The .22 LR handgun market is widely varied. There are numerous options in varying price ranges, however, within those ranges the guns seem to be grouped into distinct classes. And the most popular is still the full sized semiautomatic.
Within this class, two manufacturers are dominant. The Ruger Mark III (and the 22/45 variant) is the most popular, and the Browning Buck Mark pistols come in a distant second, but stand up well to the competition.
The Ruger Mark III
The Mark III is a versatile platform. Almost every variation imaginable has been produced. Short barrels, bull barrels, pencil-thin long barrels. Varying different finishes. Ruger has 14 models currently listed on their site. The barrels and frames are steel, or polymer (on the 22/45s). They function in single action mode only and all hold 10 rounds.
If anything defines these guns, it is this available variety. Yet every one that I’ve ever shot has two things in common. First, the Mark III is a reliably accurate gun. And second, it will be an exceptional value, meaning you’ll get more than what you pay for.
This is a Mark III with a 7-inch barrel, one that is not currently offered by Ruger.
The Browning Buck Mark
I’ve come to the Buck Mark late, but I’m pleased with what I see. They offer most popular choices of barrel length and profile, and have 15 variants listed currently. Their materials and finishes are similar to those of the Mark III, though Browning machines their frames from aluminum.
This is a Buck Mark Camper with a threaded barrel, a dealer exclusive from Lipsey’s, above the longer Mark III.
The Buck Mark functions in exactly the same manner as the Mark III. Cataloging their similarities feels oddly futile.
But they do have some distinct differences
Two of their features of the guns’ designs are worth looking at in detail. The first is readily apparent. The Mark III ejects brass from an oval cut out above the breech. When the slide blows back, it slides inside this steel housing.
Is this an issue? Not really. I’ve been shooting this Mark III for more than two years now and have never had a failure to feed or eject. But when I do, and I know I will eventually, the oval cut out may make clearing the issue a bit more problematic.
The Buck Mark, on the other hand, opens up completely. The slide is not as buried. When blowback happens, the Buck Mark opens up on both sides, allowing for much easier access to any potential problems.
But the real distinction comes after the shooting stops. These guns need to be cleaned well if they’re going to work. I’ve had nothing but headaches reassembling the Mark III. The procedure requires alignment of some very small parts inside the grip frame. The pin that holds the gun together, a pin that protrudes through the bolt and frame (and anchors on the back of the grip) is hard to get in and out. It is the most frustrating assembly of any gun I’ve ever seen.
The Buck Mark is the opposite. Though it requires tools, the top strap is easily and intuitively removed. The barrel is easy to unbolt from the frame. And it goes back together as easily as it comes apart. It is so easy.
Both the Mark III and the Buck Mark start in the $300 range and move up from there. They can be found for much less, used. Or much more, depending on the options.
If I were to put these head to head on the range, I don’t know that I’d be able to pick a clear winner. I have absolutely no complaints about how either of them work. But when it comes time for me to my work, I prefer the Buck Mark.
And that means something. Cleaning is essential to a .22 semiautomatic. These are dirty little rounds. They gum up the works. And I have put the Mark III back in the safe, more than once, dirty. Not because I couldn’t clean it right then, but because I didn’t really want to wrestle the gun back together.
Regardless. Every shooter should have a .22 handgun or two. Maybe three. I’d suggest a full sized automatic for target shooting and plinking, a no-nonsense revolver for any kind of preparations you might be making, and a compact automatic, just for kicks.