Newer Powders And Bullets Expand The
Versatility Of This Long Time Varmint Cartridge.
Doubtless some version of the .22-250 appeared shortly after the .250-3000 Savage was introduced around 1912, but whoever first came up with the obvious idea probably didn’t publicize his creation. The cartridge really got going in the 1930s, when a bunch of enthusiasts started promoting the round to Winchester as a hotter varmint cartridge than the .22 Hornet they’d just brought out. Among those involved were Grosvenor Wotkyns (inventor of the .22 K-Hornet), gunsmith Jerry Gebby (who copyrighted the name “.22 Varminter” for the .22-250), and J. Bushnell Smith, a handloader and occasional writer.
The test rifle was a new Savage Axis with a sporter weight 22-inch barrel.
Winchester tested the .22-250 but eventually decided on basing their .220 Swift on the 6mm Lee Navy case, supposedly because they couldn’t quite get 4,000 feet per second with the .22-250 with bullets weighing around 50 grains. J. Bushnell Smith published a scathing American Rifleman article (or perhaps it was fiction) about his supposed difficulties in handloading the new Swift, apparently because Winchester didn’t choose “his” .22-250, but Smith was not the brightest handloader. He died in 1948 during a fire in his shop, apparently caused when he accidentally set off a large keg of smokeless powder.
Even after the introduction of the Swift, the .22-250 remained so popular that in 1963 Browning chambered it in their High-Power bolt rifle, 6 years before Remington started making factory ammo. The .22-250 “Remington” immediately became one of the two most popular commercial varmint rounds ever introduced. (The other, of course, is the .223 Remington, but it had the advantage of being a commercial version of a military cartridge.)
With today’s bullets and powders the .22-250 is an even finer round. Aside from its traditional role in varmint hunting, many hunters use the .22-250 on big game. Supposedly this is possible due to a bunch of .224 bullets designed for deep penetration, rather than varmint bullets meant to expand violently. No doubt such bullets as the Barnes Triple-Shock X-Bullet and Nosler Partition made the .22-250 more popular among deer hunters, but standard bullets also work.
The .22-250 is probably the most popular coyote cartridge ever.
John took this one in Texas a dozen years ago with a Browning A-Bolt
and a 50-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip.
The .22-250 works quite well on lighter big game. Larry Tahler
took several springbok in South Africa with professional hunter
Rob Klemp’s suppressed Sako and 55-grain Winchester Pointed
Softpoint factory loads.
In 2007, I took part in a month-long cull hunt in South Africa. One of the professional hunters involved, Rob Klemp, eventually invited me and my hunting partner Larry Tahler to use his Sako .22-250, then on its fourth barrel after taking around 12,000 springbok, a very tasty antelope about the size of pronghorn. (In Africa game meat is legally sold in restaurants and supermarkets, so meat culling is common.) We both used Rob’s rifle to take several springbok, including one I dropped at just about 500 yards—and not with headshots, as many would suppose. The bullet used was the 55-grain Winchester Pointed Softpoint, Rob Klemp’s favorite springbok bullet, normally regarded as a coyote bullet in North America. The one bullet we recovered, from a buck Larry shot at around 350 yards, was as perfectly mushroomed as any Barnes X or Nosler Partition I’ve found in bigger game.
The .22-250 is perhaps the most popular coyote cartridge of all time, and also works superbly on woodchucks and similar-sized varmints, but its popularity for prairie dog shooting started to drop after Nosler introduced the Ballistic Tip in the 1980s. Before then the .22-250 was popular for longer-range prairie dog shooting, because the varmint bullets of the day didn’t have particularly high ballistic coefficients. Bullets from smaller 0.224-inch class such as the .222 and .223 Remingtons hit a ballistic wall at around 250 or 300 yards, so many shooters took along a .22-250 for shots past 300.
However, the .22-250 is also a lot harder on barrels than a .223. In fact during July on a big town it’s possible to shoot out a barrel in one day. On one 100-plus-degree day in western Kansas, one of my hunting partners even started the fore-end of his walnut-stocked .22-250 on fire, and we had to dunk the front half of the rifle in a cooler of half-melted ice.
On the same shoot I also came to the conclusion that the .22-250 kicks a little too much for sustained prairie dog shooting. We were using medium-weight rifles made by a well-known American company, and about halfway through the morning of the second day I started flinching a little. I’m not particularly recoil sensitive, but discovered my limit is around 600 rounds in 24 hours from a 9-pound .22-250.
Jim Carmichel, long the shooting columnist for Outdoor Life, used to shoot prairie dogs with a .22-250 made by Kenny Jarrett with a very long and heavy barrel. I tried the rifle a few times on a Wyoming hunt, and it had to weigh at least 15 pounds, reducing recoil considerably. But the advent of plastic-tipped bullets added at least 100 yards to the effective range of the .223 Remington, so most prairie dog shooters quit bringing along a “big” rifle.
Another reason the .22-250 started fading as a longer-range prairie dog round was the standard rifling twist of one turn in 14 inches. This was settled on back in the days when bullets weren’t so well balanced as they are now, and a slower twist helped maintain accuracy. Today’s bullets, however, are so well balanced that rifling twists are tightening up.
The rifle used for the accompanying handloads was a Savage Axis my wife Eileen recently acquired, a sporter-weight rifle with a 22-inch barrel and a 1:12-inch twist she plans to use on coyotes, pronghorns and deer. The slightly faster twist helps with some of the newer bullets intended for big game, but doesn’t hurt accuracy with traditional-weight varmint bullets. A few factory .22-250s have even tighter twists. Nosler’s Trophy Grade .22-250, for instance, has a 1:9-inch twist, capable of stabilizing high-BC bullets of 70 grains or even a little more, one reason the new Nosler Reloading Guide 7 has a special fast-twist .22-250 section. Some other data sources also include bullets over 65 grains, and I’ve included a few samples for fast-twist barrels. Also included are a few loads with lead-free bullets, for shooters who hunt where lead-core bullets are illegal.
Most factory .22-250s have 24- or 26-inch barrels. These should add 50 to 100 fps to the velocities the Axis got in my tests, though some of the loads matched the listed speeds from loading data shot in 24-inch barrels.
For many years I pretty much stuck to good old IMR4895 when handloading the .22-250. It’s still a decent choice, but was developed in the 1930s, back when the .22-250 almost became a Winchester round. These days a bunch of new powders work even better, especially with the wider range of bullets suitable for everything from small varmints to big game.
By John Barsness
PO Box 6, Radford, VA 24143
38 N. Frontage Rd., Mona, UT 84645
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