With the proper bullet, the .22-250 works just fine on game from coyotes to antelope.
By John Haviland
The .22-250 Remington is the most versatile .22 centerfire cartridge, used for everything from casual plinking to long-range varmint shooting and occasionally even big game hunting.
It's been around in one form or another since the 1930s, when experimenters necked down the .250-3000 Savage case to .22 caliber. The .22-250 continued as a popular wildcat cartridge for varmint hunting and benchrest shooting for the next several decades, even when Winchester introduced the .220 Swift in 1935 and Remington brought out the .222 Remington in 1950 and .222 Magnum in 1958. Remington finally saw the light in 1965 and put its name on the .22-250.
In the years since, the .22-250 buried other cartridges with similar bullet speeds. The .225 Winchester came out a year before the .22-250, but was discontinued by 1972. The .220 Swift never was very popular, although every once in a while a fellow with gray hair in his ears will preach of the Swift's virtues. The recent .223 Winchester Super Short Magnum's fall was a short one because it never did get off the ground.
The .22-250 is second in popularity only to the .223 Rem among .22-caliber centerfire cartridges. The .223's rank is guaranteed not only because of its military status, but also because it's a great cartridge in its own right. However, the .223 will always come up short of the .22-250 when it comes to the ability to make the long shots where the big coyotes stop for one last look before loping out of sight.
The .22-250's Speed
Give or take some velocity with different bullet weights, the .22-250 produces about 400 fps of additional bullet speed over the .223. With rifles in .223 and .22-250 both sighted an inch high at 100 yards, the .223 is right on the .22-250's tail out to 300 yards, with the .223 bullet dropping only 2 inches more and drifting an additional 1.5 inches in a 15-mph wind. But past 300 yards, the .22-250 really pulls away from the .223. At 400 yards, the .22-250 bullet shoots 6 inches flatter and drifts in the wind about 5 inches less than a bullet from the .223. At 500 yards, the .22-250 shoots flatter by nearly a foot.
Factory loads for the .22-250 are fairly close to the velocities stated by various companies. For instance, from a Cooper Arms Model 22 with a 24-inch barrel, a Hornady Varmint Express cartridge loaded with a 55-grain V-Max bullet coated with molybdenum was only 19 fps slower than the 3,680 fps listed by Hornady. The Winchester Supreme load with 50-grain Ballistic Silvertip bullets was 180 fps short of the declared speed of 3,810 fps. Fired from other rifles, however, the load was only about 100 fps slower. As the sidebar shows, various loads from Federal, Hornady, Remington and Winchester grouped well.
Handloading really makes the .22-250 excel in speed and versatility.
Launching a 40-grain bullet at 4,100 fps or slightly faster is no great feat for the .22-250. If a rifle is heavy enough, the recoil from this light bullet is so mild you can usually keep your sight picture and see your bullet hit. That's a big help in precision shooting, when you don't have a spotter while trying to make that last inch of adjustment to hit a ground squirrel or prairie dog at long range in a howling wind.
A 50- or 55-grain bullet is a bit better for that long-range shooting at larger game because the heavier bullets pack a bit more punch. The first day of a rockchuck hunt one spring, I shot Nosler 40-grain Ballistic Tips out of my Ruger Model 77 .22-250. I had the scope cranked up to 16 power and did a pretty good job of hitting the chucks out to 400 yards and farther. If the little bullets failed to hit the front half of the body, however, they weren't lethal. The second day, I switched to Sierra 55-grain BlitzKings. These bullets left the muzzle at 3,650 fps, 450 fps slower than the 40-grainers. But way out there, the BlitzKings hit the marmots much harder. In fact, the bullets ripped them off the rocks.
Heavier bullets in the .22-250 also work better on coyotes. When I got my Cooper Model 22 .22-250 two years ago, my son used it to shoot a coyote in the middle of a hay field. The Nosler 55-grain Ballistic Tip flattened the coyote, yet the bullet didn't rip a big hole in the hide, coming or going. The 40-grain bullets often blow a gruesome hole through the on side of a coyote hide. These light bullets might come apart inside the coyote. Or they might keep going and blow another ghastly hole out the backside.
The .22-250 has always been criticized as a crippler of deer. That was true in years gone by. Bullets designed to expand violently on 2-pound prairie dogs blow shallow holes in big game.
Today's premium bullets have changed that. Bullets like the Barnes 53-grain X-Bullet, Trophy Bonded 55-grain Bear Claw and Nosler 60-grain Partition remain in one piece to penetrate deeply. I've used the Nosler 60-grain Partition on four pronghorn antelope. These Partitions have a muzzle velocity of 3,374 fps from my Ruger .22-250. Each of the antelope I took was a one-shot kill, with the bullets going clean through them. My son has used the 53-grain Barnes X-Bullet on a buck and a doe antelope. They took one shot apiece, too. He hit the buck in the center of the sternum as it faced him, and the bullet came out the flank. The buck fell over backward.
Sometimes all the .22-250's sizzle isn't needed for close shots, target shooting and plinking. That's when the .22-250 shows its value. Reducing the velocity of the .22-250 Remington to the mild velocity of a .223 Remington, .22 Hornet or meek .22 Winchester Rimfire Magnum saves on powder, recoil and muzzle blast.
Bullets like the Nosler Ballistic Tip, Speer TNT and Sierra BlitzKing expand adequately at reduced velocity on small game. The Nosler 40-grain Ballistic Tip is a favorite bullet for slow loads. It's accurate at a muzzle velocity way below 2,000 fps. Even though the Nosler's only trotting along, it acts like a tiny bomb when it hits small game.
Loading a reduced amount of standard powders in the .22-250 is an easy way to duplicate the .223. For example, in my Cooper .22-250 with a 55-grain bullet, 33 grains of Varget powder produces 3,273 fps, and 31.5 grains of Benchmark generates 3,342 fps. Those speeds are about the maximum velocity of a 55-grain bullet in a .223.
To drop the velocity down to the level of a .221 Fireball or .22 Hornet takes a bit more creative handloading. Generally speaking with the .22-250, the slower the velocity desired, select powders with a correspondingly faster burning rate. That's because the faster a powder's burning rate, the lower the pressure range at which it works best.
So 17 to 23 grains of H4198 with a 40-grain bullet fired in the .22-250 pretty well mimics the .22 Hornet. Or 23 grains of H4198 and a 55-grain bullet turns the .22-250 into a .221 Fireball. With 23 grains of W748 and a 40-grain bullet, the .22-250 goes way down at 2,200 fps, about the performance of a .22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire.
Cast bullets in the .22-250 make great .22 magnum rimfire loads. They're cheap to shoot, too. A complete .22-250 cartridge costs about a nickel with 15 grains of H4198 or 8 grains of Green Dot and a 55-grain cast bullet with a gas check. One spring day, I shot about 200 of these loads through my Ruger .22-250 at ground squirrels. The bullets knocked the gophers off their mounds and quickly ended their days of eating alfalfa. I saw all the action because the recoil was next to nothing.
Later that spring, I used the same .22-250 shooting 40-grain bullets at 3,100 fps to take more ground squirrels in the same field. The shooting was fast and furious, and out to 250 yards, the little varmints were in grave danger.
Early one summer, I went up in the mountains to a wind-swept ridge where yellow-bellied marmots crowded the boulder fields. The wind was stiff blowing down from the peaks, and I had to aim about half a rockchuck length to the side to compensate for bullet drift. But out to 300 yards, the 55-grain bullets at 3,600 fps required no holdover to make a hit. I shot only 10 chucks because it's easy to overshoot a colony. To make the day last, I pretended like I was stalking bighorn rams in the crags.
In July, I hunted a prairie dog town that reached for miles. The little rodents had the grass mowed down to the dirt. I shot my Cooper .22-250 loaded with 40-grain Sierra BlitzKings at 3,600 fps. The heavy rifle barely recoiled from the padded rest. After firing 250 rounds, I'd had enough mayhem to last for quite some time.
I came back to the prairie to hunt antelope in October. After two days of searching and looking, I spotted a black-faced buck several miles up a dry creek bottom. The creek bottom provided a concealed approach. Along the way, I crawled up to the lip of the creek bank and put the spotting scope on the buck. Even from 600 yards, I could see the animal's long horns with tall bases and tips with a deep hook.
Three more turns up the creekbed brought me into sure range. I pushed the .22-250 ahead of me to the top of the bank into the shade of sagebrush. The shot was easy at 200 yards after a spring and summer of shooting the rifle. The 60-grain Partition bullet hit the buck square in the lungs. The buck made a short mad run, then fell.
That spring, summer and fall of shooting everything from targets to ground squirrels to antelope proved to me that the .22-250 is the most versatile .22 caliber cartridge of them all.
Reprinted from the August 2007 issue of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine. Subscribe today to have GunHunter delivered to your home.