The .223 Remington is the most widely-used centerfire rifle cartridge in the developed world. In its 5.56x45 military form, it is the primary issue ammunition for the U.S. Military and NATO forces. It is a popular sporting cartridge, and probably the most commonly used centerfire varmint cartridge. In our Readers' Poll, the .223 Rem (both standard and improved) ranked first among preferred varmint rounds. The .223 Rem is efficient and versatile. It can sling 40-grainers past 3650 fps, and deliver 90gr VLDs accurately at 1000 yards. Its parent case, the .222 Remington, was once a mainstay of benchrest competition. Today, with custom match bullets, the .223 Remington can still deliver impressive accuracy, shooting well under quarter-MOA in a good rifle.
.223 Remington Cartridge History The .223 Rem traces its roots to the .222 Remington, a round popular with benchrest and varmint shooters in the 1950s. When the US military was looking for a new high-speed small-caliber round to replace the .308 Winchester (7.62x51), Remington started with the .222 Remington, and stretched it to increase powder capacity by about 20% in 1958 to make the .222 Remington Magnum. The cartridge was not accepted by the military, but it was introduced commercially. In 1964, the 5.56x45 mm, also based on a stretched .222 Rem case (and very similar to the .222 Rem Magnum), was adopted along with the new M-16 rifle. As with the .222 Rem Magnum, the new military case achieved enhanced velocity (over the .222 Rem) by increasing case capacity with a longer body section and shorter neck. This military modification of the .222 Rem was originally called the .222 Special but was later renamed the .223 Remington. In military metric nomenclature, the round is called the 5.56x45. For the full history of the 5.56x45 cartridge, read the 5.56x45 Timeline, by Daniel Watters.
.223 Remington vs. 5.56x45--Chambering and Throat Considerations Is the .223 Remington the same as the 5.56x45? The answer is yes and no. There ARE differences between the .223 Remington as shot in civilian rifles and the 5.56x45 in military use. While the external cartridge dimensions are essentially the same, the .223 Remington is built to SAAMI specs, rated to 50,000 CUP max pressure, and normally has a shorter throat. The 5.56x45 is built to NATO specs, rated to 60,000 CUP max pressure, and has a longer throat, optimized to shoot long bullets. That said, there are various .223 Remington match chambers, including the Wylde chamber, that feature longer throats. Military 5.56x45 brass often, but not always, has thicker internal construction, and slightly less capacity than commercial .223 Rem brass.
Should you be worried about shooting 5.56x45 milspec ammo in a .223 Remington? The answer really depends on your chamber. 5.56 x45 ammo is intended for chambers with longer throats. If you shoot hot 5.56x45 ammo in short-throated SAAMI-spec chambers you can encounter pressure issues. The new long-throated 'Wylde' chamber allows safe use of military ammo. Wylde chambers are quite common in Rock River guns. Other manufacturers, such as Fulton Armory, offer modified "match chambers" with extended throats that allow safe use of 5.56x45 ammo in .223 Remington rifles. For a complete discussion of the .223 Rem vs. 5.56x45 question, read this Tech Notice from Winchester, and this GunZone Commentary by Dean Speir. Without belaboring the point, we'll repeat the official SAAMI position: "Chambers for military rifles have a different throat configuration than chambers for sporting firearms which, together with the full metal jacket of the military projectile, may account for the higher pressures which result when military ammunition is fired in a sporting chamber. SAAMI recommends that a firearm be fired only with the cartridge for which it is specifically chambered by the manufacturer."
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Twist Rates The .223 Rem shoots a wide range of bullets very effectively, from 35gr flat-based varmint bullets, to ultra-long 90gr VLDs. However, you'll need the right twist rate for your choice of bullet. For max velocity and accuracy with the lightest bullets, a 1:14" twist may be ideal. More versatile is a 1:12" twist that will allow you to shoot the popular 60-64 grain match bullets. (However, a 1:9" twist is needed for the steel-core 62gr bullet used in the M855 military loads, because that bullet is as long as most 70-grainers.) For normal lead-core jacketed bullets, a 1:9" twist will let you shoot up to 73gr bullets. Since most .223 Rem shooters prefer bullets in the 50-73gr range, a good "do-it-all" solution is a 9-twist, unless you're a Highpower competitor.
For long-range match purposes, long, high-BC bullets are favored for their ability to buck the wind. You'll want at least a 1:8" twist to shoot the 77gr and 80gr MatchKings and 80gr Bergers. To shoot the new 90gr pills, a 1:6.5" is recommended, though a true 1:7" will work in most conditions.
Overall, what twist rate is best? For varminting we like a 12-twist. The slower twist will give you a bit more velocity, and minimize the risk of jacket failure at high rpms. For general use, an 8-twist barrel will let you shoot the excellent 77gr and 80gr Sierra MatchKings and nearly all varieties of non-tracer milsurp ammo. We'd only select a 1:7" or faster twist barrel if we had a need to shoot the 90gr VLDs.
Barrel Twist Rate
1:7" or 1:6.5"
Max Bullet Weight
90gr BT VLD
Acknowledgements: Big thanks to Andy ("Graymist") for his load data and many hours spent measuring brass, to Jason for providing some cool photos, and to Sierra Bullets, for making its .223 Rem load data available. Berger, Sierra, and Hornady also provided bullet samples.
Loading for the .223 Remington Cartridge
General Reloading Advice There are no special tricks to reloading the .223 Remington cartridge. Use the same methods and tools you would use for other centerfire cartridges. With anything other than Lapua brass, we recommend you debur the flash hole. Sort by weight if you are loading for competition. Trim the brass to a uniform length and chamfer the case mouth inside and out. We like to use a 28-degree chamfering tool from Sinclair Int'l or Hollands for the inside chamfering, and a 45-degree Forster tool for the outside chamfering. Powder, primer, and bullet selection is discussed in separate sections below. For dies, Forster, Hornady, and Redding sizers and seaters are all good. For shooters who prefer neck-sizing, the Lee Collet Die produces very straight ammo with low run-out. To learn more about advanced case prep techniques, read Preparing Cases for Long-Range Accuracy by Jacob Gottfredson.
Reloading for AR15s and other .223 Rem Gas Guns With their multiple bolt lugs and rapid locking/unlocking, AR15s are more sensitive to pressure and bolt thrust issues than stout, modern custom bolt actions. There is also a risk of slam-fires in AR15s. Therefore, some high-end loads that may work in a BAT, Barnard, Borden or Stiller bolt action will be too hot for an AR15. This is why Sierra issues a completely separate load map for AR15s chambered in .223 Rem and 5.56x45 (see notes above on 5.56x45 throat length concerns). We recommend the you initially reduce loads at least 0.7 grains for an AR15 compared to a bolt action, and never exceed the powder manufacturers' recommended loads. Click on the button at right to download Sierra's latest .223 Rem loads for the AR15.
With bolt-action rifles, if you shoot a moderate load, just neck-sizing the brass is a viable alternative for a few loading cycles, though eventually you'll have to run the cases through a body die or full-length sizing die. However, with an AR15, we strongly recommend you full-length size your cases every time. With proper dies, this does not over-stress the brass or lessen the useful life. For full-length sizing where you need control over neck tension, we recommend the Redding Type 'S' full-length bushing die. If you reload the same brand of brass all the time, another solution is to use a Forster full-length die with the neck honed to give your desired neck tension. Forster will hone its dies to your specification for about $12.00 plus shipping.
High-Volume Reloading for Varminters by Graymist
Although I enjoy reloading, I would rather spend time hunting. The .223 Rem can benefit from all the case prep tricks, but good accurate .223 Rem varmint ammo has few secrets. Inexpensive hunting ammo can be assembled from once-fired military brass, your choice of 40-55 grain bullets, and most small rifle primers. Important if you are going to use military brass is to remove the primer crimp. I have used both reamers and swagers. I prefer the Dillon primer pocket swager for ease of use. For the prairie dog hunter using military brass you can swage 300+ cases an hour with the Dillon tool. [Editor's NOTE: If you use new IMG (Guatemalan) milsurp brass, $89/1000 from Wideners, no crimp removal is required.] Aside from the primer pocket swaging, full-length sizing is another step I do. Here a Dillon or Wilson case gauge will help determine how much sizing the die needs to do. The next step in case preparation is checking your brass length. In both the .223 Rem and .223 AI, the maximum case length is 1.760". I use a Lyman Power trimmer to trim them back to 1.750". Any trimmer will do the job. Last step is to chamfer the inside and outside of the case neck. Then it's time for primer, powder, and bullet. I have two sets of dies and am hard pressed to say which makes the best ammo. Both the Lee and Forster give low run-out and make accurate ammo. Overall length in the .223 Rem varies greatly due to difference in throat length. I measure with a Sinclair OAL tool and then load to .015-.030" off the lands for my bolt guns. However, my AR15 barrels all have long throats so I simply load all 40-60 grain bullets to fit the magazines in my AR15s.
For a recent prairie dog hunt I resorted to a Dillon 550 manual-indexing progressive press to speed up the chores. I resized and loaded in two separate operations as I had swaging and trimming to do between those operations. With the sizing, swaging and trimming done I could then load 300 rounds an hour. Dillon's powder measure is very consistent with Benchmark, H335, AA2230 and TAC.
Want a real shortcut? Try once-fired military brass from Scharch Manufacturing. Scharch does all the cleaning, reaming, sizing and trimming. Primed brass is also available. Three years ago I bought processed brass from Scharch and it has worked well.
.223 Remington Components--Brass, Powder, Primers
Brass--New and Once-Fired
To achieve high levels of accuracy in the .223 Rem, you need quality brass. Among the dozens of .223 Rem/5.56x45 brass makers, Lapua produces the highest quality and most uniform brass we have found. If you look at the charts, new lots of Lapua .223 brass showed the smallest extreme spread in weight among all brands, even though we measured 100 Lapua cases as opposed to 50 with other brands. Lapua is more expensive, but you can reload Lapua cases a dozen times or more. Also, Lapua maintains primer pocket tightness with hot loads better than other brands. After Lapua, the recent Lake City brass is very good, and it offers the highest case capacity, at 30.6 grains. Winchester brass is favored by many Highpower shooters. Current Hornady brass has shown very good uniformity (see chart).
Aver. Wt. (Sample)
Lapua (new lot)
Lake City '04
Though .223 Rem rifles certainly benefit from being fed ultra-premium brass (i.e. Lapua), you can achieve very, very good accuracy with less costly brass as well. Graymist notes: "Once-fired Lake City is great, and you can have excellent results with most of the commercial brass if you just sort it. Just don't expect it to hold up to a dozen or more reloadings like Lapua."
From a reloading standpoint, the important thing to note is the rather substantial variance in case capacity from one brand of brass to another--as much as 2.6 grains! So, you cannot assume that a particular "pet load" will work if you change brass brands--you'll have to do new testing. Whenever you get a new batch of brass, you should measure at least a half-dozen to get the average actual H20 capacity. Compare this with your other cases. You may need to add or subtract powder to maintain a given velocity. Or, if you are already at max pressure levels, you will have to reduce the load if your new batch of brass has less capacity.
For varminters looking to acquire large numbers of cases at low cost there are some real bargains to be had. Wideners has NEW Guatemalan brass for just $89 per 1000 cases. This is good stuff, made on U.S. OLIN machinery exported to Latin America. MidwayUSA now offers Federal Lake City brass (item 197849) at $81.99 per 500. That works out to just $16.40 per hundred. Shooters report this brass is very uniform and shoots exceptionally well. Note, this is a discontinued itemso returns can only be made to Federal, not Midway. And Scharch Mfg. offers fully processed military brass (mostly Lake City), for $88.99 per thousand. This is once-fired brass has been reamed, cleaned, sized and trimmed to 1.75".
.223 Rem Case Weight vs. Capacity
Lake City 06
Sellier & Belloit
Lake City 04
Lapua (new lot)
Lapua (old lot)
.223 AI Case Capacities
Lapua (old lot)
Lapua (new lot)
Lake City 02
* Average case weight of sized, deprimed, once fired brass (except new Lapua lot). Weight is average of sample lot.
** Case capacity of three sample cases that weighed closest to the average weight of that brand. All cases were full-length sized and trimmed to 1.750". A spent primer was inserted in the primer pocket, the case weighed. Then the cases filled with distilled water to the top of the case mouth and weighed again.
Powders The .223 Remington is a reloader's dream. Not finicky, it shoots well with a wide variety of powders, both extruded (stick) and granular (ball). Ask a dozen .223 shooters and you'll probably get a dozen different powder recommendations. For the lighter bullets, H335 ball powder is a proven performer, and N133 shows outstanding accuracy. For 55gr to 60gr bullets, Benchmark, TAC, H4895, and AA2015 are excellent choices. For the 69gr and 77gr SMK, Sierra recommends VV N540 and N140 respectively. Finally, for the heaviest bullets, in the 80-90gr range, good choices include Reloader 15, VV N140, N550, and Varget. But there are many other good combinations. If you need a single, do-it-all powder for your .223 Rem loads, H4895, AA 2015, and TAC are all versatile and cost-effective. If you're loading with a progressive press, you'll find that ball powders such as H335, BLC-2, and TAC meter best.
H335, N133, RL10X
AA 2015, Benchmark, H335, H4895, TAC
AA 2520, N540, Varget
Varget, Reloader 15, N140, N550
The .223 Remington uses a Small Rifle primer. In a bolt gun you'll get good results from all the major brands: CCI, Federal, Remington, Winchester. The Rem 7 1/2s work very well with both stick and ball powders. Benchresters have shown a bias towards the Federal 205M (match), but in our informal testing, the CCI BR4s shot just as well as the Federals, while the CCIs delivered lower ES/SD with some powders. In fact, we've found that the "plain Jane" CCI 400s were closely matched with the much more expensive BR4s. Both can deliver good accuracy with low ES and SD. (Currently, at Powder Valley, CCI 400s cost $19.00 per thousand, while CCI BR4s cost $29.50 per thousand.) Some primers do seem to work better with particular powder/bullet combinations, so it's wise to do your own testing, and you may want to test CCI 400s vs. CCI BR4s head to head. You may find that the cheaper CCI 400s work just as well as the pricey BR4s in your gun.
For use in semi-automatics and AR15s, we advise that you stick to CCI and Remington primers. These brands have harder cups and are much less likely to pierce primers. Also, the AR15 has a free-floating firing pin that dents the primer on loading. This creates a risk of slam fires. So you want hard primer cups. The latest generation of Winchester primers, with brass-colored cups, should be avoided for AR15 use. The old silver Winchester primers worked fine, but the current WSRs are soft and can be pierced more easily than CCI or Rem primers. A poll of Highpower competitors (mostly shooting ARs) showed that Rem 7 1/2 primers are the most popular (33.23%), followed by CCIs (25.78%). The majority of CCI users favored the CCI BR4s, but both CCI 400s (small rifle standard) and CCI 450s (small rifle magnum) were also popular. Only 10.25% of Highpower shooters polled used Federal primers (either 205M or 205). At the time of the poll, many shooters reported using WSRs, but this was the older version with silver cups. See NationalMatch.us website for complete poll results.
For maximum protection against primer piercing and slam-fires, CCI also markets the #41 military primer. Possessing a very hard cup, with decreased sensitivity, #41 primers are designed to resist slam fires in rifles lacking firing pin retraction springs. In a bolt-gun or semi-auto AR-15, it is not necessary to use #41 military primers. But this is an appropriate option for some military applications.
Bullet Choices for the .223 Remington and .223 AI
The bullets used in the .223 Rem and .223 AI will be .224 diameter. The selection of .224 bullets is huge, likely bested only by the number of 30-caliber bullets available. On the light end, one can find nearly frangible bullets that almost vaporize when they hit the dirt, yet can withstand whatever velocity (and RPMs) the cartridge can throw at it. In this range you have the composite-core 36gr "Varmint Grenade" from Barnes, and the 40gr V-Max and BlitzKing offerings. These work very well on varmint sized critters as well, and usually don't exit. Check out this High-Speed Video Clip of a "Varmint Grenade" exploding upon impact as it hits a grape at 4344 fps. Barnes explains: "Originally developed for military applications, the bullet's copper-tin composite core is highly frangible. The new FB, hollow-cavity bullet remains intact at ultra-high velocities, yet fragments explosively on impact--it virtually vaporizes ground squirrels and prairie dogs. The bullet blows up completely at high speed, creating little or no exit wound on larger animals."
For a standard "hunting" bullet, Sierra offers its 65gr Game King, and Nosler its 60gr Partition, and Barnes has its Triple-Shock" X-Bullet in 53, 62, and 70gr weights. The 70-grainer has good penetrating ability on medium-size game, but it does requires a 1:8" or faster twist to stabilize.
Match Bullets For close-range competition (100-300 yards) one can find a large variety of 50-53gn Match bullets, both custom made and commercial. The Sierra 52gr BTMK is a popular "short-line" load with Highpower shooters. Custom 52s in .224 caliber are offered by the benchrest bullet-makers, such as Bart Sauter, Lester Bruno, and Don Gentner. Lester also makes a very accurate 57. We've had very good luck with Bergers in the 50-65gr range. Berger offers a panoply of options, with Berger FB bullets offered in 50, 52, 55, 60, 62, and 64-grain weights. This wide selection lets you literally "pick your BC", from .241 for the 50, to .306 for the 64 grainer. If you're looking for do-it-all bullet that can shoot bugholes on paper and also perform in the varmint field, these Bergers will fit the bill.
Mid-Range (300-600 yard) Bullets
For the mid-range match shooters there are even more options available in the 68-80gr weight range--many illustrated on this page. Check out the 69gr Lapua Scenar (.321 BC), 75 A-Max (.435 BC), and Berger 75gr VLD (.447 BC). Some guys have asked us: "Please don't tell people about the 75 A-Max. Right now these are super cheap, and they shoot like a house on fire." The A-Maxs are indeed a major bargain. Midsouth Shooters Supply sells the 75gr A-Max for just $13.79/100, and the 80gr A-Max for $14.92/100. Sweet deal.
Long-Range Match Bullets
The 77gr and 80gr Sierra MatchKing are probably the "default" 22-Cal bullet choices among long-range Highpower shooters today, but we have heard many good reports about the 80gr A-Max and the 75gr and 80gr Berger Match VLDs. If you're shooting an 8-twist barrel at long range, you should try all the options and see what shoots best in your barrel. The new 90-grainers from Sierra and Berger caused a stir when introduced in 2006, but we haven't heard many reports from shooters using them in competition, possibly because one needs a very fast twist barrel (1:6.5" is preferred), and the 80s already shoot so well. Robert Whitley tells us he rarely sees a 22-caliber shooter using anything heavier than an 80 in prone and Highpower matches. But that may change as more competitors acquire faster-twist barrels.
Chart based on max velocities (by bullet type) in Sierra Bullets' Load Manual for bolt-action .223 Remingtons.
Commercial .223 Rem Ammo--New and Remanufactured
There is a vast array of new and re-manufactured factory ammo available, with bullets ranging from 35gr up to 80gr. For match purposes, the top three choices are Black Hills, Federal Gold Medal Match, and Lapua. For price and quality, it is hard to beat the Black Hills. David Tubb notes: "Even though I normally had my own competitive ammo, on those occasions where I am required to shoot factory ammunition, I always try to pick the best. In my opinion Black Hills is unsurpassed." Black Hills sells a full line of .223 ammunition, including long-range match ammo loaded with 75gr HP, and 77 Sierra MK. Dennis DeMille won the 2003 National Service Rifle Championship shooting 77gr Black Hills ammo.
Black Hills also offers a wide range of Remanufactured Ammo, in bullet weights from 36 grains to 77 grains. Black Hills' reloads employ quality components and shoot nearly as well as the brand new ammo. You'll find good prices on Black Hills remanufactured ammo at Creedmoor Sports, and MidwayUSA.com. For example, Creedmoor Sports offers the remanufactured Black Hills with 77gr SMKs for $26.55 for 50 rounds. That's less than half the cost of new .223 Federal Gold Medal Match, which runs about $19 for 20 rounds.
For Varminters, Black Hills offers the following selection of remanufactured ammo:
36 Vrmt Grenade
52 HP match
Lapua also offers excellent new ammo loaded with 55gr FMJ, 55gr SP, or 70gr HPBT match bullets. This is very good stuff (with the best .223 Rem brass available) but the 70 grainers are relatively expensive at $26.99 per box of 20 rounds from Grafs.com.
.223 Rem Ackley Improved--More Speed, More Power
Why the AI?
Some shooters own a half-dozen .223s and they just want to try something different. That natural curiousity can be reason enough to try a .223 Rem Ackley Improved. But there are also three very logical (and quantifiable) reasons to go with this chambering.
Reason Number One is Speed. Depending on the powder, brass, and barrel length, the Ackley version of the .223 Remington will, typically, deliver from 100 to 140 fps more speed with any given bullet. (Light bullets gain more.) That makes a difference, particularly for varminters looking for a flatter trajectory and more explosive effect on target.
Likewise, long-range shooters will benefit from improved ballistics. The AI's greater case capacity will let you run a given bullet faster, or let you step up to a heavier bullet with better BC.
Reason Number Two is Brass Stability. The .223 Rem AI has a 40° shoulder. Once the cases are properly fire-formed, the steeper shoulder resists case growth. You'll find the AI brass is extremely stable and you won't have to trim the cases as often. Many .223 AI shooters also find they can reload the case many times before full-length sizing is required.
Reason Number Three is Availability of Components. Compared to other "hot rod" cases such as the 22 Dasher or 22 PPC, .223 brass is cheap and plentiful. You can buy new IMG (Guatemalan) brass from Wideners for $89 per 1000 cases. Top Brass (Scharch Mfg.) offers fully processed, once-fired Lake City military brass for the same $89/1000. And many shooters already have an ample supply of .223 Rem commercial brass. Rather than let that old .223 brass languish--Ackleyize it.
How Much Extra Powder Capacity Will I Get? The .223 Remington is a compact case, with relatively limited case capacity. Ackleyizing the case adds roughly 7-8% to the capacity. The exact amount of the increase in case capacity depends on your brass and the reamer used to cut the chamber, but the range is between 2.2 grains and 2.8 grains. It's reasonable to figure you'll gain about 2.5 grains extra capacity.
What About Dies? The .223 Rem AI is the most popular of the Ackleyized cartridges. Hence a wide selection of dies is available. Redding, RCBS and Lee all sell .223 Rem AI (40° shoulder) sizing and seating dies. Wilson also makes inline seater dies and neck-sizing dies for use with arbor presses. Our current favorite set-up would be a Redding Type "S" full-length bushing die combined with a Wilson seater. While it's a good idea to have a full-length die (or body die), the stability of the .223 Rem AI case means that, if you avoid max loads, you can get by with just neck-sizing your brass for a few reloading cycles. This is one of the advantage of the Ackleyized case.
The inexpensive Lee dies work fine. Graymist reports: "Lee Pacesetter 223 AI dies were purchased through Midway for less than $26.00. The brass only has to fit in [my one 223 AI rifle], so unlike the 223 Remington brass I am only partially sizing the neck of the case. Runout has been under .002" with the Lee dies. I recently had a friend run a 223 AI reamer in a Forster 223 Remington seating sleeve so I could use a Forster Ultra Seater die. The only real advantage with the Forster seating die is I can use the micrometer adjustment when seating different bullets."
Where Can I Find 223 AI Load Data? Apart from Graymist's .223 AI page, and Reloaders' Nest, there is limited online load info for the .223 Rem AI. Sierra plans to add a .223 AI section to its reloading manual, but that is still months away. Jason Baney has acquired a .223 Rem AI and we will be adding data to this page over time. But until all that info arrives, it's best to start with .223 Rem loads and work up. Since the .223 Rem AI only has about 8% more capacity than the parent case, the best thing to do is to start with a known, good load for the .223 Remington and then work up your AI load incrementally. With the light bullets and a fast powder such as H335, you'll probably use about 1.5 grains more powder in the Ackley case. But this is only a guideline. Since .223 Rem brass varies up to 2.6 grains in internal capacity from one headstamp to another, you'll have to work out your own best AI loads incrementally.
What is the Best Method to Fire-Form the Cases? Fire-forming .223 AI brass is very easy compared to some of the other Ackleyized wildcats. This is because the overall geometry doesn't change very dramatically other than the shoulder angle. You're not blowing the shoulder forward into the neck. Graymist simply loads a stout charge of H335 with 40gr V-Maxs: "Fireforming was straight forward. Put the 223 cartridge in the rifle and pull the trigger. None of the complications I had when forming other Ackley Improved cartridges. I lost no cases when fireforming. Fireforming loads are superbly accurate, so don't waste them on punching paper. Form your brass while you hunt." Jason Baney, to save on barrel wear (and bullet costs), is fireforming using pistol powder and cornmeal: "Try some Bullseye powder along with cornmeal and a patch to give you 95%+ formed cases. In my testing, I used 8 grains of Bullseye, topped with 12 grains of cornmeal (you have to settle it a little bit to fit it all in), with half a .22 caliber (1/2" x1") patch stuffed in the neck to secure the charge. This will give you a mostly AI-formed case with no bullet. The shoulders will not be as sharp as a case that has been 2-times-fired with a full-house load, but in my opinion, the cornmeal-forming procedure will help get to a true 'Ackley' load sooner. NOTE: Though there is no bullet, the cornmeal charge is still very dangerous--use the same precautions you would employ with normal ammunition. Likewise, use hearing protection."
What Brass Should I Use? You can get excellent results with many different brands--Lapua, Lake City, Hornady, Winchester, and IMG to name a few. But Graymist did an interesting comparison test in his .223 AI, comparing Lapua with Winchester: "After fire forming, I recorded four groups with the Lapua brass. The average group size was .293". (Individual groups ran .221", .366", .389" and .195"). The .293" average Lapua group size is about .197" smaller than the average of the six best groups fired previously in this rifle using Winchester brass." How does the Lapua brass hold up over time? "After six firings the Lapua primer pockets remained tight, bolt closure was still easy, and no cases exceeded the 1.760" maximum case length. (Most of the Lapua cases, when formed, measured 1.750"). At $40.00 per 100, Lapua .223 Rem brass is two times more expensive than Winchester or Remington but it represents a substantial improvement in load consistency in my .223 AI. I will acquire more. It might also be noted that current lots of Lapua 223 brass are 10 grains lighter (with 2.1 grains more capacity) than the brass I used in this test."
.223 Remington ARs for the VARMINT FIELDS
AR15 and the .223 Remington The combination of the .223 Remington and a scoped, heavy-barrel AR15 are a varmint's worst nightmare. A skilled shooter with an accurized AR can make quick work of a dog-town. The low-recoil, high-velocity .223 Rem cartridge, in a platform that allows immediate follow-up shots, is hard to beat as an efficient varmint eradicator. The AR's modular design permits you to easily change barrels by just pulling a couple of pins and swapping uppers. The AR is durable and relatively impervious to wet and cold. A vast inventory of accessories is available for it. Here's what our readers have to say about the AR in .223 Rem:
"I had a Colt Accurized Rifle that I used for groundhogs, called fox and an occasional coyote. The only change made to the rifle was a trigger job and a Harris bipod. It would put 55 grain Nosler Ballistic Tips into a 1/2" circle faster than I could point and shoot. [I used] once-fired Lake City brass at couple cents a piece.... I really enjoyed that rifle--it was about as accurate as any production rifle I've owned--it wouldn't quite keep up with the Coopers but the second round was a whole lot faster."--Gunamonth
"I think the AR is the perfect varmint gun. If I were limited to only one gun and one gun forever it would be the AR. I shoot a lot of prairie dogs--while my friends with fancy single shots are trying to load another round, I will have four or five dogs down. Fast second shots count when you are shooting small dogs in the wind. Plus I can buy [quality] .223 ammo to shoot dogs, no reloading. The best thing about an AR is the fast follow-up shot. By the time you have reloaded a bolt rig for the second shot, the dog is long gone."--ChuckW2
"The only bad thing about hunting with the AR-15 is that the hunts tend to be shorter, as the animals die so much faster!"--Lance in Oregon
"When I was shooting so many prairie dogs, I had a custom AR built by Bill Wylde, his work is superb. I had a heavy Hart 28" barrel installed on a Colt action with a custom set trigger. I could agg five 5-shot groups in the .285 area in a 9-twist. When shooting prairie dogs, I found that I simply wiped out the dogs in the areas that I was hunting in. My rifle weighed 15.5 lbs. with the heavy bbl, bird shot in the butt, and a heavy, flat plate on the forearm. It was simply a joy to shoot. I got rid of it because it was not fair for my hunting partner. When we would roll up on a dog town, the prairie dogs seemed to be feeding in groups. I would start off on the edge of the 'party' of dogs and work my way to the other side, killing most of them. I was shooting a round off every 6-8 seconds when working on a 'party' of dogs. Shooting the AR on a prarie dog town reminded me of the use of the Sharps rifle on a Buffalo herd...you just kill them all." --K. Candler
Outfitting the Ultimate AR Varminter
Out of the box, a standard AR15 is far from optimal for varminting. Right off the bat, you'll want to upgrade the trigger and fit a metal or carbon free-float tube. (These are available in either round or box section). A custom heavy barrel is a must for a serious varmint rifle--it adds accuracy and won't overheat as quickly.
For most of us, when shooting from a bench or prone with a big scope, the standard AR stock is too short--it's hard to get correct eye relief and still keep the butt on your shoulder. Moreover, the standard buttstock isn't well suited for use in a rear sandbag (it has too much drop), and the rear sling swivel is a hindrance. We suggest you fit a buttstock with a straight section on the bottom to ride a rear sandbag, and adjustable length. The Magpul PRS (Precision Rifle Stock) offers both these features, plus an adjustable cheekpiece.
Mounting large scopes on an AR can be problematic. Many varmint shooters use scopes with up to 30X max magnification. Most of these scopes need to be positioned pretty far forward to allow proper eye relief. You'll need a way to get that front ring out well ahead of the receiver. Here's a picture of Larry Medler's AR. Note how far forward the scope is positioned to give proper eye relief.
A good AR varmint rifle will benefit from an extended scope rail that will allow you to move the whole scope forward. You can either use a cantilevered front mount such as the LaRue or an extended scope rail, such as the A.R.M.S. rail or the GG&G GS-1 unit shown at right. The GS-1 puts the scope far enough forward to allow proper eye relief without using long butt extensions that stretch the length of pull.
Larry Medler also uses a metal plate attached to the float tube. This makes the whole rig much more stable when using a pedestal front rest. The plate can mount directly to the float tube or it can be attached to an accessory rail. It's relatively easy to build your own plate from aluminum or delrin. A set-up like this works well for F-Class competition as well as varminting.
Last but not least, you'll want to some kind of brass-catching system to keep your valuable brass out of the weeds. There are both rigid and fabric brass catchers for the AR family of rifles. We like this simple mesh bag with a zipper at the bottom. It attaches with Velcro fasteners and costs less than $15.00 at CheaperThanDirt.com.
Cooper Arms' Montana Varminter is available in both .223 Remington, and .223 Remington AI, using a single-shot Cooper m21 action with Sako-style extractor. This handsome rifle features a vented forearm to aid in barrel cooling. All Montana Varminters have AA Claro Walnut stocks. Like all Cooper centerfire rifles, a Montana Varminter in .223 Remington or .223 Rem AI is guaranteed to deliver 1/2" 3-shot groups at 100 yards using hand-loaded ammunition. MSRP for the Montana Varminter is $1459.00, while the basic Varminter costs $1198.00.
The Model 700 VSSF-II represents one of the most capable rifles in Remington's inventory. A spin-polished stainless action is mated to a quality H-S Precision composite stock with an aluminum bedding block. The textured stock is colored black with green webbing and features a contoured beavertail fore-end with ambidextrous finger grooves, and twin front swivel studs to accommodate both a sling and a bipod. As a crowning touch, the flutes on the 26" barrel are finished in matte black. Suggested retail for the VSSF-II is $1284.00, with street price around $1000.00 in .223 Rem.
Long-favored by serious varminters, the Savage 12-BVSS is ready-to-run right out of the box. With a strong, pillar-bedded laminated stock, and fluted 26" heavy barrel in 1:9" twist, the single-shot 12-BVSS can often deliver 1/2-MOA groups with tuned handloads and can easily shoot under 1 MOA with factory ammo. The crisp, AccuTrigger" can be adjusted down to about 1.5 pounds, so all you really need is to skim-bed the action and add a scope and you're ready for the varmint fields. MSRP for the 10-pound BVSS is $746.00, with street price under $630.00.
The Howa 1500 Varminter Supreme is an excellent rifle for the price. You can often find the laminated Howa varminters for under $600.00 (MSRP is $711.00). The Varmint Supreme features a sturdy and very comfortable laminated stock with vent holes for barrel cooling. The action is strong and smooth, and the barrels are probably a bit better, on average, than you'll get from Remington.
.223 Remington and .223 AI Load Map
40 Sierra BlitzK
Sierra's Accuracy Load for AR15s. Try 28.4 gr H335 for 3500 fps.
Loads great in a Dillon. Used last summer to hunt prairie dogs.
Graymist's favorite 50gr load. Has worked in every 223 he has owned. Also work with Nosler BT and Sierra BlitzKing.
A great load with a new powder. Close to book max.
50 Speer TNT
Vihtavuori MAX load for BOLT GUN, 2.244" COAL. Very Accurate.
52 Sierra BT MK
Reliable, moderate pressure AR15 "short line" load for service rifle comps.
53 Sierra HPFB
A good practical BOLT GUN load. Loads great in the Dillon.
53 Sierra FB MK
Sierra "Accuracy Load" for AR15s.
55 Speer SP
Hodgdon MAX load for BOLT GUN. Meters great.
60 Sierra FBHP
Sierra "Accuracy Load" for BOLT GUNS.
Graymist's favorite 60gr AR15 load. Super Accurate. Good choice for groundhogs.
69 Lapua Scenar
Vihtavuori's MAX load for BOLT GUN. Start at 24.2.
69 Sierra MK
AR-friendly load. Very Accurate. Watch for powder lot variations though.
75 JLK VLD
Hodgdon MAX load for BOLT GUN. Too hot for AR15.
77 Sierra MK
Close to a "standard" load for AR15 long range matches. You can substitute 23.9 Varget.
80 Sierra MK
Sierra MAX "Accuracy Load" for AR15s. RL15 is good for 2600+
80 Sierra MK
Sierra "Accuracy Load" for BOLT GUNS.
.223 Remington Ackley Improved Loads Below -- DO NOT USE in Standard Case
Graymist's fire-forming load.
40 Nosler BT
Graymist's 40gr Varmint Load.
Graymist's 50gr Varmint Load.
Graymist's fire-forming load.
Graymist's Accuracy Load in formed brass.
Very accurate seated just into lands.
Very Accurate. In LC brass, shoots in twos at 100; .47" in Savage at 200 yds.
Techshooter Load. Groups 0.6" at 200 yds in 27" Savage PacNor, LC Brass.
Berger 80 VLD
Techshooter Load. Groups 0.7" at 200 yds in 27" Savage PacNor, LC Brass.
WARNING: With all loads, ALWAYS START 10% LOW and work up incrementally.
WARNING: ALWAYS start 10% below these loads and work up. Pressures can vary dramatically from one barrel to another. Seating depths have a huge effect on case pressures--moving the bullet just .015" one way or another can push a "safe" load into the danger zone. Powder lot variances can be extreme--you may have to adjust a full grain or more. Whenever you buy new powder, even the same brand, start 10% low. NEVER assume pressures will be safe if you change lots or ANY component. Case web growth is probably the most reliable indicator of over-charge. By the time you're getting stiff bolt lift or ejector marks with fresh brass you've exceeded proper pressure levels. Ambient temperatures can alter pressures considerably. Don't assume cold weather loads are safe in summer. As you approach max loads, reduce the load increments. Just 0.2 grains can make a difference.
Comparative Ballistics (Drop from 100yd Zero, Drift in 10 mph Crosswind)
80gr Sierra MK
11.79" | 6.71"
82.31" | 30.34"
348.23" | 100.52"
80gr Sierra MK
10.85" | 6.36"
76.37" | 28.84"
323.65" | 96.13"
80gr Sierra MK
9.43" | 5.96"
67.54" | 26.83"
285.01" | 88.83"
80gr Sierra MK
9.02" | 5.87"
64.96" | 26.21"
274.13" | 87.71"
105 Berger VLD
10.91" | 5.08"
73.33" | 22.35"
286.0" | 71.14"
8.97" | 4.24"
60.82" | 18.25"
232.3" | 57.0"
Drop and Wind-Drift calculated with Point-Blank Software for 70° F temp, and 1000' altitude. BCs were 0.420 for 80 SMK, 0.535 for Berger 105 VLD, 0.585 for 115 DTAC.