Review: Rock Island Armory XT 22 Magnum
March 07, 2018
When it comes to firearms, we consider a lot of ratios. The cost-benefit ratio. The weight-to-power ratio. The size-to-magazine-capacity ratio. But how often do we consider the fun-to-size ratio? Or the utility-to-disadvantaged ratio? After spending some time with the new Rock Island Armory (RIA) XT 22 Magnum, I can conclude that it scores high in the last two and doesn't neglect the others.
Chambered in .22 Magnum, the XT 22 is built on a single-stack, all-steel 1911 frame. Getting a 1911-based design to run on a magazine loaded with .22 Magnum cartridges is a notable achievement. But this is RIA, the same company that gave us the hot .22 TCM. G&A's editors have been monitoring the development of this pistol for the last couple of years with our fingers crossed, and we've all been anxious for this announcement.
The big problem with rimfires is that they really don't have the oomph to cycle the slide of a 1911, even if the slide is modified for blowback operation only. Yes, even the .22 Magnum lacks the muscle for slide cycling. It punches above its weight downrange, but we'll get to that in good time.
A Lean Machine Martin Tuason, president and CEO of RIA, and his team have solved the cycling challenge with two approaches. First, they reduced the slide mass by removing the top section. This removes the superfluous locking lugs, and also takes out the weight of the steel that would otherwise be forward of that area. This begged the question, "How is the barrel supported if there's no barrel bushing?" Simple: RIA pins the barrel to the frame.
The big problem in making the 1911 accurate - and any other locked-breech pistol - is that the barrel moves, and it has to return to battery in a consistent and precise manner. By locking the barrel to the frame, RIA engineers sidestepped that problem, increasing effective accuracy in return.
The second step they took was to use a floating chamber. Or, more precisely, a floating partial chamber. The larger surface area (and mass) of the floating chamber, accelerated by the case on firing, delivers enough energy to the slide to cycle it. The floating chamber is also slotted for the extractor, which has an easier job than a regular 1911. Again, since the 1911 barrel tilts down, the extractor has to be fitted to accommodate that movement. The straight-back movement of the case in the XT 22 Magnum makes extracting a much simpler task. At no time during test-firing did any of G&A's staff experience even a hint of extraction or ejection problems.
Since the barreled is fixed, the front sight has to be attached to the barrel. That's not a problem here, as a .22-inch bore through a .45-sized barrel leaves plenty of room to mill a dovetail and secure the front sight blade. The bull barrel mass helps dampen felt recoil, while not complicating the cycling dynamics. The rear sight is also fixed in a transverse dovetail. The result is a sight picture that appears as if it were on a Government 1911.
The slide has cocking serrations at the rear only. The reason for this is that the relief cut forward of the frame is more reminiscent of a ball-end cut, than the regular swoop cut of 1911 slides. It fits the look of the XT 22, and gives the front of the slide a clean appearance. As a rimfire, the XT 22 obviously has a firing pin offset from the centerline of the bore.
From the slide down, the XT 22 Magnum does not show anything that would belie its rimfire build. The slide, frame and barrel are parkerized, and the frame has the extras we have come to expect on a modern 1911. The grip safety is clearly Ed Brown derived, complete with the speed bump on the bottom to ensure engagement when you have a firing grip.
The mainspring housing is flat, checkered, and fitted to the frame. The frontstrap, while lacking grooves or checkering (not that the recoil of the .22 Magnum is going to make the pistol squirm in your grip), is lifted. That is, the joint of the frontstrap to the triggerguard is higher, enabling a tighter radius than the old G.I. curve, allowing your hand to get higher on the frame.
Since the frame is pure 1911, the trigger pull feels better than one on a striker-fired pistol. RIA finished this one with a clean, crisp pull you'd expect.
The slide-stop lever and magazine release are checkered like the old U.S. Property-marked 1911s, while the face of the trigger, slide slabs and top of the Series 70-like thumb safety are serrated. The grips are rubber, but molded with a vintage-style double-diamond checkered pattern around the RIA logo. All in all, when I first saw the frame I thought, Nothing different here. I was wrong.
The frame contains a magazine built to carry 14 rounds of .22 Magnum ammunition. The magazine tube is deeply dished on the sides to provide the proper stacking and feeding of the long, rimmed cases. Despite holding 14 rounds, the magazine spring is not a problem. Loading was easy, in fact. The magazine that came with G&A's XT 22 didn't lock the slide back when it was empty.
A Real Blast Testing proved to be a blast - figuratively and literally. I shot the XT 22 for performance testing on a day with flat, overcast light. As a result, the muzzle flash was noticeable from all three loads, but not otherwise obnoxious. The Speer Gold Dot load was the brightest of the three, but nothing like a shot from a centerfire magnum or a short-barreled rifle (SBR).
The accuracy results I gathered proved interesting. Our sample did not like the Hornady Critical Defense load (unusual), loved the Gold Dot load (typical) and was in-between about the CCI load. This reaffirmed our belief that every firearm is a law unto itself, and experimenting with various ammunition loads can pay big dividends. Your XT 22 might rank these loads in a different order, or you might find another load entirely that becomes the new standard. It is worth an afternoon of shooting nothing but groups to find out. (The same advice applies to all of your guns.)
The velocity of the .22 Magnum means that it shoots flat out to the 100-yard gong, and once the bullets get there they make a much more distinctive ping than a .22LR does. I did not have to hold over the top of the plate to get hits at 100 yards. I just held on the top edge and got a ping every time I did my part.
The cost on the XT 22 is more than reasonable. You're getting an all-steel pistol, and since it is built on a 1911 platform, you have a better-than-average chance of finding a pistolsmith who can understand it, should you desire to personalize the trigger, replace the thumb safety or attach grips you think are best. In that regard, we at G&A look at the XT 22 as a blank canvas.
The all-steel construction tips the scales at 2¼ pounds, heft that also dampens any potential felt recoil. For the noise and flash, the recoil just isn't any big deal.
A 1911 in .22 Magnum has purpose. What gap does the new XT 22 Magnum fill? Besides offering us fun?
Well, the .22 Magnum is going to splatter splatterable targets with greater enthusiasm than a .22LR would. It has more authority than a 1911 chambered in .22LR does. It even has a better chance of knocking over falling plates than a .22LR has. Yes, the ammunition cost is higher, but it is on-par with the least-expensive centerfire ammo. And if you are getting new shooters hooked on shooting, a big-performing .22 Magnum, with less recoil, is going to hook them faster than a hard-recoiling centerfire will. That's a fact.
The recoil brings me to the next reason: personal defense.
Yes, yes, we all know Jeff Cooper said to only carry calibers beginning with the numeral four. Tell that to your elderly aunt, who insists on living in the house she's spent the previous half-century in. Not everyone who needs something to defend themselves is physically able to safely shoot, control and manipulate what the strongest among us can. Unlike the big-bore handgun you carry, the slide of the XT 22 is sprung soft enough that Aunt Betty can work the slide, too. And the recoil won't be so harsh that she'll be more afraid of the pistol than she is of the person in front of her. And then there are the 14-plus-one rounds with another 14 waiting in the wings once you've taught her how to reload. Dear, sweet Aunt Betty.
No, the .22 Magnum doesn't deliver the printed specs in speed, but then, neither does the .22LR. Out of a handgun, the 40-grain bullet of a .22LR is going to be hard-pressed to get beyond 800 feet per second (fps). The .22 Magnum delivers an honest 1,200-plus fps, and if you opt for Speer's Gold Dot, over 1,300 fps. A 40-grain bullet at 1,300 fps may not sound effective, but it's all a matter of the point of view.
It would take a really stout aggressor receiving half a dozen of those through the sternum, to shrug them off and keep to the plan. Especially with the muzzle flash added into the mix. Follow the orders of a U.S. Navy captain in the Pacific during World War II: "Keep firing until the target changes course, changes shape or catches on fire." The mild recoil of the .22 Magnum means one can keep shooting as long as the bad guy thinks he wants to fight. That .40-caliber load you carry? Aunt Betty would be done after firing a round or two - if that. Would I select the .22 Magnum as my caliber of choice? No, but ask me that question again when I'm 85. I might have a different answer.
And all this for a more than reasonable sum. Reasonable, nay, inexpensive. I just ordered a slide, frame and barrel for a 1911-build project (unrelated to this pistol review), and those three parts alone cost me double what Rock Island Armory's XT 22 is listed for. The price difference would get almost 2,500 rounds of .22 Magnum ammunition. That's a lot of practice ammo, and nothing improves performance like practice. It isn't work to test a 1911 in .22 Magnum. Once you know what ammo it likes, stock up.