Every now and then, surplus importers temporarily flood dealers’ shelves with an undeniable must-have. This is often most obvious in retrospect, as in when shooters are jabbering away ten years later and lament not picking up one of the “deal ABCs” when they were everywhere “for only ‘XYZ’ dollars!”
This is one of those stories, except I am giving you fair warning to strike while the iron is hot. A sizable quantity of Beretta 71s recently made landfall stateside. They are absolutely irresistible and priced to move.
The Beretta 71 was a fairly common plinker in the 1950s and well regarded. The Model 71 is a fixed-barrel, open-slide blowback .22 Long Rifle pistol. The little 17-ounce Italian single-action autos dried up when the Gun Control Act of 1968 made little guns into “bad guns” and ceased importation of many small handgun models. The 71 essentially became a secondhand-market curiosity for Beretta fans.
I was recently doing some business with Guerrilla Armament, a very savvy gun and gear store near Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, and happened to see a little auto all lonely on the bottom shelf. I initially looked right past it because it had one of those goofy fake “suppressors” on it, but something made me look again. On second glance, I realized it was a Beretta rimfire.
Okay, I was then at least curious but not exactly interested. The pistol got dragged out of the case and examined. I cycled the slide a time or two, and the incredibly smooth action set off bells and whistles in my head.
As much as I didn’t “need” a .22, especially one with a six-inch pipe hanging off the front, I immediately realized this was a chance to grab a blued steel .22 made “like they used to” at a price under the soulless alloy plinkers of today. Haggling commenced.
WHISPERS AND RUMORS
Legend has it that the little Beretta 71 was issued by, and popular with, the Israeli Mossad. Gunlore typically ascribes the shadowy spy service using suppressed 71s to X out any number of terrorists, including those involved in the Munich Olympic murders.
Unattributed rumor has it the threaded-barrel 71s that have been imported with the pseudo cans might even be Israeli surplus. Who knows? I’m sure someone does, but I’m happy with the possibility rather than an exact provenance. Better a possible spy gun than a certain pedigree to the Lithuanian Girl Scouts.
The guys at Guerrilla Armament told me the pipes were relatively easily removed, in most cases with the threads intact and ready to get back to work. The Italian .22 uses a 1/2×20 thread pitch, while most rimfire suppressors use 1/2×28. A simple thread adapter twists right over to solve the problem and can be picked up for minimal cost for those looking to go quiet on set.
OFF TO THE RANGE
I left the pipe in place and took the spy gun out to the range. With the pipe on, the pistol weighs 34 ounces and essentially has a buntline barrel at nine inches. In handling, it balances well and compares favorably in overall length and weight to the famed six-inch K22 Smith & Wesson target revolver.
The sights are obscured, much like with a real suppressor. The shooter can get sight alignment and then cover the target, relying on memory’s mental picture to place the shot as one method. The other is to just use the long barrel and sight down and over it much like with a shotgun. Both methods met my plinking needs with complete satisfaction.
One of my go-to non-scientific measures of precision is how well I can hit a nearly index-card-size 3×6-inch steel target at distance. That target never had a chance inside 15 yards. Stepping back to 20, the tally was consistently six hits per eight-round magazine. At ten yards, I had no issues keeping Winchester M22 inside the center half-inch “white” of an EZ2C bullseye by sighting down the pipe. The fun factor was almost embarrassingly high.
On a later trip to a closed facility that caters to government clients, the Beretta came out at lunch for show and tell. A line formed among some seriously experienced shooters to try the spy gun. All had the little grin that seems reserved for cool plinking guns as they rang an RSR Steel Silhouette out to 70 yards with the open-top rimfire.
As much as I had mentally snickered at the fake can on the Beretta, I have to admit I was pretty taken with it after shooting. The muzzle-heavy auto hangs on target very well and gives the gun a curious slight totter on the negligible recoil as the momentum transfers to the steel pipe. It’s almost impossible not to like.
The Beretta 71 cycled standard- and high-velocity loads without complaint. CCI Quiet .22 didn’t quite cycle the slide. Aguila Colibri didn’t budge the slide but were a hoot to fire in the backyard at stale fruit, taking the whole pretend suppressor thing to a convincing level of silence. The open-top action works so slickly that manually cycling rounds in this manner is too easy.
The Guerrilla Armament crew had shown me one of the guns they had cut back behind the threads and recrowned, and it was very slick with a unique look to it. The concept kind of got under my saddle and I decided to pick up a second gun and have them give it the same treatment.
They chopped the barrel to 3.2 inches, nearly flush with the slide, and recrowned it. The result looks sharp and handles well. The newly cut and crowned barrel shot like a champ, piling up a 25-yard group with CCI Standard Velocity that had the best four in a remarkable .65 inch.
This little pocket pistol has the heart of a match gun. Winchester Subsonic M22 put down 1¼-inch groups. Stepping back to 30 yards, the heavier 45-grain M22s rang my 3×6-inch “truth teller” repeatedly. At right at a pound, the custom 71 is like a J-Frame that you can plink the eyelashes off a gnat with.
My custom Beretta 71 fits pretty well into a Galco 1911 Yaqui Slide if I wanted to use it as a trail gun. I can see it just as likely riding in a back pocket with chamber empty (Condition 3) carry.
The .22’s sights are small but well executed, allowing a good sight picture once the pipe is removed. The single-action triggers break crisp after a bit of movement, at 4.2 and 4.5 pounds on my pair.
The eight-shot magazines release via an old-school European button on the bottom of the left grip panel and are a bit of a hassle to load, in the manner of most older rimfire pistols. The thumb safety snicks on and off like a familiar 1911.
All the steel bits are old-world polished and precise, and Beretta’s reputation for quality work still stands out on these, though they are many decades old. I suspect that to have a company in the current market make a .22 the way these were made would run into some serious cost—probably well over a grand.
I’ll warn you fair and square: these Berettas are keepers and will be one of the more enjoyable handguns in your pile. If you wait, you’ll likely be telling the “one that got away” regret story at the range in a few years, as the current owners hoard their “new favorite” Italian spy .22s and the supply dries up.
Justin Dyal retired from the U.S. Marines as a Lt. Colonel with worldwide experience in specialized units. He has taught and been responsible for numerous advanced skills and weapons courses within multiple organizations.
CENTURY INTERNATIONAL ARMS, INC.
RENAISSANCE STEEL RESEARCH