Smith and Wesson K-22s
 

by Mike Cumpston

photography by Mike Cumpston

January 8th, 2003

 

 

 

From 1910 onward Smith and Wesson Hand Ejector revolvers came in target variations equipped with adjustable sights.  Rimfire revolvers built on the .32 frame were considered heavyweights and the first serious effort toward a .22 built on the 38 (K) frame did not come about until 1931.   The high velocity .22 long rifle cartridge had become popular and the company advertised the new K-22 “Outdoorsman” as being specifically designed for the high speed round. 

It was marketed to hunters and outdoorsmen in a climate that could not have been less ideal.  The Great Depression was in full swing and there was a serious effort to include handguns in the prohibitive tax and registration structure of the Federal Firearms act of 1932 and 34.  Nevertheless the K 22 was an immediate success with well-heeled sportsmen as well as police and military training programs.  Supica –Standard Catalog of Smith and Wesson records that an Army team took several K 22s to the 1932 Olympics providing an early launch into the mainstream target circuit.  By 1940, shooters or agencies had bought 19,500 of the first model and a second model was in the catalogues as “A replica of that favorite, the .38 M&P Target Revolver” (Stoeger-Shooter’s Bible).   By this time, it had become the K 22 ‘Masterpiece’ and was firmly identified with organized target shooting.  Wartime rationing stopped production in 1941 with something over 1,000 units of the second models out the door.

Post-War production resumed in 1946 with the K-22 becoming part of a target set including the K-38 and the redesigned, Post-War K-32. The revolver assumed the profile that would define the Smith Hand Ejectors until 1989.  Variations abound and generally follow the evolution of the Smith Hand Ejectors as a family.  The defining theme of the K 22 target revolvers and the current 617s is the intent of their purchasers to have the best of all possible rimfire revolvers.

There is a long- standing tradition that regards each model variation as a poor imitation of its immediate predecessor. In the case of the K-22, this occurred each time the side plate or frame shed another screw, in 1957 when the model names gave way to the number system and in the late 20th Century when the classic ribbed barrels disappeared in favor of the heavy under-lugs. Throughout history, it has been just possible to acquire a substandard K-22 and there have been periods when workmanship really suffered.  There were legitimate complaints about quality control during the Vietnam War Era.  In the ‘70s, many revolvers felt like a handful of gravel had been trapped under the side plate. In the main though, the K-22 by any name and from any decade, provides its own justification for pride of ownership.

Optimum Accuracy

Post World War II, the factory promised that each K Series target revolver would group five rounds inside of 1.5” at 50 yards.  My heavy lugged 617-3 from 1999 will demonstrate this level of accuracy with a good selection of premium small game and varmint loads.  Mounted with its Weaver 1.5-4x LER Variable, it regularly produces sub one inch accuracy at 25 yards and will deliver CCI Mini-Mags, Velocitors, Stinger, Aquilla QuikShok and Remington Golden Bullet Hollow Point into the magic 1.5” at 50.  My. 1947 K-22 and the Model 17-5 from 1988 are not a bit ammunition sensitive and regularly produce .9” to 1.1” groups at 25 yards with the same list of ammunition.  Experience tells me that the scoped gun will shoot closer than I can hold.  I have also learned that my iron sight groups are forty to fifty percent larger than they would be shooting with a scope. They would undoubtedly meet the 1.5” standard from a machine rest.  If there is any advantage to using premium target ammunition, my shooting ability is not good enough to demonstrate it.

It’s the Action

While it’s not unusual to find a Ruger or Taurus that will shoot equivalent bench groups, the out-of-the-box action of the K-22 is legend. The smart owner will shoot his K-22/17/617 a bit before deciding any work is needed and then will usually find that the best course is to leave the side plate screws unturned. The crisp single action let off and the smoothness of the double action gives the shooter the maximum opportunity to translate the indwelling accuracy of the revolver to success on the range or in the field.

Practicalities

Early in my K-22 shooting career, I placed quite a bit of importance on the advantages of the added weight and muzzle heaviness of the later models.  My 1947 K-22 weighs 38 oz and has a 40-ounce trigger pull. When I first got it, I was amazed how often a seemingly perfect release would land my shot wide of the mark. Familiarity levels the field however, and the single action off-hand scores are as good and easily shot as my other K –frames.  The 8 3/8” Model. 17 weighs 48oz and has a 52-ounce trigger.  The wide trigger, ideal sight picture and long sight radius make for reliable and sometimes amazing double and single action target work.

The Intermediate weight 617 at 45 ounces with its 6” heavy under-lug barrel was a fine tool for practicing double action shooting. The revolver has fired over 3,000 rounds –the bulk of it in the double action mode. It remains in near-new condition. Any deficiency inherent in the Metal Injection Molded action parts has yet to emerge.  The trigger has stayed constant at 56 ounces.  The Weaver Scope brings the weight up to 62 ounces but, far from being a bench queen, the big revolver keeps the off-hand shots on the 25- yard center about as well as the other two.

The K-22 and its extended family has outlived its role as a state of the art competitive and training tool. The target shooters are now using self loading single purpose lead dispensers while the police are packing tactical plastic and training with simunition and computer programs.  The K-22 is now in the province of those enthusiasts who appreciate a handgun as much for what it is as for what it can do. 

For in-depth information on models, dates, serial numbers and variations  see “The Standard Catalog of Smith and Wesson, Second Edition” by Jim Supica and Richard Nahas (Krause Publications 715 445 2214).

The definitive work on the lore of the revolver, customizing and general information, “The Custom Revolver” by Hamilton S. Bowen, available from Bowen Classic Arms. Contact BCA on the Web at www.bowenclassicarms.com, or phone (865) 984-3583.

Mike Cumpston

 

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Click pictures for a larger version.

 

This is the K-22 often referenced as the “Pre Model 17”  It was produced in 1947. The sights are  the 1/10th inch option discontinued in 1952. The barrel and Ejector rod are of Pre-War Origin. 

Also in 1947: India achieved independence from Great Britain.

Three hundred Hollywood Actors, directors and other motion picture employees were blacklisted because of known or suspected affiliation with the Communist Party.

John Steinbeck published “ The Wayward Bus”

Chuck Yeager flew an Experimental Bell Rocket Plane to Mach 1.06 becoming the first man to break the Sound Barrier.

Harry S Truman was President of the United States

 

 

Hamilton Bowen shot this K-22 and commented. “She’s an accurate old girl”  Quite a recommendation from history's premier Custom Revolver Smith.

 

 

The last of the K-22 / Model 17s.  Shooters deplored the change in barrel threading that eliminated the traditional retaining pin.  The 8 3/8” barrel was introduced in 1958. Other features include the desirable Target Sights, Target Trigger and Target Hammer.

 

 

Thirty rounds Off-hand Slow-fire. Trigger finger placement is made less critical by the wide grooved Target Trigger - a straight back, undisturbed, repeatable trigger release is relatively easy to obtain.

 

 

The long 17 is a prime small game revolver.  It is very accurate with several high velocity hollow point loads.

 

 

The weaver 1.5-3 LER Scope is useful for load testing and field use.  Optics are a big aid to shooters with poor vision and are particularly useful for hunting in poor light.

 

 

The Scoped 617 weighs 62 ounces.  The NRA center was shot one handed.  The small groups are from the bench at 25 yards with CCI Mini-Mag Hollow Points.

 

 

The Eley Cub match produced the smallest group from this revolver to date.  It also shot one of the largest at 1.4”  .  Several High Velocity and Hyper Velocity hollow points actually turned in better multiple group averages.

 

 

Stingers and Velocitors turn in varmint killing accuracy at 50 yards.  The Remington Golden bullets were the slowest tested clocking high 900s to low 1,000 fps range in the three revolvers but consistently expanded when shot into a beef brisket at 50 yards.  Stingers expanded with fragmentation and vaporize when shot into media at 25 yards.  The QuikShok rounds are designed to break into three major pieces and create huge wound channels on small varmints.

 

 

THTT was all the rage from the late .60s up until about 1990 when double action shooters decided a smooth trigger was better.

 

 

The early post-War K22 had a narrow grooved trigger and a hand checkered hammer with graceful sweep.  The narrow trigger requires critical placement of the finger for good control but once this is learned the old gun is extremely accurate.

 

 

The model 17 is forgiving of shooting errors. A range session with this is a good way to find out if you still know how to shoot.

 

 

With the Rimfires, barrel length is not always a reliable predictor of velocity.