Review: Rock Island XTM-22 .22 Magnum — A Small Caliber 1911 By: David Freeman

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Rock Island XTM-22 .22 mag handgun on a paper bullseye target with a box of CCI ammunition

If you’re a 1911 fan, and want to enjoy shooting something different, you’ll like the Rock Island XTM-22 .22 Magnum 1911. There are some challenges in building a small caliber, locked-breech, semi-automatic pistol, especially an all-steel 1911. Rock Island engineers were very creative in addressing those challenges.

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RIA XTM-22 Features

The resulting firearm is a 1911 design but with some differences. The slide is open at the top like a Beretta 92/M9. There’s a shroud around the barrel. A dovetail fiber-optic front sight sits atop the barrel shroud.

Rock Island XTM 22 semi-automatic .22 Magnum handgun, left profile
Familiar controls make shooting the XTM 22 Magnum a pleasure for 1911 fans.

The back portion of the slide is typical 1911A1 with a drift-adjustable, solid black rear sight, and small GI-type vertical cocking serrations. The slide lock, plunger tube, mag release, and thumb safety are old-school 1911, as is the grip safety. Both the slide lock and the mag release button are checkered. The grip panels are rubber with the familiar checkered diamond cut pattern and RIA logo.

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The mainspring housing is flat with 25 LPI checkering. The front strap is smooth. The hammer and trigger are skeletonized, and the hammer has a serrated non-slip thumb surface. The trigger has an overtravel adjustment screw.

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The pull was a consistent 4 pounds 6 ounces on my test model. The magazine holds 15 rounds in an alternating double-stack formation. The finish is Parkerized, and the gun weighs 2.5 pounds empty.

Except for the modified barrel and barrel sleeve with a fixed lug on the bottom of it, the principle of operation is like other 1911 pistols. When it comes to operating details, however, there are differences that became evident as I got to know the pistol. The high pressure of the .22 WMR cartridge, along with the slow-burning powder, requires a little pressure release right after ignition.

The Rock Island XTM-22 uses a pinned solid-state barrel design and delayed blowback slide. You can see a small gap between the barrel shroud and the barrel as the gun goes into battery. In a standard 1911, the barrel tilts to unlock, and this requires the barrel link to pivot. On this gun, the barrel link is solid to the barrel and the only movement is rearward. There is no tilting.

RIA XMT-22 handgun with the slide locked open
The barrel and barrel shroud replace the front part of a standard 1911 slide. The gap between the barrel and shroud is to release some of the gas pressure to facilitate cycling the action. The breech face needs to be clean and dry for flawless function.

All of this means when you disassemble the gun for cleaning, you’ve got different looking parts. It’s no big deal except for the recoil rod and spring plug. The plug is threaded. You don’t need to remove it when you disassemble the firearm, but you may find it easier to remove it when it’s time to put the gun back together.

The .22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire, also called .22 WMR, .22 Magnum, .22 MRF, .22 WMRF or .22 Mag was introduced in 1959 by Winchester. It uses bullets in weights comparable to the .22 Long Rifle, but it has a larger and thicker case that allows for more powder and higher pressure making it considerably faster than the .22 LR. The .22 Mag also shoots flatter and hits harder than the .22 LR resulting in deeper penetration and more reliable expansion.

This makes the cartridge effective against small game and varmints such as rabbits, groundhogs, squirrels, prairie dogs, foxes, and raccoons. The negligible recoil of the .22 WMR caliber, especially in this all-steel gun, makes it an easy-going target and plinking round. It’s a loud cartridge with a significant muzzle flash, which to me makes it even more fun. Putting all of this into a 1911 adds one more reason to love the platform.

Rock Island XTM 22 semi-automatic .22 WMR pistol with a container of tin cans and small caliber targets
The Rock Island XTM-22 .22 Magnum along with some ammo and plinkin’ targets is a great way to spend some quality time with friends and family.

Range Time

My first trip to the range with the Rock Island XTM-22 was a get-acquainted trip. I didn’t shoot it for accuracy, but I had six different brands of ammunition to choose from and there were no issues with the gun. The fire-breathing magnum rounds with associated loud pops were a hoot to shoot. This is where I discovered some differences in how the XTM-22 operates compared to other 1911s.

First was when putting the gun into battery. It will not rack or slingshot. The only way to get it into battery is to disengage the slide lock. Because of the 15-round double-stack magazine and the length of the .22 WMR cartridge, the grip is slightly larger than most 1911s.

I couldn’t reach the slide release with my right thumb. I learned to push the slide release down with my left thumb. After getting used to that, I was fine with it. The next difference is that the slide doesn’t lock back after the last round is fired. This is by design and is noted in the manual.

Rock Island Armory XTM 22 .22 Magnum pistol with several different brands of ammunition
The author and his family went through all the ammo types shown here and the Rock Island XTM-22 handled them all equally.

On my next trip to the range, I did some accuracy testing which included firing 10 rounds each of six different types of ammo. The best group was with the CCI Maxi Mag 40-grain JHP rounds — five in a ragged hole and the other five within two inches. But with each type of ammunition, I got light primer strikes on at least one, sometimes two rounds.

Each time, I simply cocked the hammer and the gun fired, but it obviously wasn’t an ammo problem. I reviewed what the manual said about lubrication, noting there needed to be plenty of oil underneath the barrel shroud where it contacts the slide, but the breech face needed to be dry. Rock Island recommends cleaning the chamber and breech face at least every hundred rounds.

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I cleaned and oiled the gun as suggested before the next trip to the range, and the gun has operated flawlessly ever since. So, here’s the summation of my experience there. The gun worked fine out of the box. It had light primer strikes after I cleaned it using my usual method of cleaning. After cleaning it again following Rock Island’s instructions, it worked flawlessly with multiple types of ammunition.

Purpose

What about using the .22 Magnum for self-defense? I’m a rootin’ tootin’ .45 shootin’ concealed carry practitioner — or I was. For most of my concealed carry walk and my years as an instructor, I’ve been an adamant advocate of carrying enough gun.

When people in my classes struggled with racking slides and begged me to tell them it was okay to carry a .380 instead of a 9mm, I wouldn’t. Instead, I would work with them, showing them various tricks for racking that slide and remind them once it’s loaded, they will be okay.

barrel shroud, plug and spring for the Rock Island XTM 22 pistol
A close look at the barrel and shroud components is all it takes to see how they go together. Notice the recoil spring plug is threaded with a screwdriver slot for removal and reinstallation.

My concealed carry instructor was a former marine who insisted if it doesn’t start with a “4,” it’s not enough gun. I was one of those people who wore the T-shirt with, “Why a .45?” on the front and, “Because they don’t make a .46” on the back. I turned 74 on my last birthday. That’s not really old, but some days I can’t even open a package of saltines.

I use an Uplula to load my 9mm magazines. It’s rare that I carry one of my favorite .45 1911s anymore. I can still rack the slide on a P229, G3, or an M&P, but sometimes it’s a Taurus 856 UL I stick in my pocket when we leave the house. Its arthritis is accompanied by bursitis.

Lots of us have that, but we don’t want to give up carrying a gun, so we make adjustments. I’ve written articles about shooting with hurting hands. But a .22? I didn’t think so, but the thought of carrying a .22 Magnum for defense is starting to sound like an option, especially if it has a large-capacity magazine.

Rock Island XTM 22 semi-automatic .22 Magnum handgun, right profile
The classic lines of a Rock Island 1911 are evident in the XTM 22 Magnum.

Back when my son and I ran a gun store, I came in one day and noticed my son working behind the counter with a Kel-Tec PMR-30 .22 Magnum in his holster. Later, when we were in the office counting our sales for the day, I asked him about it. He said, “Dad, when you wear it all day you don’t even notice this lightweight gun. And I figure, it’s loud and has 31 rounds of magnum hollow points in it. No one is going to stick around to fight me in a gunfight when I’m shooting at him with that fire-breathing, loud gun that just keeps on shooting.”

Nothing in this article should be construed as this pistol instructor recommending that you carry a rimfire handgun for self-defense. I’m just giving you some things to think about if you start having physical issues that challenge your ability to shoot a 9mm, .40, or .45. What’s that old saying, “When life deals you a lemon, shoot it full of holes with a .22 Magnum,” or something like that.

Have you carried a .22 Magnum for self-defense? What is the minimum caliber you would recommend and why? Do you have a personal review of the Rock Island XTM-22? Share your answers in the comment section.

  • Barrel crown on the muzzle end of the RIA XTM 22 .22 mag semi auto handgun
  • Rock Island XTM 22 semi-automatic .22 Magnum handgun, right profile
  • Rock Island Armory XTM 22 .22 Magnum pistol with several different brands of ammunition
  • Rock Island XTM 22 semi-automatic .22 WMR pistol with a container of tin cans and small caliber targets
  • barrel shroud, plug and spring for the Rock Island XTM 22 pistol
  • RIA XTM 22 .22 Magnum fieldstripped
  • RIA XMT-22 handgun with the slide locked open
  • 1911 .22 magnum handgun cocked and locked
  • Rock Island XTM 22 semi-automatic .22 Magnum handgun, left profile