It has been quite some time since I’ve spent appreciable time with a revolver. That recently changed when Mike asked me to review a couple guns from Rock Island Armory. I planned to review the RIA AL22M in .22 WMR first, followed by the .357 Magnum RIA AL3.1, but it didn’t quite work out that way. I’m sorry to report this is one gun I would strongly recommend against buying; Read on to find out why.
The RIA AL22M is a very beefy, 8-shot, .22 Magnum. I was prepared to be in love with this revolver from the start. First, it’s a .22 Magnum. I don’t have a whole lot of love for the .22 LR, but I’m a fan of the Magnum rimfire cartridge. This would be just the ticket for the rats, fisher, raccoons, possums, and armadillos (yes, somehow we have armadillos here in Appalachia, now) that frequent my yard, seeking entrance to my chicken coop.
Not only is its chambering desirable, it’s also about the perfect size for an all-purpose, farm/trail/truck revolver. The AL22M is a K-frame-sized revolver. In fact, it can use K-frame holsters (but not grips, unfortunately). With a 4″ barrel, I expected plenty of accuracy, in addition to just being a well-balanced, good-looking wheelgun. I received it alongside RIA’s very snubby, slightly ungainly, AL3.1 .357, which might’ve underscored the rimfire revolver’s good looks just a bit.
When I started examining the gun up close I wasn’t disappointed. The new crop of revolvers from Alfa-Proj in the Czech Republic appear to be exceptionally well-built, fit, and finished. In fact, there is no comparison with RIA’s budget-friendly, Philippine-produced, M200-series revolvers; These are very nice guns. I didn’t open this gun up, but not a single external part appeared to be cast. Not only that – the AL-series appears to have some very nice features. Let’s take a closer look at the RIA AL22M revolver.
Barrel & Sights
Let’s start at the muzzle. The barrel is very heavy (in fact, this appears to be built from the exact same stock as their centerfire revolvers) and has a full underlug. Not only does this make recoil virtually non-existent, it also lends a very pleasing appearance to the revolver. I wouldn’t mind seeing a recessed muzzle crown, but as we’ll see, this gun has bigger issues to tackle, first. The distal end of the right side of the tube is stamped, “22 WMR”.
Atop the muzzle is a very nice, serrated front sight with a red insert. The sight is fairly narrow but mates well to the adjustable rear and is well suited to precision aiming. The sight also appears to be removable via a set screw, though I have yet to see replacement blades on the market, and for a revolver like this I don’t think finding one would be a priority for me.
The top of the barrel is serrated, as well, to cut down on glare. I really appreciate features like this. They aren’t necessary, but they demonstrate just a little bit more effort and attention to detail.
The rear sight is a very nice, adjustable unit that will be familiar to any user of S&W revolvers. The elevation adjustment has very nice, audible and tactile clicks. The windage adjustment on my sample(s) had tactile clicks but they were a bit spongy. The sight blade is outstanding with ideal width and depth relative to the front sight. The barrel and sights should make this gun an outstanding shooter…or so I thought.
The fluted cylinder holds 8 rounds of .22 Magnum ammunition. It locks up at the rear, again likely owing to S&W inspiration. One really interesting feature are the relief cuts at the bottom of each chamber. These allow the RIA AL22M to be dry-fired without damaging the firing pin. This is one of those extra-thoughtful features that make me want to love this gun.
The extractor star is operated by an excellent ejector rod. Ejector rods are done so poorly on many revolvers but this one is truly fantastic! It offers sufficient throw to cleanly eject .22 Magnum brass. Even better, the end is solid and rounded, with a non-“cigar cutter” tip, to borrow a term from Greyson, a frequent reader and occasional contributor. This is really an outstanding ejector rod.
The cylinder release latch is, again, in the S&W style. To actuate it, press it forward. The latch does have a very nice ledge to catch your thumb, and never failed to work for me. Personally I think the looks of the latch could be improved upon. It doesn’t really matter, but the looks of the serrated (rather than checkered) latch don’t quite appeal to me for some reason.
Fortunately there is plenty of text on the side of the gun to distract from the cylinder release latch! Again, aesthetics are a secondary consideration, but this isn’t a $240 budget gun. With the beautiful fit and finish, and an $800 price tag, the text could be toned down just a bit.
Hammer and Trigger
The RIA AL22M functions in both single- and double-action. I generally subscribe to the theory that pure defensive revolvers are (or should be), in practice, DA-only guns. This revolver is much more versatile than a .38 snub, however, and I think the ability to shoot well-aimed, single-action shots is not misplaced.
The hammer itself is very functional with a wide, serrated area for thumb-cocking. Under the hammer there is a transfer bar safety, making this gun drop-safe and suitable for carry loaded with all eight chambers loaded.
The trigger is about medium-width (see that, Colt?) and serrated. While I would prefer a smooth trigger, the serrations are so fine that I barely noticed them. I found the DA trigger pull to be a bit on the heavy side with an average of 12.9 lbs…then again this is a rimfire revolver. After a couple hundred pulls it was very smooth, which negated the weight somewhat. The SA trigger is one of the best I’ve ever shot. It breaks incredibly cleanly with an average pull weight of 3.125 lbs.
Let’s start with the grip on this one. Sadly, it can’t be changed…wait, actually it can, but good luck finding replacement stocks. While about the same size as a K-frame grip, the grips attach in a completely different manner. This makes it hard to change for shooters with larger or smaller hands, and grips are one of the few ways you can personalize your revolver.
Fortunately, it isn’t a bad grip at all. It’s a Goldilocks size, neither to big not too small for most shooters. It does have finger grooves which I usually don’t like, but didn’t find them to be detrimental in the least here. Though they look like plastic the feel like hard rubber and worked really well. I’m honestly not sure I would swap them, even if I could.
The other ergonomic factor I’d like to discuss is weight. This is not a lightweight revolver. According to my kitchen scale it weights 39.3 ounces. That’s about the same weight as my 4″ 686. Fortunately, it balances exceptionally well. The only place the weight would be a problem is when carrying it for long spells, something I would be inclined to do with the RIA AL22M.
The RIA AL22M at the Range
So far, everything on this gun checks out. It appears to be tank-tough and well-crafted with thoughtful features. It doesn’t appear that Alfa-Proj (the manufacturer; RIA is the importer) took any shortcuts. I was ready to contact RIA and request to buy the AL22M…until I took it to the range.
Aside from a S&W 610 on loan to me with a misaligned barrel, I’ve never had a revolver that had inherent accuracy problems that were so bad that that I wouldn’t buy it. Some guns are hard to shoot and some are more accurate than others. This gun had real accuracy problems, though, and unfortunately for me, that’s a deal-breaker.
My first couple of cylinders were fired in my yard. I set up a couple of beer cans and took a few pot shots. When the first couple of shots missed I chalked it up to out-of-the-box sight regulation, or my own lack of recency with revolver triggers. A few days later I made it to the range. I took a bunch of ammo and was really looking forward to seeing what the AL22M was capable of. In total I fired 165 rounds:
- 92 – Armscor 40-grain JHP
- 8 – Hornady Critical Defense 45-gr FTX
- 15 – CCI Maxi-Mag 40-gr JHP
- 24 – Federal 50-grain JHP
- 24 – Win Super-X 40-grain JHP/FMJ
I shot a bit of several loadings, a cylinder or two at a time. Accuracy wasn’t anything to write home about, but I was keeping everything with about a 4″ circle, so again, maybe it’s just me.
Things were going OK until I loaded up a cylinder of Hornady Critical Defense rounds. Bullets went all over the paper. Vowing to buckle down and do better I loaded up some CCI Mini-Mags. I moved to 10 yards, fired eight rounds in single action, and got the following group:
Now I was really confused. Inspection of the target revealed that some bullets were key-holing. Maybe it was the ammo? I shot groups with all the ammo listed above except the Winchester stuff (which I ran out of) and at least one bullet out of every type of ammo turned into a sideways-flyer.
Some ammo did better. The 100-rounds of Armscor ammo that was provided to facilitate this review did the best. Still, even it exhibited an occasional flyer.
I did a little bit of research and it seems like this isn’t an isolated issue; at least one other Youtuber has had similar accuracy issues. In fairness to Armscor, I requested a replacement revolver for further evaluation, and I’ll address its performance below.
Function and Reliability
The first sample functioned very well throughout my testing (which, oddly, makes me even more sad about the accuracy issue). Out of 165 founds fired, only one didn’t go “bang.” It was a really, really old (like, two decades old) box of Winchester Super-X ammo so I don’t really put that on the gun.
One repeated issue I did have was powder accumulating under the extractor star. Five or six cylinders in the gun started getting really, really tight. I had trouble closing the cylinder so I peeked under the star. Sure enough, there was quite a bit of powder under there. This isn’t unique to the RIA gun and seems to be pretty common with .22 WMR revolvers.
I was prepared for this when I went to the range with my second sample of the RIA AL22M. I showed up with a toothbrush and cleaned under the star after every couple of cylinders. This took hardly any time but made the overall shooting experience much more pleasant.
Disappointed with the first gun’s performance, I reached out to my media contact about the accuracy issues I was having. They sent a shipping label and I got the gun turned around, with promises that a new one would be on the way. Due to a miscommunication, it took us almost a year to get a second gun. Most of this review was written in May or June of 2022; The second T&E sample came on April 7th of 2023. I picked it up on April 10th and headed straight to the range.
I came prepared. In addition to the toothbrush, I showed up with five boxes of ammo in weights ranging from 30 to 50 grains. I set up a target and got to work. I was confident the last gun had been a fluke and that this one would do the trick. I fired 40 rounds each of the following, for a total of 200 rounds:
- Hornady 30-grain V-Max
- Speer 40-grain Gold Dot
- CCI 40-grain Maxi-Mag FMJ
- Winchester 45-grain Dyna-Point
- Federal 50-grain Small Game
Again, the gun functioned beautifully, and was a pleasure to shoot. This time every single round went “bang” without fail. Unfortunately the accuracy issues rapidly re-emerged. With each of these rounds I experienced key-holed shots.
In total, I fired 360-something rounds through two pistols. I fired ammuntion weighing 30, 40, 45, and 50 grains. I fired ammo from CCI/Federal/Speer, Winchester, and Armscor, and I fired all this ammo, roughly 60/40, on two completely different revolvers delivered almost a year apart. I also got the same bad results as another reviewer. This tells me that, while this may not be an issue with all the AL22M revolvers out there, it’s at least common enough that you’re pretty likely to get one. For the MSRP of over $800 that’s not a bet I’d recommend you take.
I had really high hopes for the RIA AL22M revolver. To me this seems like an ideal platform for the potent .22 Magnum cartridge. The mid-sized frame, in durable stainless steel, with a 4″ tube…what’s not to like? With terminal ballistics giving .38 Special a run for its money, an 8-round cylinder, excellent sights, and a good trigger this could be an excellent, do-it-all revolver.
Some of you may know, but I’m on the hunt for my ultimate wilderness survival handgun: a double-action, medium-framed, lightweight, stainless steel, .22 Magnum revolver, with a 4″ barrel, and preferably of the 8-shot persuasion. I’m aware of the 3″ LCRx (too short, and too ugly) and the S&W Model .48 (blued, pricey, and only a six-shooter). Aside from being lightweight, this gun appeared to have everything else and I was prepared to purchase it.
Unfortunately the accuracy issue is a deal-breaker for me at any price. We saw the same issue with two guns delivered almost a year apart. And this is not a cheap gun. At actual street prices north of $800, at the time of this writing, this isn’t some budget revolver – it’s competing with Ruger and S&W. Being unable to shoot accurately wastes ammunition, and creates a potential safety issue if this gun is used in self defense. I sincerely hope that RIA and Alfa-Proj work to correct this (and possibly issue a recall) because the RIA AL22M has so much potential, as we saw with the AL3.1.
A Quick Note on Negative Reviews
I hate to issue a bad review, but I know people spend hard-earned money based on what we say in these pages. This was driven home to me when I attended Greg Ellifritz’ Snubnose Revolvers class a couple years ago. There I met a fellow student named Neil, a fellow who would become a good friend. He showed me the 640 Pro Series that he had purchased on my recommendation.
At that moment I was hit with an incredibly visceral realization that people make decisions to spend money based – at least in part – on our opinions of these guns. That first meeting with Neil is something I’ve never forgotten. As badly as I hate to write a bad review, I feel like this is a good chance to underscore the emphasis we place on being honest with our audience.
Editor’s Note: RevolverGuy readers who have read Justin’s very favorable review of the RIA AL3.1, and Kevin’s very favorable review of the RIA AL9.0, know that we don’t harbor any prejudice towards the brand. I was excited to discover the Alfa-Proj/Armscor AL-Series revolvers at the 2022 SHOT Show, and immediately coordinated to obtain samples for T&E, because I thought they were worth our time and attention. That’s a standard that many new guns don’t meet–we’re selective, and we pass on a lot of opportunities, here at RevolverGuy.
We had high hopes for the AL22M, and Justin obviously appreciated a lot of the features and qualities of this gun, but the continued accuracy problems were impossible to overlook. We’re not sure what’s causing the problem, but we know that RevolverGuy readers deserve to know about it.
Justin said there was no trace of asymmetric copper/lead smearing on the forcing cones of the guns, and he didn’t experience any spitting, so we don’t suspect timing issues or irregularities with the forcing cones. He also reported that the crowns appeared to be square and the rifling at the muzzles appeared to be undamaged. He didn’t slug the barrels, so we don’t know if they’re being drilled and rifled to the proper dimension, but it would take a pretty sloppy bore to overcome the bullet’s ability to obturate and stabilize.
Without examining the guns myself, I’m prone to suspect an issue with the twist rate, or (less likely) the forcing cone geometry, but a good gunsmith should be able to diagnose the problem without much drama. We hope this report will encourage Alfa-Proj and Armscor to investigate the problem and fix it, as our previous reporting on the (then new) Kimber K6s firing pin failures encouraged Kimber to fix that otherwise-excellent gun. As consumers ourselves, we’d like to see an improved version of the AL22M that shoots as good as it looks. We’ve already asked Armsor to send us a new sample to test, when they figure out the problem and fix it.