Modern Bullets From The .219 Zipper
Date: Aug 17 2021
By conventional standards, the .219 Zipper is decidedly old-fashioned. But so are the .30-30 Winchester and .45-70 Government, which still remain popular. The Zipper first appeared in 1937, a Winchester creation chambered in the five-shot, 26-inch tubed Model 64 lever-action rifle. The Model 64, itself based on the ever-popular Model 94, fell short as a varmint rifle on a couple fronts, something the .219 Zipper cartridge itself had nothing to do with. The Model 64 levergun wasn’t exactly a tack driver and even by 1937, serious varmint shooters had begun to enthusiastically adopt telescopic sights, which the 64 would not allow mounting. By World War II, the Winchester 64 was dropped, while Zipper ammunition was hanging on in Winchester and Remington catalogs until around 1962. Marlin produced the lever-action Model 336 chambered in the Zipper until 1961, but less than 6,000 were produced. Lever-gun tubular magazines also required the use of flatnosed bullets with poor ballistic coefficients. Winchester introduced the Zipper to split the difference between its own .22 Hornet and .220 Swift rounds, but ultimately the described handicaps throttled the cartridge’s success.
Now, take the ancient cartridge and chamber it in something like a stout custom bolt-action rifle, as was used for testing here, and the .219 Zipper isn’t an entirely shabby varmint round, sending modern 40- to 55-grain bullets at 3,300 to 3,500 feet per second (fps) from a 26-inch barrel – or in the general ballpark of the .225 Winchester (which could safely be called the .219 Zipper Improved). The .225 Winchester includes a 1.930 inches overall length, while the Zipper is 1.938 inches, but the Zipper includes conspicuously more body taper. A Zipper case holds about 33.6 grains of water when filled to the brim, the .225 Winchester holds 44.3 grains, giving the latter a 100-150 fps velocity edge.
P.O. Ackley, in his book Handbook for Shooters and Handloaders (1962), said, “The .219 Zipper is simply the necked down .25/35 with slightly shorter neck…and identical to the older .22/4000 Neidner.” Frank C. Barnes in Cartridges of the World, 10th Edition (2003), said “In a good solid-frame, single-shot or bolt-action rifle, the 219 Zipper is just as accurate as any other high-velocity 22 in its class.”
Being an obsolete cartridge, the Zipper requires case forming, and often neck turning or reaming to ensure proper bullet release. This starts with any case in the .30-30 Winchester family, particularly the .25-35 (which may not require neck turning/reaming). Quality Cartridge, unsurprisingly, offers ready-made, properly headstamped .219 Zipper brass for $38.50 per 20. Other than the brass issue, the .219 Zipper is pretty straightforward at the loading bench, and all the usual suspects supply die sets, like the Redding Series C F.L. die set used for assembling loads for this series. The Zipper gives it’s best performance with medium-fast to medium-burn powders, Hodgdon’s H-4895 a near ideal (Ackley lists IMR-4198, IMR-3031, H-
380, the now discontinued IMR-4320 and IMR-4895; Barnes adding BL-C(2) and IMR-4064).
The rimmed cartridge makes an ideal candidate for rechambered Martini-style single shots – and similar rifles – or Thompson/Center Contender pistols (which the listed loads are certainly suitable for) that occasionally turn up on gun auction sites. The test rifle used here was built on a Mauser ’98 action including stripper clip thumb indent and holding an unmarked, 22-inch octagonal barrel measuring .735 inch at the muzzle, including a 1:9 rifling twist and appearing to have been sleeved. According to the late Ken Waters, the Zipper sacrifices about 25-30 fps per inch of barrel removed, so velocities are not likely to meet published data derived from 26-inch tubes. The works sat in a gorgeous piece of tiger maple, with fine 24-lpi checking wrapping around the forearm and grip area, raised shadow-edged cheekpiece and walnut grip and forearm end caps. The octagon barrel was not free-floated, which made it a touch finicky. A rubber recoil pad was added and the trigger had obviously been worked, breaking crisply at 3.5 pounds. The rifle held a Bushnell 4-16x 50mm scope with fairly coarse reticles set in Burris 1-inch Zee Rings on two-piece Weaver bases. The rifle weighed 10.52 pounds as shot, meaning recoil was nothing more than a gentle push.
All bullets chosen were modern creations made for serious varmint shooting, from Nosler, Cutting Edge Bullets, Speer, Sierra and Hornady. Resized Winchester WW-Super .25-35 Winchester brass, Winchester WLR primers and an Area 419 ZERO Reloading Press were used to assemble all ammunition. All loads were hand-trickled onto an RCBS balance scale. Groups were the result of three-shot groups as five-shot groups have become increasingly difficult to justify in a world gone crazy and hoarding all available handloading components.
First up was Nosler’s 40-grain Ballistic Tip Lead Free Varmint, including a nontoxic core of copper/tin matrix. I chose this long-for-weight, flat-base, polymer-tipped 40-grain bullet in deference to the rifle’s 1:9 rifling twist, with the bullet providing a .220 G1 ballistic coefficient (BC) and explosive terminal performance. Hodgdon’s temperature-stable Extreme Series H-4198, Accurate’s spherical A-2520 and venerable IMR-3031 (as old as the cartridge itself) provided a 1.02-inch overall group average. H-4198 turned in groups hovering around an inch with all loads, the best .93 inch at 3,608 fps with 25 grains of powder. A-2520 started out promising with a .78-inch group at just 3,113 fps with 25.5 grains of powder, groups opening as more powder was added. I confess a certain aversion to older powders, finding them lacking the excitement of newer formulas and generally more temperature sensitive, but these venerable options stick around because they get the job done. That was certainly the case here, 25 grains of IMR-3031 producing the tightest group with this bullet – .52-inch at 3,080 fps. Charges of 26 and 27 grains increased group size to .90 (at 3,211 fps) and 1.04 inches (3,412 fps), respectively.
The 45-grain Cutting Edge Boattail Copper Raptor provided a long-for-weight, all copper option that is California-certified nontoxic. The hollow beneath the polymer tip is engineered to break off into multiple cutting edges, the solid base pushing through, making it ideal for larger varmints such as coyotes. It offers a .220 G1 BC and was paired with Accurate A-2015, Hodgdon’s proven BL-C(2) and Extreme Series H-4895, providing an overall group average of 1.35 inches. A-2015 appeared too fast burning for the Zipper, providing lackluster 2,792 to 3,018 fps velocities with 22- to 24-grain charges. Though, a .62-inch group resulted with 23 grains at 2,872 fps. BL-C(2) provided better velocity – 3,062 to 3,287 fps – but its best accuracy was just 1.15 inches at 3,120 fps using 28 grains. H-4895 did best with 27 grains of powder, grouping .91 inch at 3,322 fps.
Speer’s 50-grain TNT is an affordable though accurate flatbase hollowpoint with a .228 G1 BC that promises explosive impacts on small varmints. Hodgdon’s classic H-380 and H-335, and Accurate A-2230, were tested with this bullet, resulting in a 1.21-inches group average with all loads. H-380 produced no groups of note, with A-2230 providing an instant improvement. Twenty-four grains of A-2230 produced a .60-inch group (with a hot barrel) at a pokey 2,938 fps, adding another grain boosting velocity to 3,061 fps and resulting in a .74-inch group. H-335 did its best work with a maximum load of 29 grains, pushing this bullet to 3,456 fps and producing a sub-1-MOA group.
The 50-grain BlitzKing by Sierra is a varmint-shooting favorite, a polymer-tipped number with excellent .248 G1 BC offering consistent accuracy and explosive expansion. Powder choices for this bullet included Hodgdon H-4895 and BL-C(2), plus Accurate’s spherical A-2460. This is also the point at which groups begin to tighten, only two of nine groups breaking an inch, and resulting in a .75-inch overall group average. A-2460 produced a .64-inch group at a slow 2,985 fps, that powder’s best showing. BL-C(2) proved most consistent (including very low extreme velocity spreads), with .54-, .43- and .96-inch groups with 25, 27 and 28 grains of powder, respectively, though velocity proved a touch lackluster, at 2,961 to 3,013 fps. Trusty H-4895 provided the best combination of accuracy and velocity, 26.5 grains producing a .64-inch group at 3,256 fps and 27.5 grains provided a .36-inch group at 3,396 fps – this test’s second tightest group.
Finally, Hornady’s 55-grain V-MAX is a flatbase design with cannelure and .255 G1 BC. The design completely dismantles small varmints for DOA impacts. Spherical Accurate A-2700, proven IMR-4064 and versatile Hodgdon H-4895 were paired with this bullet, nine groups averaging .88-inch. A-2700 groups hovered around an even inch, as did all loads using IMR-4064. H-4895 proved the right stuff, again, producing .34-, .41- and .99-inch groups at 3,134 to 3,284 fps with 25-, 26- and 27-grain charges.
All loads allowed a smooth bolt lift, and I believe most could be judiciously pushed beyond the maximum loads listed here in a stout bolt-action rifle – using all due caution obviously. IMR-3031 shows huge accuracy and velocity potential, as does Accurate A-2230, though at a slightly slower pace. That would be my only knock against BL-C(2); unimpressive velocity, though it’s difficult to argue with such precision. Hodgdon H-4895 is the clear winner overall, providing the tightest groups of the entire test combined with excellent velocity and temperature stability (it is also one of those powders that is normally easy to locate).