December 13, 2018
By Lane Pearce
Earlier this year I acquired a 1960s-vintage Sako Vixen Sporter chambered for the nearly obsolete .222 Remington Magnum. A couple of unrelated events occurred that, together, prompted my successful quest. First, I’d responded to a reader’s inquiry asking what he should do with a .222 Rem. Mag. Sako Vixen rifle. Then, just a few weeks later, a hand-loader acquaintance passed along to me some new Remington .222 Rem. Mag. brass he’d received from a friend who thought, mistakenly, they were .222 Remington cases.
I offered the reader several viable options, including selling his rifle to a collector and buying another one chambered in a more commonly available round. However, I also informed him that Nosler currently offers custom loaded ammo and unprimed brass as well as excellent bullets. I assured him that dies and other reloading components are available. I also described how to reform .204 Ruger into .222 Rem. Mag. brass. And as the last resort, he could likely have his rifle rechambered to feed and fire a more readily available varmint round.
As I said, the two coincidental incidents sparked my interest in acquiring my own Sako .222 Rem. Mag. rifle. I chased one in mint condition on Gunbroker. It had been restocked by Al Biesen, and the checkering pattern was identical to my Pre-’64 M70 Winchester Biesen had done nearly 60 years ago. Unfortunately, the reserve was just too high. During that time, I missed one listed by a dealer in Texas. Finally, a dealer in upstate New York listed two Sako .222 Rem. Mag. rifles—one had a heavy barrel and a detachable magazine and the other was a Vixen Sporter. I called immediately and didn’t even try to negotiate a better deal on the Vixen.
When the Vixen Sporter arrived at my local dealer, it was near mint as advertised. A good friend owns a Sako .222 Rem. Mag. rifle, and he sold me a set of Sako rings, a box of vintage Remington ammo, and some once-fired brass. I mounted an early model Weaver V16 scope with fine crosshairs and a quarter-minute dot reticle to complete the package.
The almost-forgotten .222 Rem. Mag. is the parent case for the popular .204 Ruger. The case shoulder was pushed forward about 0.075 inch, and the shoulder angle was increased from 23 degrees to 30 degrees. The case neck was simply sized down to 0.231-inch diameter. The overall case length for both cartridges is the same 1.850 inches. So all you should have to do—as I’d told the reader—is reverse the process, i.e., expand the neck by about 0.020 inch while setting the shoulder back and reducing the shoulder angle slightly.
As I soon discovered, I was about to relearn a valuable handloading lesson!
Loading the .222 Rem. Mag.
I selected 50 pieces of once-fired Winchester .204 Ruger brass. Then I prepped the sizer die and adjusted its position on my single-stage press per the instructions. I lightly lubricated a case with Redding case wax and slowly pushed it into the full-length sizer die. Resizing relatively small, lightweight cases requires very little effort, so “feeling” something going amiss is unlikely.
I removed the case and discovered several small lube dents in the shoulder. Reforming a few more cases, I determined by trial and error how much lube was just enough. If I made sure there was no lube on the neck and shoulder before resizing, I was usually rewarded with a fully reformed case without any shoulder damage. But damaging just a few was simply not acceptable. I decided to carefully anneal a few cases before performing the lube and sizing steps. Each one turned out perfectly, so I annealed the rest of the cases before resizing them.
After trimming the cases and deburring the case mouths, I uniformed the primer pockets.
I reviewed a few load manuals to select several recipes to test. I was a bit surprised to find that Hornady, Nosler, Speer, and Western still include the .222 Rem. Mag. despite its less-than-common status. Most of the sources either do not list any or list only one or two of the propellants that have been introduced since the round’s popularity diminished. However, as you can see, the older standby propellants still make great choices.
Some of the load data specified cartridge overall lengths greater than the .222 Rem. Mag.’s nominal 2.280 inches. I tried a couple long handloads with quite good results, but my Vixen’s five-round magazine box prefers they be no longer than 2.295 inches to avoid having jammed rounds.
The chart indicates my Vixen is a strong sub-MOA rifle with ammo it likes. The .222 Rem. Mag. is not the .22-250 by any means; however, if I do my part, the rifle will easily pop prairie dogs out to 250 yards. It is still a viable varmint cartridge, even if it’s rarely mentioned in today’s shooting publications or encountered anymore. The extremely popular and abundant .223 Remington round will do anything the .222 Rem. Mag. can do, but I stand by my recommendation to the reader and other fortunate owners of vintage .222 Rem. Mag. rifles.
And for the lesson I relearned, reforming brass is usually a trial-and-error situation. What works with one batch of cases may not work with another. You can apply too much or too little case lube, not clean the sizer die often enough, the parent cases may be too soft and contribute to forming lube dents, or they may be too hard and must be annealed before reforming. Of course, if your annealing process is not properly controlled, you can anneal some too much and others too little and really screw up the batch of parent cases.
Reforming cases is something only an experienced handloader should attempt. The novice reloader needs to learn from someone who’s already tripped over the obstacles of the learning process. If you haven’t done it before, it can be extensive and difficult and likely also expensive.