Welcome back to another edition of The Rimfire Report! This ongoing series is all about the rimfire firearm world and its various guns, ammo sports, and mysteries. Recently I’ve been going through a bunch of .22LR handguns that are well known for either their staunch reliability or their relative infamy. Well-known handguns like the High Standard Manufacturing Flite-King are some of the most venerated .22LR pistols known to history while the Jennings J22 we took a look at last week don’t have the best reputation in terms of reliability and safety. More in line with the last pistol that we checked out, the HP22 is another low-cost pocket-sized .22LR pistol that doesn’t carry the best of reputations. I purchased my own copy of the HP22 to get a feel for the compact .22LR handgun and today I’ll share my thoughts and opinions on the piece to see if it is something you might want to pick up or avoid.
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The Rimfire Report: The Phoenix Arms HP22 22LR Pocket Pistol
The Phoenix Arms HP22 makes use of a simple blowback operated design and incorporates a relatively light single-action trigger weighing in at around 3.5-lbs (over a 5 pull average). The pistol comes standard with a 10-round magazine, weighs a hefty 20-ounces, and features a 3-inch vented rib barrel. The pistol also comes standard in two finishes including the pictured satin nickel plating or a matte black finish for a more subdued look. The pistol has been in production since about the mid-90s and is made from cast zinc/aluminum alloy.
In stark comparison to some of the other pistols I’ve featured in The Rimfire Report, the HP22 is actually still manufactured by the California-based Phoenix Arms and can still be ordered new. I didn’t go through the trouble of ordering one and instead opted to get a second-hand model off of GunBroker.com for about $150. The pistol came in its original box with a gun lock, manual, and a single 10-round magazine (11-round magazines are also available with an extended pinky grip). Although the fitment of all the pieces was pretty rock solid, I did notice that the matte nickel finish wasn’t entirely even across all the parts and tended to have small bits of buildup around the corners, and machining marks were still visible on the grip and frame through the plating.
Ergonomics, Operation, and Features
The HP22 is a fairly small pistol, not much larger than the similarly equipped Ruger LCP II Literack, and only a hair shorter in length than the Taurus GX4. Some more subtle features include a serrated hammer, a simple pull-forward takedown system, and windage adjustable rear sight via a small flathead screw. The pistol’s plastic grips are partially textured but barely feature any variation in width and the grip itself is just slightly too small for me to get a three-finger hold on it.
The HP22 has an extremely weird manual of arms. Although the pistol features a modern button-style magazine release, the magazine can only be released by placing the pistol in the “safe” mode using the frame-mounted safety selector which flips up and down (down for fire, up for safe). Additionally, the pistol’s slide cannot be fully cycled when the pistol is placed in the safe position and can only be pulled back about a quarter of an inch. I presume this is to allow you to safely press check the firearm. An additional safety feature is present in the form of a slide-mounted firing pin block. On top of all this, the pistol also features a magazine disconnect further adding to its safety.
Although the pistol does not have a last round slide lock, the pistol’s slide can indeed be locked open by first placing the weapon into “fire” and then pulling the slide fully back to the rear and then engaging the frame-mounted safety. After a fresh magazine has been inserted, you can then flick the safety off which subsequently drops the slide and feeds a fresh round into the gun and it is ready to fire. This manual of arms isn’t my favorite as it is completely contrary to everything I’ve learned about semi-auto handguns but I do perhaps see some benefit of the weird operation of the gun for newer shooters who are a bit paranoid about having an accidental discharge, it’s still possible, even with all the weird operational movements but it’s far less likely if you employ all the safety features as they create some overlapping layers of safety for the user at the range.
Much like the Jennings J22, I didn’t hear a lot of positive things about the HP22 before getting my hands on one. However, where the J22 lived up to its reputation in the reliability department, the HP22 surprised me with a 100% flawless function record over the 500 rounds I ran through the pipe without any cleaning or lubing beforehand. What the HP 22 gets right for a cheap pistol is that it’s absolutely reliable with standard velocity ammunition (I used CCI Standard Velocity 40-grain). One commenter on the J22 article asserted that micro 22LR pistols like the J22 and HP22 suffer from reliability issues not because of construction but because of user error with the main issue being “limp wristing” the gun. I put that sentiment to the test and loaded up a full 10-round magazine and got 100% reliability with it despite my purposeful poor handling of the gun.
The trigger on the HP22 has almost no takeup but does have quite a bit of creep before a break right near the rear of the trigger pull and what I presume is basically zero overtravel. Meanwhile, the reset is nearly equally as long as the creep so while the trigger doesn’t win any points for being above what I’d expect out of a dirt-cheap .22LR pistol, it’s not all that bad and I found that I was able to maintain pretty consistent shot groups at about 10-yards when shooting from a stabilized position.
On that note, the pistol’s sights don’t lend to pinpoint accuracy although I do think that in broad daylight the matte nickel finish of the front sight post helps a little bit with maintaining a clean sight picture. Groups from a bag-stabilized shooting position were about 3 inches or so in size with me having to aim about 3-inches low in order to get hits where I wanted them at a 10-yards distance. For the light recoiling low-power .22LR cartridge, this doesn’t bode well for use as a defensive pistol when shot placement is far more important than with larger calibers. I think accuracy could be improved somewhat with the 5-inch target barrel that is offered and is a simple drop-in replacement for the stubby 3-inch stock barrel, it’s just a shame that the “target” barrel doesn’t come with adjustable sights. Upgrade kits including the 5″ target barrel and 11-round magazine can be found for around $50.
The HP22 might have a reputation for being another one of those “fire and forget” Saturday Night Special guns but I think there is something more here than just a cheap .22LR pocket pistol. The fact that Phoenix Arms has dedicated “target” barrels for the platform indicates to me that maybe the HP22 is just an inexpensive plinking pistol for recoil-sensitive people who want to shoot an alloy framed pistol. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the Phoenix Arms is actually an outstanding range toy if you can get past the extra time it’ll take you to remind yourself to re-engage the safety every time you want to slap in a fresh magazine.
It’s a shame the Phoenix Arms and the little HP22 don’t get more love because from where I stand it’s actually quite fun to shoot and is very reliable with inexpensive ammunition. I’ve even heard some reports from fellow owners of PA HP22s that they have shot thousands of rounds through theirs that they bought in the late 90s for just $80. So the finish isn’t great and it’s not the prettiest gun to look at? At least it works and comes with a lifetime warranty. It may not be a Glock 44 but it also doesn’t have an MSRP north of 4 bills.
Anyway, that’s all I have for you guys today on the HP22 and The Rimfire Report. This has been another strange and less well-known pistol I’ve enjoyed running through the wringer and I’m interested to hear your experiences with the HP22 or what you’ve heard about them. Comments are always welcome below and we’ll see you in the next edition of The Rimfire Report!