January 31, 2023
If you ask shooters “what is the smallest acceptable caliber for defense?” you’ll find most opting for the 9mm, with a few allowing a .380 as being (barely) enough, and the .38 Special having a few gray-haired adherents. Smaller is seen as some sort of moral failing. Well, I know I’ve been on this particular soapbox before, but not everyone can handle a compact 9mm with bonded-bullet ammo going downrange. Not everyone can take the bark of a hot load out of a compact pistol. Not everyone is a candidate for the local high school track team, let alone a candidate for Ranger School.
What to do? How about a rimfire? In particular, the .22 WMR? No, it isn’t a 9mm, but it also doesn’t recoil like one. And yes, the .22 WMR might not have the stopping power, shot-for-shot, that the 9mm does, but to quote a philosopher of the 20th century “quantity has a quality of its own.” Enough .22 WMR, and you can keep yourself safe. So, we have the Walther WMP, the Walther Magnum Pistol. This is a .22 WMR pistol with a goodly-sized magazine, and all the Walther quality and looks. The slide looks just like the current design generation of Walther pistols, so you are not missing out there, if the aggressive looks of it appeal to you. If curb appeal makes no difference, then you still get the Walther quality.
WMP First Look
On top, the slide has the angular appearance and contour of the other pistols Walther is making. There are cocking serrations front and back, and the front of the slide has a set of holes bored through near the front sight, to adjust the mass of the slide for proper function. This is a straight blowback pistol, so it can’t have a slide that is too heavy. Like goldilocks, it has to be just right. The sights are a fiber-optic front and a notch rear, with the rear left square on the front so you can use it to rack the slide, should you need to do that one-handed. (Get taught, and practice this, it isn’t as easy as it looks.) The front sight is held in place by a torx-head screw from underneath, while the rear sight is in a transverse dovetail. Between the ejection port and the rear sight, Walther has machined the slide to accept a red dot optic and bolted a filler plate in when shipping. If you don’t want or need a red-dot, or just don’t have one yet, leave it in place. If you want to install a red-dot, then you unbolt the plate, and use one of the two provided adapter plates to affix your red-dot of choice to the WMP.
The slide and red-dot filler plate are both made of aluminum, with a steel breechblock pinned into the slide with a husky roll pin at the front. So, aluminum to provide the proper mass, but steel for durability in the breechblock, and handle the pressure of a .22 WMR, which has a factory ceiling of 24,000 PSI. To install a red-dot, simply unscrew the bolts on top of the filler plate using the provided T10 torx wrench. Once the plate is off, use the appropriate adapter plate (the owner’s manual has a list) to fit any of the four optics that will fit, then use a pair of the appropriate screws, color-coded, to lock down the optic and plate.
The big question: striker fired or not? Nope, hammer-fired. And an interesting hammer-firing system at that. When the slide cycles, it half-cocks the hammer. As you press the trigger to the rear, the take-up also completes the cocking of the hammer. When the trigger stops, the next pressure you apply loads the sear and then releases the sear from the hammer, firing the pistol. The slide cycles, the hammer goes to half-cock, and when you release the trigger and press again, you engage the cycle again. Very clever, and a way to get a nice trigger pull on a pistol. The WMP has three safeties, the blade in the trigger face, a striker block, and a drop safety. The frame has lots of controls, and lots of ambi duplication. The takedown lever is the only control that isn’t two-sided. That’s on the left side, and you use it when taking the WMP apart for cleaning. Behind it is the slide stop lever. This is an ambi setup, and you can lock back or release the slide from either side, using this lever.
The magazine catch is where things get really interesting. When Walther first came out with the modern series, they offered that model with the trigger guard paddle release. I thought it was great, but it had one problem: my hand was so high and tight on the frame that the paddle couldn’t move when I went to change magazines. But other people loved it. I told Walther, and the readers, that when Walther came out with the pistol with a side button, I’d get one. They did, and I did. Well, on the WMP, they went and built in both methods. You can use the paddle release, or you can use the button release, and they work on both sides. Walther calls this the “4-way ambidextrous magazine release” or “Quad Release Reload Mechanism,” but I’m just going to call it “The Quad.” The Quad means that pretty much any way you want to initiate a reload, short of ESP, you can do it. Right or left-handed, one-handed or two. Whatever gyrations you need to go through or find comfortable, The Quad means you can get the old mag out and the next one in.
The frame is also much the same as their other pistols. Up front there is an accessory rail, with plenty of room to fit whatever you want on the frame, and a squared trigger guard. The grip is contoured, ergonomic, has the Walther multi-directional non-slip texture applied, and feels good in the hands. There is not a replaceable backstrap, the frame is what it is. I’m sure Walther was fully capable of making the WMR with the same backstraps as the centerfire pistols, but that would have also added to the price. The frame has the serial number applied to the interior steel structure of the frame, visible through a viewing port on the right side, so I talked to the guys at Walther about that. It seems the initial design consideration was to make the WMP a chassis pistol. However, the market demand for other frame sizes, in a pistol chambered in .22 WMR, made that a pretty small demand consideration. So, while the WMP is built as a chassis pistol, Walther is going to see what kind of demand there might be for alternative frames. The likely options will be colors, such as OD Green and FDE. When you go to clean your WMP, there is no need to remove the chassis from the frame in order to do a thorough job, so for now, treat it as a non-chassis pistol. The serial number is also applied to the slide and barrel, in order to cover all the bases, and regulations, of wherever it might be exported to.
15+1 Capacity Mags
The magazines are another detail of interest. Typically, rimfire-version magazines of full-sized pistols are some sort of skinny rimfire mag adapted to a big pistol. So, the pistol has to change, or the mags have to change. Walther simply made magazines for the WMP and didn’t try to adapt some other model to the design they were producing. So, you have magazines that feel like full-sized magazines, to go into a full-sized pistol. And wonder of wonders, they hold 15 rounds each, both mags that come with the pistol. Well, those of us who live in a free state get 15-round mags. Those behind enemy lines get ten-round mags. And, the magazines have baseplates that fit the contours of the frame, and provide a solid grip for reloads, and continue the frame contours once inserted.
The magazine is of composite construction. That is, there is a steel liner that continues the length of the magazine, and the top of which comprises the feed lips of the magazine. But, the body of it is encased (except for the witness slot and follower button groove) in a solid polymer of some formulation. The magazine spring is pretty strong, if you are used to those in .22LR magazines. It has to be, in order to lift the cartridge stack quickly enough to keep up with the slide cycle. There is a small trick to loading the WMP magazine: the cartridge nose. The front end of the feed lips are just a smidge smaller than the cartridge nose, so you’ll have to load by pulling the follower down, then slide the rim of the round into the mag, and when the nose of the cartridge hangs up on the front feed lips, pressing it down into place. Once I learned the trick, it was second nature to load. If you ever get your WMP magazines grubby, or drop them in sand, dust, water, or someplace not good, the magazine can be disassembled. The baseplate has an access hole to push the internal retaining plate unlocked from the baseplate.
While we’re talking about magazines and feeding, it is a good time to discuss the extra info that Walther publishes for the WMP, the approved ammunition list. The .22LR has been around since 1884, developed from the .22 Long, itself an upgrade from the .22 Short, invented during the Civil War. The .22LR has had almost a century and a half of refinement, and firearms designers have had their whole lives to work out all the variables of reliable function in revolvers, pistols and rifles. The .22 WMR, on the other hand, was unveiled in 1959. For most of that time it has been the red-headed stepchild of the rifle community, and the idea of using it in a pistol has been an on-again, off-again proposition. The very idea of designing a self-loading pistol that would work with any and all .22 WMR ammunition is a pretty optimistic one.
Walther, being staffed by level-headed engineers, went as far as they could in making a pistol work with everything, and when it doesn’t, in their testing, they tell you so. So, they have a list of loads they have tested, and what works, what is Ok, and what isn’t. Not surprisingly, the heavier bullets, at the higher end of velocities, work fine. As you go lighter in weight, the recoil impulse isn’t enough to work the slide. One they mention, the CCI 30-grain hollow point, is a “works ok” class. Other 30-grain bullet loads are “not recommended.” Newtonian physics are not changed by persuasive arguments or lawyerly pleadings. If your WMP works with a load that isn’t on the list, great. But just because you got a smoking deal on something that is in the ”not recommended” list, don’t expect your WMP to work with it. And don’t complain to Walther, they did their homework on this subject and gave you a head’s-up.
Break It Down
Disassembly is the expected process. Unload the WMP and lock the slide to the rear. Rotate the takedown lever ninety degrees. Release the slide and ease it forward off of the frame. Remove the recoil spring assembly and tip the barrel down out of the slide. The barrel and chassis design are fascinating. The barrel is simply a rifled tube, and it has the attachment base secured to it by means of a pair of stout little torx-head bolts. The front of the barrel base has a synthetic buffer captured in place, to take the impact of the slide as it bottoms out. The rear of the barrel base is also the feed ramp, a ramp with a groove in it, to guide the rounds into the chamber. The barrel base has slots on each side, slots that engage tabs in the chassis, to hold the barrel tightly in place. As a test with the slide off, I found that slipping the barrel onto the tabs secures the barrel to the chassis pretty snugly. The base is machined to be a tight fit on the tabs. The recoil spring assembly is a captured steel spring on a polymer guide rod.
Reassembly is not difficult, with a couple of minor things to learn. One, the recoil spring assembly isn’t entirely obvious which end is which. So, you might have to fuss a bit until you get that installed. And the barrel can shift a bit in the slide as you are putting the slide on the frame. If it does, it won’t line up with, or slide onto, the tabs in the chassis. But these are learning details, not impediments.
The slide does not require a lot of force to rack. This is a good thing for those who might be considering a .22WMR as a defensive tool. While the .22WMR can be a bit loud, and flashy, it is not nearly as much of a hassle in those regards as bigger calibers. And with 15 rounds on tap, and fifteen more after a quick reload, it isn’t like you need worry about enough ammo on hand. The only real problem I can see with this approach, for someone who can’t handle more recoil, is the size of the grip. It is comfy, and it is ergonomic. But it is a full-sized grip. This is going to be a handful for those of small stature, or with hands weakened by age or injury. Proper training can alleviate that, but it will have to be considered. For those of us with big hands, or strong grips, this is a practice and plinking tool that is loads of fun.
Practice? Yes. While the lowest cost on .22WMR ammo I could find was higher than the lowest-cost 9mm, the difference was not enough to be off-putting. And if you are going to be practicing some place where you can’t get your brass back (some ranges are like that) or just want a break from recoil, the .22WMR is a good choice. A .22LR would cost less and recoil less, but it is more markedly different from a 9mm than the .22WMR is. The chrono results show this. Where a .22LR load with a 40-grain bullet out of a handgun is working hard to come close, let alone break 1,000 fps on a good day, the .22WMR tops that in the high 1,200 to low 1,300 range from the Walther WMP.
Walther WMP Specs
- Type: Hammer-fired, semiautomatic
- Caliber: .22 Winchester Rimfire Magnum
- Capacity: 15+1 rds.
- Barrel: 4.5 in.
- Overall Length: 8.2 in.
- Height: 5.7 in.
- Width: 1.5 in.
- Weight: 28 oz.
- Finish: Black oxide steel, polymer
- Sights: Notch rear, blade front, three-dot
- Trigger: 4 lbs., 6 oz.
- MSRP: $549
- Manufacturer: Walther
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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