By John Taffin, GUNS Magazine
What if I told you there’s a 1911 you can use for concealed carry all week and then—in a few minutes—easily convert to a pistol for varmint hunting on the weekend?
Let me explain: Nearly 45 years ago Smith & Wesson came out with the centerfire .22 Jet, chambered in a K-Frame revolver. The concept promised much and delivered little. The cartridge simply would not work in a revolver chamber, and no matter what we tried, the fired cases slammed up against the recoil shield, locking up the cylinder.
However, the 21st century version of the high-velocity Jet is now available as the .22 TCM and is based on a shortened and necked-down .223 case—and this one does work. And Rock Island Armory’s hot little 1911 features a 40-grain bullet at 2,000 fps+ from its 5-inch barrel.
The “TCM” acronym, incidentally, comes from Tuason, Craig and MicroMag. Martin Tuason is the president of Armscor, and Fred Craig is the designer of the cartridge. The TCM started out as a completely custom pistol built in Fred’s shop; however, he managed to work out a production agreement with Armscor.
The same pistol can handle the 9mm by simply switching out the barrel and recoil spring. The .22 caliber uses a 7-pound spring while the 9mm requires a stiffer 12-pounder—everything else stays the same. The .22 TCM and the 9mm Parabellum use the same magazines and the same extractor. Takedown is “standard 1911.”
Of course, the heavier 9mm bullets shoot much higher than the .22 TCMs, so adjustable sights are absolutely necessary. This RIA Armory Model 1911 is, first and foremost, a target model with sights consisting of a red fiber-optic front set in a dovetail, and a fully adjustable. The rear sight blade notch is square with a white dot on each side. Both the windage and elevation screws are large, clearly marked and easy to adjust.
The slide stop and thumb safety are standard 1911, with the latter being ambidextrous, extended and serrated. The hammer is skeletonized and matched up with a short, creep-free trigger, which breaks at slightly over 3 pounds.
The grip safety is a high-riding beavertail with a memory bump; the flat mainspring housing is fully checkered; the slide and barrel are forged and hand-fitted at the factory. The slide is tightly fitted to the frame with cocking serrations on both sides of the rear sight; the top of the slide, rather than being rounded off, is flat-topped and very pleasing to the eye.
I originally tested the Rock Island Armory 1911-2 a few years ago. That original pistol was a high-capacity model with a wide-body grip frame taking double-stack magazines, allowing 16 .22 TCM rounds (15 in 9 mm). This new version is a single stack, making it a little lighter and thinner, with a magazine capacity of 10-rounds of .22 TCM.
Since I suggest double duty for this pistol as a carry gun during the week and varmint pistol on weekends, let’s look at the 9mm chambering. About 5 years ago I found 9mm 1911’s hard to find. Now they’re not. Probably the No. 1 reason is because many shooters are getting older and find they can no longer handle the .45 ACP Government Model. At my age, 100 rounds in a session is about my limit. With 9mms I can go at least 300 rounds with no fatigue.
Ammunition cost is an important part of the equation. If I watch the sales, I can find 9mm hardball on sale for less than $11 for a box of 50. Bill Wilson sent me some of his new ammunition, which I put to work in the Rock Island 1911. His Wilson Combat 124-grain XTP HP+P clocked out at over 1,200 fps while putting 5 shots in 3/4-inch at 20 yards. HPR’s 115-grain JHP does basically the same thing. Either of these loads should be fine for self-defense.
Here is one of John’s better efforts from the bench with one of his .22 TCM handloads (below).
The .22 TCM produces virtually no felt recoil. It is noisy, requiring quality ear protection (it shoots flame out the muzzle!) but is very kind to your hands. Shooters at the range have asked me “What in the world are you shooting?” When I tell them “a .22,” they get very curious to see a .22 TCM round. So I generally give them one as a sample for their cartridge collection.
As far as I know, there are only two Armscor .22 TCM loads available. Both use 40-grain bullets, one a flat point and the other a JHP. Both clocked a gnat’s breath under 2,000 fps and averaged 1-3/4-inch 5-shot groups at 25 yards. The .22 TCM is about as much fun as shooting can get. I could use the overworked term “cool,” because it most definitely is.
I’ll be doing more reloading of the .22 TCM as time goes on, however, right now I know of no available loading data, so my handloading efforts have been relegated to “flying by the seat of my pants.” I have not been able to find any .22 bullets from my reservoir of Hornady, Sierra and Speer bullets for loading the .221 Fireball, .224-32FA, .222 Remington and .223 that work properly with the .22 TCM. The problem? Loaded cartridges must be able to feed from the magazine of the pistol.
Both of the Armscor factory rounds allow the proper seating, and I purchased some of the 40-grain JHPs for reloading. When I tried to use any of the other brands mentioned, I found the cartridge too long to allow for proper seating. That is, when the bullets were seated deep enough to allow magazine function, the wall of the case did not completely contact the side of the bullet. My handloads using 10.0 grains of H110 were slower and not quite as accurate as the factory ones; however, when I moved up to 10.7 grains I was less than 100 fps below factory velocity with a resulting increase in accuracy.
But if you reload carefully, every once in awhile you’ll hit the jackpot. This is exactly what happened with my handloads using 9.0 grains of 4227. My bullet of choice was the 40-grain Sierra BlitzKing, which did not allow the walls of the case to completely contact the bullet. Muzzle velocities were way down at just over 1,400 fps (they still cycled), but I got tack-driving results—5 shots in 1/2-inch at 25 yards.
These 9mm loads produced good 20-yard accuracy in the pistol (above). The groups below show the 75-yard potential of the .22 TCM rifle.
M22 TCM Bolt-Action
This rifle features a Parkerized finish and an exceptionally good-looking stock of natural Philippine hardwood, with checkering on the forearm and pistol grip. Sights are not provided, but the receiver is grooved for .22 rifle mounts, and I simply borrowed the Redfield Revolution 3-9X scope from another .22 for testing. Magazine capacity is 5 rounds and the rifle comes with an extra. A 17-round magazine is also available, but it would also change this very trim rifle into something quite a bit more awkward.
My first attempts with it gave me more frustration than I’ve experienced in 48 years of testing and evaluating guns of every kind. I would get the rifle sighted in (I thought) then fire a round at the 100-yard target. The next shot might be right beside it—or it might be 4 inches away.
I took it to my gunsmiths at Buckhorn and asked Mike to inspect the barrel. When I went back to get it, he informed me the rifling was shallow, allowing only 0.001-inch difference between the bore diameter and groove diameter on each side, ensuring the bullets were not always being contacted properly. In addition, the machining was inconsistent. So I contacted Rock Island Armory to explain the problem. They sent out a second rifle and life was good once again.
According to company literature, “The M22 TCM BA Rifle is intended for mid-range use with a mounted scope and is perfect for varmint hunting. We’ve created this beauty to be exclusively chambered in the Armscor signature caliber, .22 TCM—which happens to scream at over 2,800 fps.”
The reason for the “intended for mid-range use” claim is because the stubby little 40-grain bullets—originally designed for pistol use—are not long-range bullets by any means. Muzzle velocities over my chronograph came in at just under 2,700 fps. Accuracy was good at 75 yards, averaging 1-inch for the JHP load (which would be the choice for varmint hunting).
Some Centerfire .22s compared (left to right): .22 TCM, .22 Jet, .22 Hornet, .22 K-Hornet, .222 Remington and .223 Remington.
Left to right: A factory .22 TCM compared to cartridges with standard .22 bullets seated out—Hornady 35 and 40-grain, Sierra and Speer 40-grain.
The 40-grain Armscor bullet (left) is the longest that can be seated correctly for use in the .22 TCM magazines. The other 40-grain bullets from Speer and Sierra need to be deep-seated for use in the magazines or seated out to be used in the rifle as a single shot.
I ran into the same reloading problem I had with the 1911 pistol version, because the magazine restricts the length of cartridges to factory length. I did stumble onto two very good loads by using .22 bullets designed for other cartridges. With these, the maxivmum cartridge length was exceeded and they would not fit the magazine. But when I single-loaded each round directly into the chamber, I was able to come up with some very good results.
The Speer 45-grain Varminter loaded over 10.0 grains of H110 clocks out at just under 2,500 fps and groups 4 shots into 1-inch group at 75 yards, while the Sierra 40-grain BlitzKing over the same charge is just under 2,600 fps and groups 4 shots into a 1/2-inch group at the same distance. Even if it was possible to come up with a more accurate load, I don’t believe I could hold any closer.
The rifle, if matched up with the .22 TCM pistol, would give the varmint hunter two close-range options. On prairie dog-size critters I would restrict the pistol to about 35 yards, the rifle to 100 yards (maybe slightly more). This is certainly not long-range “varminting,” but it would be very relaxing to wait for the close-range opportunities instead of seeing how far away you can shoot things. The same thing holds true with big-game hunting—close is better.
John is all set for a pleasant day of short-range varmint shooting with RIA’s .22 TCM rifle and pistol.
Thanks to GUNS Magazine for this contribution. Click here to visit GUNSMagazine.com.