Top 10 Reloaded Rifle Cartridges #10: .22-250 Remington
Date: Sep 09 2021
A coyote was spotted on the opposite side of the canyon, so we quickly eased under a tree for cover, sat down and began sounding the predator call. Within a few minutes, “Wiley” came running full speed toward us, but due to the brush and trees, we could only catch brief glimpses. Nonetheless, through the Leupold binocular the eagerness for an easy meal could be seen as it approached. The glass was set aside and the safety pushed forward on the Weatherby Mark V rifle. When the coyote appeared, the crosshairs of the Leupold scope were placed on its shoulder, the rifle swung and the trigger was squeezed. The end came instantly from the 50-grain, .22-250 Remington bullet.
The .22-250 Remington has given me great service over the past several decades, taking those wary coyotes (those that have been shot at before) at distances beyond normal and has thinned many prairie dog towns, regularly “touching” them at 500 yards or beyond. With the correct bullets and careful shot placement it has taken a number of deer, each with a single shot. Its flat trajectory and low recoil make it pleasurable and easy to shoot. In short, it is one of those special cartridges that will always have a place in my “favorite” rifle rack. Apparently I am not alone, as it has ranked high in annual reloading die sales for decades.
The .22-250 Remington is the varmint cartridge to which others are compared, a “standard” if you will. It was originally developed by wildcatters, and while there is much discussion as to who was most responsible, most give credit to Jerry Gebby, who referred to his necked down .250 Savage cartridge as the “.22 Standard Varminter.” It was essentially identical to the Remington version introduced in 1965. Early advertised velocities pushed a 55-grain bullet at 3,650 fps and is similar to today’s factory loads. In recent years there has been a trend toward 50- and 45-grain bullets driven 3,800 and 4,000 fps, respectively, that give spectacular results in varmint towns and usually won’t exit on coyotes (although the entry wounds can be severe). On windy days, however, 55- and 60-grain bullets often have an advantage, especially at longer distances.
Handloading the .22-250 is straightforward, with the same rules of die adjustment and case sizing that apply to other bottleneck cartridges. It thrives on medium burn rate powders (more on that in a moment), large rifle primers and bullets weighing 40 to 60 grains. With a common sense approach in selecting components, it is an easy round to assemble ammunition that duplicates or exceeds factory-load velocities, and accuracy is almost always a given as long as the rifle is up to par. During the early days of Bench Rest competition, this cartridge was regularly employed and made a good name for itself within these circles.
Most rifles – including those from Remington, Winchester, Savage, Ruger, Browning, Weatherby and others – feature a one-in-14-inch twist. Considering the velocities obtainable with this cartridge, it has no problem stabilizing bullets up to 60 grains. Some guns will stabilize the 64-grain Winchester Power-Point and the Speer 70-grain semispitzer, but certainly not all. For these reasons, load data for bullets heavier than 60 grains was omitted in the accompanying tables.
There are a host of .22-caliber (actually .224-inch) bullets suitable for handloading the .22-250, but it is crucial to choose those that are designed specifically for the type of load you will be using. For example, several custom bullet companies offer highly frangible bullets designed specifically for instant expansion (or probably better described as disintegration) on small varmints. These include the Speer 50- and 55-grain TNT hollowpoint, the Hornady 50- and 55-grain SP-SX (super explosive) and Sierra 50- and 55-grain Blitz Varminter.
Speer suggests keeping the TNT at 3,400 fps or less, while Hornady states, “They (the SP-SX) cannot be driven much above 3,500 fps velocities without flying apart.” Sierra states, “Because of their frangibility, these bullets (the Blitz Varminter) should not be driven faster than 3,600 to 3,700 fps. Rifles having rough throats or extremely fast (one turn in 9 inches or faster) twist barrels may actually cause these bullets to disintegrate in flight.”
I have had some experience with bullets coming apart during flight and will briefly share some of my observations. When the Speer 50-grain TNT was introduced, I tried it in a number of cartridges and rifles (and I might add that it’s a great varmint bullet). It has come apart during flight at velocities as low as 3,200 fps, but I have also seen it stay together when driven as high as 3,800 fps. Likewise the Sierra 55-grain Blitz has come apart at speeds barely over 3,000 fps, yet can stay together and give excellent results when driven as high as 3,700 fps. In addition to the velocity factor, there are several other factors that seem to come into play, with the most common including pressure, bore condition and rate of twist.
Since most .22-250s will feature a rather slow one-in-14-inch twist, the rate of twist is rarely the issue (although it can be a problem in .222s and .223s that commonly have a faster twist). In some instances, loads that are approaching maximum actually cause the bullet to separate within the bore before it leaves the muzzle. I had this happen in a .222 Remington, wherein velocities were around 3,000 fps using the Sierra 55-grain Blitz, but bullets from the same box would hit 3,700 fps from a .22-250 without even a hint of breaking up.
A rough bore can contribute to bullet breakup, while one of higher quality allows the same bullet to run considerably faster without a problem. Each rifle must be considered individually, but if any of the above frangible bullets from Speer, Hornady and Sierra are loaded in the 3,400- to 3,600-fps range from a .22-250 with a 1:14 twist and bore condition is reasonable, there probably won’t be a problem.
In addition to the above bullets, there are many great varmint and pest bullets designed for the .22-250 from Sierra, Nosler, Speer, Hornady, Barnes and others. I have used most of them in the field, and it’s fair to say that the competition is extremely strong among these companies, with each making excellent products. In short the selection is huge, and there is a bullet designed for most applications for which a .22 centerfire will be used.
For those intending to take deer with the .22-250, there are several viable choices. Hornady offers its 55- and 60-grain Spire Points (without cannelure) that work amazingly well on broadside lung shots, destroying much tissue and usually exiting the off-side. If bone is encountered, a bullet of stronger construction is suggested. The Speer 55-grain Trophy Bonded Bear Claw will zip right through deer on broadside shots, giving 27 inches of penetration on a Texas whitetail. Another good deer bullet is the Nosler 60-grain Partition, which I have used many times. The Barnes 53-grain Triple-Shock X Bullet kills as though it were something larger and is a top choice.
As long as shots are placed correctly and distances are not too great, the .22-250 makes a viable deer round but should only be used with bullets that are up to the task. Typical varmint bullets that fragment on impact often leave superficial wounds.
Since its introduction, there have always been a number of suitable powders for handloading the .22-250, but today there are many great choices. In selecting the powders that would be used to develop the accompanying data, many had to be eliminated simply because there were far too many to shoot all the potential data in a single article. So the list was cut down to include only 25 powders! It cannot be emphasized enough that now there are powders that make this cartridge better than ever, producing low extreme spreads and high velocities.
Many of the older powders of cylindrical (stick) shape such as IMR-4064 and IMR-3031 have been used for handloading the .22-250 with generally good results. Back in the 1970s and ’80s, I used them both regularly, but they often bridged or hung up in the neck, which slowed the handloading process when throwing charges from a powder measure and posed a potential problem when loading from a progressive press. And their “thrown” weights varied enough that extreme spreads were greater than desired unless each powder charge was weighed. (In spite of these issues, both of the above powders were included in the accompanying data, because they are still widely used and perform well.)
With many of the newer powders, charges can be thrown with remarkable weight consistency and drop through the .22-caliber neck easily. Each of the spherical powders used herein could be thrown from a powder measure with consistent weights and dropped into the .22-caliber neck without the slightest hesitation. This is especially handy for those who load on a progressive press or load large quantities of ammunition in preparation for a varmint shoot and want to throw charges to speed the process.
With the exception of IMR-3031 and IMR-4064, none of the cylindrical powders used in the accompanying load data showed any signs of hanging up in the neck, and many could also be thrown from a powder measure with low weight variations. Examples of cylindrical powders include Accurate 2015 and 4064; Vihtavuori N135 and N140; Hodgdon H-4895, Benchmark, H-322, Varget, IMR-4895 and IMR-4320; and Alliant Reloder 15 and Reloder 7.
While shooting the accompanying load data, it was observed that often the best accuracy and lowest extreme spreads came with loads that fell into the medium to upper pressure range. For example, driving the Nosler 52-grain hollowpoint boat-tail with 32.0 grains of Accurate 2460 produced 3,646 fps for a five-shot string and had an extreme spread of 99 fps. As the powder charge was increased, the extreme spread was reduced. Using 35.0 grains produced 3,880 fps, and the spread was 36 fps, while 37.0 grains achieved 4,016 fps and displayed an extreme spread of 19 fps.
Using the same Nosler bullet, 33.0 grains of Winchester 748 achieved 3,339 fps and had an extreme spread of 113 fps. Again as the powder charge was increased to 38.0 grains for 3,818 fps, the spread was reduced to 24 fps (for a five-shot string). Many other loads offered similar results. With that said, many of the “beginning” loads were nonetheless accurate.
In spite of most loading manuals suggesting to start with data that is 5 to 10 percent below maximum listed charges, it has been my observation that many handloaders start with maximum charges. Having owned a number of .22-250s over the past years and developing many handloads, I would suggest not starting with maximum charges. Chamber, throat, bore size, cases, primers and other factors can affect pressures, which seem magnified in small-caliber, high-pressure cartridges such as the .22-250. In studying the accompanying data, increasing a load by just one grain of powder often bumped velocity by 100 to 150 fps, and clearly pressures jumped as well. Proceed with caution and check cases for signs of excess or high pressure before attempting the maximum powder charges listed in the accompanying data.
For developing the accompanying loads, Winchester cases were used exclusively. Empty but with the primer installed, they weighed 160.8 grains and held 43.6 grains of water. For comparison, Federal cases held 42.8, Hornady 43.0 and Remington 44.2 grains.
Some .22-250 Remington data has been published that contains large rifle magnum primers, but it has been my experience that no powders used herein required a magnum primer to obtain reliable ignition in a case of this capacity. To assist in uniformity, CCI BR-2 Large Rifle Bench Rest primers were used exclusively.
For this handloading project, a Thompson/Center Encore rifle was chosen that was fitted with a 26-inch varmint barrel. This rifle is easily a sub-MOA performer and has been used on several varmint shoots. Furthermore, easy access to the barrel’s breech was appreciated, wherein a tube (attached to a several-gallon water container) could be inserted into the chamber and water poured down the bore to quickly cool the barrel between strings of shots. (Naturally, chamber and bore were swabbed dry before proceeding with the next set of loads.) The Encore also functioned flawlessly through the extensive shooting sessions.
Initially the bore was cleaned every 30 rounds, but fouling was so minimal that cleaning was extended to every 100 rounds. The fouling was still minimal. Examination with a borescope showed that the surface was unusually smooth, especially for a production rifle, and speaks of Thompson/Center’s commitment to quality.
A Weaver Grand Slam 6-20x scope was installed that featured an adjustable objective, 1⁄4-MOA click adjustments with Micro-Trac, a proven four-point adjustment system and fully multicoated lenses. Over the years I have used a number of Grand Slam scopes and found them to be reliable and a good value.
The most impressive aspect in assembling and firing the accompanying .22-250 data was the broad base of uniform accuracy. Certainly some of this can be attributed to the Thompson/Center Encore rifle, as it regularly placed four shots under an inch, but any reasonable load seemed to give consistent velocities and is an indication of just how easy it is to reload this cartridge.
Naming “the best” loads is virtually impossible, as many gave excellent results, and there are literally dozens of loads in the data table that I would happily choose to employ in the field on long-distance varmints, coyotes or deer.