Gun Review: Beretta 21A

While I’m a big caliber guy, and I love the new breed of subcompact and pocketable automatics in 9x19mm or greater, I have a soft spot for those micro-guns of yesteryear in the miniscule cartridges of .22 LR, .25 ACP, and .32 ACP (and to some extent .380 Auto).

(Sorry for the crappy Cellphone camera shots. I have a line on a new Camera, and just need buy the damn thing)
I have such conflicting feelings with these guns. These guns are 100% defensive arms. They aren’t built for target shooting, and they aren’t in major hunting calibers. They are built to be small, light, and easy to carry. Until you get to VERY modern guns these are in VERY light calibers.

These guns are relics of the past, just like a .303 Enfield can be still used to fend off attackers, frankly technology has made some very impressive guns that do the job that the SMLE was originally built to do, better. Same goes for these little micro-pistols. You can find a safer, better, lighter, and easier shoot gun than these, at about the same size and weight in .380 ACP or 9×19.

Still its not like these are BAD guns, and I love what they represent. The gun in the top middle is a Colt Vest Pocket that was made in Hartford Connecticut in 1917. Its a microscopic gun in a microscopic caliber (.25 ACP) but it shows that even in “more civil times”, and not just out in the “Wild West” but in the big cities Back East people wanted a small light gun they could carrying around with not much burden.
This little Colt is a fine swiss watch of sorts. It runs like a champ and feels good in the hand. The ergonomics aren’t quite of M1911 levels, but John Browning knew his stuff. Still the cartridge is VERY weak, but quite expensive. Still if you FEEL the need to carry a small gun in .22 or .25 ACP, .25 might be a better choice as Centerfire rounds tend to hold up a little better when it comes to reliability.

The Lower Right was a surrogate for the Colt, still a small gun (tho not as much) but in .22 LR. This is my Jennings J-22. Its a mostly-zinc “Potmetal” gun made to be an inexpensive gun for people who couldn’t afford a larger, more complicated gun, but still had the need to defend themselves. Its actually a surprisingly good gun (but then again I set the bar low) its surprisingly easy to shoot accurately as it has much larger sights than most guns of its size, and a barrel with micro-rifling that seems to do a good job at keeping the bullets stable in flight.

It is NOT a reliable gun. As a rule I find that you can get through about 50 rounds with only a few jams…then afterwards you’re going to spend more time clearing jams than shooting.

So let’s talk about the lower Left. I have a friend who got me hooked on Mouse guns (he actually sold me the Colt), in his private collection he has a Beretta 21A in .25 ACP. I got a chance to handle it, and I was impressed with the elegance of the design, I decided if a variant in .22 LR became available to me (these guns are not Massachusetts approved, so they are rare in-state) I’d grab one.

Well one became available. I almost didn’t get it, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and its rarity, as well as what good condition it was in. I decided to get it the next day (and somebody came in looking for it while I was doing the paperwork).

Its a neat gun indeed. The big thing is it features a tip-up barrel and an action that does not have an extractor.
Beretta 21A Barrel
To load this gun you simply flip the lever (which is situated in a similar location to a slide lock or a take-down lever) which released the barrel (which pops up under spring tension), insert a loaded magazine, the insert a cartridge directly into the chamber. The same to clear the gun you simply drop the magazine and flip up the barrel.

Never once in the standard operation of this gun do you need to rack the slide. That’s just cool!

I said the gun doesn’t have any extractors, which is what allows you to drop rounds directly into the chamber (it is ill-advised to do this in a conventional pistol because it forced the extractor to crash into the cartridge rim and jump over the rim. This can stress your extractor and cause it to eventually break, also it might cause a rim-fire cartridge to discharge) Instead the cartridge is ejection simply from gas pressure inside the barrel.

This “jet fire” ejection has been said can cause the gun to be less reliable. Overall I find .22 LR pistols to be more unreliable than centerfire cartridges in the first place. Still I was using mostly Federal American Eagle supersonic ammunition at the range today and it wasn’t until the gun had eaten a little over 100 rounds that it started showing signs or decreased reliability.

The sights are of the microscopic type of these old-style pocket pistols. The rear sight is simply a raised hump with a notch ground into it at the back of the slide. The front sight is a short skinny blade at the muzzle. My Colt .25’s sights are practically unuseable, I expected the Beretta sights to be the same. They weren’t. They weren’t as easy as my carry guns with their big sight blocks, but I actually found I could put sights on target without too much difficulty, even against a black target.

The gun is DA/SA, the hammer and trigger can be manipulated with the barrel tipped up, so the hammer can be decocked before the gun is loaded. The hammer also features a half-cock notch for added drop-safety. The gun also has an inertial firing pin.

The SA trigger pull is as nice as anything you could expect. No slack, no over-travel, and a clean break. The DA pull is clean until you get to the sear when there is quick stack in pull pressure before the trigger breaks cleanly. This isn’t so bad that it pulls your shot low, but it isn’t as pretty as it could be.

At the range until it started getting gummed up I couldn’t put it down. IT IS SO FUN TO SHOOT! I’m glad I got it.

Cleaning, is a joy too.

Just pop the barrel up, cock the hammer, and pull the slide back slightly to pop it off the leaf springs that serve as the recoil spring, then lift the slide off the frame. Its an open-top slide like most Berettas, so its VERY easy to clean. To put the gun back together you just drop the slide back on the frame and then click the barrel back in place and function-test.

So a VERY cool gun. They’re easy to get in free America, and I recommend them to anybody interested in an inexpensive and fun gun for range use, or as a backup gun. I wouldn’t recommend this as a primary carry because .22LR and .25 ACP is a very weak round…still if this is all you can or want to shoot, its better than a sharp stick.

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44 Responses to Gun Review: Beretta 21A

  1. alcade says:

    “These guns are relics of the past, just like a .303 Enfield can be still used to fend off attackers, frankly technology has made some very impressive guns that do the job that the SMLE was originally built to do, better.

    Good post. Interesting that you mention the Enfield, I just finished reading The Other Side of the Mountain, a collection of vignettes from the Soviet – Afghan war, from the perspective of the Mujahideen. They mentioned that the Mujahideen often favored the old Enfields left over in the country (which they referred to as “11-shooters”) over captured AK-47s because the .303 round would penetrate Soviet flak jackets, and the 7.62 would not. I’ve been hankering to buy an Enfield lately, I’ve already got a jungle carbine, but its been rechambered to .308.

    • Weerd Beard says:

      But they would be better off with G3s, or FALs, or even the equally ancient SVT-40. The Enfield really was the bolt-action that really gave the leap to Semi-auto battle-rifles a run for their money. Still the Brits Dropped the SMLE like it was hot for the L1A1.

  2. maddmedic says:

    You said Jennings….

    I have one….

    Yes accurate….Surprisingly in fact….


  3. 1911Man says:

    I had one of those Berettas. Piece of CRAP. Every 20 rounds or so, the gun would completely disassemble itself in my hand – slide came off, everything. THE very last gun I would ever think about carrying, even as a backup backup.

    • Weerd Beard says:

      I bet something was worn or out-of-spec. I can see how a bad latch would cause this to happen, or a worn barrel catch. Haven’t heard much of that specific problem, but you won’t see me arguing about NOT carrying this gun. You can easily get a .380 or even a 9×19 that does EVERYTHING this gun does, and with enough power for more consistent wound patterns. I may have to take my buddy’s .25 to the range to see if the centerfire and semi-rimmed case runs smoother than the .22 Variant.

    • Gary Moore says:

      Had a popup Beretta since 1965, seems my girls thought they needed them, now on my 6th one. The newer ones need a little more break in about 100 rounds of CCI mini mags, mine have always been 22 L R. My unit carried them in Nam, as did the Israel special forces. Never had one come apart, or give me any real problems. 99% of the time I carry a 1911, but sometimes I go places where they have have no carry signs up, then my 21 a goes

  4. Old NFO says:

    Pocket guns are a fact of life, and they have been around for a LONG time! I personally don’t like the little ones for the reliability issues, having carried a snub nose as a back up for years, that is my go to; but having said that, the old ones are neat collectibles! 🙂

  5. Paul says:

    Re: the 303 British and other antique guns

    No weapon is obsolete as long as it can kill. Rocks, spears, swords, whatever, will never be obsolete – just old fashioned, and definitely less convenient.

    I like those mouse guns too – but they bite my hands.

    • Weerd Beard says:

      Yep, what killed a man or beast 1million years ago will still work today (tho with modern medicine it can intervien a good deal) still this Beretta runs about $300 NIB in a free state, that $300 could be better spent on a Ruger LC9 or LCP, or a Kel-Tec PF9, P11, or P3AT.

      But if your Grandfather dies and leaves you his .25 ACP carry gun, and that’s what you have, by all means carry it, for it beats harsh language any day of the week.

      Same with Rifles, or shotguns. If all you have is Grand Dad’s 1903, or Garand, or an old SXS hammer shotgun (hopefully without the Damascus barrels that can only handle 2.5″ black powder shells) those are better than nothing and sure will work in a pinch.

      • Jack says:

        Yeah there’s something about seeing a bit of history and having it be just as functional now as it was then.

        Saw an pre Model 10 Smith at the gun shop today.

        Nice little piece in 38.

        There was also a Colt 1903, but a bit too pricey.

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  9. James says:

    I got a 21a a few months back an am especially pleased with its fit to my hand. I did a little research an learned it likes cci minimags. With that ammunition the pistol is reliable for six magazines, this with a new pistol properly cleaned and lubricated. I expect it to season with use as it is obviously a pistol made of high grade materials, and become even more reliable. Nice pistol, I’m very fond of it.

    • Weerd Beard says:

      I run supersonic American Eagle or Federal Bulk through mine. So long as the round count doesn’t get crazy high, if you grease the slide rails and the underside of the barrel it seems to run like a champ.

      Its one of the more fun guns I own. Plus I really have a soft spot for .22 mouse guns.

  10. Mr. E says:

    The 21a fits my hand perfectly and does double taps effortlessly, however I have not been able to get enough reliability out of it to use as a ccw weapon. It does seem to work better with five rounds in the magazine. Have any of you tried this?

  11. Cactus Kurt says:

    I really like my Beretta 21a. Tip up barrel, open slide, 11 oz, 5″ long… what’s not to like? Very reliable with cheap CCI Blazers. Load 6 in the mag… no problemo.

  12. Giuseppe says:

    This is my 3rd Beretta, a 92, a 76 and now this cute 21. It s fun to use for short plinking, no issues with Fiocchi ammo. Gun looks good and it s very pleasant to use, i may get one more mag and use it as a backup with CCI stinger ammo. Surprisingly it fits my big hands well.

    • Weerd Beard says:

      Yeah I find it VERY hard not to tuck this little guy into a range bag or a pocket when I hit the range. It is pure fun!

      Never shot a 76. they look like a neat gun too!

  13. Pete in AZ says:

    These are sweet little pistols (21A). I am on my third one and still have the original two. The current one was given to me by a shooting friend who could just not get it to work reliably. This friend is 83 and shoots with me every week. He wastes targets as he consistantly makes just one ragged hole, usually with a Kimber Solo or 1911.
    I have spent more time and effort on this gun than any within recent memory and am finally confident it may be carried as a backup. This is definitely an “ammo is the cause of any problem” gun. I have now ruled out just about every ammo except CCI.
    Their Blazer works most of the time and the MiniMag solid point is even better. The MiniMag HP falls short in both reliability and functioning.
    I am now searching for a treaded barrel as suppressors are legal here in Arizona. On that note I was told 30 or 40 years ago that this was the preffered weapon of choice by the Israeli Mossad. Don’t know if that is totally true but a 22 LR, especially in lower velocities is quite often deadly in close head shots. As in the Roach Motel the bullet checks in but does not check out, leaving a heck of a lot of damage in the cranium.

    • Weerd Beard says:

      The .22 I stock is the Federal Plated High-Velocity, it seems to run in just about every gun I feed it to. So long as I use grease on the 21A its good for about 100 rounds before fouling gets the best of it, so Clean I’ll carry it as a backup.

      I’ve also heard the same about Mossad. I think their big selling point is .22 can be suppressed VERY well, and in a small package.

      .45 and 9mm 147gr can be suppressed well too but even a compact pistol in those chamberings are huge with a suppressor attached.

  14. Wayne says:

    If i wished to carry a Beretta 21a .22l with a full magazine, but without a cartridge in the chamber, in order to fire is it necessary to pop the barrel and insert a cartridge?

    • Weerd Beard says:

      Nope, you can rack the slide like any other semi-auto. But why would you? The gun is perfectly safe to carry “cocked and locked” or with the hammer at half-cock with the safety on or off (I carry mine half-cocked and hot with one in the pipe). I don’t advise anybody to carry with an mpty chamber. Too much can go wrong when your life is on the line if you carry that way.

  15. Wayne says:

    Thanks for the quick reply! As far as carrying with an empty chamber my thoughts were for safety (to myself) and not so much for a quick draw. I will reconsider that in light of you advice. I had a chance to shoot a Ruger .38o LCP today and it was more firepower than I’m looking for in a C&CW so I’m considering a 22LR model, maybe the Beretta 21A. I have a Tarus .22 magnum 8 shot revolver for home protection (if the slug misses hopefully the noise will deafen ’em lol). Joking aside, the first round loaded is a CCI .22WMR Shotshell (very small lead pellets) followed by 7 magnum rounds. I can pull the trigger in fractions of a second so if the first shot doesn’t deter someone I would unload the remaining rounds attowards them. I’m not a gun guy by any means and I DEFINATELY don’t want to kill anyone, just looking to keep myself and family safe. Tks for the info.

    • Weerd Beard says:

      Remember like your revolver a double-action gun does not NEED a safety, but the Beretta has one.

      With the hammer on the half-cock notch there really is no way to touch off a round without a full trigger pull.

      Also racking the slide you can get a jam before your first round is fired, which is the last thing you need when your life is in danger.

      So my advise is stoke the gun all the way up, and either carry it with the hammer back and the safety on, or the hammer on half-cock with the safety where you want it. What’s great about the tip-up barrel is you can lower the hammer or bring it to half-cock with the chamber well away from your chamber, making it 100% safe.

      its a nice design. I still prefer my PM45 in my pocket for the obvious reasons, but there are far worse carry guns than the 21A.

  16. Tomm says:

    The bobcat is a fine little gun. I carry it alot. I think that, like many people I suppose, carrying a gun is kindof funny in a way. What are you afraid of? Well, my work entails severance of parental rights so I have to be careful sometimes. And frankly, any gun in your pocket is worth any gun someplace else. Sometimes I carry a colt 380, sometimes even a glock 36 in 45. But the gun that gets carried most is the 21A. I load one in the pipe, half cock on half cock and the safety on. All I have to do is flip the safety off with my right thumb and pull the trigger. That simple. I have shot this thing lots on paper, and that is informative. This gun is accurate. It hits where it points. I use CCI stinger only and the clip is loaded one down, meaning 6 in the clip, not 7. Sometimes when I have 7 in the clip the gun hangs-up with that clip round not getting into the chamber fully; so 6 in the clip, and one in the chamber. Flawless. Never have I had a hiccup with this combination. Those other two guns I mentioned are nice, but they are bigger, and weigh more too. The Bobcat fits my hand, and my pocket, and goes bang, right now too. The little 22 is an OK gun for self defense, just make sure you aim to put the electricity out and only a brain shot will do. So aim…

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  19. edward j brown says:

    I bought the 21 a bobcat brand new and I have fired less than 50 rounds through it this was in the late 1990s it had feed jams ejection jams miss fires, I just got it back from a gunsmith who has polished parts and replaced the firing pin, I wouldnt trust this gun with my worst enemies life. berretta is supposed to mean quality. not with this piece

    • Weerd Beard says:

      Sorry you had that experience. Certainly extraction is one weak points of this gun given the gun has no extractor, but I find in mine it is VERY reliable if you make sure the chamber is well cleaned, and the action surfaces are greased. Still with how dirty .22 Ammo is I generally only get around 100 flawless rounds thought the gun before it starts to hang up.

      Now if this was any gun I would consider for primary carry or home defense that would be a problem, but as a backup gun I know it can come out of my pocket and deliver 8 shots where I want them.

  20. trey says:

    I just got a 21a in .22lr. I also have an assortment of other firearms. I have not had a single problem with mine. I like using Aguila or CCI ammo in it. It does not like cheap ammo. I would trust my life with it, along with all of my other firearms. Self defense depends on the person not the weapon.Practice, practice, practice!

  21. Cortney says:

    Today i spent 300 $ for platinium roulette system , i
    hope that i will make my first $$ online

  22. steven says:

    I have the bobcat 21a in .25acp. Best lil gun ever. No problems at all with roughly 150 rounds thru before cleaning it. No problems while firing just wanted to clean it after use.

  23. steven says:

    Just thinking bout it. I’m leaning more towards 200 rounds before cleaning with no problems. Used whatever ammo local stores had at the time. Cheap but expensive for the caliber.

  24. Al says:

    Can any one help me .my 21a 22-slide pops up about every 20 rounds or so .like this little pistol a lot.

    • Weerd Beard says:

      The slide or the barrel? Either way, it sounds like it might be a warn part either on the barrel latch or the frame rails.

      Also given how small the gun is, are you 100% sure that your hand isn’t hitting the barrel release while you’re shooting?

  25. Mike says:

    I love this gun. It was my first hand gun, I bought it back in 84 right after it came out and I just got my permit. I still have the original box and paperwork on it. I can’t get sell her, I will give it to my daughter when my time comes. It is a great little carry, yes, you have to get up and personal with it but at 25 feet it is still accurate.
    CCI is the only ammo I put through it. I have used other ammo and I have gotten misfires and FTF and jams.
    Carry on my brothers in arms
    Carry on.

  26. Dr. Manarii Tane says:

    The CCI Stinger is not a good choice of ammo for this gun. The CCI MiniMag or CCI Velocitor is best. The CCI Stinger is 0.030 inches longer than any other .22LR and jams occassionally in this gun. I have had no problems with the Velocitor or MiniMag. Great little gun.

    • Weerd Beard says:

      Good to know. I generally don’t go fancy and just use one of several brands of high velocity .22 because when dealing with rounds .32 ACP or weaker you’re really just poking holes and hoping for the best. So my personal preference for THIS specific gun is Federal High Velocity. For .25s its any ball round that functions well in the gun, as expanding ammo still might not, and if it does I would be VERY worried about it penetrating the target in a useful fashion.

  27. Laurie Baldwin says:

    I had one once and had the same problem as the gentleman that said it fell apart. The darn thing blew apart in my hand, pieces flying everywhere. i didn’t think about a worn or broken barrel latch, which was probably the cause. It was a used gun so who knows what could have been wrong with it. I really want another one I would just buy new this time. I’m sure I just got someone else’s broken gun. I really want to try it again because it is a nice gun!!

  28. Faron says:

    Mr. Weerd Beard. Thanks soooooooo much for this article, it was super helpful in educating me on several points of the Beretta’s especially! I am not a huge collector but have several, mostly from back in the 70’s when I could trade most anything for them if u get my drift! I have always been a HUGE fan of S&W’s and own several but was always interested in Berettas because of their popular reputation. I recently got myself a Model 81 32 cal and just love it for many reasons. Now i’m interested in getting a 25 auto model, with flip up barrel . Thing is I got Rosewood grips from Altemont for my 81 and want to the same for a 25 but not sure if they make them, I like matching things! I also see where some models mostly newer have a satin finish and Im an old school fan of shiny blue. Could you possibly point me in the right direction for the years I should be hunting for for that finish? I am willing to pay up to get what I want! Again thanks for your time…Faron

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