September 25, 2022

Rock Island Armory .22 TCM and .22 TCM 9R – Part 1, by The Novice

The following is my Range Report: on the Rock Island Armory .22 TCM and .22 TCM 9R models

Recoil influences my practical handgun accuracy. This made me wonder if I should experiment with a caliber that produces less recoil than 9 mm, which is my current go-to self defense handgun round.

First I checked out what was available in .380 ACP. I wanted something that was recoil operated with a double stack magazine and a four to five inch barrel. I could not find anything in .380 ACP that fit that profile.

Then Ruger introduced the Ruger 57, and my attention was drawn to the FN 5.7×28 mm cartridge. As I was studying that cartridge, I ran across some references to the .22 TCM. It sounded like a very interesting cartridge, producing muzzle energy similar to the 9 mm, while creating significantly less recoil.

I contacted Rock Island Armory to ask if I could borrow one of their full-sized M1911 A2s chambered in .22 TCM for testing and evaluation. They agreed to provide me with a sample (henceforth called the “22TCMFS”) along with 250 rounds of ammunition. Several days later I picked up the 22TCMFS from my FFL, and arrived home to find the box of ammo on my doorstep.

Opening the Box

The 22TCMFS arrived in what I consider to be an ideal sized case (11.5″ X 8.5″ X 3″). A smaller case would not be large enough to comfortably hold the firearm and magazines. A larger case would take up too much space inside of my gun safe. Another feature that I liked about the case was that it uses sliding latches rather than the less durable flexible plastic hinge type latches that are found on many cases.

Along with the 22TCMFS and two magazines, the case contained a plastic bag with an inspection certificate, two test fired casings, an Allen wrench, a small screwdriver tool, and the owner’s manual.

I read the manual to familiarize myself with the 22TCMFS, and to see how well the manual was written. The largest section of the manual consists of parts lists and exploded diagrams of the various models of Rock Island Armory 1911s chambered in .22 TCM. I noted that the manual claims that these handguns have an effective range of 100 yards, that this model weighs 2.448 pounds, and that it has a trigger pull of between 3 and 4 pounds. I was also interested to note that the manual recommends lubricating the 22TCMFS with 5 weight light machine oil or motor oil.

I took the 22TCMFS from the case and field stripped it to familiarize myself with its major parts. The 22TCMFS has a nice workmanlike black Cerakote finish. Its initial appearance was marred by splotches of excess oil. These were easy to remove in the initial cleaning.

The trigger was very smooth and broke crisply. The rear sight adjusts for both windage and elevation. The fiber optic front sight is quite easy to acquire. The slot on the rear sight is a bit narrower than I would prefer.

From The 1911 Family

I have fired 1911s occasionally, but this was my first experience field stripping and cleaning one. It was a clear revelation of the genius of John Moses Browning. My Walther P99 is easier to carry for an extended period of time, but there is just something aesthetically pleasing about a hefty hunk of Mr. Browning’s steel. A Beretta 92 is a more elegant design in many ways, but the 1911 is the original that served as the inspiration for all the others.

The ammo consisted of 40-grain jacketed hollow points with spiffy nickle plated casings. They looked almost too nice to shoot.

The First Range Session

I took the 22TCMFS and ammo to the range behind my barn for some initial testing.

First, I function-tested each of the magazines. I was able to load 17 rounds in each as expected. The last couple of rounds in each magazine were a little snug, but not excessively so.

Then I fired a series of five groups of 10 shots each offhand from 15 yards. Each shot produced an authoritative WUMP, but less recoil than would be typical for 9 mm.

I put an average of 72% of each group within two inches of the center of the target. I was a little disappointed, since I had been achieving similar accuracy with my Walther P99 with a four inch barrel. I was hoping that the lighter recoil and longer sight radius of the 22TCMFS would give me better groups (My greater proficiency with the P99 may have been partly due to greater familiarity, or because the interchangeable back straps on the P99 allow it to fit my hand better than the 22TCMFS).

Bottleneck Pistol Cartridges

Bottleneck pistol cartridges have a long and distinguished history, stretching back at least as far as the 7.65 x 25 mm Borchardt of 1893. The Borchardt led to the 7.63 x 25 mm Mauser of 1896. The Soviets juiced up the Mauser round in 1929 to become the 7.62 x 25mm Tokarev.

In the meantime, Georg Luger and Hugo Borchardt shortened the 7.65 x 25 mm Borchardt into the 7.65 x 21 mm Parabellum for use in the new DWM Pistole-Parabellum (“Luger pistol”). The German army wanted a fatter bullet, so Luger removed the bottleneck to create the 9 x 19 mm Parabellum, which has subsequently become the most widely used handgun cartridge in the world. The practical experience of two world wars seemed to favor pudgier bullets over their slimmer brethren.

The Soviets eventually replaced the 7.62 x 25 Tokarev with the 9 x 18 mm Makarov beginning in 1946. The Soviets and their eastern bloc comrades evidently used handguns primarily for ceremonial purposes, for intimidating disarmed and terrorized civilians, and for shooting prisoners. For these purposes, the less expensive and less powerful Makarov was evidently better suited than the Tokarev.

Then in 2002 and 2003, a NATO testing group recommended replacing the 9 x 19 mm Parabellum as the standard NATO pistol and personal defense weapon cartridge with the bottlenecked FN 5.7 x 28 mm cartridge. The German delegation, who were promoting their own 4.6 x 30 mm bottlenecked cartridge, withdrew in protest. As a result, 9 x 19 mm Parabellum remained the standard NATO pistol cartridge.

Anecdotal evidence from law enforcement and military use of the 5.7 x 28 mm and 4.6 x 30 mm cartridges seems to suggest that the fatter and slower non-bottlenecked cartridges are more effective at stopping threats, particularly if those threats are not wearing body armor. The smaller and faster bottlenecked cartridges, however, tend to have flatter trajectories and produce less recoil than their pudgier brethren, making them easier for many people to shoot accurately.

In 2012, Rock Island Armory introduced the .22 TCM cartridge. Originally developed by Fred Craig as the .22 Micromag, the .22 TCM is based on a cut down 5.56 x 45 mm case that has been necked down to accept a .22 caliber bullet. It is just slightly longer than a 9 x 19 mm cartridge, and produces roughly the same energy at the muzzle. The jacketed hollow point bullets reportedly expand to about 35 caliber in ballistic gelatin, and penetrate to about 16 inches.

.22 TCM and 9 mm

All of the handguns chambered in .22 TCM with which I was familiar also came equipped with an interchangeable 9mm barrel and spring. I assumed that this was standard. So when the 22TCMFS arrived with only a .22 TCM barrel, I was surprised. I wanted to test .22 TCM against 9 mm in the same platform to have a better sense of how recoil might impact practical accuracy. So I contacted Rock Island Armory, and asked if I could borrow a 9 mm barrel and spring for the 22TCMFS that they had so kindly loaned me.

Rock Island Armory replied that this particular model was chambered for .22 TCM only, but they could loan me a single stack version that was chambered in both .22 TCM 9R and 9 mm. I gratefully accepted their kind offer.

Before the second handgun could ship, Covid 19 panic swept the land. Firearms sold like hotcakes, and ammunition flew off shelves. I wondered if Rock Island Armory would be able to follow through on their offer. I wondered if I could find any .22 TCM 9R ammunition to use in my testing if they did.

Several days later, I was gratified to receive tracking numbers not only for the handgun, but also for ammo to go with it. A couple of days later, the .22 TCM9R/9mm combo (hereafter called the “Combo”) arrived at my FFL. The next day I received a box containing 250 rounds of .22 TCM 9R and 250 rounds of 9 mm ammo.

Opening the Combo Box

The Combo case was identical to the sturdy, optimally-sized case that came with the 22TCMFS. It too contained a plastic bag with two empty casings (these in 9 mm), an inspection certificate, a screwdriver dongle and an allen wrench. It also contained a similar manual, which reports that this particular model weighs 2.513 pounds.

I was expecting a full size single stack handgun, but received a mid size double stack. It is the Tac Ultra MS High Cap Combo. It has a 4 ½” barrel, an enlarged ambidextrous safety, nicer looking grips, and an integrated under Picatinny rail. I was surprised, but not at all displeased. I found the mid size Combo to be handier and to have better balance than the full size 22TCMFS. It is still a good solid chunk of Mr. Browning’s steel.

The handgun arrived with the 9 mm barrel and spring installed, and a plastic bag with the .22 TCM 9R barrel and spring. It has two 17 round magazines, which are labeled “22 TCM” and are identical to the magazines that came with the 22TCMFS. A nice Cerakote finish rounds out the package.

It also comes with a fiber optic front sight, and a rear sight that is adjustable for both windage and elevation. A slightly larger slot on the rear sight and two white dots make sight acquisition easier for me with the Combo than with the 22TCMFS. The initial appearance of the Combo was also marred by splotches of oil that were easily removed by the first cleaning. The trigger on the Combo initially seemed slightly stiffer than the 22TCMFS, but was just as crisp. After breaking in the trigger by dry firing a couple of hundred times, the triggers on both models seemed about the same.

I switched from the 9 mm barrel and spring to the .22 TCM 9R barrel and spring because I wanted to test fire that caliber first.

(To be concluded tomorrow, in Part 2.)

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