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Smallbore Slabsides: Rock Island Armory .22 TCM Review

by James Tarr   |  January 9th, 2013 25
Rock-Island-Armory-22-TCM_002

Developed specifically for the 1911, the .22 TCM cartridge uses a shortened .223 case and sends a 40-grain bullet downrange at over 2,000 fps.

Every year at the SHOT Show I come across a product that doesn’t grab my attention at the time, but later proves to be more interesting. One of the hidden gems of the last show was the Rock Island Armory 1911, chambered in .22 TCM.

At the end of a long line of busy stalls at the SHOT Show’s “Media Day at the Range,” I saw a few people shooting some 1911s. As that area of the range was dedicated to rifle products, I was a little intrigued. Did the organizers screw up and stick a pistol manufacturer on the rifle line?

Never one to shirk my duty of shooting OPA (Other People’s Ammo) through guns I wouldn’t have to clean, I wandered over and ended up having great fun with (what I thought was) a brand new cartridge—the .22 TCM.

The fine folks at Rock Island Armory were showing off their new pistol, a 1911 chambered in a proprietary cartridge named the .22 TCM. Boxes of Armscor .22 TCM ammo were everywhere. While the cartridge looked like a 9mm necked down to take .223 bullets, the .22 TCM cartridge is actually a much-shortened .223 Rem. case designed to fire a 40-grain bullet at around 2100 fps out of a pistol-length barrel.

At the time, I didn’t really know much about the history of the .22 TCM, or even if it had a history; I was too busy having fun. Amazed at how accurate the pistol/cartridge was, I was dinging a steel silhouette target at 100 yards pretty much as fast as I could pull the trigger, and part of that was because of how little recoil the cartridge had.

Knowledge sneaks up on us sometimes when we’re not looking for it. Fast forward the better part of a year, and suddenly I became aware of the interesting history of the .22 TCM, Armscor, and Rock Island Armory.

At a writer’s event I was standing around with a friend of mine, Guns & Ammo’s Handguns Editor Patrick Sweeney, and we were trying to name all the companies that actually make AR-15 lower receivers. Not assemble, manufacture. You may be surprised to learn that we could only come up with about seven names. Most of the companies in the marketplace selling AR-15s are building them on receivers made by someone else, and the same can be said of the 1911 market as well.

If you haven’t heard of Rock Island Armory, it is a division of Arms Corporation of the Philippines: Armscor. Most Americans (and I will raise my hand as well) are blissfully ignorant of the international nature of the arms market, and might not have heard of Armscor except in passing. Saying Armscor sells guns and ammunition is a bit like saying Wal-Mart is a large retailer.

If you own more than one 1911, chances are that Armscor made one of them, even though its name might not appear anywhere on it. Armscor makes the STI Spartan 1911 and all the Auto-Ordnance 1911s, just to name a few. Last year, they sold about 40,000 units in the United States alone.

All Rock Island Armory frames and slides are manufactured on modern CNC equipment out of 4140 chrome-moly steel. While they started out making GI-clone basic 1911s with Parkerized finishes, they now have a full line of pistols loaded with all the modern custom features (beavertails, extended safeties, etc.) American 1911 fans have come to expect.

Armscor is located in Marikina City, Philippines. If this gives you mental images of local tribesmen banging out frames by hand in grass huts, just be aware that Armscor is a huge, modern company, and received ISO-9001 certification eight years before Colt got theirs. They are one of the biggest arms and ammunition producers in Asia, and want to increase their market presence in America as well. To that end they have begun manufacturing ammunition in Montana.

The .22 TCM cartridge was originally the brainchild of custom gunsmith Fred Craig. The “.22 Micro-Mag,” as Craig called it, was developed for several reasons. First, he wanted to design an American cartridge that could offer excellent muzzle energy and light recoil, and combine it with, as he says, “the one true American pistol platform”…the 1911.

Secondly, he had economics in mind. Craig thinks it’s only a matter of time before .45 ACP ammo costs $1 or more per round, and anything he could do to reduce the cost of ammunition would be a good thing.

1911s chambered in odd calibers are nothing new. From .22 Long Rifle to .30 Carbine, if it can be made to fit inside the 1911 envelope, gunsmiths have chambered a 1911 in it. Craig wasn’t interested in pushing the envelope of performance (.50 GI or .45 Grizzly Win. Mag., anyone?), but rather offering American gunowners a caliber alternative.

How did the .22 Micro-Mag end up the .22 TCM? Craig had been working for several years as a consultant to Armscor, helping to tweak its modern iterations of the 1911. He also personally hired and trained many of the machinists working at the Armscor factory in the Philippines.

Craig had been working on a custom 1911 chambered in his .22 Micro Mag, using Rock Island Armory frames and slides, and the cartridge attracted the attention of Martin Tuason, president of Armscor. Tuason was excited about the cartridge, and it wasn’t long before Rock Island Armory was making production versions of the pistol chambered in .22 TCM—Tuason Craig Micromagnum.

I have seen numerous stories and articles which state that the .22 TCM is a necked-down 9mm case. I think many of these reviewers were just assuming the 9mm was the starting point, as the case head diameter was so similar. Having gotten into a lot of trouble over the years assuming, I did a little research. The fact is that the parent case for the cartridge is the .223 Rem.

The case head diameter of the 9mm (.394″) is very close to that of the .223 Rem. (.378″), and holding them side-by-side, the difference really isn’t visible to the naked eye. Internally, the web of the .223 is stronger, and the extractor cut is shaped differently as well. Part of the confusion may lie with the fact that the .22 TCM fits and feeds from standard 9mm 1911 magazines.

The .22 TCM is a bottlenecked cartridge, and the shoulder starts at about where the case of a 9mm ends. As the TCM is designed to fit and feed from 1911 magazines, the overall length will never be more than that of the .45 ACP, 1.275 inches. The .22 TCM ammunition I received for testing from Armscor was loaded with 40-grain JHPs and had an overall length of 1.25 inches. It had an “AP” headstamp, and was marked 22 TCM.

Actually, while the ammunition was labeled as “jacketed hollow points,” I think a more accurate definition would be jacked soft points, as the cavities in the exposed lead noses were so small as to be insignificant.

Rock Island Armory sells the .22 TCM pistol as a combination package, with a 9mm conversion barrel and recoil spring included. The base gun is a wide-body high-capacity 1911 based on the proven Para-Ordnance frame. When filled with 9mms, the flush magazines hold 17+1 rounds whether you’re filling them with 9mms or .22 TCMs—that’s right, you don’t need different magazines for the caliber conversion, just a new barrel and recoil spring.

The magazine supplied with my test pistol was manufactured by Mec-Gar, but any 9mm/.38 Super magazine designed for the Para will work with the RIA .22 TCM. Mec-Gar is a lot like Armscor, but instead of guns they are an OEM supplier of magazines for a number of different companies, including Smith & Wesson and Ruger.

Compared to a standard, single-stack 1911 a widebody 1911 is a bit, well, wide. As a result, the RIA TCM is not fitted with a long trigger, so most people should have no trouble reaching it. Apart from the caliber, the TCM looks like most modern 1911s.

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