The .22 LR pistol is an important part of any shooter’s arsenal, as it allows you to train the fundamentals of handgun shooting without the expense of centerfire calibers. That being said, most .22s are heavy target pistols ill-suited for replicating the feel of a pocket-size CCW gun. For people who carry these types of mouseguns, the Beretta 21A Bobcat is probably a better choice for a .22 trainer.
The Bobcat is made in America, in Beretta USA's plant. It comes in a standard Beretta handgun case (comically large considering the size of the gun) with one magazine. Beretta offers both a standard black version and a more expensive stainless steel model.
Out of the box, the first thing you notice is that the gun is tiny – a mere 11 ounces unloaded. It's similar in size to pocket pistols like the Ruger LCP, the Kel-Tec P3AT, and, of course, Beretta's own line of micro-sized handguns (the Tomcat, the 950 Jetfire, etc.). The gun's black finish and plastic grips aren't exactly beautiful, but they're functional.
A Unique Operating System
The 21A has a DA/SA trigger, a manual safety, and a button magazine release that's located near the heel of the gun's frame. Like most of the micro Berettas, the Bobcat uses a tip-up barrel; push a latch on the side of the gun, and you can drop a round into the chamber without racking the slide. It's a handy way to load:
The 21A is part of Beretta’s "Jetfire line." That means that while the Bobcat operates on the familiar blowback principle, it doesn’t use an extractor – the expanding gases of the ignition sequence push the cartridge case out of the gun. I'm sure the lack of an extractor saves quite a bit of time and effort (less slide machining needed, fewer parts), and it's reflected in the price - the Beretta Bobcat retails for under $300.
The Beretta's double-action trigger is absurdly heavy, gritty, and long - in other words, perfect training for shooting the small .380s that are in vogue right now. Similarly, the sights on the Bobcat are tiny, difficult to see, and non-adjustable, just like most pocket guns. The one saving grace of the 21A is its usable single-action trigger; it's the only way I could shoot groups good enough to actually be called "groups."
The poor sights and trigger hamper practical accuracy - this is the best 14 round group I could crank out at 10 yards (with CCI Mini Mag). As you can see, the gun shoots about two to three inches to the left of point of aim:
In terms of reliability, the 21A is just reliable enough for its intended purpose - small training gun. When the Bobcat was clean, I experienced a stoppage of some sort (usually a failure to feed or a failure to extract) about every 50 rounds, regardless of ammo type (CCI, Federal, Winchester, and Remington .22s of all sorts and descriptions - none were perfect, though hotter ammo tended o run better). If the gun was dirty, extraction would begin to suffer, and stoppage rates increased to about one in 20 to 40 rounds.
I've read that some people carry the Bobcat for defense. I wouldn’t. Even setting aside the anemic caliber, the gun simply isn't reliable enough to bet your life on. Plus, if you ever do have a failure to extract, the normal malfunction drills won't clear it because the gun has no extractor (you have to resort to picking the shell out with your fingers - not something you want to do in a gunfight). I wouldn't even use the Bobcat as a kit gun on the trail - with its poor-to-middling accuracy, it'd be hard to score good hits on squirrels, snakes, and other denizens of the wilderness.
On the other hand, the 21A Bobcat is a great stand-in and training aid for pocket guns. Shooting a small frame pistol with vestigial sights and a heavy trigger is a fairly specialized skill, and it takes many repetitions to really get proficient. Instead of running boxes of pricey .380 ammo through your LCP during this time period, you can get much of the same practice with the Beretta I guess the old adage is true...
--It is better to feed one (Bob)cat than many mice(guns). - Norwegian proverb