Fast & Fun: Rock Island Armory .22 TCM Rifle Review
February 11, 2015
Because Shooting Times has reported on Rock Island Armory (RIA) Model 1911s before, many of you are aware that RIA is the gunmaking side of the Arms Corporation of the Philippines. A lot of gun guys know it as Armscor, and the company has been making guns for close to 65 years.
I won't rehash the RIA/Armscor story, but it's one of the world's largest producers of 1911s in .45 ACP, 9mm, 10mm, and the proprietary .22 TCM cartridge. The firm also makes ammunition under the Armscor USA brand name. As such, the corporation has facilities in the Philippines, Montana, and Nevada. One of the company's coolest products is the .22 TCM cartridge, and there's a brand-new bolt-action rifle chambered for the fast and fun round.
Tuason Craig Micro-Mag
When I first learned about the .22 TCM cartridge, the only guns chambered for it were 1911 pistols. I was interested in the cartridge/pistol combo immediately because it boasted a muzzle velocity of 2,000 fps out of a 5-inch barrel. A couple of years later I reviewed an RIA 1911 for the Complete Book of the Model 1911. That pistol had a 4.25-inch barrel, and I liked the gun and the cartridge, but I wanted to know what the round could do in a longer barrel. I was thinking a 6-inch (or even longer) Model 1911 pistol barrel. But then I found out that the parent company was planning on bringing out a rifle chambered for the .22 TCM. I put in my request for one without delay. I received the rifle at the end of August 2014 and set to evaluating it right away. By the way, TCM stands for Tuason Craig Micro-Mag.
The .22 TCM cartridge might sound a bit like it's a weird .22 rimfire round, but it is not. It's a centerfire cartridge that's loaded with a 40-grain .22-caliber JHP bullet. Armscor USA offers one factory load, and there isn't any handloading data for it in any reloading manual that I know of. However, our reloading expert, Lane Pearce, has written his reloading column this month on developing handloads in the .22 TCM from the ground up. It's exclusive to ST, so if you have an interest in this cartridge, you definitely will want to read this month's installment of "Practical Reloading" beginning on page 14.
The .22 TCM cartridge was developed by gunsmith Frederick Craig and was originally called the .22 Micro-Mag. At the time, Craig was working as a consultant to Armscor, helping to train Armscor's machinists in the Philippines. Well, Craig had been working on a custom 1911 chambered for the .22 Micro-Mag built on an Armscor frame and slide, and the cartridge attracted the attention of Armscor President Martin Tuason. Not long after, Armscor began making production versions of the pistol chambered in what is now the .22 TCM.
The cartridge looks a lot like the 9mm Luger case necked down for .22-caliber bullets, but it's actually based on the .223 Remington cartridge case. Overall length of the ammunition I have is 1.25 inches. That's just 0.025 inch less than the overall length specification for the .45 ACP. See the sidebar on page 42 for more about the cartridge's particulars.
I think the .22 TCM makes for a dandy round for coyotes and other varmints, especially in RIA's brand-new rifle. And speaking of the new rifle, let's take a look at it.
The TCM Rifle
When I opened the box and pulled out the RIA TCM rifle, I thought it felt hefty. It has a bull barrel, and even though the company reports its weight at 6.3 pounds, loaded, it seemed heavier than that in my hands. I weighed it on my digital scale, and it came up 7.1 pounds, unloaded and without a scope mounted.
According to an early RIA press release, the rifle has a nominal 22.75-inch barrel and a 40.5-inch overall length, but the barrel on our review gun measured 22.25 inches. Overall length as I measured it is 40.5 inches.
This gun is one of the first to come off the production line, so I'm not surprised that its actual specs vary a bit from the press release. A company spokesman told me RIA is still tweaking the final configuration, and some changes and additional features may come in the near future.
A visual inspection of the bore revealed six grooves. Checking the twist rate with a cleaning rod and a tight-fitting jag determined it has a twist rate of one turn in 16 inches.
The TCM rifle has a hardwood stock and a Parkerized barreled action. There is checkering on the grip and fore-end, and the receiver has dovetails for mounting a scope. I used a set of Sun Optics USA rings that are adjustable for dovetails measuring from 9.5mm to 13mm to mount a Sun Optics USA 3-9X 40mm scope on our rifle.
The rifle's length of pull is 13.75 inches, and placing the TCM alongside my short-action Remington Model 700 Classic (chambered for .17 Remington) showed that the TCM stock is 1.8 inches shorter overall. Compared to my CZ 455 American .22 rimfire bolt gun, the TCM's stock is about 0.25 inch longer.
The TCM's bolt throw appears to be the same as my short-action Remington Model 700 but a bit steeper than that of my CZ 455. I don't have a tool to precisely measure the bolt throw angle, but as I said, it looks very close to the Model 700's.
I can measure bolt travel, and the TCM's is very short. It actually moves just 1.78 inches to the rear. The ejection port measures 1.50 inches.
The firing mechanism cocks when the bolt is raised. And the rear of the bolt has a pin that protrudes when the gun is cocked.
The TCM rifle's standard magazine holds five rounds, and the magazine looks like a shortened RIA TCM 1911 magazine. (By the way, the TCM rifle accepts 17-round RIA .22 TCM 1911 magazines.) The rifle's magazine release looks just like one from a 1911.
The rifle's safety is located at the right side of the receiver. It has two positions: forward in the "F" position allows the rifle to fire, and rearward in the "S" position prevents the trigger from moving.
The .22 TCM's Development
The .22 TCM is a relatively short, bottlenecked cartridge developed by RIA consultant Frederick Craig. The design objective was to duplicate or exceed ballistics of the 5.7x28mm but in the popular 1911 platform. FN's SS197SR 5.7x28mm ammunition is topped by the blue-tipped Hornady 40-grain V-Max and rated at 1,750 fps in the Five-Seven pistol.
According to Craig's website, he started with a shortened .30 Carbine case necked to .22 caliber at the 9mm Luger's overall length of 1.169 inches. Topped with Armscor's 40-grain JHP bullet, this configuration could safely reach only 1,600 fps. That wasn't good enough. Next, he reworked .223 Remington cases with the same overall length criteria but achieved only a modest velocity increase to 1,700 fps. That still wasn't good enough.
He concluded he'd have to fully utilize the 1911's magazine capacity by stretching the overall length to 1.265 inches. That change coupled with charging his test loads with a generous amount of .22 WMR propellant (OBP 390) finally delivered the desired performance objective.
The .22 TCM case closely conforms to .223 Rem. specs except it's about 0.75 inch shorter. Craig tweaked the .223's rim and extractor groove dimensions to make the case head more robust and more compatible with auto pistol functioning. He increased rim thickness from 0.045 to 0.050 and slightly deepened the groove to make the transition under the extractor easier. The factory load runs about 40,000 psi and is well within the .223 Rem. case's structural capability.
Weighing TCM cases and comparing them to typical .223 Rem. cases revealed that the average weight of the .22 TCM case is 70 grains (without primer) compared to 95 grains for most commercial .223 brass. The .22 TCM's case neck wall thickness measured 0.015 inch. — Lane Pearce
RIA promotes the new TCM rifle as a "midrange" gun, good for hunting small game and varmints. My shooting session proved those words to be true.
I fired a bunch of the sole factory load offered in .22 TCM in the new rifle, and my results are listed in the accompanying chart. I also fired the .22 TCM in a couple of new RIA 1911s just for this report. Specifically, the 1911s were a 5-inch-barreled FS Tactical 2011 and a 4.25-inch-barreled TCM Standard Midsize. In all, I've now shot close to 500 rounds of .22 TCM factory ammunition in the 1911s and the new TCM rifle, and I have to say I like the cartridge. I've included the results of shooting those two new RIA 1911s in the chart just for comparison sake.
Looking at the rifle's performance, the chart shows its average five-shot accuracy at 100 yards was 2.50 inches. That's for five, five-shot groups. I also fired three-shot groups, and the rifle's average three-shot accuracy at 100 yards was exactly 1.00 inch. Its best single three-shot group at 100 yards was 0.63 inch, and its best single five-shot group at 100 yards was 1.75 inches. Two of those shots were in the same hole. At 50 yards, five, five-shot groups averaged 1.00 inch, and three out of every five shots were touching. The stock was very tight against the barrel, and I suspect that affected the rifle's 100-yard accuracy. If this was my personal rifle, the first thing I'd do is free-float the barrel and see if that improved its 100-yard accuracy.
Just for the heck of it, I loaded up one of the 17-round pistol magazines and blazed away at steel targets placed at 50, 75, and 100 yards. I was rewarded with "clangs" each time at the shorter distances. I had to concentrate and use good shooting form to hit the targets at 100, though.
Early on during my bench-shooting session, I experienced rather weak ejection. The spent cases seemed to just dribble out of the side of the ejection port. I didn't have any failures to feed or extract, but occasionally I had to reach in and eject a fired case with my finger. Once I realized that I needed to snap the bolt back smartly during the extraction/ejection phase, I didn't have a single problem.
I like the .22 TCM cartridge, especially in a 1911 pistol. As Lane Pearce points out in his reloading column, it compares favorably to the .22 Hornet. Having a .22 Hornet-equivalent semiautomatic Model 1911 is something I like the sound of. I also like the sound of having a rifle or carbine chambered for the same round. In that respect, I like the new TCM rifle. It's comfortable to shoot, accurate enough for its intended purposes, and with an RIA 17-round magazine offers plenty of firepower. I'd like to see RIA bring out a version with a lighter-weight barrel and a slimmer stock — possibly even a synthetic stock that would reduce overall weight even more. I see this gun as a walking-around varmint-stalking rifle, and lighter weight would be my preference. I also think the .22 TCM is a perfect cartridge for a 1911 carbine, like those made by MechTech. With Rock Island Armory's manufacturing genius and efficient production methods, I bet the company could produce a .22 TCM 1911 carbine or carbine conversion unit for a very reasonable price.