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Small Bore Shooting — Big Bore Style
Taffin Takes A Hard Look At .22
Conversions Units For Autos
By John Tafffin
“Practice makes Perfect.” It sounds like a great axiom for shooters, however it is simply not true! What is closer to the truth is Perfect Practice makes Perfect. It does no good to practice something the wrong way over and over and over again. I have worked with many newer shooters, even some who have been shooting a long time, having trouble hitting the proverbial bucket. Invariably the problem turns out to be flinching. Anticipating the recoil, they jerk the sixgun or semiauto as it goes off. The easiest way to discover this is to hand them an empty gun which they think is ready to go and watch the muzzle dip when they pull the trigger. They need practice to overcome this tendency of not concentrating as they squeeze the trigger and by going back to square one and starting with a good .22 they can learn all the fundamentals without having to worry about recoil.
So what do we do about the centerfire semiauto they are shooting and which they are being controlled by instead of the other way around? Thanks to several companies we now have .22 Conversion Units offered for semiautos such as 1911-pattern semiautos as well as the Beretta 92/96, Taurus PT 92/99, Glock 17/22 and 19/23, and one of my all-time favorite semiautos, the Browning Hi-Power. Before we look at these let us look at the most practical aspects of converting one of the centerfire big bore semiautos to handle the .22 Long Rifle.
Even at today’s prices which have seen bricks of .22s nearly double in the last year, .22s are still relatively inexpensive to shoot. This past weekend I purchased .22s in bulk packaging from four different manufacturers with the prices ranging from $19 to $22 for 500 to 525 rounds. For much less than the cost of two people going to a lousy movie a lot of shooting pleasure can be had. It also makes good economic sense to have a semiauto capable of double duty, that is being able to handle the cartridge for which it was originally chambered as well as .22s; that’s two guns for not much more than the price of one.
All the basics of firearms, both safety and proficiency, can be learned just as easily, if not more so by starting with a .22. I am a long way from starting, however I still shoot a lot of .22s not only for practice but simply because they’re fun. Yes, shooting has a serious side but for most of us most of the time shooting should be fun.
In the early 1930s David Marshal Williams developed a floating chamber which would later make the M1 Carbine possible. It was adapted for use in the first Ace .22 Conversion Units by Colt. By 1935 Colt was offering the Service Model Ace and then in 1938 the .22-45 Conversion Kit was offered. All of these are now desirable to collectors, however in a practical sense they were neither dependable nor accurate.
Currently, as far as I know at least seven manufacturers are offering .22 Conversion Units and I tried those from five of them. They are all different, however they do have several common attributes. First they are easy to install. Simply remove the top end from the centerfire version and replace it with the .22 Long Rifle Conversion Unit. The whole process takes about a minute, or less, even as fumble-fingered as I am. They also share unbelievable reliability with all types of .22 cartridges. There was a time you could go to the local store and have a veritable choice rivaling the cereal aisle at the local grocery store. With the tremendous increase in sales of both firearms and ammunition lately this is no longer the case. In fact CCI manufacturers over one million .22 cartridges per day and although they are located in my state it has been months since I’ve seen a brick of .22s from CCI offered for sale. That means I have had to settle for other brands some of which have not always been totally reliable in both .22 semiauto rifles and pistols.
Once each unit was broken-in I tried both target and high velocity loads in all test .22 Conversion Units with the result being total reliability as long as the proper ammunition was used, and with one exception which would only work perfectly with high velocity loads. Breaking in was very simple and fast. I started with a magazine full of American Eagles, one of those brands which does not always work my semiauto rifles, and usually experienced four to five failures to feed. By the second magazine this was down to one or two failures, and by the third magazine reliability had been achieved.
I even shot some 40-year-old ammunition from both CCI and CIL with no functioning problems whatsoever even though it was obvious from the sound some cartridges were not operating at full power. Probably even more important than the ammunition being used is proper lubrication. Although not recommended it is often possible to run a centerfire semiauto with a dry slide; not so with these .22 Conversion Units. The slide rails on both frame and slide need to be properly lubricated; if they are not the slide will not move backwards far enough as the gun is fired to eject the fired round and feed the next round. Let’s take a look the various conversion units being offered.
Bob Marvel Custom Pro .22 Conversion Unit before being installed on a Colt .38 Super.
with accessories come packed in this nicely padded case.
BOB MARVEL CUSTOM PISTOLS
Although the Colt Ace did not have a great reputation, gunsmiths Bob Day and Fred Kart were able come up with units that would actually work and were accurate; neither of these is being produced today. Enter Bob Marvel. Bob began building bullseye pistols in the 1980s. He can point with pride to the fact his pistols have won more than 20 national championships and set more than 40 national records. All through the 1990s and into the current century he has built both defensive and offensive weapons for both the military and civilian use. In 1998 he designed the Marvel 1911 .22 Conversion Units, eventually coming up with three different models. In testing these units, the average five-shot groups at 50 yards for over 1,000 units was less than 3/4″!
In 2003 Bob left the company, Marvel Precision, he had founded. Then four years later he began working with Advantage Arms to develop a new .22 Conversion Unit and in the process made 23 changes to his original design. Advantage Arms already had a 1911 Conversion Unit, however Bob suggested several design changes and these changes improved the life and functioning of the unit. Bob Marvel and Advantage Arms are working together and Bob tells me Advantage Arms will be selling the improved model of his original design directly to the customer and Marvel Custom Pistols will offer a custom re-barreled accuracy model of the same conversion. Bob sent me two units for testing, a 1911-22T complete with target sights, and a Marvel Custom Pro 1911 set up for scope mounting using Weaver-style rings. On the latter I installed a Simmons 2.5-7X LER scope.
The 1911-T22 Conversion Unit was easily mounted on a Colt Gold Cup, however when I tried to install the scope ready unit on a Springfield Armory .38 Super, I found the ejector on the Springfield Armory version was too tall and would not allow the unit to operate. Another .38 Super did work; a Colt Series ’80 chambered in .38 Super proved to have a shorter ejector and the Colt and the Marvel Custom Pro mated up just perfectly. Installation consisted of simply removing the slide, barrel, bushing, plunger, and a guide rod from each Colt, which anyone knows who has ever stripped a 1911 takes less than a minute, and the .22 Conversion Units were then put in place, the slide stop installed, the full length guide rod tightened with a special tool, and the unit was ready to go. Both of these units are unique among those with aluminum slides as they have a steel insert which automatically locks the slide back when the last round is fired.
Bob Marvel/Advantage Arms units come packed in a sturdy padded plastic case, which also includes a cleaning rod, patches, Break-Free lubricant, and one of the neatest little gadgets for loading .22 magazines. This little tool looks like four quarters stacked together with a small rod extending from the middle of one side; the rod fits into a hole at the bottom of the spring unit and is then used to reduce spring pressure as each cartridge is loaded. I would not want to spend the day loading magazines without this tool, or something like it. The smaller the cartridge the more painful it becomes to load numerous semiauto magazines. This little tool is useful almost to the point of being absolutely necessary. When loading magazines care must also be taken to make sure the last round is placed correctly in the magazine or it will not feed. I use a lot of CCI Blazer .22s, however they will not feed from the magazine into the chamber in either one of these Conversion Units.
My days of great shooting or even close to it are long behind me, however I did get some excellent groups which are in the accompanying chart. From a machine rest Bob Marvel’s .22 Conversion Units are superbly accurate. He sent me two 50-yard targets, one with 40 shots in less than 1″ and the other with 60 shots just over 1-1/4″; and his five-shot targets were less than .5″. I gathered data as I usually do by allowing myself one throwaway round so the recorded groups are for the best nine out of 10 shots. With iron sights my best groups were a great surprise to me being Winchester Wildcats, for 7/8″ at 20 yards. With a scope in place American Eagle went into 5/8″ at 25 yards, while I received another surprise with CCI Stingers in 7/8″ all proving once again the only way to find out which .22 ammo shoots best in each of individual gun is to actually experiment.
JONATHAN ARTHUR CIENER
All of the other companies produce .22 Conversion Units for the 1911; Ciener goes much further. In addition to 1911 units, he also offers conversions for Beretta, Browning, Glock, and Taurus all with 14 to 15 round magazines. For the 1911 Ciener offers the Platinum Cup with fully adjustable sights and the 1911A1 with fixed sights. Both units installed easily and quickly on a pair of Series ’70 Colts. It seemed appropriate to place the Platinum Cup on a Colt Gold Cup while the 1911A1 went on my ivory stocked Colt Government Model. Both units were properly lubricated with Gun Butter before being assembled and after two magazines fired to settle them in were then totally reliable.
The Platinum Cup features a serrated front sight, Millett adjustable rear sight, and angled cocking slots on the rear of the slide for easy cocking. I should point out that these units, made of aluminum, make it very easy to operate the slide to feed the first round from the magazine. The adjustable-sighted Platinum Cup was very easy to sight in, a situation which is not always true with the sighting set-up such as found on the 1911A1 Model Unit. Not to worry! The latter shoots less than 1″ low and can be easily filed in for point of aim to equal point of impact.
Both units performed well and also both units have a marked preference for a particular type of ammunition. The Platinum Cup mounted on the Colt Gold Cup liked Federal HPs best with the result being one-inch groups for nine shots at 20 yards. The largest group from this unit was 2″ using CCI Green Tags which I find quite interesting since this same load gave 1″ groups in the 1911A1, proving once again every firearm is a law unto itself and we don’t know the best load for each individual firearm until we experiment.
The same style .22 Long Rifle Conversion Units are available from Ciener for the other John Browning design, the Browning Hi-Power. The standard version is known as the Hi-Power while the target sighted version is the HP Plus. The latter was an easy fit on my modern production 9mm Browning, however neither version would match up with my .40 S&W Browning. They could be installed but were too tight for use and would require lapping in the slide rails. Instead the standard unit went on a Belgian Browning supplied by my friend Steve Nielsen who absolutely fell in semiauto love with a Browning chambered in .22.
The target sighted version did its best work with CCI Mini-Mag HPs, CCI Green Tags, and Winchester Super-X HV with groups of 1-3/8″ for the first and 1-1/2″ for the latter two while the Belgian Browning with the standard unit installed gave 1-3/8″ groups with both American Eagle and Remington Golden Bullets, and 1-1/2″ groups using CCI Mini-Mags and Winchester Super-X.
Ciener also provides .22 Conversion Units for two of the most influential foreign-born pistols in the United States. The age-old .45 ACP vs 9mm Parabellum argument gained new status in the 1980s when the standard 1911 was retired and replaced by the 9 mm in the form of the Beretta. The United States Army has just ordered 450,000 new Berettas; I would say the argument is settled. The shooting public has always been quick to adopt military cartridges and firearms and the Beretta is very popular in its civilian version. My son’s first centerfire semiauto pistol was the Beretta.
Also during the 1980s the ingenious semiauto pistol of Gaston Glock arrived and has not only had great influence in America but around the world with more than four million units now being produced. LEOs and civilians have both taken to the Glock and it is a rare semiauto pistol shooter who does not have at least one Glock. The radical design of the Glock has resulted in a whole new generation of semiauto pistols featuring polymer frames with integral grips from several American companies.
The owner of a Glock 17 or 19 or with similar sized frames, can make it even more versatile with the addition of a Ciener Glock 19/23 or 17/22 Conversion Unit. Installed on the Model 19 results in a extremely compact light weight and 15-round capacity .22 weighing in at 18 ounces; the longer barreled, larger frame Beretta comes in at 30 ounces with the Ciener Conversion Unit in place. These two pistols have a totally different feel in my hand as the the grip frame on the Glock is thin and short while that of the Beretta is longer and wider, however both feel good in my hand.
Both Ciener .22 Conversion Units performed perfectly, with no failures to eject or feed even with standard velocity rounds. I could not shoot these as well as the other Ciener .22s using my eyes and shooting in the dead of winter which required moving indoors where the light is not the best. The other units were black with the sighting radius of a 5″ barrel while the Beretta has silver on silver sights, and due to the Beretta design has a shorter sight radius and as with the Glock the sighting radius is reduced by 1″. Even though I had lens implants three years ago which makes it possible to see sights when the lighting is adequate as it is outdoors, they have still been around a long time and in fact have just stepped over the threshold into the beginning of their eighth decade.
All Ciener units carry a MSRP of $249 for the target-sighted versions and $50 less for the standard version both complete with magazine. They also come in a plastic case which is a good place to store the original top end and magazine.
Kimber offers their two “identical-except-for-finish” .22 Rimfire Target Conversion Kits for 1911s with excellent sights consisting of an adjustable rear sight mated it up with a post front sight both of which slant towards the shooter which cuts down on glare. They are also black and bold and very easy to see. The silver-colored unit matched up perfectly with the alloy frame of a Kimber CDP resulting in an eye pleasing and easy carrying lightweight unit. The second Conversion Kit in black proved to be too tight on either a Dan Wesson Patriot or circa 1914 Colt 1911, however it matched up perfectly on an Auto Ordnance 1911. Both units were 100-percent reliable once they were broken in by running a couple magazines of ammunition through them coupled up with proper lubrication beforehand.
The silver-colored version mounted on the Kimber CDP performed best with Winchester’s Super-X High Velocity averaging 1-1/2″ for 9-shots at 20 yards. I was especially pleased with the performance of the black unit which was mounted on the AO which cost me all of $200, proving even an inexpensive 1911 such as this one can work with .22 Long Rifle Conversion Units. This combination gave me 1-1/4″ groups with both CCI Mini-Mag HPs and Remington Golden Bullets. Each of Kimber’s Conversion Kits complete with 10 round magazine has a MSRP of $330.
mount base allows easy mounting of a scope.
Marvel Precision offers two .22 Conversion Units for the 1911 platform. Unit 1 is designed to turn a 1911 into .22 match gun and 50-yard groups of 1″ or less are guaranteed using a machine rest. This unit installed on a .45 Dan Wesson Patriot performed flawlessly after a very short break-in period. Designed with a barrel locking system, this unit’s barrel underlug is machined so when the recoil rod is tightened the barrel is solidly locked to the frame. Three different sight ribs are available for Unit 1, one with adjustable sights, one with slots for scope mounts, and the third one which incorporates both styles. These ribs mount solidly to the barrel using Allen screws, and the sights do not move with the slide.
Since I had the option of using both iron sights and the scope with this .22 Conversion Unit it was fired with 10 different loads at 20 yards with the iron sights and 25 yards with a Simmons variable scope set at 3X. For all 10 loads the average at 25 yards was less than 1″ with me behind the gun so I have no doubts as to the veracity of their accuracy claim from a machine rest at 50 yards. Most .22s, both rifle and pistol, can be quite picky about what they prefer when it comes to .22 ammunition. After my test with this Marble Precision Unit 1 I say it would work well and shoot superbly with just about anything; the starting price with one sighting rib is $429.
Marvel Precision’s Unit 2 is geared for the shooter who desires an accurate plinking pistol or trail gun. Unlike Unit 1, this .22 Conversion Unit, which Marvel refers to as the Round Top, features a standard type slide with sights mounted to the slide consisting of a post front sight and an adjustable rear sight mounted in a dovetail and solidly anchored. I chose to install this unit on a Colt 1911 which dates all the way back to 1914. The frame has been bead-blasted and nickeled and fitted with checkered rosewood grips by Herrett’s. With the blued Marvel Precision Unit 2 installed this is one of the most attractive packages to be seen.
Attractive it may be, but it was also somewhat cantankerous and there is reason for this. It is meant to be used with High Velocity ammunition only. With the hotter .22 loads, CCI Mini-Mags, CCI Mini-Mag +Vs, CCI Stingers, Remington Yellow Jackets, and Winchester Wildcats it works perfectly. After a couple hundred rounds of these it will now handle CCI Blazers and Federal HPs. Anyone who has used these special purpose .22 loads is well aware that they can be very accurate or mediocre depending upon the firearm. With the Marvel Precision Unit 2 the best results were obtained with CCI Mini-Mag HPs with groups just over one-inch. This unit sells for $325.
Tactical Solution’s .22 Long Rifle Conversion Unit is the 2211 made for 1911-style semiautos. When Tactical decided to design a Conversion Unit Steve Nielsen once again came to the rescue and provided an early Colt Gold Cup to house their prototype .22 Conversion Unit with a steel slide. Both Steve and I have fired this particular .22 extensively over the past couple years and in the early stages it required considerable tweaking to bring it to perfection.
The 2211 is offered in three versions, actually one version with three options for the sighting rail consisting of a standard rail with adjustable sights, a Picatinny rail, or a combination of both. While testing this well-used .22 Conversion we started to experience a failure to feed the last round of the magazine. This was easily remedied simply by re-lubricating slide rails; after that functioning was perfect once again.
Since I had two options with this particular unit, set up with a red dot sight or adjustable sights, I ran 10 different .22 loads through it both with the red dot at 25 yards and the iron sights at 20 yards. CCI Green Tag, CCI Mini-Mag HP, Federal HP, Remington HV, and Winchester Super-X all provided 25 yard groups using the red dot in the neighborhood of 1″, while Winchester’s Power Point gave a most excellent 3/4″ group. Switching to iron sights resulted in the latter also giving me my best group at 1-1/8″ for nine shots at 20 yards.
Tactical Solutions 2211 Conversion Units retails for $400 to $440 complete with magazine and depending on the sighting rail chosen. It also has last round hold open feature.
One final note on .22 Conversion Units. If one has to travel lightly, .22s make a whole lot of sense as several hundred rounds take up little space or add much weight. Having a .22 Conversion Unit for a centerfire semiauto pistol could turn out to be a most valuable tool.