May 12, 2022
By Steve Gash
The inveterate experimenter Charles Newton unveiled the .250-3000 cartridge for the Savage Model 99 lever-action rifle in 1915. The round was first loaded with an 87-grain bullet at the then-astounding velocity of 3,000 fps; the “3000” in its name was, of course, a marketing maneuver on the bullet speed. In those days, a velocity of 2,000 fps was considered “fast,” so this was really big news.
Even in those days, riflemen immediately altered any new cartridge case by necking it up and down, blowing it out, and performing other transfigurations to create the “next great thing,” and the .250-3000 was no exception. While there were many paws in this sandbox—including J.B. Smith, Grosvenor Watkins, John Sweany, and Harvey Donaldson—J.E. Gebby copyrighted the name “.22 Varminter,” which was the .250-3000 necked down to .22 caliber. The resulting .22-250 wildcat became immensely popular, to the detriment of millions of varmints everywhere.
Taming the Wildcat
About 30 years later, in 1965, Remington, ever on top of things, recognized that the .22-250 was indeed the NGT and “introduced” it as a factory round in the Model 700 rifle. The commercial version of the .22-250 is only slightly different from the parent .250-3000 Savage case, differing only in its 28-degree shoulder instead of a 30-degree shoulder. The overall case length is the same at 1.912 inches, and the case head has the same 0.473-inch-diameter rim (that’s the same as on the .30-06 case). Today, virtually every rifle and ammunition company on earth makes guns and a wide variety of factory loads for the .22-250—and with good reason.
In those halcyon days of the wildcat, reloaders formed cases by simply necking down .250-3000 cases. But as the round increased in popularity, both new and fired factory cases from factory loads became readily available.
Even before its rollout as a factory cartridge, reloaders were turning out ammo to fill their varmint-hunting needs. Scores of bullets and powders were found to be suitable for the .22-250, and reloaders had a field day. The .22-250 is an especially efficient cartridge and is well adapted to reloading. Although the .223 Remington is by far the most popular varmint round today, the .22-250 has about 60 percent more case volume that holds a lot more propellant. In addition, the .22-250’s MAP (maximum average pressure) is 65,000 psi; considerably more than the .223 Remington’s MAP of 55,000 psi.
All this produces a significant increase in velocity and downrange varmint-exploding power, plus it provides a trajectory flat enough to hit pop-bottle-sized varmints at long ranges. For example, with the standard 55-grain bullet, the bullet speed is increased by about 12 percent, and the muzzle energy is increased by 22.5 percent. The wide range of bullet weights and types, and their high velocities, make the .22-250 a powerful and versatile cartridge.
About the only hindrance to the .22-250’s popularity is the standard 1:14-inch twist rate. Although individual rifles vary, this twist rate limits bullet weights to about 55 grains, perhaps 60 grains. As we all know, nowadays there are .22-caliber bullets that are as long as your little finger and that weigh almost twice the “standard” weight. All it takes is spin, and a few factory rifles and many custom rifles have been made with faster twist rates for just such bullets. For example, the Browning X-Bolt and Savage Model 12 Low Profile Varminter in .22-250 have 1:9-inch twists, and the T/C Venture Predator has a 1:12-inch twist.
These steeper spin rates open another hunting realm that makes the .22-250 suitable for smaller big game, such as pronghorn antelope and Texas whitetails. But as always, bullet placement is paramount. Bullets like the Nosler 60-grain Partition, the Barnes 62- and 70-grain Triple Shock-X Boattail bullets, and the Swift 75-grain Scirocco II are applicable here.
A Reloader’s Delight
There are few caveats when handloading the .22-250. This fine round is a reloader’s delight. Experienced reloaders know the usual cautions: Clean fired cases, check them over, and toss those with split necks or other deformities into the scrap brass can. Make sure the powder charge weights are correct and, after powder dispensing, check to see if each case has powder in it. Seat the bullets to (A) produce the desired amount of bullet jump to the rifling and (B) make sure the loaded round will work through the magazine. Precision gauges are available from several manufacturers to aid in selecting the proper cartridge overall length.
The .22-250’s tapered case can stretch with repeated full-length resizings, but this can be minimized by using a neck-sizing die or just backing off the full-length sizer so that it sizes just the neck of the case. Using a neck-sizing die works only the necks of cases that are going to be fired in the same rifle again. This not only ensures proper headspacing, but also is thought to promote better accuracy. And it will prevent incipient case head separations caused by oversizing. Getting just “one more firing” out of an oversized case will eventually lead to only the case head being ejected, with the case body left stuck in the chamber. Getting it out is not fun!
Since the cartridge headspaces on the shoulder, sizing cases so that they chamber with a slight “feel” as the bolt is closed is prudent. Again, there are gauges that allow the reloader to more precisely fit the case to the rifle’s chamber.
Most reloaders have their favorite brand of primer, and while I may be partial to one, I must honestly say that I have never been able to quantify that any one primer is better than another. About my only qualification is that my primers are made in the USA; I shun foreign primers. My view is that it is much more important to seat the primers firmly, and not with a cheater on the tool handle. Almost all serious reloaders use a separate priming tool, rather than on the reloading press.
Due to the .22-250’s case capacity, standard Large Rifle primers are perfectly adequate for most handloads. Some authorities recommend magnum primers for spherical powders, but with the modest charges used in handloading this cartridge, I don’t see the need. However, I tried three loads with magnum primers, and they were either the same or inferior to loads with standard primers.
When it comes to powders, it’s here that the .22-250 reloader is literally awash with riches. There are so many that perform well in the round that, well, one can hardly go wrong.
The first step in propellant selection is to check the reloading manuals and the reputable online data provided by the various powder manufacturers and bulletmakers, such as Alliant, Hodgdon, VihtaVuori, Nosler, and others. But remember: Never exceed the maximum loads listed.
The .22-250’s case volume allows it to use powders that are a little slower than those used in smaller varmint cartridges. A good powder to start with is Hodgdon’s Varget. It is usually very versatile with various bullet weights, is not particularly sensitive to temperature changes, and delivers top-notch accuracy with minimal experimentation. Several new powders of the proper burning rate have copper-reducing ingredients in them, and that makes them really suitable for a high-octane round like the .22-250. CFE 223 is also a good candidate here, as is Alliant Reloder 16.
For standard 55-grain bullets, Benchmark, IMR 8208 XBR, Reloder 15, AR Comp, and VihtaVuori N150 are good choices. As noted, Varget, CFE 223, and powders with similar burn rates work just dandy, too. For maximum velocities with heavier bullets, such as the Sierra 63-grain Semi-Pointed and the Speer 70-grain Semi-Spitzer SP, the clear winner in my test loads was Superformance. While it is pretty slow burning, in the range of 4831, it delivered the highest velocities, and there’s plenty of room in the .22-250 case for near-maximum charges of this powder.
Bullet selection is, as usual, dependent on what the load is going to be used for. Varmints are the primary targets of .22-250 shooters, and there are so many great ones that one could wear out a barrel just “testing” bullet-powder combinations.
For pint-sized critters, the 50-, 52-, 55-, and 60-grain explosive bullets from Hornady, Nosler, Sierra, and others are literal bombs on target. Just remember that if you’re going to try heavier bullets, be sure to load only a few to see if your rifle will stabilize them. Hornady’s V-Max, Nosler’s Ballistic Tip (BT) and Varmageddon bullets, Sierra’s BlitzKings, and Speer’s TNT HPs are excellent, and I’ll bet that most of them will just love your .22-250 rifle. Hornady notes that a 1:14-inch (or slower) twist won’t stabilize its 53-grain and 60-grain V-Max bullets.
There are even non-lead bullets for those places where lead bullets are prohibited. Examples are Hornady’s 35-grain NTX; Speer’s 43- and 50-grain TNT Green HPs; Nosler’s 35-, 40-, and 50-grain Ballistic Tip Lead Frees, and Barnes’s TSX bullets, which are pure copper.
The velocities that can be obtained with these flyweight bullets are truly astronomical. For example, Nosler lists a maximum velocity with the 35-grain Lead Free BT as 4,575 fps (I am not making this up.) Hornady’s NTX goes 4,100 fps, and Speer’s 43-grain goes 4,175 fps.
Moving on to the middleweights, 52- and 55-grain bullets are the mainstay of the .22-250 varmint hunter. While they start out a little slower than the flyweights, they really “catch up” downrange and deliver a crushing blow. Here the Ballistic Tip and V-Max rule the prairie dog pastures.
The Nosler 60-grain Partition and Speer 70-grain Semi-Spitzer SP have rather short ogives and, consequently, are short enough to stabilize in most .22-250 rifles. As always with heavier bullets, load up and shoot a few to see if your rifle will stabilize them. Even the velocities of these “heavy” bullets are nothing to sneeze at. Nosler lists a maximum velocity of 3,624 fps (but also recommends a 1:8-inch twist) for its 60-grain Partition bullet. The Speer 70-grain Semi-Spitzer SP reaches 3,368 fps, and Speer says that most .22-250 rifles will stabilize this bullet as long as the velocity is 3,000 fps or higher.
I tested 14 handloads in my wife’s T/C Venture Predator rifle with its sporter-weight, 22-inch, 1:12-twist barrel and 19 loads in my Remington Model 700 SPS-V with its heavy, 26-inch, 1:14-twist barrel, and the results are shown in the accompanying chart. Both rifles were very accurate with a variety of loads. Interestingly, the overall group average with the T/C Venture was 0.61 inch, while the Model 700’s average was 0.70 inch. I scoured the earth for a .22-250 rifle with a 1:9-inch twist for use with the heaviest bullets, but, alas, there were none to be had.
As expected, the 55-grain bullets shot very well, and for varmints, a fellow would really have to experiment no further (but where’s the fun in that?). The flyweight Nosler 35-grain Lead Free BT over 34.7 grains of Benchmark chronographed 3,958 fps. The Barnes 36-grain Varmint Grenade also favored Benchmark, with 34.5 grains producing 3,945 fps. Both shot under an inch.
Despite Hornady’s warning, I had to try the 60-grain V-Max in both rifles with the same charge of 30.4 grains of Benchmark. Velocities were virtually the same for both rifles, at 3,253 fps and 3,260 fps. Best of all, the group averages were 0.77 and 0.78 inch. This load ought to be great for hunting coyotes at long ranges.
I have always been partial to Sierra’s 63-grain Semi-Pointed bullet, as it has shot well in about every .22-caliber centerfire rifle I’ve tried it with, including my ancient .222 Remington, also with a 1:14-inch twist. In the T/C Venture Predator, a dose of 36.3 grains of CFE 223 registered 3,328 fps and averaged 0.69 inch. In the Model 700, 41.0 grains of Superformance produced the sizzling speed of 3,505 fps and a 0.61-inch group average. If your rifle won’t stabilize the excellent Sierra 65-grain Spitzer Boattail (Sierra recommends a 1:10-inch twist), try the 63-grain bullet for a “medium-weight” load. I bet it will work.
A couple of potential big-game loads stood out in the data. The Norma 55-grain Oryx Bonded is a tough customer, and at 3,688 fps with Superformance, it produces 1,662 ft-lbs of energy at the muzzle.
A real delight came with the Speer 70-grain Semi-Spitzer SP. All six of the loads produced velocities over 3,000 fps, and this bullet produced some of the smallest group averages of all loads tested. The average of all six loads was an impressive 0.55 inch.
The muzzle energies of most of these 70-grain loads, at around 1,500 ft-lbs, are nothing to sneeze at, either. Incredibly, a charge of 39.5 grains of Superformance produced a very impressive velocity of 3,307 fps and a muzzle energy of 1,700 ft-lbs. Here’s some food for thought: At this velocity, the Speer bullet has an energy of 1,700 ft-lbs at the muzzle and 1,096 ft-lbs at 150 yards. Didn’t somebody say something about 1,000 ft-lbs being the minimum for deer?
When it’s all said and done, the .22-250 stands out as a premier long-range cartridge for use on varmints small and large, and with judicious application, it can be used on smaller big game. It is a delight to reload, and winning load recipes will fill several books. In normal times, the many proper powders and bullets are readily available, but if your “favorite” powder or bullet is not on the shelf, there are so many other good ones to substitute that brewing up suitable loads should not be a problem.