Notes for Novices No.3

The .22 Automatic Pistol – By Anthony Mitchell


This article covers the principle of operation of the .22 automatic pistol, as this is the one most commonly encountered by new shooters. The pistol may also be referred to as a semi-automatic or a self-loading pistol. i.e. when the trigger is pulled, a shot is fired, the empty cartridge case is ejected, a new cartridge is loaded and the action is cocked. The following article covers general principles of operation and will enable the major components of a pistol to be identified.

This article is a general guide only. For specific details on your own gun, check the instruction manual or seek the advice of a competent person.


.22 automatics operate using a blowback action. This means that at the instant of firing, the breech block is held closed by the mainspring. This is a simple and reliable action well suited to a cartridge of this power.


Cartridges are loaded into the magazine. The magazine contains a spring and a follower. The spring forces the cartridges to the top of the magazine, ready to be loaded into the chamber. The follower usually has a button on the side. This allows the spring tension to be reduced and makes loading easier. Figure 3 shows a fully loaded magazine.


The slide contains the breech block, extractor, firing pin, and safety catch. The slide has an opening called the ejection port. This allows the spent cartridge case to be ejected clear of the pistol after firing.

Safety Catch

The safety catch is manually operated and has two positions; safe and fire. Another safety mechanism commonly encountered is the magazine safety i.e. the pistol cannot be fired unless the magazine is in place.

Loading and Firing

The loaded magazine is inserted. With the muzzle pointed downrange and the trigger finger outside the trigger guard, the slide is pulled to the rear and released. The slide travels forward under pressure from the mainspring, chambering a cartridge as it travels forward. With the cartridge in the chamber, the extractor is hooked to the rim of the cartridge. The gun is now ready to fire.

The safety catch is set to fire and the trigger is pulled, allowing the firing pin to strike the cartridge, sending the bullet downrange. The recoil pushes against the breech block, overcoming the mainspring pressure, thereby sending the slide to the rear. As the slide travels rearward, the extractor pulls the spent cartridge case from the chamber. When the spent case hits the ejector, the case is thrown clear. At the end of its rearward travel, the slide cocks the hammer. The mainspring then forces the slide forward to chamber a cartridge for the next shot.

When the magazine is empty, the follower in the magazine holds the slide in the open position, reminding the shooter that the magazine is empty.


To remove the empty magazine, simply depress the magazine release lever. The magazine will then drop out under spring tension. Insert a new magazine and press the slide release lever. The slide will move forward and chamber a new cartridge. You may then continue shooting.


To unload the pistol, depress the magazine release lever. The magazine does not have to be empty.

It is important to remember that removing the magazine will not remove a cartridge from the chamber. After removing the magazine, pull the slide back and eject any round in the chamber. Check that the chamber is clear before casing the pistol and moving from the firing line.


Modern firearms have been made as safe as possible, but safety mechanisms are not a substitute for safe gun handling.

Until next time, have a happy and safe shoot!

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