Speed Demon

Reloading The Potent Little .22 TCM

John Taffin

With the advent of the .357 Magnum in 1935, dedicated sixgunners began to take handgun hunting seriously. Then 1955’s .44 Magnum opened whole new vistas for handgun hunters. Once the big-bore .44 was established there were those who began to look at smallbore varmint cartridges for handguns. Remington came up with the .221 Fireball in their bolt action XP-100 pistol, Ruger chambered the single-shot Hawkeye in the .256 Winchester, and Smith & Wesson came out with the .22 Jet cartridge.

Sadly, the full-power, the .22 Jet simply did not work in a revolver. The 21st century version of the high-velocity .22 handgun cartridge is the .22 TCM and this one works. It works because, thanks to gunsmith Frederick Craig, Armscor, and Rock Island Armory teaming up, this hot little cartridge is chambered in a high capacity 1911. Would you believe a 40-grain bullet at 2,050 fps from a 5-inch barrel?

The .22 TCM is based on a shortened and necked-down .223, and is the same basic case size as a standard 9mm. Revolvers are not normally easy to change barrel-wise, but semi-autos are. The .22 TCM and the 9mm use the same magazines and it is only necessary to change the barrel and recoil spring, a process which takes about one minute. The .22 version uses a 7-pound recoil spring while the 9mm requires a stiffer 12-pound spring. So basically what we have is a high velocity varmint pistol which can easily be changed into a high-capacity self-defense sidearm.

These targets (above) show the kind of accuracy both the single-stack
and double-stack Rock Island Armory .22 TCM’s are capable of. Excellent
accuracy was obtained in the .22 TCM using 4227 for reduced loads (below).

What’s In A Name?

Gunsmith Fred Craig came up with the idea of a hot .22 in a standard 1911. The TCM moniker comes from Tuason Craig MicroMag. Martin Tuason is the president of Armscor and of course, Fred Craig is the designer of the cartridge.

Personally I’ve never understood why we don’t have more custom bottleneck cartridges for use in semi-auto pistols, and especially in the larger frame versions chambered in .44 Magnum and .50 Action Express (both of which could be easily necked down to other cartridges). Fred started with the basic .223 case trimmed to length to fit a 1911 magazine and necked down to .22 caliber. My test ammunition carries a 40-grain softpoint bullet with a muzzle velocity of 2,053 fps from the 5-inch barrel of the TCM.

Handguns are useful for many things. The serious side is for hunting and self-defense while the fun side is simply that: fun. Shooting should definitely be fun whether it is plinking or informal competition, and is most assuredly time well spent with the family. The .22 TCM is one of the “funnest” cartridges you’re likely to find. Recoil is almost nil, however it roars and belches fire. The .22 TCM is noisy, definitely a cartridge requiring quality ear protection. But while it shoots flame out of the barrel, it is very kind to the hand. When you’re at the range, you can expect everyone to ask, “What in the world are you shooting?” And you can just smile and say, “A .22.” Then they will want to see just what kind of a .22 is so noisy and brightens up the sky so much. Better have a few spare rounds for those who want a sample for their cartridge collection.

Even though the .22 TCM has been around for a few years, I do not know of any reliable published loading data at this point. So, I ordered 40-grain hollowpoint bullets from Armscor and started flying by the seat of my pants. When loading the .22 TCM, a good starting point is to use starting loads for the .22 Hornet which has about the same case capacity. This information came from my good friend and handloading expert Lane Pearce. Rock Island Armory offers both a single-stack and double-stack 1911 .22 TCM. I had both at my disposal with the following results using Armscor brass and CCI 500 Small Pistol primers.

Hodgdon’s Lil’ Gun and H110 are applicable to loading the .22 TCM. A
Nexpander tool helps expand the brass for easy loading of the jacketed
bullets. The Nexpander is gone now, so if you see one at a gun show,
snap it up.

There are many .22 bullets available (above) however OAL cartridge length
is critical. Only the first round on the left (below) will work through the
magazine. Some case-neck splitting occurs with brass when reloading the .22 TCM.

A look at several loading manuals gave me my starting points for loading with several of my favorite powders including 2400, IMR4227, H110, and Lil’ Gun. Three out of four work well for starting loads, however the beginning loads for Lil’ Gun for the .22 Hornet were too hot for the .22 TCM and I had to back down very quickly. Reloading dies for the .22 TCM are available from Lee. The first set I received had a bullet-seating stem which was too short. I called Lee and they sent a replacement which turned out to be the same size. I called them again and this time they sent the right length so there should not be any problem with future die sets.

Although there are very many .22 bullets available to the reloader, none of the standard fare will work in the .22 TCM as the overall length is determined by the 1911-style magazine. In the .22 TCM rifle version the spitzer-shaped bullets can be seated out and loaded one at a time, however none of them will feed through the magazine of the .22 TCM pistol. The only bullets I know of which will work are the 40-grain bullets available from Armscor. Brass is also available from the same source.

I did have a small amount of case loss when resizing fired cartridges as they would split in the neck area. But it was less than 3 percent. Seating these little .22 bullets can be difficult, however my Nexpander tool really comes in handy. This little gadget is about 6 inches long and 1 inch in diameter in the center for holding and then each end is tapered, one small and one much larger. To expand the case mouth the end of choice is simply tapped into the case. It solves a lot of problems when it comes to seating flat-based jacketed bullets. These Nexpander tools are gone now, so keep your eyes peeled for one at gun shows.

Factory loads for the .22 TCM run right at 2,000 fps in the 5-inch barrel of the Rock Island Armory 1911. This was my goal, however, since I was walking in a unknown neighborhood I was very careful. I did reach the goal with Lil’ Gun, but since I do not know what the pressure is on these loads, I use them very carefully. My most accurate loads with the .22 TCM using the Armscor 40-grain jacketed hollowpoint bullet were 10 grains of H110 for 1,733 fps, 10 grains of Lil’ Gun for 1,960 fps, and 8.0 grains of 2400 for 1,648 fps. All three loads group in 1-1/8 inch and were fired in the single-stack Rock Island Armory .22 TCM. In the double-stack version, 10.5 grains of Lil’ Gun clocked out at 2,074 fps with the same accuracy as the above-mentioned loads. The most accurate load in this pistol turned out to be 9.3 grains of 2400 which yielded 1,942 fps and grouped four shots in 3/4-inch at 20 yards. For a combination of the best accuracy combined with high velocity, this load is my choice.

The .22 TCM is an accurate, pleasant—and really loud—cartridge to shoot.

The .22 TCM is the best high-velocity .22 I know of which actually works in a repeating handgun. The Rock Island Armory pistol carries easily in any holster designed for the 1911 Government Model and has the extra-added versatility of being able to be switched to 9mm by simply changing the barrel and recoil spring. It took more than a half-century for the gun industry to come up with a production .22 varmint pistol (other than a single-shot) that actually works. The .22 TCM works.

Note: These loads were worked up by John in his guns using best reloading practices. Be responsible. Reduce loads and work up to maximum for your firearm. Be safe! Be aware!

Armscor USA and Rock Island Armory
150 N. Smart Way
Pahrump, NV 89060
(775) 537-1444

Alliant Powder
P.O. Box 856
Lewiston ID 83501
(800) 379-1732

Hodgdon Powder Co.
6430 Vista Dr.
Shawnee, KS 66218
(913) 362-9455

Lee Precision
4275 Highway U
Hartford, WI 53027
(262) 673-3075

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