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- Last updated: 20/03/2018
When it comes to .22 semiautos, black rifles really are the ‘new normal’, thanks to a fusion of great ergonomics, ample magazine capacity, and infinite potential for customisation that is ideal for vermin control, informal plinking, and some of the most exciting forms of competitive target shooting available. Many classic designs have been imitated, but none more often than the iconic AR15, a ‘platform’ whose practicality and versatility have made it a universal standard for contemporary firearms design: a ‘Mauser ‘98’ for the 21st Century.
Rimfire AR15s fall into two categories: cheaper rimfirespecific designs that only look like ARs on the outside, and topend builds based on centrefire components, adapted to run the diminutive .22LR cartridge. Both have their pros and cons, but they do rather leave a gap in the middle: and that’s where the Tippmann Arms M4-22 comes in.
These new rifles were spotted at SHOT 2017 by keen-eyed shooter and import consultant Barry Giddings. He thought they’d fit in nicely here, so he contacted Antony Bill, who runs Shooting Supplies of Bromsgrove, to see if he’d be interested in distributing them in the UK. He was. And just as soon as the first shipment emerged from proof, the ever-efficient Antony got one out to me for review.
Priced at £899, the M4-22 sits neatly between the current leader of the lookalikes, the Smith & Wesson M&P 15-22 (a more than decent gun in its own right, and one whose popularity is easy to understand), and significantly-costlier options from Bradley Arms, Lantac or Southern Gun Company. EMRR’s CMMG rifles are offered for similar money, it’s true, but last time I looked they didn’t come with flip-up sights, a spare magazine, extra accessory rails, a hard travelling case and a security lock!
So, what does the Tippmann have over the M&P? An allmetal build, for starters. And it’s not pot-metal either, but proper aluminium alloy, perfectly finished and dimensionally exact. The barrel is spot-on too: solid 4150 steel, with an authentic H-bar profile, crisp rifling, a bright internal finish, a Parkerised outer finish, and a ½ x28 UNEF thread at the muzzle, mounting a classic A2 ‘birdcage’ flash hider.
The upper receiver is the flat-top type with a fulllength optics rail, and there’s a matching rail on the nonfunctioning gas block, which also sports an M4-type sling loop and bayonet lug; the rear sling attachment point being an ambidextrous design correctly located between the receiver and the castle nut.
As for the controls, the magazine release and 2-position safety lever function as you would expect, even if – in true M4 style – the lower receiver is tantalisingly marked with a third position for ‘AUTO’ fire. Not surprisingly, this is non-functioning!
Everything else is the real deal, though: not just the dust-cover, which pops open smartly when you pull back on the T-handle; or the forward assist, which engages with a set of six half-moon grooves cut in the R/H side of the bolt; but also the bolt release, which incorporates a proper last-round hold-open.
Opinions differ regarding the utility of a forward assist on a 5.56 AR, some seeing it merely as a relic, a scar left behind by its troubled debut in the Vietnam War, but on .22LR it’s just the thing for overcoming a slightly chubby cartridge or a chamber that’s telling you it’s due for a clean. As far as Tippmann are concerned, however, I think it’s all about authenticity, about replicating as faithfully as possible the original manual of arms, so that anyone who has trained on an actual M4 will feel that everything is just as it should be.
Tippmann, you see, have an interesting track record when it comes to .22 replicas. Their very first guns were half-sized semi and fully auto versions of the classic belt-fed M1919 Browning medium machinegun, complete with scaled-down replica tripods and accessories. Production was both limited and exquisite, with the result that when a Tippmann M1919 finds its way onto the market today, the price is well into five-figure territory.
A change in US gun laws brought production to an end in 1986, but Tippmann had already realised that they could put their expertise in the manufacture of fast-firing firearms to good use, in what was then the latest craze: paintball, duly becoming the leading name in that booming market. It could be said, therefore, that the Tippmann M4-22 marks a real return to their roots for this family firm.
As I’ve said, authenticity plays a big part in the rifle’s appeal, and this is true on the inside too. Pop the rear receiver pin, open up the action, and – just as on a real M4 – you can remove the bolt simply by pulling back on the T-handle and sliding both out of the receiver. Consequently, cleaning is a breeze.
Behind the extractor on the R/H side of the bolt is the scoop that interacts with the internal bar on the dust cover to pop the cover open as the rifle is cocked. Underneath is a step that provides the ‘sear’ for boltrelease, and behind that, a slot that lets the hammer reach the striker once the bolt is in battery – and only then. Above it is the slot for the T-handle. By contrast, the rear section of the bolt is pure mass, carefully calculated to provide the inertia/momentum required for reliable cycling. The other half of that equation, of course, is the buffer and spring, and in true M4 style, these are housed in the buffer tube.
Fitted to that tube is a standard M4 telescopic butt, which has the usual amount of play – i.e. some, but not enough to be a problem, and is equally easy to substitute with something more sophisticated, if you feel the need. The pistol grip is a regular A2 pattern too: ribbed, but hard plastic, so I swapped it out for a grippier rubberised one from Hogue.
The octagonal quad-rail handguard is also polymer, making for a more comfortable hold in cold weather. The rails are polymer too, and the side and bottom ones are removable so that you can configure the handguard to suit your preferences. I took everything off, and then added one of the two short accessory rails (supplied as standard with the rifle) at six o’clock, to give me somewhere to mount my Spartan bipod.
The M4 build means that the handguard isn’t a free-floated tube, but a clam-shell, with the interlocking halves being held firmly in place between the gas block and the delta ring. Indeed, the fit is tight enough to make a full strip down a bit of a struggle! If a free-float tube is what you want though, there’s nothing to stop you fitting one, since both the (non-working) gas block and the barrel nut are made to standard M4 specs.
The trigger is standard M4 too: a bit creepy and breaking at around 7 Lbs, though it feels lighter. The latest batch of M4-22s will be arriving soon, all with sub 5lbs triggers – nice! For action shooting this is actually ideal, but if you also wanted to use the Tippmann as a serious paper puncher, then dropping in an aftermarket unit designed for precision work would make sense.
Needless to say, straight out of its case, the Tippmann M4-22 made an excellent first impression: at once a first-rate replica and a true rimfire design. I couldn’t wait to take it shooting.
I duly gathered up a bunch of ammo and headed for the farm. The first thing I learned was this: Tippmann’s M4-22 really knows what it likes, and what it doesn’t. There was no point at all in feeding it Eley, RWS or Winchester subsonics, and it was quite grudging about some Lapua target rounds too. But once I got it onto the CCIs… it was an absolute legend! Not just with the Mini-Mags, but with everything, right down to the subsonics. Not one stoppage. In 400 rounds. I’ll let that sink in for a moment.
Accuracy was well up to par, too. I’m not the estimable Professor Potts, so I can’t give you group sizes in fractions of an inch, but it didn’t disappoint, and a good friend of mine – a far better marksman than I am, and a long-standing 15-22 user – was so pleased with its performance after a night’s rabbiting that he has resolved to get one as soon as he can shift his Smith & Wesson. I was already seriously thinking about keeping the test rifle, but for me that sealed the deal.
At this point, I should mention the magazines. Tippmann’s have a unique sleeved design. The outer sleeve gives it the look of a 20-round 5.56 mag and protects the internals, whilst the inner part protects the user against ‘highcap thumb’ via a combination of slotted sides and a button on each side of the follower. At first, I was pulling the follower down too far and constantly holding it against the spring, but I soon learned just to nudge the buttons down each time I was ready to drop in a cartridge, and now I’ve got my technique sorted it couldn’t be easier. This is just as well, given how much fun the Tippmann is to shoot. Capacity is 20-rounds, but even with extra mags costing £39.95, it won’t break the bank to have enough for a full course of fire.
Optics are pretty much de rigueur for all sorts of shooting these days, and over the course of my time with the Tippmann I fitted it with a fair selection, from an excellent Vortex Spitfire ‘red dot’ for shorter-range plinking, to a handy Barska 1-4x42 FFP scope for 100m work, and even a top-end Optix Indentifier thermal sight for rabbiting! All produced good results, but that doesn’t mean the flip-up polymer sights Tippman supply with the M4-22 aren’t worth taking seriously. Made from robust black polymer, they consist of a bold elevationadjustable front post and a nicelymatched windage-adjustable rear aperture, and were well up to the task of peppering empty cartridge boxes at 50-metres.
There’s a huge amount to like about the Tippmann M4-22. It’s one of those guns you take to from the start. Sure, there was a temporary bump in the road when it turned its nose up at my initial ammo choices, but that was spectacularly evened out when I switched to CCI. So, I’ll end by saying that if you’re in the market for a .22 semi-auto, you’ll be doing yourself a disservice if you don’t take a good look at the new Tippmann M4-22. Once you’ve laid your hands on one, you won’t want to put it down! My thanks to Antony and Roger at Shooting Supplies Bromsgrove for supplying the rifle, ammunition and accessories for this review.
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