1,325 MPH Tack-Drivers!
Until you know the back story on a gun, it’s simply an assemblage of steel and synthetic bits, cold, indifferent to the world around it and not nearly as interesting as it could be. But when you stir in the people behind it, the brains, passions and drive making the gun possible — now things can get interesting.
I find it disappointing to read on-line postings where faceless members of forums argue the merits of guns or ammo. They’ll often dismiss new ideas, designs, products and trends without knowing anything substantial about any of it. And the vast majority seem content to slam a new idea, without ever wondering what was behind it — the “why” and “how” and hard work going into the final product. And frankly, it’s their loss.
Many times it’s the thought behind the tool which makes the tool suddenly make sense. “No, you see, it’s like this!” I’ve had many inventors explain as I held their pride and joy. “It’s designed that way so you can hold it more securely.” Then suddenly, yes … I see exactly what they’re talking about. My mind goes from “Well, that’s unusual” to “That makes perfect sense.”
And since I’ve gotten to know the people behind this innovative caliber and family of guns — this is one of those situations.
A.G. Russell’s Sandbox Bowie is tough enough to handle anything tossed at it.
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.22 TCM Lineup
We’ve touched on this innovative caliber and the matching guns in our pages before. If you’ve foolishly tossed your Jan/Feb 2012 issue of Handgunner, click here to read the article from our digital edition. There’s a detailed story on its origin there, but we’ll bring you up to date a bit here too.
Custom gunsmith Fred Craig (the creator of the clean-looking custom .22 TCM featured here in Chuck Pittman’s photos) originated the concept of the .22 TCM eventually building guns chambered for it and making the ammo. The load offers a 40-gr. bullet at a bit more than 2,000 fps from a 5″ 1911-style barrel. I know it does, because I’ve chronographed the load myself. Unlike many loads, the .22 TCM’s advertised velocity is also its actual velocity, which keeps things simple. Say what something does, and then actually deliver on the promise. Imagine that.
A few years ago Fred joined forces with Armscor President Martin Tuason (the parent company of Rock Island Armory) to make a production version of the gun and cartridge, calling it the .22 TCM for “Tuason Craig Micromagnum.” Indeed, an early production version is what we reviewed here in Handgunner. A cool addition to things is the fact the .22 TCM gun comes with a 9mm conversion barrel and spring. Using the same magazine for both, you can do a presto-changeo from .22 TCM to 9mm as easily as you can swap barrels.
At the time, I said, “Mostly, I think this is simply a fun gun and would appeal to the small game handgunner and someone who would like to do a bit of experimenting. The fact the 9mm change-out is so easy and works so well is a big dose of icing on that cake.” And I still feel that same way.
After chatting at length with Martin and Fred — and a delightful group from Armscor — I understood the genuine passion these men and women have for their craft. While Fred is a guru of all-things 1911 and has worked with Armscor for some years now helping them hone their 1911 line; Martin brings his strong family commitment to his employees, customers and the pursuit of quality and solid design to the table. In the past few years, Martin and his team have raised the bar at Armscor and Rock Island, and today turn out some of the most attention-grabbing, reliable and affordable models possible, especially in their 1911 line.
To keep things interesting here, I asked Fred to customize one of Rock Island’s newest models, their TCM 22 VZ, a long-slide (6″ barrel) model, already starting out with many stock custom touches. Right from Rock Island, it’s equipped with a 17+1 round capacity, accessory rail, checkered mainspring housing, adjustable rear sight, short travel trigger, VZ Operator grips and a parkerized finish. This model comes in just the .22 TCM chambering.
I also asked for two stock models, the Micro Mag 9mm/22 TCM Target and the TCM 22 Midsize Standard. This allows us to take a look at what you get over the counter, and what you can have Fred customize for you on a base gun. Fred said he’s offering the custom model from his shop, and of course, the stock TCM series of pistols are available at dealers nationwide. Keep in mind, the quality of any custom gun starts with the base gun, and these guns are solid “raw” material for any custom build.
Let’s Go Custom
Fred’s take on a custom model is simple, yet refined. He has a long history of developing gun designs and turning them into reality. If Fred has an idea, chances are very good you’ll be shooting a version of it down the road. This TCM series is one of those ideas. He’s expanded on the basic design some, even though the stock gun is chock full of essentially custom features.
Fred’s version has many custom touches, among them a forged slide with a triangulated top, a C-More STS sight inletted in and a forged, fitted barrel. Fred also checkered the front strap at 20 lpi, customized the Rock Island mag well, tuned the trigger to 2.5 pounds, installed a recoil spring guide rod assembly and applied their custom Metallic Bronze Polymer finish. It all came out nicely finished, well-fitted and that trigger is crisp and really allows you to get the most out of this highly accurate pistol.
Fred told me it would shoot “around an inch” and with standard Armscor USA .22 TCM 40-gr. JHP ammo it did less than that at 25 yards. Actually hovering more like 0.70″ to 0.80″. It might do better but the dot on the C-More made it difficult to get an extremely precise hold. I think if you scoped this gun with a cross-hair you could easily shoot ground hogs out to 100 or more, and squirrels or praire dogs at 50 and 75, or a bit more if you were careful and learned the gun and ammo.
I measured velocity and it averaged around the 2,200 to 2,300 fps mark. I think the longer barrel adds to the ability of the powder to burn more thoroughly, hence the higher velocity. Normally it’s only around 25 fps or so per inch, but this high performance round needs every inch you can give it to really step-out there.
The mild recoil — virtually non-existent — makes this a fun gun to shoot. I also noticed the longer barrel cuts down on some of the muzzle blast of this hot cartridge. Fred says customized versions start at around $1,800 and go up from there depending upon what you want done.
The 5″ (Target) and 4″ (Midsize) TCM models are essentially the same configurations, but with different slide/barrel lengths and sights. The Target had a conventional recoil spring assembly, while the Midsize model uses a full-length guide rod. Sights on the Target are Bomar-like, fully adjustable rear with a serrated front, while the rear on the Midsize is smaller, but also fully adjustable. Going from 9mm to .22 TCM (the Target comes with a 9mm conversion barrel and spring), means you need to adjust the sights, as the two rounds tend to impact about 6″ to 8″ apart, with the 9mm striking higher.
Other features on both guns are extended beavertail safeties, GI-type thumb safety (which I really like), parkerized finish, checkered composite polymer grips, 4- to 6-pound trigger pull (both of my test guns felt lighter and were very crisp, useable triggers), checkered mainspring housing and full, 17+1 capacity, even in 9mm.
Accuracy was good, but not up to the custom model, as can be expected. I did not have the 9mm conversion barrel for the Target model, so only tested both in .22 TCM. It was bit windy and very cold when I shot for groups, but it’s safe to say 2″ at 25 yards should be the norm, and a bit less is certainly likely, depending upon the particular shooter, load and gun in question. Once again, the crisp, stock triggers were excellent and combined with the low recoil made these guns great fun to shoot.
Velocities hovered around 1,800 to 1,875 fps for the shorter Midsize model, up to around 2,020 to 2,095 fps for the 5″ Target. Velocities varied from round-to round for each barrel length, as is the norm for any load, but the listed numbers seemed to be a good average for each.
I did not experience the first-round flyer the original test gun showed, and I honestly think had my fingers not been so cold and if the wind had been cooperative, 1.5″ or better groups would have been common. That’s custom 1911 performance, in feature-rich stock guns, all for less than $739 MSRP for the Target, and $649 MSRP for the Midsize.
What Are They For?
All three are accurate, the innovative .22 TCM is fun, high performing (almost like a .22 Hornet, but in a handgun), and opens some interesting doors to varminting with a 1911. The custom model from Fred’s shop simply raises the bar and suddenly paves the way to 100+ yard precision targeting. While veryone else uncases their .223 bolt-guns for a coyote hunt, you could smile and slip a .22 TCM into a holster and wait patiently for them to be done fussing while they stare at your holster. “What, this? Oh, it’s a 40-gr. JHP at 2,100 fps from a 1911. No, really.”
The 9mm conversion option on some models (and I don’t honestly know if you can get one for the Midsize version) turns the Target into an 18-shot defensive or competiton pistol instantly. And that’s very cool. All three guns ran perfectly during my tests, with over 400 rounds of .22 TCM fired. I think the nifty bottlenecked cartridge made for feeding reliably and seems to just shuttle right into the chamber.
For less than most stock 1911 models you normally find in a display case at the gun store, you have the ability to essentially get two guns, the 18-shot .22 TCM and an 18-shot 9mm. I think the Target would make a fun gun to experiment with, to develop accurate loads for, and to toss a low-power cross-hair scope on for some serious hunting fun. Both stock guns are nicely fitted, show good workmanship and attention to detail, the safeties go “snick” nicely and the beavertails are comfy. The slim grip panels keep the width down too, so even my short fingers found it comfortable to manage these guns. I don’t think you can go wrong here — anywhere.
Fred’s custom options means you can have even more fun and extend your envelope some. I say it’d be hard not to have one of each, at least? The $1,800 entry price for the custom is very affordable for what it is — and the stock guns are one of the best values I’ve seen in a very long time. It’s nice to see something new for a change that not only works as advertised, but is more fun than you thought it would be.
The .22 TCM loaded by Armscor has a 40-gr. JHP averaging around 2,100 fps from their TCM
model 1911’s. Shown are a .22 Magnum (left) and a 9mm HP (right) for comparison. Some
models of TCM guns come with a 9mm conversion kit included. Photo: Roy Huntington
Pistolsmith Fred Craig’s custom .22 TCM VZ long slide (top) takes the TCM series to
new heights. The Target (center) and Midsize (bottom) are stock guns offering many
features found only on custom 1911’s. Their .22 TCM chambering (with the Target also
coming with a 9mm conversion kit), packs surprising high performance in a 1911 auto.
A Family Business
You’ve likely seen the name Armscor or Rock Island but never really thought about who they are. Armscor can trace its beginnings to 1905 when the first Squires, Bingham & Co. headquarters was established in the Phillippines. As a general sportsmans store, they traded in clothing, firearms, ammunition and the like. In 1930, it was bought and renamed “Sportsman’s Headquarters.”
Visionary entrepreneur Don Celso Tuason bought the company at the start of WWII. In 1952, it was renamed “Squires Bingham Manufacturing Inc.” and helped rebuild the post war Phillippines by manufacturing firearms and opening plants across the country. In the 1960’s, he saw his eldest son, Demetrio “Bolo” Tuason take a strong interest in the business, and family involvement grew after that.
The Armscor brand itself didn’t come into existence until 1980, after Squires Bingham Manfacturing was reorganized and renamed “Arms Corporation of the Phillippines” — Armscor. In 1985 Armscor Precision Int’l. opened its first US office in Pahrump, Nev., and only a short while later, acquired the Rock Island Armory brand, a leading maker of 1911’s.
Today, Martin Tuason, the third generation of the family, is leading the company forward, and is surrounded by long-time company employees and new, young thinkers, all working together to keep Armscor growing.
After having had dinner with Martin, his young family, his father, extended family and long-time employees, I’ve come away impressed by their strong sense of family — and commitment to their customers. It’s a pleasure to showcase their work here.
For more info: http://americanhandgunner.com/company/fred-craig-s-atomitronix or Fred Craig: (775) 513-3962; Armscor: (775) 537-1444
By Roy Huntington
Photos: Chuck Pittman, Inc.
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