The 5.6x57R and 5.6x57 RWS

By Chuck Hawks

These powerhouse .22 caliber cartridges are virtually unknown in North America, although I understand that they are reasonably popular in Europe. The 5.6x57 and 5.6x57R were introduced in 1964 by the technicians at RWS of Germany specifically for use on Roe buck and chamois (about 50 pound live weight). They exceed the minimum German government energy standards for legal use on such game. The advantage of this cartridge is that it combines very flat trajectory with high velocity and low recoil. The 5.6x57R is merely a rimmed version of the 5.6x57 intended for use in break-action drillings, combination guns, single shot and double barrel rifles.

There are not very many .22 caliber cartridges designed specifically for use on even the smallest species of medium game, so the 5.6x57 is unusual in that regard. It is also unusual in that there are adapters to let 5.6x57 rifles shoot .22 LR and .22 WMR practice ammunition. Apparently this is a popular concept in Europe. For this reason the 5.6x57 case was designed with a thick wall neck, and for use with fairly high pressure (near maximum) loads--a point for the reloader to remember.

The 5.6x57 uses a rimless case of about 57mm in length (2.232") with a relatively gentle shoulder angle of 17.4 degrees. (The much older 7x57 case has a 20.75 degree shoulder.) The loaded cartridge's overall length is around 2 3/4 inches. Its rim diameter is pretty much the same as the 7x57 and other standard cartridges, so it is adaptable to almost any modern bolt action rifle that will accommodate the .243 Win. This case has a lot of capacity for a .22, more than a .220 Swift or any other .22 with which I am familiar, and about on a par with the 6mm Remington. The 5.6x57R uses a rimmed (flanged) case of identical capacity and capability.

Despite their nomenclature, the 5.6x57 and 5.6x57R use standard 5.56mm (.224") diameter bullets. 5.6x57 rifle barrels customarily have a 1 turn in 10" twist to stabilize relatively heavy, and consequently long, pointed bullets.

RWS offers factory loads for the 5.6x57 and 5.6x57R using 74 grain Cone Point bullets (SD .211). This is an expanding game bullet, not a frangible varmint bullet. RWS also loads a similar FMJ bullet designed for use on foxes and other fur bearing animals. I do not know if thes bullets are available to European handloaders. Hirtenberger (Austria), Nammo Laupa (Finland), Norma (Sweden), and Sellier & Bellot (CZ) do not appear to offer 5.6x57 factory loads. So for an understanding of the capabilities of the 5.6x57 we will have to rely on the RWS factory load and information available to reloaders.

The 5.6x57 and 5.6x57R will drive a bullet of any given weight about 100 fps faster than the .220 Swift, which makes them the most powerful .22 caliber factory produced cartridges with which I am familiar. Their performance is comparable to that of the various wildcats based on the .243 Winchester case necked down to accept .224" bullets. Like them the big RWS cartridges are at their best with slow burning powders and the heaviest bullets available. For reloaders this generally means bullets weighing 60-63 grains and 68-70 grains.

The RWS factory loads for the 5.6x57 and 5.6x57R start the 74 grain Cone Point bullet at a MV of 1040 meters/second (3380 fps) and a MV of 2600 Joule. At 100 meters the velocity is 920 m/s (2990 fps) and the energy is 2031 Joule. At 200 meters the velocity is 805 m/s (2616 fps) and the energy is 1560 Joule. And at 300 meters the velocity is still 700 m/s (2275 fps) while the remaining energy is 1177 Joule. The RWS ballistics table suggests that 215 meters is the optimum zero range for these loads, and shows the following trajectory: +3.5 cm at 100 meters, -1.5 cm at 200 meters, and -16 cm at 300 meters.

Handloaders can drive 60-63 grain bullets at MV's of 3700-3800 fps. The Hornady Handbood, Third Edition shows that their 60 grain bullets can be driven at 3700 fps with 43.1 grains of N204 powder, or 38.8 grains of IMR 4320 powder.

At a MV of 3700 fps the ME of a 60 grain bullet (BC .262, SD .171) is 1824 ft. lbs. The velocity at 300 yards is still 2542 fps, and the remaining energy is 841 ft. lbs. The trajectory of such a load using the Hornady 60 grain Spire Point bullet looks like this (Hornady figures): +2.6" at 100 yards, +3.4" at 200 yards, 0 at 300 yards, and -8.8" at 400 yards. It should be noted that the Hornady Spire Point, like most 60 grain .22 caliber bullets, is intended for use on varmints, not big game. However, Nosler offers a 60 grain Partition spitzer bullet (BC .228, SD .171) that, at 6.5x57 velocities, should be suitable for game like chamois, Roe buck, and the smallest antelope species.

The heavier 68-70 grain bullets can probably be driven to a MV of around 3400-3500 fps. Speer says that their 70 grain semi-spitzer bullet (BC .214, SD .199) is intended for use on animals no larger than coyotes, although they allow that it might be adequate for deer that are "quite small." I would think that Roe buck and chamois would qualify as "quite small" game. At a MV of 3400 fps this aerodynamically less efficient bullet should have a trajectory something like this: +2.4" at 100 yards, +2.3" at 200 yards, and -3.3" at 300 yards. At 300 yards the remaining energy will be under 750 ft. lbs. These ballistics should be satisfactory for shooting Roe buck and chamois out to 300 yards.

As a medium game cartridge the 5.6x57 and 5.6x57R are limited by the relatively poor ballistic coefficient and sectional density of almost all commonly available .224" bullets, and the limited selection of bullets acceptable for use on medium size game animals. I calculated the SD of the 74 grain bullet used in the RWS factory loads at .211, which should make the RWS factory load, or at least the RWS bullet, the top choice for these hot .22's.

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Copyright 2002, 2012 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.