Astute shooters can glean important product performance insights by looking closely at Smith & Wesson’s .22 pistols.
Some of the new handgun models shooters will see in 1997 are .22 LR pistols from Smith & Wesson. The new Model 22s are part of the Smith & Wes-son Sport Series, a collection of se-ven blued and stainless-steel rimfires made of aluminum-alloy frames and steel slides. We have shot a few rounds through one gun in the new line, the Model 22A Target gun, and can only say that it is unremarkable (a complete review is forthcoming in a later issue). What is remarkable to us, however, is not the appearance of the new Model 22s. Rather, it is the disappearance of the company’s $385 2206, $433 2206 TGT, $290 422, and $337 622 models that interests us.
What was it about those guns that made them expendable? And why is the much pricier Model 41 ($768 list) still in production alongside the new Model 22s? We decided to see if we could ascertain why Smith & Wesson killed the 2206s, but breathed new life into the Model 41. In a side-by-side comparison, we noted several aspects of the discontinued guns which likely contributed to their demise, and simultaneously, we learned why the Model 41 just keeps chugging along. Also, we made some judgments about what we would do if we encountered 2206s in the used-gun market.
Rules Of The Game
Gun manufacturers are driven by profits, of course, and guns in a manufacturer’s line make money in three ways: the manufacturer sells a great many of them with small profit margins; the manufacturers sells a few of them with large profit margins; or best of all, the manufacturer sells a great many of them with large profit margins.
After our post mortem of the 2206s, we believe they suffered from enough design flaws to make them relatively unpopular, and because of certain aspects of their production, they likely had small profit margins as well. That translates into few sales with small margins. Though S&W; declined to say exactly why the 2206s were flushed, the answer is obvious: The guns didn’t make enough money. But why did shooters shy away from them? Here are a few things we think were problems.
Feeding And Extraction Difficulties
At a recent promotional shooting event, we observed several 2206s using Federal Classic .22 LR ammo malfunction to the point that the guns had to be removed from the event. The most obvious problem was failure to extract fired rounds from the chamber. At the time, we noticed hulls from the ammo were scored by what appeared to be rough, tight chambers in the 2206s. This, combined with a weak extractor, meant that many fired cases had to be removed from the chamber by running a rod into the muzzle and down the barrel, then kicking the brass out of the chamber. In a related problem, many fired hulls stovepiped in the ejection port.
Having this anecdotal experience under our belts, we decided to see if we could quantify how severe these failure-to-function problems might be. We took 10 brands of factory ammo and fired 100 rounds each through a heavily used 1994-model 2206 and a like-new 1995 2206 TGT, which had only 200 rounds shot through it.
Our function tests showed the two 2206s failed nearly 4 percent of the time. Contrast that with our recent use of the Model 41 in ammo accuracy tests. In those tests we fired chronograph, accuracy, and fouling rounds through the Model 41 totaling more than 1,500 shots. We recorded less than 0.5 percent malfunctions using the 41. That’s eight times the failure rate in the 2206 than what we saw in the Model 41.
Moreover, in this function test, it seemed to us that the TGT model 2206 was more prone to failure than the standard 2206. We recorded a 2.1 percent failure rate on the TGT, whereas the 2206 malfunctioned 1.5 percent of the time. Why would this be? The answers could be legion, but one flaw we’re pretty sure of is a change in the 2206 TGT’s slide weight. A standard 2206 slide weighed 5.2 ounces with the old style, long S&W; revolver-style sight. This sight was installed by screwing it into a 2.5-inch-long groove machined into the top of the slide. The 1995 2206 TGT featured a high-riding Millett Series 100 adjustable sight, which was installed in a shallow dovetail in the slide. It weighed 6.2 ounces. We believe that because the heavier slide had more inertia, it short-stroked more often, causing extraction, ejection, and feeding problems.
Though we can’t ascertain how often all S&W; customers’ guns malfunctioned, based on our testing and experience we can postulate that shooters probably had more problems with the 2206 series guns than they did with the Model 41. That in itself would be reason enough for shooters to prefer the latter over the former product. However, there are other reasons, too.
We believe most product failures are deaths by a thousand cuts—that is, little things doom most failed guns. One of the little things we don’t like about the 2206 is the magazine-release button positioned on the front of the pistol grip. To operate the 2206’s release, the shooter must change his hand position on the grip. This isn’t a problem with the bullseye games, where fast magazine changes aren’t a factor. But for action games, it’s a big problem. In contrast, the Model 41, with its 1911-style magazine release, is easily operated by the shooter’s right thumb or left thumb without moving the shooting hand (assuming the shooter is right handed).
Though both the Model 41 and the 2206 are fairly easy to break down, the 41 requires no tools to disassemble.
To take the 41 apart, the shooter unloads the gun and takes the magazine out with the slide locked back. Next, he drops the trigger guard down, which unlocks the barrel from the frame. Then, the shooter can gently lift the barrel assembly up and remove it from the receiver. To remove the slide, he grips the receiver and pulls the slide all the way to the rear and lifts it. Then, he moves the slide forward to release pressure on the recoil spring. That’s it.
On the 2206, the shooter unloads the gun and takes the magazine out with the slide locked back. He uses a factory-supplied orange plastic open-bolt indicator. With the slide locked back, the shooter inserts the indicator in front of the slide, and then gently closes the bolt. This allows him to capture the recoil-spring guide and release pressure on the recoil guide plug. He then can pull the slide all the way to the rear, which exposes the recoil spring and guide. He takes out the open-bolt indicator and lifts the recoil spring out gently to release tension on the spring. He pulls the slide to the rear and lifts it off.
Again, the slightly more complicated process of taking the 2206 apart makes it suffer in comparison to the 41.
Several other matters also illustrate the 41’s better-thought-out design. It comes from the factory with target-style ambidextrous wood grips that are flared and have a thumbrest. The TGT’s wood grips are also target style, but they lack the 41’s deep thumbrest, and metal missing from the frontstrap (relieved to make the release accessible) gives the grip a loose feel in the hand.
Also, the top of the slide on the 2206 has less room to mount optics, which are increasingly popular. A 41 with a 5.5-inch barrel has about 7 inches of surface area on the slide onto which mounts can be installed. The comparable place on a 6-inch-barrel 2206 measures only 2.5 inches. Moreover, any low-riding mount installed on the front of the 2206 behind the front sight will make it difficult to disassemble the gun, because the recoil guide plug can’t be removed. In this case, the shooter would have to take the mount and optics off to remove the slide. The other option would be to use a tall mount, which takes the optics farther away from the gun’s center of bore, which should be avoided when possible.
Another advantage the 41 has over the 2206 is a safety issue. One of the unsung positives of the 41 is the ability of a range officer to check the gun’s chamber status from either side. When the slide is back on the 41, you can see through it, enabling you can check for ammo in the clip or chamber from either side. Also, you can empty loose rounds out of the 41’s chamber from either side. Conversely, on the 2206, you must check and clear the gun from the right side.
What It All Means
Guns go in and out of production all the time, and some of the product changes are nothing more than keeping up with fashion trends. However, smart firearms consumers generally like to find solid, dependable products that they can shoot for their lifetimes, and perhaps their children’s lifetimes. Along these lines, much can be learned from the short-lived 2206 series that can be applied to currently shipping products.
Foremost among these points is this: If you’re considering buying a gun, you should generally avoid new introductions. Too often, manufacturers introduce new products which are marketing-driven, and not performance driven. This means that bugs in products are often not fully worked out in the first, second, and sometimes even the third year. The 2206’s quick birth-to-death cycle from 1994 to 1996 illustrates this.
Certainly there are exceptions to this rule, and perhaps the new Sport Series Model 22s will fit in this category. The cursory examination we’ve given the Model 22A shows that three problems that plagued the 2206 have been addressed in the new gun. The top of the slide incorporates a sight bridge. This grooved, flat piece of metal integrates a Weaver-style optics mount that allows the shooter to install dot sights or scopes easily. Also, like on the 41, the new gun can be disassembled without a tool. Additionally, Dymond-wood grips on the Model 22s have a pronounced thumbrest and a wide bottom flare. On the downside, the magazine release is still located in the front of the grip, which we don’t favor. And, of course, we don’t have enough rounds downrange to say if the 2206’s chambering problems will carry over to the new line. We hope not.
As far as spending your money, the demise of the 2206 offers an buying opportunity that might be worth considering. As the Model 22s push the older model off store shelves, you might be able to negotiate very good clearance deals on the 2206, 422, 622, and 2206 TGT. List on the 2206 was $385. Since they’ve been discontinued, you might be able to get that price cut in half, or more. If not, we advise that you pass on them.