In many situations, it seems that ammunition performance is all about velocity. When a new cartridge is introduced, the main selling point is often focused on how flat it shoots. There may even be graphs in advertisements that show just how much difference there is in bullet drop compared to older cartridges, generally with the least effective load. For some popular calibers that utilize 0.224-inch bullets, factory ammunition is available with bullets as light as 35 grains.
Such bullets driven to extreme velocities give dramatic performance on small varmints, but they lose velocity very rapidly and they may blow up superficially on larger varmints such as coyotes. Moreover, some “varmint” calibers such as the .223 Remington are being used on species as large as wolves, deer, and antelope where it is legal to do so.
I would not elect to use a .223 in this way because I have better options. If a hunter has only a varmint rifle and has no other alternative with which to hunt larger game, bullet choice becomes vital. Fortunately, bullet makers have recognized this and as a result, there are numerous relatively heavy bullets available in 0.224-inch diameter.
Bullets in 0.224-inch diameter with weights in the 60-65 grain range are more strongly constructed than those intended for use only as varmint bullets. Even heavier 0.224-inch bullets are available, but they are generally meant for long range shooting in target rifles and most require a barrel with a fast rifling twist to stabilize them.
However, bullets weighing around 60 grains are stabilized by the 1-in-12-inch twist often found in varmint rifles. Accordingly, my “heavier” bullet choice for the .223 Remington is those weighing 60 grains, and there are two reasons for this.
First, bullets of this weight can be safely driven close to 3,000 ft/sec, which results in reasonably flat trajectory. Second, driven this fast, such bullets will expand reliably but still hold together well and give good penetration.
I have not had the opportunity to use my Savage Axis in .223 Remington on the large predator that I loathe, but that does not mean that load development has not taken place. As a result, I obtained a supply of 60-grain bullets that includes the Hornady Spitzer, Nosler Ballistic Tip, and Nosler Partition. Appropriate loads with those bullets can make a .223 suitable for game considerably larger than coyotes.
When loading the .223 Remington with relatively heavy bullets, the best powders are those that have slower burning rates than those intended for use with 35-45 grain bullets. These include Alliant AR-Comp, Winchester 748, and Hodgdon CFE 223 and BL-C(2), among others. Since I have achieved good results in the .223 Remington with these powders in the past, they were chosen for this project.
For all loads, cases were trimmed to the recommended length, 1.750 inches, and primed with Winchester small rifle primers. Powder charges were weighed on an electronic scale with accuracy to at least 0.1 grain. All loads were tested in a Savage Axis with a 22-inch barrel. The rifle had a Weaver Classic 4-16X scope attached, and velocities were measured at 10 feet from the muzzle by means of a Competition Electronics ProChrono chronograph. Summarized in the accompanying table are pertinent data for the loads and the velocities obtained.
Results obtained using .223 Remington loads in a Savage Axis (22-inch barrel)
|Bullet||Case||Loaded Ctg., in.||Powder||Charge||Velocity, ft/sec||Group, inches|
|60 gr Hornady S.P||Hornady||2.258||CFE 223||25.8||2953||1.40/0.94|
|60 gr Hornady S.P||Fiocchi||2.224||Varget||25.5||3119||0.84/0.43|
|60 gr Hornady S.P||Remington||2.225||AR-Comp||23.4||2933||1.24/0.78|
|60 gr Nosler Ballistic Tip||Hornady||2.250||CFE 223||26.0||3048||1.16/0.81|
|60 gr Nosler Ballistic Tip||Hornady||2.250||BL-C(2)||25.5||2785||0.56/0.53|
|60 gr Nosler Ballistic Tip||Hornady||2.253||Win. 748||24.8||2871||1.12/0.58|
|60 gr Nosler Partition||Hornady||2.248||CFE 223||25.8||2887||1.63/1.25|
|60 gr Nosler Partition||Hornady||2.248||BL-C(2)||25.8||2871||1.16/0.92|
|60 gr Nosler Partition||Hornady||2.250||Win. 748||24.7||2982||1.88/1.50|
Average velocity is for five shots. Group size is for all five/best four shots. These loads were safe and reliable in the author’s rifle, but neither the author nor the publisher accepts any responsibility for their preparation and use by others or for typographical errors. These loads should be approached with caution.
As shown by the data in the table, some of the loads produced at least 3,000 ft/sec with a 60-grain bullet. Such a load generates 1,200 ft-lbs, which is sufficient to dispatch large varmints. Although I would not normally elect to do so, loads of this power could also be used on small deer if the range is moderate. Some factory loads that utilize 64-grain bullets have published velocities of approximately 3,000 ft/sec, so the top loads listed in the table should be considered just that—top loads.
Two of the loads listed, that with Varget and that with BL-C(2) and the Nosler Ballistic Tip, gave outstanding accuracy. It is also notable that seven of the nine loads put four shots out of five in under an inch. That level of accuracy is certainly adequate for taking shots at larger predators as long as the range is reasonable.
Having had such good success with lighter bullets in the Savage Axis, I was a little apprehensive regarding what to expect from loads using 60-grain bullets. The results I obtained convinced me that such loads have real potential as long as they are used judiciously.
The .223 Remington can be turned into a serious game rifle with proper bullets. Fortunately, the reloader of a .223 Remington has many from which to choose. The results that I obtained show that several powders work well, however, before loading a large batch of ammunition, do some testing in your own rifle. The results you obtain may be quite different from those I obtained, but I will now be confident when I attempt to take the larger predator that I loathe.
Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in the January 2016 print issue of Gun World Magazine.