The .222 Remington: Making a Comeback?
March 29, 2019
Half a century ago, small-bore accuracy was defined by a single cartridge, a simple, mild cartridge called the .222 Remington. It was released in 1950, during the peace and prosperity which followed World War II, and stood in the shadow of the speedy .220 Swift which came 15 years earlier. The .222 Remington had no parent cartridge – Remington, and especially Mike Walker, put quite a bit of R&D into this cartridge – and as it was much easier on barrels and ear drums, it took off quickly.
Other than the big .220 Swift, the only serious competition for the Triple Deuce was the .22 Hornet, .218 Bee, and the .219 Zipper. All three of these cartridges use round nose bullets, and the spitzer bullets in the .222 made a huge difference. Pushing a 50-grain bullet to over 3,100 fps, the .222 gave plenty of energy inside of 300 yards, and the pinpoint accuracy sent an indeterminable amount of woodchucks to the Great Alfalfa Field in the Sky. The lighter bullets can be pushed considerably faster – like Hornady’s 35-grain NTX load at over 3,700 fps – and work very well on lighter varmints. Having a neat, trim rimless case, it works absolutely perfect in a bolt-action rifle – unlike the previously mentioned cartridges, which are rimmed or semi-rimmed – and the 23-degree shoulder made for excellent headspacing. And, as if the aforementioned merits of the .222 weren’t enough to place it firmly in the history books, the .222 Remington is the parent cartridge to the .222 Remington Magnum, .221 Fireball, and none other than the .223 Remington. That’s a pretty powerful design.
The .222 enjoyed the accuracy crown from its release up until the early 1970’s when the PPC burst onto the scene in the hands of Dr. Louis Palmisano, and accuracy was redefined. With that, and the popularity and availability of the military surplus .223 ammunition, the .222 Remington began a slow fade off the stage. But, as of late, and greatly because of some European rifle companies, I’ve seen the .222 Remington making a bit of a comeback.
There are a number of countries where owning a sporting rifle chambered for a military cartridge is prohibited, so for hunters in those countries, the .222 Remington makes perfect sense. The .222 will give excellent hunting ballistics out to 250 or 300 yards, and is perfect for both varmints and predators alike. Can the Triple Deuce equal the performance of the .223 Remington? No, I’m afraid it cannot, as its velocities will fall about 200 fps short of the hugely-popular .223, but that doesn’t mean it has been rendered useless. Quite obviously, the .223 ammunition is going to be cost-effective, due to the sheer numbers produced, but there are still those hunters and shooters who want a cartridge that differs from the ‘standards’, and the .222 Remington certainly has the cool-factor in addition to the practical applications. Those early Remington rifles would routinely print five-shot groups under ½-inch, with factory ammunition. Handloaded stuff often cut that in half.
I’ve had the opportunity to use the .222 Remington in the ultimate testing ground: a hot prairie dog town in Wyoming, where targets ranged from 75-yard ‘gimmes’ to 800-yard Hail Mary shots. On this same hunt – which was centered around the release of the bolt action Sauer Model 100 – we had rifles in both .222 Remington and .223 Remington. Hundreds of rounds of ammunition were sent downrange every day, and by the end of the hunt, I found myself wanting to shoot the .222 more than the .223. Yes, for shots out past 350 yards, the .223 made things easier, but the challenge of reading the wind became much more important at the edge of the .222’s effective range, and really sharpened the eye. On the dogs inside of 200 yards, I could definitely see the hit, whereas the .223 had a bit more recoil; it was just enough to preclude a full view of the red mist. I’ve also noticed – and this may be limited to my own experiences – that a .222 Remington in a sporter-weight barrel will maintain that fantastic accuracy, the kind you’d only expect from a target or bull barreled .223 Remington or .22-250. In a bull-barrel .222 Remington rifle, things get even better. Just to illustrate how accurate a target-grade .222 can be, the cartridge has the unique distinction of shooting the only 0.0000” five-shot group, fired in September 1973 by Mac McMillan; it was registered as a true one-hole group, though would later be judged as a 0.0009” group, and would be unseated in 2013.
There are more rifles in .222 Remington available than you think. There are plenty of used Remingtons on the market, as well as new Steyr, Sauer, Sako and Tikka rifles representing the European manufacturers. Among our own manufacturers Cooper Firearms of Montana still produces the Triple Deuce in several models, and there are many used Winchester, Savage, Browning and Ruger rifles chambered for the little gem. Ammunition, while not exactly plentiful, is still available from Remington, Federal, Hornady, Nosler, and HSM.
The major limiting factor of the .222 Remington is not its case capacity, which is less than that of the .223 Remington, but the twist rate of the barrels provided for the cartridge. Most rifles are equipped with a 1:14” twist rate, bullet weight usually tops out with the 55-grain bullets, with many rifles exhibit a preference for 40 and 45-grain bullets. As we have learned with the .224 Valkyrie, 6mm and 6.5mm Creedmoors, long and lean bullets with a high Ballistic Coefficient figure give the best performance when distances get truly long, and that is the issue with the .222 Remington: the light-for-caliber bullets don’t have the conformation to hold their velocity at longer ranges.
But, inside 350 or 400 yards, the .222 Remington is an absolute tack driver, and if you look at the average shot distance on game, it may be worth it to have a Triple Deuce in your safe.