By David Lake
For many in the shooting culture, quality means high price. This group thinks it ludicrous to believe that one can enjoy great quality, pay less money, and get it from a brand like Armscor USA. Make no mistake; Armscor is not an obscure off-brand. They began production of firearms in the Philippines under the name Squires Bingham Manufacturing in 1952. It’s been a family operated business with worldwide market share ever since In North America, their firearms are labeled Rock Island Armory.
Armscor’s pedigree, experience, and capacity rival that of some of America’s home grown 1911 brands. One must note that Armscor has earned enough respect among other manufacturers to become the source for 1911 type pistols for other brand names to include Charles Daly and Auto Ordnance. Even STI has recognized Armscor’s quality and value in their offering of the Spartan series.
Armscor’s own Rock Island Armory lineup includes 32 different models of the 1911 and among those they offer 7 caliber choices. Throw in the revolvers and double action polymer frame MAP pistols and you have a total of 38 handguns. In long guns, they currently offer two home defense shotguns, six rim fire rifles and one center fire bolt rifle in the overachieving .22 TCM. All of it is to be had for hundreds less than comparable models from more common brands in the industry. In terms of innovation, Armscor has given the 1911 some legs, so to speak, with the .22 TCM. It is an incredible advancement for the 1911 platform. It’s all the “cool” of the 5.7×28, in a familiar, serviceable, practical switch barrel high capacity 1911.
Then there’s the ammunition line. They load 11 calibers – not the exotic stuff, just the most common shooting range fodder. The ammunition is in fact, very, very good. Some of the world’s top competitive shooters trust this ammunition to work – and maintain supreme accuracy – and remain totally consistent between batches. The likes of JJ Racaza, Eric Grauffel, Jethro Dionisio, and Athena Lee, world class competitors and champions in their disciplines, all burn it down with Armscor Precision ammunition.
In recent years, you’ve seen a growing trend in the gun world toward “whatever sells” and you must note that this business model often gets its inspiration from cable TV and Hollywood. Also you see practical firearm design and evolution stagnating; improvement is slow, innovation is very expensive, and the only real change you’ll see in next year’s models is the way they look and assuredly an increased cost. Enter Armscor’s newest rifle, the Rock Island Armory MIG 22. It’s a refreshing descendant of the AR form and is a logical “next step” in a rim fire sporting rifle. It’s different, it’s evolved, and it’s the product of some forward thinking – and it’s under $400.
The AR-15 rifle in .22 caliber offers a comparatively cheap analog to the center fire rifle. A shooter can get relevant, hands on experience and practice from a rim fire that shares the geometry and manual of arms with the 5.56 NATO version. This is irrefutable validation for the existence of the AR-15 clone in .22 LR. The MIG 22 does not pretend at this role. It’s a totally new platform that takes some good points from the AR. The MIG 22 is slightly smaller; maybe 80% the scale of an AR-15. It does still weigh a touch over 6 pounds. Its geometry has been refined to be more ergonomic than the AR. The web of the hand is placed a little higher on the gun when compared to the AR-15. The trigger is a little farther from the shooting hand, improving trigger finger placement. The gun will balance right on the magazine, which means the gun’s weight is distributed equally in the shooter’s hands. This enhances the instinctive “feel” and “pointability” competitive shooters seek. This balance lends itself to fast target acquisition and transition, and makes the gun manageable when one hand leaves to retrieve a fresh magazine. The 10-inch long forearm is a smooth free floated aluminum tube; again, smaller than the typical AR-15 furniture. It’s one and three quarter inches diameter compared to the full 2 inches or more the AR-15 usually wears. The stock is basic A2 design of AR heritage. The head position related to the Mil-Std 1913 rail is the same established by the AR-15 to ensure compatibility with current scope mounts and red dots and risers and adapters.
For the technical or mechanical minded shooter, this rifle is a shining gem among semiautomatic .22 rifles. Every part of this gun has been scrutinized. Armscor’s engineers have taken a no nonsense approach to keep this gun simple and cheap. The barrel’s profile is level; no taper, because that would only add cost and has no practical purpose. The 16 inch barrel is contoured with a .750 inch journal for a couple inches ahead of the forearm to allow the attachment of AR type front sights or a Picatinny railed gas block. The barrel comes threaded in 1/2×28 and includes a thread cap that matches the size and finish of the barrel. The grip feels natural and places the hand where it should be on the rifle for optimal comfort. The receiver consists of two major pieces; a lower and a top cover plate that contains the Picatinny mount. The receiver is machined from solid stock, and is machined into a utilitarian boxy shape. No unnecessary curves or textures, just what’s required so that the weapon functions.
Disassembly is easy enough. Remove 5 screws from the top cover and the left side mounted charging handle from the bolt. There’s a pin near the union of the butt and the receiver. Pushing this pin out will allow the stock to slip out of its socket. The forearm holds the barrel in place and just needs to be unscrewed from around the barrel to expose a single set screw used to “time” the barrel in the receiver. The fire control need not come out of the gun for cleaning. These internals can be cleaned to your satisfaction with a spray cleaner.
When one removes the top cover, the bolt, recoil spring and guide rod all come with it in captive unit. No parts falling or shooting out. The guide rod runs through the top of the bolt and can pass through the upper assembly in either direction, allowing the separation of these parts. The action is simple blow-back, so no alien technology here. The bolt is basic, no fancy shape or finish, just a solid steel cube. The extractor is larger than usual and uses a regular coil spring in a see-saw arrangement. No funny plungers or installation tricks. It’s cheap to make and it serves its purpose.
Reassembly is no challenge; set the bolt in its slot, insert guide rod half way, feed the spring in, and push the guide rod the rest of the way though. The bolt does not appear to bear heavily against the inside of the receiver. It hangs on the guide rod and just floats over the surface beneath it. An advantageous design feature; as any fouling or particulate that blows back will be less likely to retard the bolt’s motion. It’s very “way forward.” This theory was put to the test by affixing a Gemtech Outback II to the muzzle. As a side effect of its normal operation, a sound suppressor will blow excess amounts of powder fouling back into the action, requiring more regular cleaning of the action. So if this gun was going to jam, it would happen soon. By the end of the evaluation, 300 rounds were fired without a failure or malfunction.
With the top cover removed you have full access to the fire control mechanism. From the box, the trigger breaks at less than 2 pounds. It has a soft take-up like a 2-stage, but pulls though as if it were on bearings. You cannot anticipate the break. Armscor has carefully manipulated the leverage in the fire control. They’ve placed the mainspring very close to the hammer pivot pin, which makes for a faster hammer swing, and at the same time they put the sear surface on the very top, the distal end of the hammer, where sear pressure is kept to a minimum (to get a similar arrangement in your AR-15, you’ll spend upwards of $300). The trigger and sear are connected by a link bar that also serves as disconnector. The idea hails to the trigger link and disconnector of a SIG Sauer Pistol. The reset is deliberate, to improve safety by eliminating “bump fire.” To improve sensitivity, the trigger blade is flat to create a smaller contact patch with the shooter’s finger. You won’t find this smart trigger mechanism in any other rifle today. You should, however, expect to see this type of system in forthcoming weapon design. Every aspect of the trigger is very well thought out, and leaves precious little room for improvement. And it’s all to be had for less than $400.
The MIG is very good indeed, but not perfect; nothing ever is. Here are some soft spots that were found in the MIG’s design. There’s no provision to lock the bolt open. An automatic last shot hold-open is convenient. A hold-open that could be manually engaged is practically requisite. The choice to use non-standard furniture could be short sighted. There is room in the receiver to accept an AR buffer tube, but the receiver is simply not machined for it. This would let a shooter use collapsible or adjustable stocks meant for the AR-15. The stock on this gun is in fact an A2 butt from an AR-15 that fits up to an aluminum core that replaces the buffer tube, and acts as interface to the receiver. But it will not accept a collapsible AR stock. Relevant to this discussion is a new class of furniture made for .22 only AR-15 rifles that need not leave room for buffer or gas tube assemblies. These offer alternative geometry and lighter weight than true AR components. It would be nice to have the option. On the other end of the receiver, the forearm attaches to the receiver via 1.25”x18 threads. This is the same size used by the AR-15. But the threaded boss is too long to accept any universal AR forearm assembly. Both of these deficiencies could be easily remedied by a skilled gunsmith, at moderate expense. It has been said that this rifle was not trying at the AR market, and that is true. It is not an AR. But people like having a choice, and that’s what the AR world of accessories can offer.
The 15-round magazine is proprietary to this gun – presumably to allow for the smaller, lighter receiver. That’s acceptable. The safety is placed above the thumb and moves in an unfamiliar direction that some shooters will have to “re-learn.” The lever is pushed up for “fire” and pulled down for “safe.” The selector moves too little and too easily. It only moves an eighth of an inch between “fire” and “safe.” There could be a more positive “snap” to it. One last bit: the 5 top cover screws could be replaced with a “spring loaded mechanical locking captive push-button something” to secure the top cover to the receiver. These tiny screws will get lost or stripped.
Shooting the rifle is a pleasure. Interestingly, the impulse is notably different than other semiautomatic rim fires. The bolt seems to move more quickly but at the same time, there’s no jarring “clang” as the bolt makes its round trip. Accuracy, as with all .22 rifles, was largely determined by the quality of the ammunition used. Bulk ammo produced decent results. Wolfe Match Target ammo produced an impressive .510” group at 50 yards. Per Armscor’s guarantee, the gun should only make a .75” 50 yard group. So that was a welcome surprise. The rifle was tested in action shooter mode making double taps on a 4-inch target at 25 yards. Even without a muzzle device, the gun did not tend to throw second shots; all rounds just stayed on the plate. The rifle’s impressive behavior is a strong argument to the value of perfect balance, proper ergonomics, and an ultra smooth trigger. The trigger can be slapped quickly without affecting the rifle’s hold on target – it was made to be double-tapped. The left handed charge handle is fast and instinctive. The magazine release is right where your index finger expects it to be. The 15-round magazine does indeed fit in a standard belt pouch made for 1911 magazines so competitors already have the range gear they’ll need. The MIG 22 is a great new option if you’re looking to get into Take-5, Rim Fire Steel Challenge, or even the rim fire division in 3-gun, which is now gaining popularity.
Armscor suggests a retail price of $400 on the MIG 22 though with a little homework on the internet, it can be found for about 10-15% less. Other gun manufacturers could take some important cues from Armscor. Forthcoming gun design should be more like the MIG in form and function and value. The MIG 22 illustrates that improvement and ingenuity can be simple and concise. You can imagine the amazing sorts of weapons we get to fiddle with here at Small Arms Review; we’re not easy to impress anymore, but this rifle did manage to raise an eyebrow.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V18N5 (October 2014)|