You cannot improve your defensive handgun skills by osmosis or imagination; it requires the physical activity of pulling the trigger while the sights are properly aligned on target. You can do this to some extent with dry-fire but ultimately you must put rounds down range. In doing so, one significant hurdle you must negotiate is the cost of ammunition.
Let’s say you shoot 50 rounds each month, 600 rounds each year from your defensive handgun. This is probably the bare minimum necessary to maintain your proficiency. To increase your skill level by a noticeable amount you will need to shoot twice that much. Unless you are a reloader, this means you will spend about $600 each year. Reloading can save you money but you must devote time that could be better spent shooting. Thankfully, there is another way.
Rimfire conversion kits are available for many of the most popular semi-automatic defensive handguns. Most retail for around $300, and you can buy 1000 rounds of .22 LR ammunition for less than $200. By using a rimfire conversion kit for the bulk of your training, over the span of three years you could save a grand or more.
I’ve been using rimfire conversion kits as training tools for a long time, but not just because they allow the use of substantially less expensive ammunition. The recoil and muzzle blast of centerfire ammunition are two enemies of accurate shooting. They can induce trigger jerk and flinching, even with seasoned shooters. The human brain is a magical thing, but it can only process so much information and control so many muscle functions at one time. When stressing your shooting ability through advanced tactical drills that require movement, threat evaluation and unconventional positions—all at a faster pace—the basic principles of shooting often become a secondary priority to your “on-board computer.” As you struggle to master the more tactical aspects of a certain drill, you often end up missing the target.
When you begin working on new tactical problems, using a low noise and low recoil rimfire conversion kit allows your brain to devote less of its operating power to struggling with the handgun and more to solving the problem. I’ve tested this on numerous occasions and found that I progress through the more difficult tactical problems if I begin live-fire with a rimfire conversion kit. This shouldn’t be a surprise; it’s a similar approach to the “crawl-walk-run” concept of training, but instead you dry-fire, rimfire and then centerfire.
If you have no experience with rimfire conversion kits, you’ll likely have concerns with how well they work. I know the concept seems almost too good to be true…could a less expensive approach to training be this simple? I’ve tested rimfire conversion kits from most manufacturers and found them to be accurate and reliable, more so if you work through a few different loads to find one the kit really likes.
Here’s a run down of five rimfire conversion kits I regularly use with four popular defensive handguns. The reported accuracy for each kit is based on the average of four 5-shot groups fired at 25 yards from a sandbag rest, with at least three different loads. Reliability is based on the number of failures to load, fire or eject over the course of a minimum of 300 rounds. All accuracy and reliability results were obtained with a variety of different ammunition in each kit.
Ciener 1911 .22 LR
Jonathan Arthur Ciener is the recognized dean of rimfire conversion kits. He makes conversion kits for the 1911, Beretta & Taurus, Glock and Browning Hi-Power. The Ciener kit for the 1911 was the first conversion kit I purchased, and I was immediately impressed with how reliable and accurate the unit was. I even used it for hunting small game. I’ve lost track of how many rounds have been fired in this kit, several thousand at least, and I’ve only cleaned the unit three times.
The Ciener unit installs in seconds and is similar to any 1911 slide and barrel, with the exception of the barrel bushing. You just slip the slide/barrel on the frame, retract it far enough to insert the slide lock and you’re done. It comes with adjustable sights and when installed on a standard 1911 the total gun weight will be about 5.5 ounces less than when the pistol is in its centerfire configuration. Each kit comes with one 15-round magazine and will work on full-size, Series 70 or Series 80 1911s. From a training standpoint the major detractor is that the slide will not lock to the rear after the last round is fired.
CZ-USA Kadet .22 LR
Of all the rimfire conversion kits I’ve used and tested, the CZ-USA Kadet has been the most accurate—hands down. It was also the most difficult to install, but the process isn’t overly complicated. The Kadet unit needs a slight bit of fitting to the frame of the CZ 75, which might sound difficult but only requires that you remove a small amount of material on the rails of the slide with a file. You can control how tight the unit fits on the handgun by the amount of material you remove. It’s about a 10-minute, one-time job.
The CZ Kadet kit is not only accurate but also very reliable, mostly due to the design. Only the lower, rear portion of the slide moves during recoil and this design seems more compatible with a wider range of ammunition. It also helps prevent accidentally riding the slide with the thumb of your non-shooting hand during recoil. Because of the low slide velocity of rimfires, this is something that can cause malfunctions on handguns where the complete slide cycles during recoil. Even though the complete slide does not cycle, the portion that does has grasping groves and you can cycle it by hand just as you would the centerfire slide.
The Kadet slide is fitted with three-dot, adjustable sights colored with luminous paint. It is the only conversion kit that utilizes a steel slide and it will lock to the rear after the last round is fired. Just like the centerfire magazines for a CZ 75, the 10-round .22 LR magazine does not drop-free.
Advantage Arms Glock .22 LR
My Advantage Arms Glock conversion kit came in a hard-sided case that included a cleaning kit, which is a good accessory because I’ve found the unit runs much better if it is cleaned every 100 rounds or so. This is the most ammo-finicky of all the kits I’ve tested, but worked perfectly with CCI Mini-Mags. Because of the conversion kit’s aluminum slide, total weight of the handgun was substantially reduced. Installed on a Glock 17, total pistol weight was only 15.1 ounces. When you consider the weight of a full magazine of 9mm ammunition, the pistol in the rimfire configuration is much lighter.
The aluminum anodized rimfire slide comes with adjustable sights and has an internal firing pin safety. The barrel is 416 stainless, and the slide and barrel install on the Glock frame just like the centerfire slide and barrel. Advantage Arms conversion kits are available for Glock models 17, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 26, 27, 29 and 30. They all lock open after the last round has been fired, have a one-year warranty and come with a 30-day money back guarantee. All kits are shipped with one drop-free, 10-round magazine.
KIMBER 1911 .22 LR
Of all the rimfire conversion kits I own, this is the one I use the most—partly because I shoot a 1911 more than any other handgun and the unit works so well, but mostly because I like it so much I sold my Ciener 1911 kit to a friend. The only downside to the Kimber conversion kit is that the slide will not lock back after the last round has been fired.
During live-fire training sessions with new shooters I routinely start them off with the Kimber conversion kit on one of several 1911s. I have yet to find a 1911 it will not work on. The kit is available with a silver or black finish and both come standard with adjustable target sights and one drop-free, 10-round magazine. The Kimber kit installs just like the Ciener and requires no modifications to your 1911. It will work on full size, Series 70 or Series 80 1911s.
SIG SAUER P229 .22 LR
My most recent rimfire conversion kit acquisition was for a Sig Sauer P229. Sig Sauer also offers conversion kits for the P220, P226 and P228. (As a side note, with the purchase of a new slide, barrel, recoil spring and magazines, a P229 can become a 9mm, .40 S&W or a .357 SIG.) The conversion kit for the P229 or any of the other Sig Sauer pistols comes with adjustable sights and one, drop-free, 10-round magazine. The barrel and slide of the conversion kit are 0.6 of an inch longer than a standard P229 barrel, but with the conversion kit installed the pistol still works in most holsters designed for the P229.
Sig Sauer conversion kits are super easy to install. Lock the centerfire slide to the rear, rotate the takedown lever and remove the slide. Then slip on the rimfire slide/barrel, lock it to the rear, rotate the takedown lever and let the slide go forward.
This is a very reliable unit with ammunition it likes, as long as you keep the chamber clean. I use this conversion kit a great deal to help me get used to the long trigger pull on the Sig Sauer—something I struggle with due to the amount I shoot a 1911. How accurate and convenient is the Sig Sauer? I carried the P229 as a centerfire to Montana on a recent prairie dog hunt (Montana recognizes my West Virginia concealed carry permit). In and around town I was armed with a .40 S&W. In the field I used the conversion kit and shot several prairie dogs out past 40 yards with CCI Stingers.
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