There’s simply no other caliber more suitable for the beginning shooter or for training than the venerable .22 LR cartridge. It’s inexpensive, accurate, has almost zero recoil and boasts a very low noise level. Not only does it have all these qualities, but today’s market is filled with excellent firearms that are almost identical in operation to the larger-caliber firearms they represent. There are multiple .22 LR versions of the most popular rifle design in history, the AR platform of sporting rifles. Most variants offer similar modes of operation to the centerfire versions, but only one offers every operational function of the real thing, and it’s recently been introduced by Tippmann Arms.
Formerly a manufacturer of replica firearms, Tippmann began producing paintball guns in 1986. They started Tippmann Arms in 2016 and introduced a .22 LR version of the AR-15 that operates exactly like the real thing. Various AR rimfire clones have some AR-15 functions, but most use the magazine follower for bolt holdback rather than with an operating bolt release. As a result, the bolt drops when the magazine is removed. Up until the introduction of the Tippmann M4 series, none of the rimfire AR-15 clones had functioning forward assist. While I’ve never used forward assist on a centerfire AR-15, it’s a nice feature on the rimfire versions because of the much lighter operating spring in the .22 LRs.
Accuracy is quite good for a semi-automatic in the $500-range. Groups ranged from just over an inch to just over a half-inch at 50 yards.
Last year at the NRA World Shooting Championship, one of the side games featured the Tipmann M4 22 Elite in a Metal Madness gallery-type shoot. I was intrigued with the operation and asked for a test and evaluation gun. I’ve been favorably impressed. With an aluminum alloy upper and lower receiver, the Tippmann feels just like the real thing. It uses a proprietary magazine that has a sliding outer shell to protect the magazine from contamination. To load the magazine, you depress the release on the magazine shell and the shell slides down exposing the lower part of the follower. The sliding shell then friction locks into place. You can then relieve the spring pressure to allow easy loading. The magazine is polymer with a metal insert for longevity.
Loading the magazine requires a bit more care than some of the other AR clones, but the design puts the magazine much higher in the receiver and the loading ramps are integral with the magazine, meaning the bullet doesn’t slam into a steep ramp to accomplish loading. There’s no feed ramp cut in the barrel and the only cut other than the chamber is the extractor slot. Potentially, this means a precision barrel could be easily fitted to the Tippmann with a good chance for match rifle accuracy.
To load the magazine, I held it so the round dropped vertically, using gravity to make sure the base of the case was properly seated to the rear. The standard magazine holds 25 rounds, but they offer a shortened 10-round magazine that might be an advantage in Precision Rimfire events because it allows a lower prone position.
The bolt and bolt carrier on the Tippmann is a one-piece affair with the rear being a hollow tube to keep weight down. The bolt face is simple and the combination bolt/carrier is much easier to clean than most AR clones because there’s no recoil spring and sliding bolt. Tippmann uses a reduced-weight recoil spring in the standard AR-15 buffer tube. This works because the one piece bolt/carrier is a hollow tube with the solid bolt in the front end. It’s notched for the forward assist and while I’m not a fan of forward assist in centerfire ARs, it has function in rimfire ARs. The charging handle is specific to the Tippmann system, but they offer an extended charging handle as an option. They also offer a 16-inch ultralight barrel and a 16-inch fluted barrel.
Tippmann’s proprietary magazine puts the round much higher in the action, eliminating the need for a feed ramp machined into the barrel. Doing so increases accuracy because the round is less likely to be deformed by the violent direction change.
One of the most impressive features of the M4 Elite is bolt hold back on the last round. Unlike other systems that use an extended tab on the magazine follower, the bolt is held back once the magazine is removed. This is accomplished by an extended bolt catch that holds the bolt in position at full retraction allowing dropping the bolt on re-insertion of the magazine to chamber a round without stroking the bolt. It works exactly like a centerfire AR. As a result, every control on the Tippmann M4 works exactly as a real AR-15.
The trigger is a standard mil-spec one, but Tippman has partnered with Elftmann Tactical in their paintball business and supplies the excellent Elftmann 9/AR-45 trigger with threaded hammer and sear axles to lock the trigger securely in the Tippmann receiver.
Shooting the Tippmann M4 is exactly like shooting a regular AR-15, except it costs three cents per round instead of 30 cents and there’s a lot less noise. Accuracy is better than the industry-standard Ruger 10/22, with my largest group at 50 yards being just over an inch and my best just over a half inch. Like all rimfires, the Tippmann M4 likes some brands better than others with the best groups coming from Federal Gold Medal and almost as good with Aguila Eley-primed Super Extra. It was totally reliable, provided you loaded the magazines properly.
All these features make the Tippman M4 a perfect training .22 LR for teaching the manual of arms for the AR-15 platform. It also makes it an attractive basis for an upgraded trainer for competitive shooting. The magazine and barrel mounting system along with straight-line feeding from the magazine, allow the possibility of fitting a serious match-grade barrel, adding your desired stock and handguard tube, and a quality trigger to make a serious Precision Rimfire rifle. Build fit is excellent with zero wobble between upper and lower receiver. With an MSRP of $549, it’s reasonably priced and a great basis for a project rifle tailored to serve as a training tool or rimfire competition rifle.