Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Velocity Matters

I received a call from a friend a few days back asking about some loads for a new AR platform he had just finish. Seems he built a 300 Blackout rifle with a suppressor and wanted some sub-sonic loads to hunt hogs with. When I told him they won’t work much past 25 feet the discussion got lively. Suppressed subsonic loads in the Blackout are all the rage right now, and in certain circumstances they are great, but for hog hunting?

The problem is the lack of velocity. Simply stated, bullets are velocity driven; meaning they get their energy from the velocity they travel at. In short, the faster a bullet  goes the more energy it possesses upon impact. The problem is, my friend wanted to use a 200 grain bullet at 1050 feet per second. At that speed the bullet only carried 467 foot pounds of energy at 50 yards – hardly enough to effectively kill a large adult hog. Now compare that to a 300 Blackout with a 120 grain bullet leaving the muzzle at 2200 feet per second. At 50 yards that bullet is carries 1197 foot pounds of energy, more than enough to humanely stop most hogs but it’s going to be noisy, which is not what he wanted. So begins the trade off.

The problem is two fold – first is momentum, and the second is bullet performance.  Way back in the 1600s Sir Isaac Newton first explored the notion of momentum in relationship to a projectile penetrating an object. He defined the theory of momentum as “a projectile will stop in an object when it has transferred its momentum to an equal mass of the medium.”  We have come a long way from the original theory in defining and understanding momentum, but in short, with regarding to a hunting scenario, the bullet needs enough energy to penetrate the animal and reach the vitals in order to humanely put the animal down. Even though my friend wanted to use a heavier bullet, he gave up all of the advantages of that bullet by severely reducing the velocity of the round.  Even at the muzzle, the bullet carries less than 500 foot pounds of energy, less than half of what most people who study ballistic suggest for hunting hogs. In other words, most of the experts suggest shooting a bullet that carries at least 1000 foot pounds on energy upon impact to effectively and humanely stop a hog.

Then there is the bullet itself to consider. All bullets are designed to work within a certain parameters – meaning they are designed to work within a specific velocity range. Say, for example, you are using a hollow point that is designed to “open up” at a velocity between 1800 and 3000 feet per second, and you are loading that bullet to 500 feet per second. It won’t penetrate and certainly won’t open up  - in other words, no mushrooming effect. The same can be said if a bullet is loaded too fast, it may not be stable and expand to much on impact, again greatly reducing penetration. Bullet manufacturers spend a lot of time studying and testing their bullets to determine what velocities work best. Almost all hunting bullets are designated as expanding bullets, meaning they are designed so the nose of the bullet flattens out on impact and creates a much larger wound cavity. The idea is to maximize tissue damage to insure a clean, quick kill. So one can see the problem with loading bullet at a much slower velocity.

My friend was faced with a conundrum, as he wanted his rifle to be very quite – hence the suppressor - but at the same time to have a bullet that would stop a hog. What he learned, was he couldn’t have both. Yes, the suppressor will quiet – “somewhat” – a supersonic bullet but if he goes subsonic the bullet won’t have enough energy to do what it was intended to do. Of course I didn’t help matters whn I told him, “go subsonic and watch the bullets bounce off the hogs.”

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Evolution of the .22 Caliber

My introduction to the .22 caliber centerfire cartridge began when I was just a teenager, when one of the first firearms my dad got for me was a Savage 24V. That particular model was known as an African Style rifle, in that, it was an over/under with a rifle barrel on top and a shotgun barrel underneath. Mine was a .222 Remington over a fixed full choke 20 gauge. I used it to hunt varmints, which back then was fox and raccoons, as well wood chucks on my grandfather’s farm. The .222 Remington was also known as the triple deuce, and was introduced by Remington in 1950. It was one the first commercially produced rimless .22 (5.56) cartridge made in the United States, in that, the .222 Remington it was a completely new design, unlike so many other cartridges of the time period that was formed from another cartridge case. So it was that I grew up with the triple deuce.

It would be over a decade later before I got my second .22 caliber rifle. Again, it was a Savage rifle in 22-250 Remington. Developed in 1937 by Remington, the 22-250 was made from the 250-3000 Savage necked down to except a .224 bullet. Originally it was known as the .22 Varminter, and was capable of velocities over 4000 FPS. It was truly a high velocity .22 cartridge capable of creating devastating wound cavities. Like the .222 Remington the accuracy of the cartridge is legendary, and with time it over shadowed the .222 Remington and the popular 220 Swift.  The 22-250 is still one of the fastest .22 caliber cartridges available.

Then along came the .223 Remington. Originally developed for the military and designated as the 5.56x45mm, it was basically a lengthened .222 Remington cartridge. Work began on a new, lighter, faster cartridge for the military and in 1961 the 5.56x45mm (NATO designation) cartridge was approved for use in the newly developed AR-15, military M16 platform. Two years later Remington released the civilian version of the 5.56x45mm known as the .223 Remington and released it in their Model 700 bolt action rifles. More or less, it was another .22 caliber cartridge capable of reaching 3000 FPS with a 55 grain bullet, something the .222 Remington can’t do. The popularity of the .223 Remington is due in large part because of its kissing cousin the 5.56x45mm which is used by so many militaries around the world, thus so many people are familiar with the cartridge. I currently own four .223 Remington rifles. It is a great cartridge to shoot: low recoil, and much quieter than the 22-250 Remington. Like the other .22 caliber cartridges, the .223 Remington is really a varmint round, even though some people use it to hunt deer and hogs, even though it really is on the small side for larger game animals. Still, like the other .22 caliber cartridges, it is phenomenally accurate, and just fun to shoot.

Over the years the biggest complaint with the .22 caliber cartridges has been the limited bullet weights available. My .222 Remington, 22-250 Remington and two of my .223 Remington rifles have a 1:12 rate of twist in the rifling. That limits bullet selection to a maximum 55 grain bullet. Problem is that limits the effective range of the cartridge. Even with the faster rate of twist, cartridge capacity limited bullet size to 62 grains for the most part. There are a few specialized rifle manufacturers making .223 Remington rifle that are capable of shoot up to 75 grains, but the case capacity just prevents getting to most from the bullets, until…

Beginning in January 2017, at the Shot Show in Las Vegas, and then again this year at the Shot Show, both Nosler and Federal have introduced a .22 caliber cartridge that has changed the way we think about that caliber. First came Nosler with the .22 Nosler with a wilder case dimension compared to the .223 Remington.  With what amounts to a 14-15 percent increase in the case capacity, velocities are 350 to 400 FPS faster than a .223 Remington, and bullets weights can now comfortably reach up to 85 grains. Nosler rifles use a 1:8 rate of twist in their barrels, which restricts bullet weight to 85 grains: still better than the .223 Remington, and with high ballistic coefficiencies, that go father with a flatter trajectory: meaning longer range.

Then this year Federal in conjunction with Savage introduced the .224 Valkyrie: Federal developed the cartridge, and Savage developed the AR platform for it. The cartridge was developed around a Sierra 90 grain MatchKing bullet with velocities around 2700 FPS. Savage, for their part, developed an AR rifle with a 1:7 rate of twist to maximize the heavier weight bullets and literally, over night, fans of .22 caliber have two now calibers top choose from that are capable over reaching distances unheard of previously in a .22 caliber. Nosler originally developed the .22 Nosler for their bolt action rifles, and at present the .224 Valkyrie is only available in the Savage AR platform. Still, these are two flat shooting cartridges that suddenly and substantially increase the range of a .22 caliber bullet. With ranges that can easily reach 1000 yards and remain supersonic at that range is something previously unheard in a .22 caliber. And, both the .22 Nosler and .224 Valkyrie do so with the same recoil as the .223 Remington.

At present for the reloader the heavier bullets available the two new cartridges are limited to match grade bullets, therefore not for use on deer size game, but for those that want to reach out a touch a coyote, they are the perfect cartridge. Federal is producing a 90 grain Fusion bullet in their factory loads that they state is suitable for deer sized game, but the bullets are not yet available for those that want to load their own. Still, both Nosler and Federal are taking my .22 caliber to all new distances.

I spoke with a good friend of mine that makes custom rifles the other day, and the tools are available to cut a chamber for the .224 Valkyrie, and as we talked I could see a new custom bolt action rifle in that cartridge following me home one day…..