Right after World War II, American gun companies got busy updating old designs and developing new ones. Interest in all sorts of hunting and shooting was picking up steam, and returning GIs who were buying a new house and an assembly-line car and had a couple of crumb-crunchers to feed needed a rifle that wouldn’t break the bank.
In 1950 Remington introduced the Model 722 in three calibers. The .257 Roberts and .300 Savage versions had 24-inch barrels. But it was the third chambering that garnered the most attention: the new .222 Remington, which had a 26-inch barrel. And at only $74.95, the M722 was inexpensive. Factory .222 ammunition was loaded with a new 50-grain softpoint bullet that delivered 3,140 fps and demolished ’chucks and other critters out to 250 yards.
The combination of great accuracy, low cost, mild report and absence of recoil made the M722 in .222 very popular. Long-time Remington employee and benchrest competitor Mike Walker, who headed up the M722 design team, is largely credited with the development of the .222.
The .222 Remington was our first rimless .22-caliber cartridge—the case was an entirely new design, although many shooters observed that it looked a lot like a miniature .30-06. In fact, if you make a dimensional comparison of the two cases, the .222 is almost a ¾-scale version of the ’06.
The .222 went on to set benchrest records for years (until the advent of the 6mm PPC). In the ensuing decades, the .222 spawned an entire family of cartridges based on its case, such as the .221 and .17 Fireballs, .17 and .223 Remingtons, and the .222 Remington Magnum, not to mention many esoteric wildcats.
The .222’s rimless, bottlenecked case has a relatively long neck of about 1.4 calibers, providing plenty of bearing surface for good bullet alignment, a critical component of accuracy.
Our test rifle this month is a Remington Model 700 ADL that I bought new in 1979, and a Weaver K8 has provided the sighting since then. The M700’s 24-inch barrel features a 1:14 twist, standard for the .222. In the past 30 years I have hunted extensively with it in many states and used it as the test bed to wring out countless new bullets and powders. It still shoots as well now as it did in 1979. That’s another attribute of the .222—long barrel life. The SAAMI maximum pressure specification for the .222 is a modest 46,000 CUP, which, no doubt, contributes to a .222’s long barrel—and case—life.
I used the original RCBS set I purchased when I got the M700. I soon learned that load requirements for the .222 were simple. Almost any combination shoots well, and many are spectacular. Relatively fast- to medium-burning-rate powders are perfect for the .222.
Hodgdon states that H-322 “has won more benchrest matches than all other propellants combined,” and I can believe it. For pure accuracy, it’s hard to beat in .222 loads. Nowadays, the current darlings of the paper-punchers are Hodgdon’s Benchrest and IMR 8208 XBR, new powders but proven performers for both target shooting and varmints. Reloder 7 and AA-2015 are also terrific in the .222. And don’t overlook old IMR or H-4198. It was the standard for benchrest loads in the 1950s and ’60s. Almost any small rifle primer will work, but the CCI-BR4, Remington 7½ or Federal GM205M are top picks.
While any good bullet will shoot well in the .222, the standard 1:14 twist will seldom stabilize bullets heavier than 55 grains at .222 velocities, so that is the heaviest weight used in our test loads. But rifles vary, so check out heavier bullets in your gun. Sometimes the 63-grain Sierra semi-spitzer does well in a .222, and it’s a tough, very accurate bullet.
With the excellent selection of super-frangible high-tech bullets available these days, putting together high-performance varmint loads is effortless. I have used the flyweight Barnes 36-grain Varmint Grenade lead-free on PDs, and it lives up to its name. Nosler has just introduced a 40-grain no-lead version of its popular Ballistic Tip. Both of these bullets can be cranked up to over 3,500 fps and are explosive powerhouses. The 40-grain Sierra HP over 24.4 grains of Benchmark gives 3,226 fps and explosive pinpoint accuracy. The reliable 45-grain Speer SP does well with 23.1 grains of IMR 8208 XBR. Both are good choices for lighter loads.
The standard bullet weight for the .222 has always been 50 grains, and here we have the excellent Hornady V-Max, Sierra BlitzKing and Nosler Ballistic Tip bullets that cruise at about 3,000 to 3,100 fps, print itty-bitty groups and are explosive on prairie dogs and ’chucks. A top accuracy load with 50-grain bullets is 26.6 grains of W-748 or the same charge of AA-2460. A load with 22.2 grains of Vihtavuori N-135—or 23.5 grains of AA-2520—gives over 2,900 fps with the 55-grain versions of these three tipped bullets, and they are terrific on coyotes.
But the .222’s utility doesn’t stop there. Back before the .223 existed, the .222 was the deer cartridge for many Texas hunters—with factory loads, of course. The .222 is also terrific on turkeys.
My favorite turkey load is the discontinued Speer 55-grain FMJ over 8.8 grains of SR-4759 for a velocity of 1,768 fps. Speer’s current 55-grain FMJ TMJ Uni-Cor bullet is a good replacement. A shot in the wing butts knocks down the big birds and doesn’t ruin much meat. (I have read that an FMJ bullet can tumble at low velocity, but I have not observed this.) No mil-spec 55-grain FMJ-BT bullet I’ve tried is accurate in my rifle. The .222’s twist won’t stabilize the sleek 45-grain Barnes Banded Solid.
Nice used .222s can occasionally be found, and there seems to be considerable interest in the round, as evidenced by component and die sales. This is comforting, as a neat little .222 with a medium-powered scope has much to offer today’s shooters. And it’s a nostalgic reflection of simpler times when the country was in a state of exhilarating advancement.