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The Ultimate Reloading Manual
Wolfe Publishing Group
  • reloading manual
  • alliant reloading data
  • reloading brass
  • shotshell reloading
  • bullet reloading
The Ultimate Reloading Manual
load development

Modern .223 Remington Handloads

Author: Patrick Meitin
Date: Jul 15 2022

The test rifle was a Remington Model 700 VTR SS (Varmint Tactical Rifle, Stainless Steel) with a distinctive triangular barrel that was 20-inches long and included a 1:9 twist.

If you own a .223 Remington rifle made before, say, 2002, odds are that it holds a barrel with a 1:12, or maybe even a 1:14 rifling twist. The tube also likely measures 24 to 26 inches long. More recently, the trend in .223 Remington rifles are faster twist rates and shorter barrels. The former serves the latest craze of shooting ever-heavier bullets in the pursuit of long-range aspersions. The latter is the result of our newfound interest in all things tactical, from scopes to the clothing and boots we wear into the field.

Bullets used for testing included, left to right, Rocky Mountain Reloading
(RMR) 69-grain 3-Gun Hunter, Sierra 69-grain Tipped MatchKing and
Speer 75-grain Gold Dot

Early .223 Remington rifles were designed largely for small-varmint shooting and the highly frangible 35- to 55-grain hollowpoint, softnose and polymer-tipped bullets that are most popular for such activities. When shooting over a well-tenanted ground squirrel colony or lightly belabored 3prairie dog town, where 90 percent of shots are presented between 150 and 250 yards, I’ve long contended that 40-grain, poly-tipped bullets represent a .223 Remington ideal. On days when a desert wind does not stir, I can confidently push Hornady 40-grain V-MAX, Nosler Ballistic Tip Varmint or Sierra BlitzKing loads out to 400 yards and beyond with relative confidence while employing quality-turreted scopes. When I want to shoot farther, or a prairie wind rears its ugly head, I reach for something like a .22-250 Remington or .220 Swift. Today, more shooters are opting to instead load heavier, more streamlined bullets for such circumstances.

The three best groups produced by Sierra’s Tipped MatchKing included.30
and .54 inch (24 and 25 grains of Vihtavuori N140 at 2,807 and 2,925 fps)
and .56 inch (27 grains Alliant Powder Pro 2000-MR, 3,027 fps).

Admittedly, I was a little behind the curve on this trend. Recently, while searching for a .223 Remington rifle to use for a Wolfe Publishing project, I was surprised to discover nary a new, slow-twist .223 Remington could be had after checking all the major gunmakers’ websites. Most new .223 rifles now include 1:9 twist rates, with some sporting barrels with twist rates as fast as 1:8 to 1:7 (the latter is particularly prevalent in AR-15-style rifles). These rifles will certainly handle bullets as light as 40 grains, oftentimes with great accuracy. I’ve certainly done so with my newest .223 Remington, used for testing here. In the beginning, this was done out of simple necessity, as I had maybe 1,800 40-grain, polymer-tipped rounds on hand. I shot hundreds of burrowing rodents with those loads and the test rifle with few complaints.

As I eventually turned loaded ammunition into empty cases, my heavy-bullet curiosity grew stronger. My myopic focus on 40-grain bullets slowly dissolved as I began to experiment with heavier bullets and was shocked to discover that not only did the heavier bullets not drop out of the sky at longer ranges, but wind drift margins were often cut by half. With turrets and solid ballistic charts, elevation corrections are child’s play. Wind is a different matter, because so few of us are adept at accurately estimating wind velocity, and seldom does velocity remain static between shooter and target at extended ranges. So yes, there is a very real advantage in adopting heavier .224-caliber bullets and the faster rifling twists to accommodate them.

The three best groups produced by Speer’s 75-grain Gold Dot
included .37 and .50 inch (22.5 and 23.5 grains Vihtavuori N540
at 2,561 and 2,705 fps) and .50 inch (24.5 grains Alliant Reloder
TS 15.5, at 2,720 fps).

The test rifle is pretty representative of the modern .223 Remington trend – a Remington Model 700 VTR SS. Translated: Varmint Tactical Rifle, Stainless Steel. The VTR holds a distinctive triangular barrel featuring three integral muzzle brake slots. In tactical style, the barrel is just 20 inches long. Many believe flutes and geometry such as this triangular tube provide improved structural rigidity, when in truth, the opposite is true. Any material removed from the barrel actually makes the barrel less rigid. What is provided are slightly lighter rifles, and perhaps a little cooling advantage, as the surface area is increased to speed heat convection in a breeze. The VTR includes a longer tactical-style bolt handle with a large, faceted handle and is set in a snazzy, black-synthetic stock with side cooling vents in the forearm, dual sling studs up front, a soft recoil pad and contrasting gray grip pads on the forend and wrist. A Picatinny rail was installed at the factory and a decent sling stud-mounted bipod was included. It also included an aluminum drop plate activated by a knurled button located inside the cast-aluminum trigger guard. The action has always run smoothly and the rifle, which has never been touched by a gunsmith, has proven capable of assembling impressive groups with the right handloads or factory ammunition.

The three best groups produced by Rocky Mountain Reloading’s (RMR) 69-grain
3-Gun Hunter included .41 (21.5 grains Vihtavuori N135 2,646 fps), .45 and .52 inch
(22.5 and 23.5 grains of Hodgdon Benchmark, 2,787 and 2,868 fps).

This rifle has held many scopes in the time I’ve owned it, but currently, it has an excellent Leupold VX-5HD 4-20x 52mm CDS-ZL2 Side Focus Duplex scope – with a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $1,599.99. Its exceptional optics, second focal plane (SFP) arrangement, 34mm tube combined with CDS ZeroLock 2 elevation turret (custom turrets available for specific loads) and trim dimensions, make it ideal for the varmint shooting this rifle was designed for. The scope is set in solid Leupold PRW2 medium Precision Fit Rings. In the very short time this scope has been attached to this rifle, my longest confirmed ground squirrel kill is 385 yards.

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