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The 5 Best .22 LR Semiautomatic Pistols on Earth

After doing 5 Best Lists on big, heavy-hitting calibers like .45 ACP and 10mm Auto, now it’s time to ratchet back a bit size-wise.

Beretta 21 Bobcat. Image: YouTube Screenshot.
Beretta 21 Bobcat. Image: YouTube Screenshot.

What guns are truly the best on Earth?

What would you choose for self-defense or just target shooting? 

In the .22 LR class we decided to go to a top expert and ask some tough questions: 

After doing 5 Best Lists on big, heavy-hitting calibers like .45 ACP and 10mm Auto, now it’s time to ratchet back a bit size-wise.

The .22 Long Rifle (LR) rimfire round may be at the opposite end of the stopping power scale from those aforementioned calibers, but as the saying goes, “A hit with a .22 beats a miss with a .44 Magnum.” The cartridge has been around since 1887, and it remains universally popular for self-defense, casual plinking, competitive target shooting, small game hunting, and so forth.  

The .22 LR retains its huge degree of popularity due to its extreme accuracy, effectiveness at short ranges, low recoil and muzzle blast, and – perhaps most significantly in this day and age of Bidenflated ammo prices – much lower cost than larger centerfire calibers. And don’t let the “Long Rifle” label fool you, as there are plenty of handguns chambered for the round. Lets narrow down the top 5 semiautomatic pistols in the caliber.  

Ruger Standard 

Debuting in August 1949, Sturm Ruger & Co’s very first product is, without a doubt, the gold standard of .22 LR semiauto pistols, in the same vein that the M1911 and Browning Hi-Power are the respective gold standard of .45 ACP and 9mm autopistols respectively. At first glance, it bears a passing resemblance to both the iconic WWI-era Luger P08 Parabellum and WWII-era Japanese Nambu pistol, and the latter gun is indeed where the Bill Ruger got the idea for both the gun’s silhouette and the bolt system – which is distinctly different from the Luger’s toggle-operated mechanism.  

Just like the M1911, the Ruger .22 auto hasn’t remained frozen in time, having been updated and customized more times than you can shake a stick at. Suppressed (“silenced”) Ruger .22s – the MAC MkI variant – were even used by Green Berets during the Vietnam War for stealthy kills against Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army (NVA) sentries. 

The most current iteration of the pistol is the Ruger Mk IV, which in turn comes in eight different variants. Last December, I test-fired the stainless steel “Target” version and found it to be an excellent performer.  

MSRP is $819.00 for a Target Mk IV and $559.00 for the basic version.  

Browning Buck Mark 

The Browning Buck Mark obviously hasn’t been around as long as the Ruger, but it’s no spring chicken either, debuting in 1985, and seeing how it’s still in production after 38 years, that’s a testament to its quality and reputation. As stated by the manufacturer’s official info page

“Browning Buck Mark rimfire pistols lead the industry in quality, reliability, accuracy and variety. Every Buck Mark starts out as a solid piece of aircraft-grade 7075 aluminum alloy, and then is CNC machined to exacting tolerances. The crisp single-action trigger, hand reamed chamber, target crowned barrel and finely adjustable target sights mean the Buck Mark comes ready for fun straight from the box. The Ultragrip RX and Ultragrip DX represent the latest in grip technology. The finger grooves, laser stippling and stylish wave patterns combine to form an Ergonomic Interactive Surface (EIS) that puts your hand in the same place on the grip for every shot, resulting in more instinctual shooting and improved accuracy. The textured surfaces are comfortable and secure in any condition, while the narrow profile makes them perfect for all hand sizes.” 

These guns carry a suggested retail price range of $439.99 to $1,079.99, depending upon specific features.  

Beretta 21 A Bobcat 

You gotta figure that the world’s oldest gunmaker would have an entry on this list. The company’s official info page on the Bobcat declares that “Comparable in size to a smart phone and weighing only 11.5 oz, the ultra-concealable Bobcat has been the ultimate pocket pistol for over three decades. It is user-friendly, durable, reliable and accurate, while with its snag-free lines is can be tucked in any kind of holster or pocket for deep concealment.” 

The Bobcat has an exclusive tip-up barrel that allows the user to easily load a round directly into the chamber without racking the slide; self-defense guru Massad F. Ayoob strongly advocates this feature for persons who, due to old age and/or infirmity and/or work-related disability, lack the strength to rack a full-size autopistol slide or pull the trigger of a double-action (DA) revolver. MSRP is $479.00. 

SIG Sauer Mosquito 

As mentioned in several previous articles, I’m personally not a big fan of SIG Sauer pistols, but objectively speaking I acknowledge that they are accurate, reliable, and well-made pistols. The Mosquito, produced from 2003 to 2013, was based on the company’s famous 9mm P226, but 10 percent smaller in size and scaled down to accommodate the .22 LR cartridge. In a July 2016 review for Guns & Ammo Handguns Magazine, gun writer Stan Trzoniec stated that “the SIG Sauer Mosquito is a fine gun, well made and shoots well, and it should be dynamite in the field or plinking on the range with a variety of ammunition.” 

SIG discontinued the gun in 2013, but thanks to subcontracting, the gun lives on as the GSG Firefly.  

According to True Gun Value, “A SIG MOSQUITO pistol is currently worth an average price of $283.81 new and $264.29 used. The 12-month average price is $294.99 new and $305.82 used.” 

Colt Woodsman 

Produced from 1915 to 1977 and designed by no less than John Moses Browning himself, this gun actually predates the Ruger Standard as the first successful rimfire semiauto .22 pistol. It was one of the most popular pistols of the early 20th century, with over 600,000 produced. To this day, many old-school pistoleros decry Colt’s decision to discontinue the Woodsman.  

In his August 2018 article for Gun Digest, gun writer Gary Lee calls the Woodsman “The Quintessential 22 Pistol” and notes that surplus specimens can fetch a price range from $950 all the way up to $4,400.00. 

Christian D. Orr has 33 years of shooting experience, starting at the tender age of 14. His marksmanship accomplishments include: the Air Force Small Arms Ribbon w/one device (for M16A2 rifle and M9 pistol); Pistol Expert Ratings from U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) Criminal Investigator Training Program (CITP); multiple medals and trophies via the Glock Sport Shooting Foundation (GSSF) and the Nevada Police & Fires Games (NPAF). Chris has been an NRA Certified Basic Pistol Instructor since 2011. 

Written By

Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon).