The .222 Remington and .222 Remington Magnum

By Chuck Hawks

.222 Rem.
Illustration courtesy of Hornady Mfg. Co.

One fact about both of these .22 centerfire cartridges is worth noting: despite their nomenclature, they use standard .224 inch diameter bullets. For comparison, the Speer .224 caliber, 50 grain spitzer bullet has a ballistic coefficient (BC) of .231 and a sectional density (SD) of .142. Remember, BC indicates how efficiently a bullet penetrates the air, which affects bullet trajectory and wind drift. SD is a function of a bullet's weight compared to its diameter, and has a major affect on penetration.

These numbers for the 50 grain .224" spitzer bullet are not impressive, and reveal the limitations of the .222's as long range cartridges and for use on larger game. For sporting purposes, both of these .22 centerfire cartridges should be reserved for use on game of less than about 15 pounds.

.222 Remington

Introduced in 1950, the .222 Remington is one of the most accurate rifle cartridges in the world. Because of this it became a very popular bench rest cartridge in the 1950's and 1960's. It is a very well balanced design, based on a unique rimless case, and its long neck makes it easy to reload. It looks sort of like a miniature .30-06.

Soon after it appeared the .222 was being chambered by all major rifle manufacturers, and it became one of the major post-World War II success stories. After the military acceptance of the .223 Remington (5.56mm NATO) cartridge in the 1960's and the subsequent appearance of inexpensive military and "white box" commercial ammunition in that caliber, the .222's popularity waned. However it is still a popular cartridge, and ammunition is loaded in Europe and Africa as well as North America. Remington had it in ninth place in cartridge sales in 2000, although it did not show up in the Federal or Winchester top 10 lists.

The industry standard operating pressure for the .222 is 46,000 cup. Just about every company that sells ammunition loads for the .222, including all of the "Big Three" in the US. Typical factory loads drive a 50 grain spitzer bullet at a muzzle velocity (MV) of 3,140 fps with 1,094 ft. lbs. of muzzle energy (ME).

Zero that factory load at 200 yards and the bullet will hit 1.9" high at 100 yards, 1.7" high at 150 yards, 0 at 200 yards, 3.6" low at 250 yards, and 9.7" low at 300 yards. Recoil is minimal, about 3.5 ft. lbs. from the 50 grain factory load in a light 7 pound rifle. The .222 Rem. is a fine varmint cartridge out to about 225 yards.

The reloader typically uses 40, 45, 50, 52-53, or 55 grain bullets in the .222 Rem. Lighter or heavier bullets seldom perform as well as middle weight bullets in this medium size cartridge.

The Sierra Bullets Reloading Manual, Second Edition lists maximum loads at MV's of 3200-3300 fps with most powders behind their 50 grain bullets (SD .142). For instance, 20.9 grains of RL7 powder or 26.4 grains of Winchester 748 powder will give a MV of 3200 fps. These loads essentially duplicate the performance of the standard factory offerings.

With Sierra's 52 grain (SD .148) and 53 grain (SD .151) bullets the maximum loads typicaly achieve MV's of 3100-3200 fps. 20.9 grains of RL7 or 25.8 grains of W748 powders will give a MV of 3100 fps. The trajectory of these loads is nearly identical to that of the 50 grain spitzer bullet; apparently the slightly superior BC the heavier bullet makes up for the slightly lower velocity.

The Sierra 55 grain bullets (SD .157) can be driven to MV's of 3000-3100 fps. 19.9 grains of RL7 or 24.7 grains of W748 will yeild MV's of 3000 fps. Sierra technicians used Remington cases and primers with all of the reloads mentioned, which were chronographed from a 26" test barrel.

The trajectory of the 55 grain spitzer boat tail bullet at 3000 fps is a follows: +1.71" at 100 yards, 0 at 200 yards, and -8.16" at 300 yards. This relatively sleek bullet actually shoots flatter than the 50 grain bullet, and also bucks the wind better. Due to its slightly lower velocity, barrel life should also be somewhat improved.

According to Sierra figures, for a +/- 2.5" deviation fromn the line of sight the point blank range of this load is 265 yards for a rifle zeroed at 225 yards. That is wringing maximum performance from a .222 rifle!

.222 Remington Magnum

The .222 Remington Magnum was developed from the .222 and uses what is basically an elongated .222 case with 20% greater capacity. It can drive a 55 grain bullet at a MV of about 3,240 fps with ME of 1,282 ft. lbs. The SAAMI mean maximum pressure for the .222 Mag. is 50,000 cup.

The .222 Mag. was actually developed as part of a U.S. military program to develop a flat trajectory, light recoiling cartridge for use in fully automatic assault rifles. Remington brought it out as a sort of improved .222 in 1958, but it never really caught on with civilian shooters, and it was not adopted by the military.

Its case capacity is actually 5% greater than that of the .223/5.56 NATO, and because of its longer neck it is a better case for the reloader than the .223. However, the military ultimately decided to adopt the .223 rather than the .222 Magnum, and the .222 Mag. has become obsolete. To the best of my knowledge, no factory made rifles are currently chambered for the .222 Magnum and no factory loaded ammunition is available.

I believe that Remington stopped offering .222 Magnum factory loads sometime in 1998. The last Remington factory load for the .222 Magnum drove a 55 grain bullet at a MV of 3,240 fps. Muzzle energy was 1,282 ft. lbs. A scope sighted .222 Magnum rifle shooting the Remington 55 grain spitzer bullet and zeroed at 200 yards hit 1.6" high at 100 yards, 1.5" high at 150 yards, 0 at 200 yards, and 3.1" low at 250 yards. That made the .222 Magnum about a 230 yard varmint cartridge.

Today the cartridge is strictly a proposition for reloaders. According to the Sierra Reloading Manual their 55 grain spitzer bullets can be driven to a MV of 3200 fps with 21.9 grains of IMR 4198, 24.4 grains of IMR 3031, or 26.1 grains of IMR 4895 powders. All loads used Remington brass and primers. This essentially duplicates the discontinued Remington factory load. 60-63 grain bullets can be driven to MV's of 3000 fps with most powders, but the trajectory of the Sierra 55 grain spitzer boat tail bullet is slightly flatter. The trajectory of the 55 grain spitzer BT at a MV of 3200 fps can be optimized by zeroing the rifle at 240 yards. Then the point blank range (+/- 2.5" from the line of sight) becomes 280 yards.

As can be seen from the ballistic figures above, the .222 Magnum is a fine varmint cartridge. Unfortunately it has been overshadowed by its cousin the .223 Rem. But anyone who owns a good .222 Magnum rifle, an adequate supply of brass, and is willing to reload has no reason to go shopping for another varmint rifle quite yet.

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Copyright 1998, 2012 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.