Article first appeared at Shooting Illustrated.
Gun store groupies are quick to bash anything new—unless that new thing appeals to one of their desires. Quite often, new cartridges are shunned because niche-minded experts couldn’t divine their usefulness or application. Or, just as often, they use numbers to illustrate why the new is no better than the old. Better will always be subjective, but new is, for most humans, almost always stimulating. I’m not sure the .22 TCM falls into the better-than-anything category, but it is new, unconventional and exciting.
The .22 TCM was created by custom gunsmith Fred Craig and originally called the .22 Micro-Mag. Though some gun “experts” would have you believe otherwise, all new cartridges are created for a reason. Craig’s reason was that he wanted an American cartridge offering high muzzle energy that would work in the one true American pistol platform: the 1911. Craig was also thinking with his wallet. With speculation that .45 ACP ammo would soon become very expensive, he felt the .22 TCM would offer a lower cost-per-shot alternative. His vision was not to create the next, best handgun cartridge of all time for the 1911, only to offer American shooters an alternative cartridge for their favorite pistol.
Armscor is a firearm manufacturing company located in Marikina, Philippines, that has been making firearms since 1952. Probably best known for its Rock Island Armory pistols, Armscor also supplies numerous other brands—like Charles Daly and Auto Ordnance—with Philippine-made 1911s. While working as a consultant, Craig’s .22-caliber wildcat cartridge gained the attention of company president, Martin Tuason. This shared interest led them to change the cartridge’s name: It is now called the .22 TCM (Tuason-Craig-MicroMagnum).
Though the .22 TCM is designed to fit inside and feed from 9 mm 1911 magazines, it shares no parentage with the Parabellum—the .22 TCM’s parent case is the .223 Rem. The 9 mm and the .223 Rem. have very similar-size case heads: .394 (9 mm) and .378 (.223), but .223 Rem. cases have a thicker web, so overall they’re a little stronger. Craig shortened the .223 Rem. case, tweaked the base and rim dimensions and then necked it back down to .224 caliber, creating the dreaded bottleneck pistol cartridge reloaders fear. Then, he crammed in a proprietary 40-grain JHP bullet to limit overall cartridge length. The result is a high-pressure (40,000 psi) handgun cartridge that will work in a 1911 platform and push a 40-grain bullet to more than 2,000 fps from a 5-inch barrel.
It must be noted that the .22 TCM is not a SAAMI (Sporting Arms and Ammunition Institute) approved cartridge. This does not mean it is unsafe. Initially, all new wildcat cartridges are unapproved by SAAMI. What it means is that as of right now, SAAMI has not established manufacturing specifications or tolerances for the .22 TCM. So, don’t expect to see ammunition or handloading data available from American-based companies anytime soon, though reloading dies are available from Hornady.
Armscor provided one of its new 1911 handguns chambered for the .22 TCM for review, the TCM TAC Ultra FS Combo model. This model comes with a 9 mm barrel and an extra 9 mm recoil spring. The pistol utilizes a wide-body 1911 frame that holds a 17-round magazine. It has a full-length dustcover with an integral accessory rail, a fiber-optic front sight and a fully adjustable LPA rear sight. Other features of note are an extended beavertail grip safety, a generous wide-mouth magazine well and an ambidextrous safety. Overall fit and finish was very nice.
Since the .22 TCM and 9 mm cartridges have very similar rim diameters and lengths, both were supposed to feed from the same magazines. Admittedly, I expected this to be
a disaster waiting to happen, since the heart of almost any semi-automatic handgun is the magazine, and because 9 mm 1911s have a reputation for being extremely finicky when it comes to their mags. I started testing by pushing 100 rounds of .22 TCM and 9 mm through the pistol to see if it would even run.
And run it did. Not only did the pistol run flawlessly, the only way I could induce a stoppage was to let my thumb ride heavy on the slide with the .22 TCM barrel and recoil spring installed. During these mad minutes of ammo dumping, I realized how much fun the .22 TCM was to shoot. Recoil was next to negligible, but the muzzle blast was more than magnificent. Fireballs of .44 Mag. proportions were generated, but there was no intense pressure slap in the face. More importantly, I was hitting what I aimed at.
Lack of recoil is a firm contributor to accurate shooting regardless of the platform, and once I became accustomed to the flash, head shots on popper targets at 50 yards were commonplace. Maybe even more impressive were my tiny 10-yard, rapid-fire groups that looked like they were fired with a semi-automatic rimfire pistol. In the interest of full disclosure, it must be noted that at 45 ounces, the Rock Island 1911 test pistol was on the heavy side. This for sure contributed to the lack of recoil when the trigger was pulled on either a .22 TCM or 9 mm cartridge.
Switching between the .22 TCM and 9 mm was simple. All that’s required is fieldstripping and swapping the barrels and recoil springs. This was accomplished several times, and upon reassembly there was no discernable point-of-impact shift nor reliability issue. After shooting a total of 400 rounds of .22 TCM and 400 rounds of 9 mm, I never encountered a single malfunction in testing.
The news was not as respectable for the bolt-action rifle chambered in .22 TCM that Armscor provided for review. The company adapted a magazine-fed, bolt-action, rimfire rifle to work with the .22 TCM cartridge. The model M22 TCM BA was reasonably attractive and fitted with a hardwood stock that had pressed-in checkering with a black fore-end tip. With its 22-inch medium-contour barrel and a Sun Optics 3-9×32 mm riflescope mounted, it weighted 7 pounds, 9 ounces. Despite its thick barrel, it was still easy to handle from any shooting position.
The M22 TCM BA functioned very well and feeding was butter-smooth with the cute little .22 TCM cartridges with two exceptions. There were several failures to fire due to light-primer strikes, and if the bolt was worked forcibly, the case of the last round fired tended to bounce around inside the action, failing to eject. This might be a problem endemic to the design, or perhaps I received a rifle in need of some further tweaking. When I brought it up, Armscor said this was a first-production run and some changes are on the board. On the plus side, when the rifle fired—and that was about 95 percent of the time—it was reasonably accurate, averaging right at 2 inches for five, five-shot groups at 100 yards.
With no real tactical application that couldn’t be filled with a bolt action in .223 Rem., the M22 TCM BA probably has limited appeal for most shooters. However, it has a suggested retail price of only $434 and the ability to share the 17-round magazines with the Rock Island .22 TCM 1911. This means street prices would likely come in at less than $400, making the acquisition of an M22 TCM BA a reasonable companion purchase to a 1911 in the same chambering. The remaining—and likely more important—question is why would you want a 1911 chambered in .22 TCM?
The pragmatic among us see no need for a gun for which there is no purpose. I consider myself a card-carrying member of that fraternity, but I can still find ample justification for the acquisition of a .22 TCM. In either rifle or pistol format it should work well for small-game/varmint hunting. With regard to personal defense, it is decidedly less than a .357 SIG, but at the same time substantially more than a .380 ACP. Does any of this make the .22 TCM the best option for any of those endeavors? Probably not, but it is for sure not the worst choice.
The real appeal of the .22 TCM might be an application the pragmatists and mall ninjas of the firearms world often overlook. I had more enjoyment shooting the .22 TCM 1911 than I’ve had shooting any handgun in a long time. It was loud, accurate and powerful, yet easy to shoot. When you pull the trigger on a 1911 chambered for the .22 TCM, you get that awe-inspiring .44 Mag. sensation—without the wrist-torquing, wallet-busting, mind-blowing, three-rounds-is-enough outcome. The .22 TCM is, simply put, wicked fun.
I don’t think we’ll see the .22 TCM unseat the .22 LR as the most enjoyable cartridge of all time, nor do I believe it will supplant the .45 ACP as the cartridge of choice in the 1911. If SAAMI approves the cartridge, and if American ammunition and firearms manufacturers adopt it at any level, it has the potential to be at least moderately popular because of the fun it brings to the range. Armscor currently offers nine models of 1911 in .22 TCM/9 mm from which to choose.
The 22 TCM might be the answer to the question no one save Fred Craig asked, but that’s OK. Some–times shooters don’t know what question to ask. And sometimes you just have to put a product out there and let the market decide its best uses. Though gun groupies at your local firearms emporium might not initially adore the concept, most of them have probably never seen anything like it. If you enjoy the attention something new and unique brings and if you like to have fun on the range, the .22 TCM might be the ticket.
The .22 TCM for Personal Protection
Entering into a discussion about the suitability of a cartridge for personal protection is like stepping into a rattlesnake den with sandals on. You can expect nastiness to ensue. For me to suggest the .22 TCM the ideal defensive-handgun cartridge seems ill advised, since there are more powerful options available that can be fired from the same platform.
Does that mean it will not work, should not be attempted or is a bad idea? I don’t think so. Due to its lack of recoil, the .22 TCM will allow you to put lots of rounds on target—accurately—in a very short time frame. This is not a bad thing, as long as the muzzle blast does not blind you to the point you cannot see the sights or the bad guy. Of course, a semi-automatic .22 LR gun will allow you to do the same thing. So, terminal performance must be a consideration.
Based on tests I conducted, you can expect the .22 TCM to penetrate between 14 to 16 inches in 10-percent ordnance gelatin. The bullets will expand to about .40 caliber and the recovered weight will hover around 35 grains. You’ll have to be the one to decide if this is good enough. For me, I’d opt for the 9 mm barrel for self-defense and save the .22 TCM ammo for when I want to smile really wide.