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The .223 Remington (5.56mm NATO)
By Chuck Hawks
The .223 Remington has become our most popular varmint cartridge and one of the best selling of all rifle cartridges. It has been adopted for military use by nations all over the world. Military style .223 ammunition is widely distributed and inexpensive. Unfortunately, military style ball ammo seldom delivers the gilt-edged accuracy demanded by varmint hunters and it is dangerously ricochet prone. Reserve it for practice at the rifle range or other safe venues.
Some .223 Remington factory loads, however, are extremely accurate, much better than military style ball ammunition. One of these is the Remington factory load with the 55 grain Power-Lokt bullet. This is a hollow point spitzer bullet designed specifically for varmint shooting. It has been reported that this bullet will usually group into .5 to .75 inches at 100 yards from a .223 varmint rifle. Most handloaders would be hard pressed to load more accurate ammunition.
The same is true of the Hornady Varmint Express 55 grain V-Max load. This load shoots so well in my .223 rifles that I have largely stopped reloading .223 varmint hunting ammunition, except for high volume shooting.
Current factory loads drive a 55 grain bullet at 3,240 fps at the muzzle. Muzzle energy is 1,282 ft. lbs. The figures for the Remington 55 grain HP Power-Lokt bullet at 200 yards are 2,352 fps and 675 ft. lbs.
Factory trajectory tables show that a scope sighted .223 shooting the 55 grain spitzer bullet and zeroed at 200 yards hits 1.5" high at 100 yards, 1.5" high at 150 yards, 0 at 200 yards, 3" low at 250 yards, and 7.9" low at 300 yards. The .223 is a 235+ yard varmint cartridge.
Most serious varmint hunters with .223 varmint rifles will handload the cartridge for maximum accuracy and performance. The most common bullet weights run from 40 to 60 grains, with the 50-55 grain bullets being the most popular for varmint hunting. Widely recommended powders include H322, H335, BL-C2, W748, Benchmark and IMR 3031. Here are some specifications .223 reloaders should keep in mind: bullet diameter .224", maximum COL 2.26", maximum case length 1.76", MAP 52,000 cup.
The fifth edition of the Nosler Reloading Manual shows that 24.5 grains of Benchmark powder gave the Nosler 50 grain Ballistic Tip bullet a MV of 3285 fps, and 26.5 grains of the same powder drove that bullet to a MV of 3540 fps.
23.0 grains of H335 powder behind the 55 grain Nosler bullets produced a MV of 2920 fps, and 25.0 grains of H335, the most accurate powder tested with that bullet weight, gave a MV of 3140 fps. These Nosler loads were developed in Winchester cases using Remington 7-1/2 primers and were chronographed in a 24" rifle barrel.
In a Savage Model 12 Low Profile varmint rifle we reviewed on Guns and Shooting Online, the 60 grain Hornady SP bullet in front of 22.8 grains of IMR 3031 powder delivered top accuracy. This is a maximum load. The MV of this load is given as 3000 fps using Winchester cases and WSR primers.
Remember that the .223 Remington is a varmint cartridge. Despite its success as a military cartridge (where it produces "casualties," not necessarily quick kills), it is not a big game cartridge and should not be used for hunting deer and antelope. Shooting a 55 grain bullet, the bullet weight for which the cartridge was designed, its optimum game weight is only about 19 pounds at 200 yards.
Note: A full length article about the .223 Remington can be found on the Rifle Cartridges page.
Copyright 2004, 2016 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.