.

Many Missions

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If this is a practice gun for your centerfire S&W M&P, the thumb safety works pretty much the same as the one that’s optional on standard-sized and Compact M&Ps in “fighting calibers.” For those who have an M&P pistol without a manual safety, you will need to keep this in mind as you use the M&P22 Compact while shooting and/or training.

The M&P22 Compact will feel very similar to the compact versions of centerfire M&P pistols. If your M&P is the single-stack Shield, this M&P22 Compact won’t be exactly the same, nor will the trigger reach, but it will come reasonably close—certainly closer than any other .22 LR pistol I can think of.

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If you are buying this gun just to have a nice, lightweight .22 LR pistol for fun plinking, you have chosen well. It is one of the few .22 LR pistols that has a rail to accept a light or laser, or a module that combines both. When I was a young man in New Hampshire, it was legal (and popular) to hunt raccoons at night. A weapon-mounted light on a quality .22 LR pistol such as this one would be absolutely ideal for that. If dedicated raccoon hunting is not your sport, consider the farmer or rancher who has to shoot the fox that raids the proverbial henhouse at night.

None of us in the tactical world would recommend a .22 LR firearm as a primary choice for self-defense. At the same time, all of us realize that a .22 LR is better than no gun at all when deadly criminal danger threatens. From novice shooters to the old and the infirm, there are good people who simply can’t handle a pistol that has any significant recoil, but can manage a light-kicking .22 LR pistol. People who fit that profile would do well to consider the M&P22 Compact.

The light recoil spring makes the slide very easy to rack back. There is, of course, no significant recoil. The pistol comes with big service-type three-dot sights that are easy to see. The less powerful the cartridge, the more important it is that it be fired with surgical precision in defensive circumstances and against varmints, and the good sights help with that. The slide is reasonably easy to cycle manually, a bonus for anyone who doesn’t have a lot of strength in his or her hands and upper limbs.

Plinking Partner

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I reiterate that none of us here at the magazine recommend a .22 LR as optimum for self-defense, but for those whose needs are such that they want a .22 LR for that purpose, it’s hard to imagine one better suited than this M&P22 Compact. Yes, there was one load it was “iffy” with. That seems to happen with all auto-loading rimfires, and the shooter has to find ammo that works 100 percent of the time and stick with it. That’s true of even the highest-priced guns.

At $389, this American-made gun is not just a good value—it’s an excellent value. Though not built to win the National Championship at Camp Perry, it gives adequate accuracy for plinking fun. And, for the shooter who relies on a larger M&P in a more serious caliber, the M&P22 Compact makes good sense for cheap practice.

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