June 20, 2023
One solution to the high cost of ammo is to shoot rimfire. (Admittedly, 22 LR is also hard to get, and when you can find it, more expensive than it used to be.) But, training with a rimfire pistol that doesn’t feel like your everyday carry gun, isn’t really ideal. Oh, you can do good work, but there is still a crossover problem, getting your learned skills over to, or back to the carry gun. (In an earlier era, I’d have used the phrase “transitioning to….” But that word has since been ruined for all time.) Ideally, you’d use a rimfire version of your carry gun. But, there isn’t always such a beast. Well, for those of you who carry the extremely popular SIG P365, there now is one. Enter: the SIG Sauer P322.
The contours are clearly SIG. The slide has the angular bevel and cocking serrations fore and aft. On top there is an adjustable rear sight, and a fiber optic front sight. There’s also a machined recess where you can install the red-dot sight of your choice. Well, once you remove the filler plate, of course. The filler plate also incorporates the rear sight, so you’d think that you’ll have to choose one or the other, irons or red-dot. That’s not the case here. The P322 is optimized (no great surprise) for SIG red-dots, and specifically the new RomeoZero Elite. The RomeoZero Elite is a carbon-fiber reinforced polymer body (yes, think of rebar in concrete, you’ll be on the right track) with a ten-year battery life. And the RomeoZero Elite incorporates a rear sight notch in its design, so you don’t have to give up the iron sight option. Now, the rear notch on the RomeoZero Elite is not adjustable, like the sight you just took off, but that’s not a problem. The notch is your back-up, and you simply have to learn the offset, if there is one. And the RomeoZero notch is also delineated by a superluminova stripe, to line up with the fiber optic front sight.
The slide is made of aluminum (the power level of a .22 LR is so low that making a slide out of steel would be a difficult proposition) and has a steel breechface insert. The extractor is internal, and the ejector is a fixed blade that rides in a slot in the slide. As the slide cycles, the ejector pokes out through the slot and punches the left-side rim of the case, pitching it to the right. Rimfire extractors have a tough enough job as it is, so keeping it inside the slide, rather than as a pivoting blade on the exterior, is a good thing. The barrel is fixed to the frame (we’ll get into that in a short bit) so you can count on excellent reliability. Reliability? Yes, if the barrel is locked in place, it makes the job of the magazine a lot easier, if we can anthropomorphize a magazine. The barrel has a short feedramp in it, which I take as a good sign. Since the SIG designers came up with a new magazine for the P322, they obviously spent their time making the magazine do the heavy lifting (if you will) of feeding, and didn’t depend on a big trough-like feed ramp to get each round up to the chamber.
The barrel also has a thread protector on the muzzle, because, yes, the P322 is ready for a suppressor right out of the box. Instead of making the P322 with an extended barrel, SIG designed the P322 to have its threaded barrel inside the slide. To install a suppressor (and yes, we are getting a bit ahead of ourselves here, hang on), you lock the slide back, or use the provided chamber-blocking device. This holds the slide back from the muzzle. Now use a 7/16" open-end wrench to remove the thread protector. Take the suppressor adapter and spin it on. With a 9/16" wrench, tighten to 45 in-lbs. You can now spin on your suppressor. Obviously, you can just leave the suppressor adapter on all the time, even when you don’t have a suppressor installed. (This is America, you get a choice. So make a choice.) The thread protector or the adapter, whichever one you choose to leave installed, is also the retaining stop for the recoil spring. You have to have the slide held back so you can unscrew the protector/adapter, else the spring will spring off, into the weeds. If you ever need to replace the recoil spring (how much .22 LR ammo would that be, anyway?) then you’ll need to hold the slide back, unscrew the adapter/protector, and then ease the slide forward. I figure by that time, you can just send it to SIG and let them deal with it. After all, you will have shot a bazillion rounds through your P322, it might need something else by then. Hmm, it’s a SIG, it might not need anything else but a new recoil spring. When that happens, in oh, let’s say the year 2045, let us know, will you?
The slide hides the internal hammer of the P322, which SIG chose as the ignition system for a rimfire, rather than a striker system. It may be counter-intuitive, but rimfire cartridges can be more difficult to set off than center-fire ones, and having the extra oomph of a hammer can keep your rimfire firearm purring along. The hammer is housed in the internal, stainless steel chassis, which is pinned into the polymer shell. The P322 is not meant to be a modular system. The chassis is pinned in with a pair of hefty roll pins, and when you see roll pins you should take the hint: this isn‘t meant to come apart. Once you have the slide off, you can apply a liberal application of aerosol cleaner to scrub out the inevitable gunk of rimfire shooting.
The chassis is also the home of the controls. On the front left side is the disassembly lever. Behind it the slide hold-open, and at the rear is the thumb safety. While the slide hold-open and thumb safety are ambi, the takedown lever is not. You don’t need a dual-sided takedown lever, but a number of shooters do want or need ambi slide-stop and safety. The thumb safety falls in the correct location for my hand, and has positive clicks both on and off. The slide stop sits right where the tip of my thumb could keep it from working properly, but in testing this has not happened. I suspect that the slide stop is such a tight fit to the flats of the frame and slide that my thumb just can’t get a purchase, and thus doesn’t interfere with its operation. The thumb safety does not lock the slide, so you can load and unload the P322 with the safety applied. The chassis serial number is visible on the right side, in a slot cut out of the polymer shell. Well, it is actually created by the mold used to form the shell, but it looks like a cut-out.
The frame has an accessory rail out on the dust cover, so you can add on a light or laser. On a lot of pistols the rail is also the location of the serial number, but not on the P322, since the chassis is the firearm. The trigger guard is big enough for even large hands, but it looks a tad small for gloved hands. If you are going to be doing rimfire training while wearing gloves, you might find it a bit tough at first, until you learn the trigger guard size. The trigger is a detail that SIG has given us yet another bonus with. The trigger system is single action only, so despite the apparent position of the trigger, you cannot shoot the P322 double
action. But what you can do is replace the trigger face. Face, Bar, Shoe, Whatever. This is relatively new territory, and we haven’t worked out the language yet. But the actual trigger lever, you can replace. SIG ships the P322 with a pair of them, a straight one (the one installed on the P322 shipped here) and a curved one. To swap from one to the other, you need to consult the owner’s manual (93 pages of it, the first 20 of which are warning, warning, warning. I blame the lawyers.) I like straight triggers, so I left it as-is, but if you want to use the curved one it is a task of a minute or two, most of which will be spent finding the right-sized punch to pry the trigger shoe (what SIG calls it) off of the post.
The grip area of the frame is very nicely shaped, and feels good in the hand. SIG has added a nice touch, in that the top of the frontstrap has a dished area directly below the trigger guard. This acts to press your hand up against the trigger guard, and keeps your hand as high on the frame as it can be. The contact areas on the frame have an aggressive texture, but it isn’t like you really have to worry about keeping a good grip while managing the recoil of a .22 LR. The magazine release button is in the expected location, right at the base of the trigger guard where it meets the grip area. It is, as we have come to expect from every new design, reversible so left-handed shooters can swap it over and have a completely leftie-friendly pistol. (Well, except for the takedown lever, but you can’t have everything, right?)
And just when you thought SIG had run out of “Oh, that’s nice, I like that” features, we come to the magazine. OK, we all know I started shooting when after your one shot, a backup gun was a big knife, and I expect a good and proper magazine to contain at least some steel. Better yet, all-steel. Well, the only steel I can find in the P322 magazine is its spring. The shell, follower, baseplate and follower button are all polymer. To ease the sting of that, SIG designed the magazine for the P322 to hold 20 rounds. No, that’s not a typo, twenty rounds of .22 LR, and you get two of them with the pistol. The magazines are open on the sides so you can use one hand to press the follower button down, and ease getting the next round loaded on top,. There’s also an included magazine loader you can use, but I didn’t feel the need. I tried it, just to give all the aspects of the P322 a run, but I’ve been loading magazines long enough now that most of them don’t require an extra tool. The P322 doesn’t for me, but a new shooter might find it useful.
OK, disassembly. The process is simple, and if you have any background in firearms at all, all I have to say is: PPK. No, not a fan of Depression-era German all-steel pistol design? OK. Unload the P322 and remove the magazine. You do not have to lock the slide open. Rotate the takedown lever counter-clockwise until the lever is pointing up. Now run the slide all the way back and lift the rear of it. The slide should pivot up, and you can then slide it forward and off of the barrel and frame assembly. Playing with disassembly before heading to the range I found the P322 to be a bit sensitive to the position of the takedown lever. However, if you wriggle the slide a bit fore and aft, you’ll line up the takedown slot in the slide with the rail tabs on the frame, and viola, up she lifts. This is possible because in machining the slide rail slots, SIG made the slot go a small amount behind the takedown slot, and you can be an eighth of an inch too far back. Once you get the feel for it, it becomes a lot easier.
In shooting the P322 behaves exactly as you’d expect a rimfire pistol that weighs just over a pound to behave. Recoil is snappy, but with no apparent push, at least for a .22 LR. That’s the slide, made of aluminum, zipping back and forth with the speed it needs to extract and eject the empty, and feed the next round out of the magazine. The slide cycles so quickly that you really can’t get an impression of it moving. You press the trigger, there’s a loud (or not) noise, and the P322 is closed up on the next round. Marvelous. Accuracy is what you’d expect from a plinker-level pistol, but with some loads more. While most loads were about as accurate as we’d expect from a 9mm equivalent-sized pistol, there were hints that with enough testing, and finding the best ammo, that the P322 could be a pretty accurate little pistol. Not Bullseye-level, that’s too much to expect, but enough to be called accurate.
That said, if you are using a P322 as a rimfire trainer, you will get accuracy as good as you get from your 9mm pistol. And if you are using it to teach a new shooter, it will likely be more accurate than they are. I did not have a RomeoZero Elite to mount on the P322, nor adapter plates to mount some other brand of RDS. So I simply made do with the iron sights. I dug my SIG SRD22 suppressor out of the vault, and did the swap over to the suppressor adapter on the muzzle. Oh, yes. A rimfire pistol, with a suppressor, and subsonic ammunition, is going to make anyone giggle when shooting it. So, what do we have here in the P322?
You have three choices, and you can blend two of them as you see fit. On the one hand, we have a plinker pistol that happens to feel in the hand like a centerfire carry gun, that being the SIG P365. This won’t be anything to a new shooter, or a shooter not conversant with the P365, they will just have lots of fun. And with the excellent trigger in the P322, they won’t be building any bad habits. Well, at least not any required by the pistol, anyway. The light weight, relatively soft recoil, and low muzzle blast (even before you fit a suppressor in place) will make it a lot more fun for your new shooter.
Then, it is a rimfire training tool. You can get in a lot of rimfire practice with the P322, before finishing your shooting session with the more-expensive-to-feed P365. (Not SIG’s fault, that’s just the current ammo market.) The magazines might not be exactly the same in feel, but close enough that your reloads won’t suffer. You can put on a suppressor, add a light, and train, practice and use the P322 the same way you’d use a centerfire pistol such as the P365.
The third option? What I call, and not meant disparagingly, a “Grandma Gun.” Twenty rounds of CCI Stinger or the Federal Punch, in a magazine that is light, handy, has light recoil, and a slide that is easy to rack? Sounds like a defensive tool to me. And, there’s another twenty-round magazine as a backup. Yes, yes, yes, we all know that the only “suitable” ammo starts at 9mm+P and goes up from there, but your Nana is only ever going to shoot one of those, before handing it back to you and declining any further practice. The P322 is going to be fun to shoot, and that is good.
The price for the SIG Sauer P322 might be off-putting to some. At current ammo prices (buying in bulk, obviously) the price differential between .22LR and 9mm is about $170 per thousand rounds. So, in 2,400 rounds you have broken even. Properly used, 2,400 rounds of .22LR is going to markedly improve your skills. So what are you waiting for?
SIG Sauer P322 Specs
- Type: Internal Hammer-fired semi-automatic
- Caliber: .22LR
- Capacity: 20+1 rds.
- Barrel: 4 in.
- Overall Length: 7 in.
- Weight: 17 oz.
- Finish: Black Oxide steel, polmer, anodized aluminum
- Grip: SIG Sauer
- Sights: Noth w/fiber optic rear, fiber optic front
- MSRP: $400
- Contact: SIG Sauer
About the Author
Patrick Sweeney is a life-long shooter, with more than half a century of trigger time, four decades of reloading, 25 years of competition (4 IPSC World Shoots, 50 USPSA Nationals, 500+ club matches, and 18 Pin Shoots, as well as Masters, Steel Challenge and Handgunner Shootoff entries). He spent two decades as a professional gunsmith, and two decades as the President of his gun club. A State-Certified law Enforcement Firearms Instructor, he is also a Court-recognized Expert Witness.
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