Rock Island Armory XT 22 51996 22 Magnum

A 1911 fan will like the handling and easy familiarity. You have to add to the cost of the XT 22 its expensive magazines ($64 each) and the treatment needed for reliability, including a new slide lock ($33). We tested three new-in-the-box pistols, and the XT 22 was troublesome each time.


The 22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire has enjoyed steady popularity since its introduction 65 years ago. The 22 WMR, or 22 Magnum, is a crackerjack cartridge that increases the range and killing power of a rimfire firearm. The cartridge differs considerably from the 22 Long Rifle. The hoary old 22 LR features a lead heel-based bullet pressed into the case. The 22 Magnum features a jacketed bullet crimped into the cartridge case. This makes the Magnum much more feed reliable. The 22 Magnum has been adapted to revolvers easily, but the cartridge has not been chambered in self-loading pistols as seamlessly. A rimmed cartridge case presents a design hurdle. Most 22 Magnum loads are designed for rifles and use slower-burning powder, with the Hornady Critical Defense round used in this test being an exception. As a result, the cartridges often leave considerable powder residue.

Three modern handguns we tested in this chambering recently were the KelTec PMR-30 PMR30TACGY in Tactical Grey coloring, $490; the Rock Island Armory XT 22 51996, $503; and the Walther WMP (Walther Magnum Pistol) 5220300, $549. All make claim to perfect reliability and good accuracy. They actually came very close, but only one exhibited perfect reliability.

How We Tested

We expanded the test program over our usual two to four loads. We usually use some type of FMJ loading for practice and a hollow point to confirm feed reliability, then proceed to a mix of three loads for accuracy testing from a benchrest. We used a total of 10 loads during this test. The loads used are listed in the Velocity Table as a point of interest, as well as the usual Range Data.

The Rock Island Armory XT 22 suffered several failures to ignite the cartridge. This cartridge was struck by the firing pin, but the strike was light (arrow).

We wanted to test reliability with inexpensive FMJ loads, which are usually more lightly loaded, to the most potent loads and high-velocity offerings with 30-grain bullets as well as heavier 45-grain class loads. We used six CCI, one Winchester, one Armscor, and two Hornady loads. We also included some results from a 6½-inch-barrel revolver we recently tested for comparison, and, finally, we chronographed a rifle using 22 Magnum loads. The self-loading handguns generate significantly greater velocity than revolvers, we found. Handguns and velocity with high-intensity loads are unpredictable, and while similar handguns may post similar velocities, it isn’t always a given. The Walther seemed to generate the highest velocity with most loads, but then the Rock gave a 92-fps boost over the Walther with one load — from the same box of ammunition used to test the Walther. The Walther definitely generates more velocity than most revolvers. The revolvers tested with 22 Magnum loads were 6½-inch barrel handguns, the longest practical field length. As one rater noted, he will retire his Ruger Single Six from small-game hunting in favor of the Walther. The Walther, he feels, is like a rifle on the hip. All agree that in a pinch the 22 Magnum could be a life saver if you can shoot well, much more so than a revolver with only six rounds on tap.

All three makers stress properly loading the magazines is important for 22 Magnum feed reliability. We used the same drill when loading all three pistols. We slipped the long cartridges under the feed lips, and after loading three rounds, we tapped the back of the magazine to seat the cartridges fully to the rear. We also did not lower the follower to its lowest point and drop cartridges in. We pressed them in one at a time. The Walther WMP’s polymer magazine is easily loaded to full capacity, the best of the test in that regard, despite its lower round count.

The power of the cartridge, while respectable, isn’t something we recommend for personal defense, but we recognize many shooters will consider these guns for self defense regardless. Their better use, in our view, is as a field gun for small game and protection against feral dogs and bobcat-size pests. It compares well against the 32 H&R Magnum or 380 ACP for the recoil shy. The bottom line must be reliability, and the design of the cartridge itself is a problem. Rimfire cartridges are notorious for the occasional failure to ignite the priming compound. We ran a thorough test of the three guns with nine types of 22 Magnum ammunition for a total of 800 cartridges, spread out as evenly as possible among the three handguns. We liked all of the guns, but one had troubling function problems. Another was a bit large for most hand sizes. But one of this trio we recommend wholeheartedly, for the reasons we list below.

Gun Tests Grade: B


As tested with an additional magazine we bought separately and a Wilson Combat Slide Lock, the total comes to $614. The Rock Island XT 22 is geared toward 1911 fans. It looks like a 1911, handles the same, and offers a fine understudy to the 1911 45 ACP handgun. Rock Island made the necessary engineering changes to adapt the 1911 action to the 22 Magnum cartridge. Arguably, the XT 22 is more similar to a 1911 with a 22 LR conversion unit than a true 1911 handgun.

Action TypeDouble action
Overall Length8.5 in.
Overall Height5.1 in.
Maximum Width1.3 in.
Weight Unloaded40.0 oz.
Weight Loaded 42.0 oz.
SlideParkerized steel
Slide Retraction Effort15.0 lbs.
ReceiverParkerized steel
Front Strap Height3.2 in.
Rear Strap Height2.6 in.
Barrel Length 5.0 in.
Grip Panels Changeable rubber
Grip Thickness1.25 in.
Grip Circumference5.2 in.
Magazine(1) 14 round
Rear SightFixed steel
Front SightFiber optic
Trigger Pull Weight5.25 lbs.
Trigger Span2.8 in.
Sight Radius 6.4 in.
SafetyTrigger lever
WarrantyLimited Lifetime
Telephone(775) 537-1444
Made InPhilippines
The XT 22 suffered several failures to feed properly, mainly with open-nose hollow points that would catch on the feed ramp (arrow).

The most obvious departure from the 1911 is an open-top slide. This makes for a lighter top end and allows easier redesign to a blowback operation. The barrel with the chamber and feedway are morphed into an outer barrel shroud. The barrel is actually spring loaded by means of a plunger in the shroud near the bottom rear of the barrel shroud. There is movement between the pieces on firing, but somehow the system works well. Because the slide and frame are steel, the pistol has a balance identical to a Government Model 1911 45, but the weight also makes it the heaviest pistol tested at a hefty 40 ounces. Recoil isn’t a consideration with heavier guns, and clearly the XT 22 has no recoil to speak of.

The XT 22 suffered several failures to fully extract rounds. In two instances, the extractor lost its hold on the cartridge-case rim.

The hammer and trigger are designed to look like the 1911 and function in the same manner. The trigger has an adjustable trigger stop. The pistol features a slide-lock safety and a standard 1911-type grip safety. The grip safety locks the trigger in place until the safety is depressed about halfway into its travel. The slide-lock safety is positive in operation, moving into position with a sharp snap. The mainspring housing is nicely checkered. We have seen advertisements with different styles of grip panels. Our pistol featured simple rubber grips. The slide stop and magazine release are standard 1911. All controls operate in a positive manner. The extractor is robust in design. The cocking serrations offer good leverage. The front sight is fiber optic, and the rear sight offers windage adjustment.

Field strip isn’t particularly complicated. Be certain the pistol is unloaded and lock the slide to the rear. The slide stop is pressed out right to left. The slide is run forward off the frame. The slide was somewhat difficult to run off the frame, catching tight at the end of travel. The recoil spring is pinched and held forward to remove the barrel. The inner barrel easily slides out of the shroud for cleaning. While there were no issues related to the barrel shroud design, the 22 Magnum left a good portion of unburned powder in all the pistols during the test. The Rock Island XT 22 design may tend to trap more powder ash than the other pistols. Be careful of small parts when disassembling this handgun.

On the XT 22, a failure to lock back on the last shot was addressed by replacing the Rock Island Armory slide stop with a shiny new Wilson Combat slide stop (arrow).

The magazine is a steel unit with a 14-round capacity. While it isn’t the highest capacity tested — the KelTec holds twice as many cartridges — that is a lot of ammunition. And we did say “magazine.” The pistol ships with a single magazine. Spare magazines remain difficult to impossible to find. We lucked into one in an odd way. A dealer we often patronize had these magazines on his wish list with his distributors for six months. The magazines arrived the day we picked up the KelTec in his shop. The Rock was actually found at another shop, and the Walther still another in a two-county area. We think we should have had a second magazine at the price or at least the chance to purchase spare magazines for less than the $60 going price. When looking online from June 2022 to August 2022, we were unable to locate a single XT 22 magazine to purchase. (True also of more common magazines.) Still, we were pleased to be able to test the pistol with two magazines. Bringing the Rock Island up to the two-magazine standard of the others makes it the most expensive pistol tested. The magazines are high quality and only slightly more difficult to load to capacity than the Walther.

The pistol was loaded with the same CCI loads to begin the test, and the magazine loaded in the same manner as the others. The first hang-up came with CCI’s 30-grain round. The nose hung up on the feed ramp. While this is a wide-open nose, the other pistols did not stutter with this load. We switched to 40- to 46-grain loads and enjoyed good feed reliability. The CCI 30-grain V-Max also fed well.

The pistol is motionless during firing. In fact, one rater used to bracing for heavier recoil sometimes pushed the pistol forward on firing. It isn’t a flinch, but the push must be overcome. The straight-to-the-rear trigger action breaks at 4.5 pounds, exactly the weight of the Walther’s trigger.

The XT 22 is very 1911-like in look and feel. For some shooters, they’ll be willing to work the gun’s problems, as we did, to get this familiarity. Save for an open-top slide, the XT 22 resembles other 1911 handguns closely. Hand fit is perhaps best of the test, very comfortable, and trigger reach is easy.

During the initial work up, we fired the pistol at human-silhouette targets at 7, 10, and 15 yards. This drill was followed with all three handguns. The Rock Island pistol was easily the fastest from the holster and to an accurate first shot hit, although the KelTec was very fast. The pistol provided good combat groups. However, the XT 22 was not 100% reliable. It failed to fully extract a spent cartridge on three occasions during the first 50 rounds. (We eventually fired 250 cartridges in this handgun.) We suffered three failures to fire due to light firing-pin strikes. One of our raters was able to fix the issues and get the pistol running. The solution was involved enough to make an article of its own. Some of it was cleaning, some tuning, a little breaking up an edge on the chamber.

Another issue was a failure to lock open on the last shot. We were able to lock the pistol open with the slide lock, but it never locked open on the last shot with any of the raters. We plugged in a Wilson Combat slide lock — no need for fitting — and this cured this problem.

This was an unfortunate combination of issues. The failure to extract was fixed, but it would have required a trip to the factory if we had not had a gunsmith on staff. Repair times are long these days. The failure to fire seemed to point to grease in the firing-pin channel. One rater noted he always cleans a pistol before firing, especially the trigger action. The failure to lock open on the last shot was a more involved fix that required a spare part from another 1911. None of these failures occurred with the other handguns.

The Rock Island XT 22 is a good fit for 1911 holsters, such as the Wilson Combat Range Tac scabbard.

It is common enough for rimfire cartridges to misfire. This is one reason we do not recommend any rimfire for personal defense. Rimfire priming simply isn’t as reliable as centerfire. Just the same, the other two handguns spit out more than 600 spent cases with only one failure. The Walther seemed to whack a case rim hard enough, but the cartridge did not ignite. It cracked off on the second try. In contrast, the XT 22 had bona fide light strikes.

Our Team Said: In bench accuracy, the XT 22 proved to be an accurate gun on par with the KelTec but lagging behind the Walther. We enjoyed the pistol and its handling. The nagging extraction problems and light primer strikes were drawbacks even in a recreational handgun not destined for serious use. But some will rely on such a handgun on the trail or for self defense, and they’ll need a reliable handgun. It would take a lot of work for us to be confident in the Rock Island Armory XT 22 in these roles. Also, we considered that the pistol doesn’t have a light rail and isn’t optics ready as the other handguns are. Even our 1911 fan on the team would have preferred one of the other handguns. We’d have to pass on the XT 22.

22 WMR (22 Magnum) Range Data

We fired groups at 25 yards from a solid benchrest position using an MTM CaseGard K-Zone Shooting Rest. We used a Competition Electronics Pro Chrony to measure velocity. We placed the front screen of the chronograph 10 feet from the muzzles of the firearms.
Winchester Super-X 40-grain FMJWalther WMPRock Island Armory XT22KelTec PMr-30
Average Velocity1260 fps1282 fps1249 fps
Muzzle Energy141 ft.-lbs.146 ft.-lbs.139 ft.-lbs.
Small Group1.1 in.2.0 in.1.6 in.
Average Group1.8 in.2.4 in.2.3 in.
CCI Maxi-Mag 40-grain JHP Walther WMPRock Island Armory XT22KelTec PMr-30
Average Velocity1421 fps1382 fps1330 fps
Muzzle Energy179 ft.-lbs.170 ft.-lbs.157 ft.-lbs.
Small Group1.5 in.1.8 in.1.6 in.
Average Group2.0 in.2.5 in.2.0 in.
Hornady Critical Defense 45-grain FTX Walther WMPRock Island Armory XT22KelTec PMr-30
Average Velocity1254 fps1293 fps1235 fps
Muzzle Energy157 ft.-lbs.167 ft.-lbs.152 ft.-lbs.
Small Group1.7 in.2.1 in.1.8 in.
Average Group2.1 in.2.6 in.2.2 in.

Additional 22 WMR (22 Magnum) Velocity Data

Load Walther WMPRock Island Armory XT22KelTec PMR-30
CCI VNT 30 grain1490 fps1433 fps1409 fps
CCI V-Max 30 grain1516 fps1550 fps1477 fps
CCI TNT 30 grain1568 fps1660 fps1498 fps
CCI Game Point 40 grain1401 fps1366 fps1345 fps
Armscor JHP 40 grain1310 fps1274 fps1299 fps

Comparative 22 WMR (22 Magnum) Velocity

We used a Competition Electronics Pro Chrony to measure velocity. We placed the front screen of the chronograph 10 feet from the muzzles of the firearms.
Hornady V-Max CZ 512 RifleWaltherRock Island ArmoryKelTec
30-grain 8320220.5-inch BarrelWMPXT 22PMR-30
Average Velocity2371 fps1522 fps1539 fps1498 fps
CCI Maxi-MagCZ 512 RifleWaltherRock Island ArmoryKelTec
40-grain JHP20.5-inch BarrelWMPXT 22PMR-30
Average Velocity2260 fps1421 fps1382 fps1330 fps
Hornady Critical Defense Heritage RevolverWaltherRock Island ArmoryKelTec
45-grain FTX 6.5-inch BarrelWMPXT 22PMR-30
Average Velocity1160 fps1254 fps1293 fps1235 fps
CCI Maxi-MagHeritage RevolverWaltherRock Island ArmoryKelTec
46-grain Segmented HP6.5-inch BarrelWMPXT 22PMR-30
Average Velocity1201 fps1299 fps1257 fps1242 fps


    • Hey Walter: The 22 TCM is a centerfire round with more capability than the 22 WMR. Bigger case body, however, than the 22 Magnum, so magazine capacity is somewhat less. Ammo is much more expensive for the 22 TCM, and I believe 22 TCM is only loaded by one manufacturer, Armscor, the round’s developer. Todd Woodard


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