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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.

The pistol is fitted with an Ed Brown-cut grip safety, Commander-style hammer, and has a checkered polymer mainspring housing. The front sight is a serrated post, and the rear is a fully adjustable, all steel no-snag design reminiscent of the Novak. The slide has a flat top and a lowered and flared ejection port. The bottom edge of the slide is beveled, which is a nice touch you usually only see on custom pistols. I personally prefer the ballnose scallop on the front of the slide to the original GI design. If you see other gun companies selling 1911s with that ballnose slide cut, chances are it’s a Rock Island slide.

The left side of the slide features a very nice silver-inlaid “ROCK ISLAND ARMORY” and their logo (not sterling silver, the color silver). The right side of the slide features a subdued TCM forward of the ejection port. Both the 9mm and TCM barrels feature attractive polished hoods but are otherwise black matte.

The front of the .22 TCM barrel is flared to mate with the barrel bushing, as for most of its length it is a slender .50″ in diameter. From the muzzle it looks like most .22 LR conversion barrels. The pistol has a standard, not full length, recoil spring guide rod. Trigger pull on my sample was a crisp 3.5 pounds.

While that may seem light, my pistol did not have a trigger job. Some trigger designs (1911, M1 Garand) just naturally provide shorter and/or lighter trigger pulls than others (AR-15, Glock). Without any special custom parts, the trigger on my test sample provided a crisp trigger half the pull weight of a standard Glock. The 1911 has the trigger pull against which all other pistols are measured, and for good reason. I love my Glock, but that is in spite of its trigger, not because of it.

The TCM comes with a non-extended single-sided thumb safety. I would have preferred something a little bigger, but it is fully functional. The grips on the TCM were checkered black plastic, secured by hex-head grip screws. If you wish to upgrade/accessorize, aftermarket grips designed for the Para-Ordnance should fit. In fact, any aftermarket parts should fit.

The slide to frame fit on my sample was acceptable, but the barrel fit was superb. A field-expedient way to check barrel fit is to press down on the hood when the slide is forward, and if it moves at all you shouldn’t expect match-grade accuracy out of that barrel. The .22 TCM barrel on my sample had absolutely zero movement with the slide forward. The TCM barrel has a small built-in feed ramp, whereas the 9mm barrel is a traditional, non-ramped design.

To convert the .22 TCM to 9mm, the process simply involves swapping out the barrels and recoil springs. Visually there was a slight difference between the two recoil springs; the 7-pound TCM spring was slightly shorter and of a thinner gauge. The recoil spring provided for the TCM is 7 pounds, and if you get confused as to which spring is which, trying both in the gun reveals a definite difference in resistance.

A factory 9mm recoil spring is 14 pounds, but the one provided with this pistol was lighter. Even if you forget to switch out the recoil spring, your pistol will still function shooting 9mm with a 7-pound spring….at least for a while. A recoil spring that light will cause frame battering when using 9mms, especially +P ammunition.

The .22 TCM is not the world’s first bottlenecked cartridge fired out of a pistol, not by a long shot. Any pistol fan can think of the 7.63mm Mauser or 7.65mm Luger, but bottlenecked cartridges have ranged all the way from the 5mm Clement to the .400 Cor-Bon.

Both HK and FN have developed bottlenecked PDW cartridges in the last few decades (the 4.6 x 30mm and 5.7 x 28mm respectively). FN’s 5.7 is the closest to the .22 TCM in ballistics (not to mention more successful and commercially available), so let’s compare the two.

The 5.7 x 28mm from FN was first chambered in the P90 PDW and then the Five-Seven pistol. FN designers were looking to create a light-recoiling cartridge to replace the 9x19mm that would also defeat personal body armor. It features bullets between 31 and 40 grains, with velocities up to 2300 fps, at least when fired out of a P90’s 10.4-inch barrel.

The original 5.7 armor-defeating round is not available for civilian sale, but even in straight FMJ configuration the small fast bullet provides a lot of penetration. As for stopping power when compared to 9mm…well, that’s a completely separate discussion.

How do those numbers compare to the .22 TCM? Well, while the velocities of FN’s 5.7 at first seem better, most published velocities for that cartridge are out of the P90’s barrel. When fired out of the FN Five-seveN handgun, 40-grain loadings of the 5.7 provide about 1850 fps. This is about 200 fps slower than the .22 TCM. Fred Craig stated that he specifically designed the cartridge around a truncated bullet to allow for more space inside the cartridge for powder, and it was designed to be fired in a pistol.

I only had the one type of .22 TCM ammo to run through the pistol, but it performed as advertised—the average velocity of the Armscor 40-grain JHPs was 2081 through my chronograph, and I was able to do 2.1-inch groups at 25 yards when the caffeine shakes were leaving me alone. The 9mm barrel wasn’t quite as accurate, but most ammunition types were grouping about 2.5 inches. Both my 9mm and .22 TCM Armscor ammunition was made in its Stevensville, Mont., facility.

Felt recoil of the .22 TCM is negligible. It definitely has less recoil impulse than a 9mm. The same can be said about FN’s 5.7, and for how little pushback there is, it seems amazing that there is a bullet screaming out of the muzzle at 2000+ fps. It is a very flat-shooting cartridge out to 100 yards, although you most likely will see a zero shift when switching between the .22 TCM and 9mm barrels.

Chances are your point of impact will be higher when shooting 9mm (mine was about 5 inches higher at 25 yards), which is why the pistol is supplied with a fully adjustable rear sight.

In case you’re wondering why there is a zero/point of impact shift, this occurs because of how far the gun moves in recoil between the time the primer ignites the powder and the bullet exits the muzzle. As the 9mm bullet is much slower heading down the barrel, the gun has more time to rock back in the shooter’s hand before the bullet exits, hence the higher point of impact on the target.

I don’t want to get into the whole argument about whether little tiny bullets that may or may not defeat soft body armor are superior in terminal performance to the 9mm. If you read back to Fred Craig’s reasons for designing the .22 Micro-Mag, “stopping power” and “armor penetration” were nowhere on the list. So what’s so great about the .22 TCM?

Well, it’s different. If something different is what it takes to get you out to the range, as far as I’m concerned that’s a good thing.

Secondly, I don’t know how effective a .223″ 40-grain JHP bullet at 2000 fps+ is against human targets, but I know I wouldn’t want to get shot with one. Thousands of people have been killed by much more anemic cartridges. Effectiveness against two-legged predators aside, I think the .22 TCM would be a very good small game cartridge.

An accurate high-velocity .22 pistol with adjustable sights and a good trigger seems the perfect medicine for squirrels or groundhogs.

Lastly, a lot of the cost of ammunition has to deal with weight. Heavier bullets cost more because they have more metal in them—and if you’re a reloader, not only do you already know that, you know how much component prices have shot up in the past few years.

Loaded with light 40-grain bullets, and built off of the very common .223 Rem. case, ammo for the .22 TCM is not very expensive, even though it is a new and relatively uncommon caliber. Armscor USA is selling the ammo I was using on their website for $24.95 for 50 rounds, and searching online I found it on sale for less than $22 a box.

Reloading dies and data are already available, if you want to go that route. As it is designed from standard .223 Rem. brass, I don’t think it would be too tough to make your own .22 TCM cases either. As for bullets, 35- and 40-grain .223 projectiles are widely available. While some enterprising soul will probably experiment with heavier bullets, they can lead to excessive overall length or insufficient powder capacity with such a small case.

I don’t know what labor costs in the Philippines are, but they are apparently low enough for Rock Island to be able to sell frames and slides to a number of gun companies who use them to turn out reasonably priced 1911s. Cutting out the middleman is even cheaper, and the whole .22 TCM kit, including the spare 9mm barrel and recoil spring, has a suggested retail of only $749.

If the idea of an alternate caliber 1911 intrigues you, or you like the idea of owning a pistol no one else at the club is likely to have, you should check out the TCM.

Rock-Island-Armory-22-TCM_001

Not your buddy’s .22 1911—the new .22 TCM from Rock Island Armory is a new cartridge that throws a 40-grain bullet twice as fast as a .22 Long Rifle.

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