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…..

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