other By: Stan Trzoniec | October, 23
The .22 K-Hornet, .222 Remington, .224 Weatherby and, perhaps one of my all-time favorites, the .221 Fireball, have all shown great promise when taken out to the hunting fields. Naturally, there are still more to be covered, for the list is never-ending it seems. That’s the fun of it, and that’s how our selection for this issue came about.
Looking over a list of possible cartridges to play with, I was amazed at the variety available from The Montana Rifleman. Brian Sipe, president of that company, and I had discussed varmint cartridges over the phone. We talked about production and wildcats, rifles, barrels – in short the whole gamut of .22 centerfires. Our conversation seemed to have no end, so Brian offered to forward a list of his services for those who might want to chamber an existing rifle or change a barrel to octagonal, fluted or even stainless configuration.
When the list arrived, I was pleasantly surprised and some- what overwhelmed. This man and his company will take just about any rifle – Browning, Enfield, Marlin, Martini, Mauser, Remington, Ruger, Savage, SAKO, Springfield, Winchester – and convert it to just about anything a grown man would desire. At last count you can choose from about 155 different cartridges that range from the .17 Ackley Hornet to the .50-140 Sharps. How about a new barrel? No problem. With eight different contours, configurations and availability in chrome moly and stainless, it’s not really that hard to put together a one-of-a-kind custom rifle for your shooting pleasure.
In any event, running down the list of potential candidates, the .225 Winchester seemed to beckon. For starters I had a quantity of brass, which Winchester still manufactures along with factory loads. Granted, there is only one load, but considering the popularity of the .225 Winchester, the parent company surely deserves credit where credit is due. That’s a big plus since I didn’t have to form the brass from another cartridge.
Be that as it may, a Ruger No. 1 in my rack soon became an interesting candidate. Out of the box, it came from Newport chambered for the .243 Winchester, and since I had another favorite in the same cartridge, the Ruger was sent to Sipe.
In all probability the Ruger No. 1 is the easiest rifle to have rechambered into another cartridge. In the simplest of terms, you unscrew the barrel, modify the ejector/extractor to the rim size of the new cartridge and place the new barrel on the action. Consumers like it because the crossover costs are more in line with what they have in mind for a newly chambered rifle.Brian suggested an octagonal barrel, 26 inches long, with a muzzle dimension of roughly .685 inch across the flats. This would fall into his No. 5 contour, which he calls a “heavy sporter.” While I wasn’t too enthused about the heft of it, I went along with his suggestion. (I like to walk the fields with my varmint rifle rather than stay in one place for hours at a time, and the overall weight of this package might be a hindrance.) With a Redfield 6-18x scope on the Ruger in offset rings, weight of the assembly came to 10 pounds even. I could certainly live with that. To complete this new varmint rig, the trigger was set to break at 4 pounds even.
In essence the .225 Winchester was designed for broad appeal to the masses. Accuracy was certainly there, and before getting involved with this project, I’d seen vintage Model 70s still shoot tailored handloads under that magical inch at 100 yards. Velocity was down rated – perhaps to keep from shooting barrels out but surely to boost accuracy potential. Even today with modern powders, most manuals list loads for a 40-grain bullet at 3,800 fps in a 24-inch barrel.
The rest of the history on the .225 Winchester is a real downer. Within a short year after its introduction, Remington commercialized the .22-250, a cartridge that as a wildcat had chalked up an excellent track record by men of the times like Donaldson, Gebby and Smith with nothing more than adapting it from the .250 Savage. One pass through the .22-250 die and voilà, the .250 Savage case is now what J.E. Gebby called his “.22 Varminter.” The .225 Winchester, while still available in the Model 70 until 1972, now started its slide back down into so-so status. While some say it would return in much the same way as the .220 Swift has rebounded, both the following of shooters and interest from the firearms side never materialized as a viable line item in any catalog.
The folks at Redding suggested a Deluxe Die Set, Series C, its number 84239. This particular set not only includes the typical full-length and seating dies but a neck size only die also. For those who like to neck size only after the initial fire-forming sessions, this set is the perfect companion for accuracy-hungry loading and shooting buffs. It retails for $123, but considering the usefulness of this die set in conjunction with a cartridge like the .225 Winchester, it is money well spent. For a catalog write to Redding at 1089 Starr Road, Cortland NY 13045.
Looking back through reference material, some tout IMR-4064, IMR-3031 or even IMR-4320 as the best money can buy. Yet, in one loading manual published by the NRA, the section on the .225 Winchester relates that IMR-4198, IMR-3031, IMR-4320 and IMR-4895 “were successful due to the wide dispersion in pressures and velocities.” This group (the NRA) seemed to settle on the likes of IMR-4064 and IMR-4350 for pressures under 50,000 psi (CUP or copper units of pressure came later) with 50- to 55-grain bullets. Still later in yet another NRA publication, out of a dozen loads, only two were topped off with IMR-4064 and one with IMR-4350. That was yesterday.
Today’s loading manuals show what looks like a new ball game for the .225 Winchester, especially when it comes to modern powders. A check with friends, current reference material and back articles by fellow colleagues show the trend in .225 powders can be narrowed to H-4895, IMR-4064, BL-C(2) and H-380. Case capacity of the .225 Winchester considered – at 42.0 grains water – is below the .22-250 Remington at 44.9 and the .220 Swift at 51.1 grains water. In short then, the often maligned .225 Winchester seems to dote on slightly mid-range or slower propellants.
Another side of all this is the properties of each powder and how they related to loading and full-load volume as it applied to each maximum charge. Hodgdon’s H-4895 metered well, but in most cases needed a little trickling to bring the load up to snuff. Its full-load volume was to the base of the neck. IMR-4064 has larger grains, which meant it was a little harder to nail down exact charge weights every time.
BL-C(2) is a great powder and metered like it was made for my classic Lyman powder measure. A perfect powder for varmint hunters with volume shooting on their minds, its full-load volume was just short of the neck, in which case we’ll call it 87 percent full. Finally H-380, which looks like micro ball bearings, metered perfectly, and its full-load volume leveled off roughly halfway up the neck or just about at where the base of the bullet would be – not compressed, just full. For small game hunters who like close distances and the use of full-jacketed bullets with reduced charges, SR-4759 held in place by a tuft of cotton finished off our range lineup.
For a cartridge with the capacity of the .225 Winchester, I like to use a slightly heavier bullet of around 55 grains. It may slow velocity just a bit, but overall I think it also helps accuracy and the preservation of your pet barrel. Cartridges like the .218 Bee or the .22 K-Hornet seem to thrive on lighter bullets and, for their small combustion chambers, deserve this kind of thinking. Bullets used for testing included the Hornady V-MAX, Nosler spitzer, Rem- ington Power Lokt hollowpoint (Yes, Remington is still in the component business.) and Sierra’s spitzer boat-tail. Reduced loads of SR-4759 were capped with a Speer 55-grain, full-metal-jacketed boat-tail.
After fire-forming enough brass for testing, the cases were neck sized only, checked for overall length and cleaned. They were then primed with Winchester Large Rifle primers and brought up to charge weights for another trip to the range. At the range, a few fouling shots made the clean barrel ready for serious testing.
Referring to the table, with three-shot groups fired at 100 yards, velocities and group sizes were more than outstanding and much more than most varmint shooters could ask for. Air temperature was in the high 70s, and all groups were fired with a five minute cool down period between volleys.
Looking at the results, two of the best five groups were fired with IMR-4064. On the other hand, two of the largest groups were with the same powder. Whether or not this means IMR-4064 is load sensitive, powder sensitive or both, of course, remains to be seen, but as velocities go it was just a bit below the highest velocity recorded by H-4895 but only by about 75 fps. Pressure signs – primer appearance, case measurements – were all normal in all of what I call maximum loads.
With all powders the steps downward from first to third place in one-grain increments showed a steady and almost even pace. The most consistent was BL-C(2) with a drop from 3,513 to 3,454 fps, only 59 fps. IMR-4064 showed a drop of only 45 fps from its top loading of 32.9 grains to 31.9 grains, H-4895 went from 71 to 139 fps and H-380 showed a drop of 117 fps from 36.3 to 35.3 grains. The highest velocity of the day was with H-4895 at 3,690 fps and delivered an .880-inch group. Lowest velocity was 3,320 fps with H-380 with a group of .810 inch – still nothing to sneeze at.
Groups were another treat as shown by the top five, and since they were so close I measured all with a micrometer. The smallest group goes to the Nosler 55-grain spitzer atop 30.9 grains of IMR-4064. Teetering around .590 inch, this load has great promise, as two shots hit the same hole. Second place with a .610-inch group went to the Sierra spitzer boat-tail over 34.3 grains of H-380 for 3,418 fps. In third place with a group size of .695 inch was the same bullet and 36.3 grains of H-380 at 3,583 fps. Nosler’s spitzer came in number four atop 32.9 grains of IMR-4064 with a second place velocity of 3,615 fps with .690-inch groups. Finally, fifth place went to Hornady’s V-MAX bullet at .695 inch at 3,480 fps. Quite a show for a nearly forgotten cartridge teamed up in a modern, high-quality barrel.
The Sierra/H-380 combination led the pack with four groups that averaged .691 inch. Hornady/H-4895 followed with .796 inch, Nosler/ IMR-4064 with 1.17 inches, due to those two groups that went over an inch. The blend of a Remington bullet with BL-C(2) made it to 1.25 inches.
Reduced loads are always fun to shoot, and the .225 Winchester is no exception. Teamed with a Speer 55-grain FMJ and SR-4759, cases were loaded then tamped gently against the primer with a small tuft of cotton. Velocities of 1,814 and 2,111 fps were obtained with 10.0- to 12.0-grain charges, great loads for close quarters and small game. Winchester’s factory load hit 3,567 fps with a group that was slightly over 1.25 inches.
In closing, we should all look a little more closely at the .225 Winchester and that goes for the rifle makers in this country. In the Ruger No. 1, it would be a great choice as a line item and right in tune with other classics that include the .218 Bee and .22 Hornet. Browning should consider it in its recently introduced Low Wall, Remington could chamber it in a varmint bolt action and ditto for Winchester. Custom folks like The Montana Rifleman and others offer it simply because they all know it works. And that it does.
My sincere thanks go to Brian Sipe at The Montana Rifleman. His help, understanding and patience were above and beyond. You can reach him at 3172 MT Hwy 35, Kalispell MT 59901.