July 24, 2020
There was a time when the .222 Rem. was America’s favorite varmint cartridge. Beginning soon after its introduction in 1950, it also became the most popular cartridge in benchrest competition. The “triple deuce” was pushed from that game by the 6mm PPC during the 1970s, but for 40 years the .222 Rem. held the world record for the smallest five-shot group fired at 100 yards: a 0.009-inch cluster from Mac McMillan’s Light Varmint-class rifle.
Mike Walker of Remington designed the .222, and it was introduced in the Remington Model 722 rifle, which he also designed. He was one of the founders of the International Benchrest Shooters Association and first shot the cartridge in competition at the Johnstown, New York, gun club during the summer of 1950. Walker also started Remington’s custom shop, and the rifle on a Model 722 action he shot competitively would eventually evolve into the Remington 40X.
The little cartridge excelled in other types of competitive shooting as well. In 1960, Remington Model 760 pump guns wearing Redfield International target sights and fitted with heavy, match-grade barrels in .222 Rem. were adopted by the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit at Ft. Benning, Georgia, for use in 100-meter international running deer competition, where a moving target is exposed for only a few seconds. Army marksmen used those rifles to win medals at matches held in countries around the world.
While I was growing up, varmint shooters in my area seemed to have more Sako L46 rifles than Remington 722s. One of my father’s hunting pals had a Sako with the optional heavy barrel. And in addition to the standard three-round detachable magazine, it had the six-rounder offered by Sako at the time. I eventually ended up with that rifle and still enjoy shooting it.
Many other rifles were eventually chambered for the .222: Remington models 600, 788 and 40X; Sako L461 Vixen; Savage/Anschutz M153; Steyr Model M; Beeman 60J; BRNO ZKB Fox; Anschutz 1533; Savage Model 340; Browning Hi-Power; and H&R 317 (the latter two on the Sako L461 action).
The Winchester Model 70 was never available in .222, and today it saddens collectors to know that during the 1950s many in .22 Hornet were rechambered to .222 by Griffin & Howe and other shops. I have one of those as well.
There is also a rimmed version of the .222. In 1909 the Australian government purchased thousands of .310 caliber single-shot rifles on the small Martini action for use in training young cadets in schools and military academies. The rifles were eventually declared obsolete and sold on the military surplus market during the 1950s. I paid $8 for one of the actions and eventually had a beautiful little custom rifle built around it.
The actions became popular enough for the Super Cartridge Company of Australia to start making a .222 Rimmed case that required no modification to the extractor of the rifle. Friends of mine there often refer to it as the .222 Super. A .357 Mag. shell holder and standard .222 Rem. reloading dies are used to load the case. My custom rifle is chambered for that one and the cases are imported by Graf & Sons of Missouri.
The .222 Rem. has other offspring. When the U.S. military was seeking a new lightweight battle cartridge in the 1950s, engineer Earle Harvey at government-owned Springfield Armory lengthened the .222 Rem. case to 1.850 inches and delivered an experimental number called the .224 Springfield. Upon learning about its development in 1958, a Remington official obtained permission to introduce the cartridge commercially as the .222 Rem. Mag. in the Model 722 rifle. Remington dropped the cartridge sometime back, but Reed’s Ammunition and Research of Oklahoma City continues to load it. Unprimed cases of excellent quality are available from Nosler.
When the military finally adopted a slightly shorter version of the .222 Rem. Mag. called the 5.6x45 for its new M16 rifle in 1964, the Remington guys quickly pounced again and introduced it commercially as the .223 Rem. Oddly enough, the .223 was available only in the Model 760 pump gun until it was added to the Model 700 Varmint Special in 1967. Little did anyone know how incredibly popular the cartridge would eventually become.
Remington went shorter as well. During the design stages of the XP-100 pistol in 1960, the plan was to introduce it in .222 Rem. But when muzzle flash proved to be a bit much from a 10.75-inch barrel, the .222 case was shortened to 1.4 inches and the .221 Fireball was born.
But it is not the runt of the family. That title is held by the .22 TCM, which has a case length of only 1.025 inches. Introduced by Rock Island Armory in its 1911 pistol and an economy-grade Model 2 rifle, muzzle velocities of its 40-grain bullet from five- and 22-inch barrels are 2,050 fps and 2,750 fps respectively.
Going longer rather than shorter, in 1968 the Germans decided they needed a better roe deer cartridge for use in drillings and single-shot rifles. So they lengthened the .222 Rem. Mag. case to 1.968 inches, added a rim and called it the 5.6x50R Mag. Shortly thereafter, a rimless version called the 5.6x50 Mag. was introduced for bolt-action rifles.
Among ammunition loaded in Europe, the Nosler 60-grain Partition and a 63-grain bullet made by RWS loaded to 3,100 fps are popular choices for shots at deer out to 200 yards or so. The ammunition can sometimes be found in the United States, and handloaders can get unprimed cases from Huntington Die Specialties.
The .17 Rem. was created in 1971 by shortening the .222 Rem. Mag. case to 1.796 inches and necking it down for a 0.172-inch bullet. Thirty-seven years later, Remington necked down the .221 Fireball case and gave us the .17 Fireball. I have Cooper rifles chambered for both, and they consistently shoot inside a half-inch at 100 yards.
Moving up a tad in bullet diameter, the .204 Ruger is a result of necking down the .222 Rem. Mag. case, staying with its original length and increasing shoulder angle to 30 degrees. Pushing a Nosler 32-grain, 0.204-inch Ballistic Tip from the 26-inch barrel of my Remington Model 700 VLS at just over 4,100 fps, it is great fun to shoot and one of my favorites for bumping off varmints at fairly long distances. Contrary to popular opinion, I don’t find it to shoot flatter or buck wind better than the .17 Rem.
Moving way up in bullet diameter, we have the .300 Whisper. It was created around 1992 by J.D. Jones of SSK Industries by necking up the .221 Fireball case. Loaded to subsonic velocities with 200- and 250-grain bullets, it was intended for use in suppressed firearms. Then one day in 2011 Jones learned with chagrin that Remington had registered the cartridge with SAAMI and renamed it .300 Blackout.
There have also been a few wildcats. Back when the .222 Rem. was dominating Light Varmint and Heavy Varmint classes of benchrest competition, the 6x47—made by necking up the .222 Rem. Mag. case—was the most popular cartridge in Sporter class where 6mm and larger bullets were required. Federal offered 6x47 unprimed cases for several years.
The 6x45, formed by necking up the .223 Rem. case, is more popular today due to the abundance of .223 brass. Black Hills used to load the ammo, and AR-15 rifles built by Les Baer Custom were chambered for it. I have long had a beautiful Model 84 in 6x45 built by the original Kimber of Oregon, and with the Nosler 85-grain Partition loaded to 2,800 fps, it has proven to be a deadly little 200-yard deer and hog thumper.
I began competing in handgun metallic silhouette competition during the late 1970s, and a T/C Contender chambered for the 7mm TCU was the gun I used in Production class. The cartridge is formed by necking up the .223 Rem. case and fire-forming to minimum body taper and a sharper shoulder angle.
You could make your own or buy them already formed from Wes Ugalde, who developed the cartridge. A few Kimber Model 84 rifles were chambered for the 7mm TCU.
The .222 Rem. is seldom written about today, but it is far from obsolete. Remington and other companies here and abroad continue to load the ammo. I am presently handloading Starline and Lapua cases, and while it’s unlikely .222 brass will become scarce, the .222 case is easily formed by running .223 Rem. brass through a .222 Rem. full-length resize die with its expander/decap assembly removed. Then trim to 1.69 inches.
Only virgin brass is used for this procedure, and should neck diameter with a bullet seated exceed 0.253 inch, the neck wall will have to be thinned by reaming or, preferably, by outside turning. Annealing extends service life.
Tipped bullets weighing 40 and 50 grains are hard to beat in the .222, and my Sako and custom Martini rifles are quite fond of Nosler Ballistic Tips and Sierra BlitzKings. The Berger 30-grain hollowpoint is also quite effective on varmints.
The tipped bullets are too long to be stabilized by the 1:16 twist of my rechambered Model 70, so it gets fed the Speer 40-grain softpoint and the Sierra 45-grain SPT.
WARNING: The loads here are safe only in the guns for which they were developed. Neither the author nor Outdoor Sportsman Group assumes any liability for accidents or injury resulting from the use or misuse of this data.
IMR 4198 and BLC-(2) are the classic powders, but others such as CFE BLK, Accurate LT-30, H322, VihtaVuori N130 and Reloder 7 have the correct burn rates. My rifles are partial to Federal GM205M and the CCI BR4 primers, although some ball powders seem to burn a bit cleaner when ignited by the Remington No. 7½.
Most shopping for a new varmint rifle today will choose the .223 Rem. I cannot disagree because there’s more variety in factory loads, and military surplus 5.6mm brass often found at dirt-cheap prices is just the ticket for high-volume prairie dog shooting.
Even so, there are still enough of us who enjoy classic rifles and cartridges to keep the .222 Rem. active in the field. Shortly before writing this, I was happy to learn that one of my editors is having a rifle rebarreled for a grand little cartridge that won my heart many tiny groups and varmint shoots ago.