The super lightweight revolver test: 2 guns that will really surprise you
A 22LR firearm is the best investment a person can make
I tested a couple of 22LR 8-shot revolvers, side-by-side; a Smith and Wesson Model 43C and a Taurus 942. After some outstanding range sessions, I get to share my findings with you. Some of my words may come as a surprise.
The kit gun
When I was a kid I would disappear for a few days and camp with friends in the nearby hills. Some of the people who camped with us carried lightweight 22s, which they called “kit guns.” A kit gun is a gun that was tucked away in an outdoorsman’s kit. It wasn’t really for self-defense or hunting unless it was an emergency. It was usually a 22 because a person could stuff an entire box of ammo into a pocket, and still have room for snacks. A kit gun was good for an impromptu shooting session or similar camping chores.
S&W still makes an 8-shot 22 Model 317, which has actually been dubbed the kit gun, but there were plenty of iterations before this one, mostly based on the old M Frame 32 and 22 caliber guns with 4-inch barrels. Back in the day, every kid learned to shoot a handgun with a kit gun.
The Smith and Wesson Model 43C
The S&W 340 PD is an incredible piece of pocket insurance, but, even when using reduced load 38 Special loads, a long-range session can wear a person out. I figured if I got an S&W 43C, I could get quality sub-caliber training without training scars.
Smith and Wesson's 43C is one of the lightest J-Frame revolvers made. It looks and operates exactly like the 340 PD. It fits the same holsters and is nearly indistinguishable from the .357 magnum version, except it lacks the bone-jarring recoil, and holds 8 rounds of 22LR.
The Model 43C weighs 11.5 oz. That’s a third of the weight of a standard revolver. I cannot comment on the balance of this gun, because there isn’t any. It’s too light to have balance. A standard game controller, which teenagers seem to be able to hold for 36-hour stretches, weighs 12-13 oz. The Model 43C is lighter and considerably more effective.
I did chronograph some cartridges in the Model 43C. The 30 grain Aguila SuperMaximum averaged 1050 fps, which is very fast for a handgun. In a rifle, I have clocked this round over 1700 fps, which is amazing. I did not put Stingers through this gun, but I have chronographed them in North American Arms Mini, with a shorter barrel. CCI Stingers give similar results, and they are as consistent as one can get in a rimfire.
In ballistic gelatin, both the Stinger and the SuperMaximum can penetrate over 12” generally. Most of us know that hollow-point ammunition is unpredictable at the speeds generated by snubby revolvers, so choose ammunition that provides maximum penetration. Both of these products meet FBI protocol, with teeny bullets. Still, any gun in capable hands and the right mindset demands respect.
The 43C double-action trigger was a bit rough and heavy. This is pretty typical of this type of gun, and it’s another reason I tell people that a lightweight revolver takes a lot of practice. It takes experience to “stroke” this trigger, and it's another reason to own this gun. 22LR means cheaper practice for those who carry the 340PD. Getting good with this gun means being more efficient with the 340PD. If owning this gun teaches the trigger finger to move independently of the rest of the fingers, it is a good investment indeed.
Taurus makes a number of revolvers that have similar form factors, including one that shoots 9mm (Model 905), another that shoots 380 Auto (Model 380) and a .357 version (Model 605). I’ve had a chance to shoot all but the .380 and they are outstanding quality, despite the fact that they are half the price of their S&W counterparts. Again, I am big on .357 revolvers, but I’m always looking for efficient training tools.
In an effort to make this test as authentic as possible, I took the Taurus 942 out of the box the first time for my HR218 annual qualification. I loaded the cylinders and went to work. My intent was to demonstrate full confidence that the Taurus folks did their job when this gun left the factory. In full disclosure, I have shot plenty of Taurus products, and I know how they perform. Still, I never shot this gun before.
We use a modified combat course in our PD. It is simple, but one must have 100% hits. As a firearms trainer, I like the 100% hit standard.
The gun was spot on. The trigger wasn’t mushy, and it never failed to fire. This was easily my best qualification session, ever.
I proceeded to fire a few hundred more rounds over the course of a few weeks. I had two failures to fire, which were ammunition related, and had nothing to do with the gun. This, by the way, is why kit guns are revolvers. If the ammunition isn’t working, we simply go on to the next round in the cylinder.
The 942 fits comfortably in the hand. I tried it with several shooters, and the cylinder latch placement and trigger smoothness were excellent.
I turned over both guns to my gunsmith friend Rick Macchia, who looked at lockup and timing. Hopefully, I’m explaining this correctly, but poorly assembled and timed guns tend to open the space between the yoke and frame, because of pressure against the cylinder rotation. Neither of the test guns had these problems. In fact, both had great timing.
Although the Taurus 942 is called the Ultra-Lite model, it is 17.80 oz. It was still very light, and the balance was superior – not just good, but superior. If I had to crank out eight accurate rounds quickly, I would choose this gun.
The 942 is a double/single action, with an external hammer. Users can pull the hammer back and fire it in single action. The 43C has an internal hammer and operates in double action only. Both guns have a transfer bar type of safety, which means the trigger must be pulled all the way to the rear to cause it to fire. They are both suitable for pocket carry, although the 43C is considerably more “snag free.”
The 942 has an alloy frame, with a steel cylinder and a steel and alloy barrel. Not only is it well designed, but it is also well made. It does not have spurious tool marks inside, where most users don’t look, nor does it have sharp edges. The anodized finish is applied evenly, and the polymer grips feel great. The 43C is made of something similar to feathers or atmospheric gases (actually alloy and steel).
Why buy a 22 revolver?
I did shoot rapid-fire strings with both guns – lots of them, because I have cases of 22 ammo. In case anyone was wondering, any time anti-gun politicians threaten to end American rights, I buy another brick of 22. It’s the only caliber I do not reload, for now. When I go to practice, I don’t sit around and worry about how much 22LR ammo I have. This alone is a good reason to have a 22.
22LR guns are good for training. I have plenty of ways to train: Subcaliber conversions, pellet and airsoft guns, electronic devices and similar items. None of these can produce actual trigger time, a measurable technique for improving a shooter, like a 22 version of the real thing.
Would I use a 22 for self-defense? More specifically, would I carry the 43C? This is a tough question. Maybe. I’m not particularly recoil sensitive, so I don’t have that argument. With the 43C, I found that I could step back 7 yards and fire 8 rounds rapid fire at a standard target and get all of the rounds into the sinus cavity. The muzzle doesn’t jump, and the sights stay on the target. The XS White Dot sight that comes standard with this gun would be unmistakable in the heat of battle. The Taurus had a better trigger than the Smith. Since I am a kit gun kind of person, I’m going to say, “Yes.”
A 22LR firearm is the best investment a person can make. When I travel, I have a primary firearm that uses confidence-building cartridges. However, I can carry 300-400 rounds for my 22, so I also carry a 22. In a real emergency, a 22 can help in personal defense, but its real advantage is the practice. Some of the best times I have spent with family have been with an impromptu target and a 22.
The bottom line
I already know of an officer adopting a Model 43C as a backup gun, simply because it disappears in his pocket. I’m not a fan of ankle holsters, but if I used one, the 43C would be my duty choice. I think the S&W 43C has a place in law enforcement, albeit a niche. The Taurus 942 is a workhorse. It is great as an instructional tool, and it is the most satisfying plinking gun I have seen in a long time.
Occasionally, I am drafted by my good friends to assist in their CCW classes. Invariably, someone shows up who has no clue how to use speedloaders, or revolvers in general. I walk them through the steps. I found it was better and cheaper to use a 22. Now I always have a 22-revolver handy. Which one? Why both, of course.