April 12, 2022
By Tom Beckstrand
Federal announced the .224 Valkyrie in 2017 as the “precision rifle cartridge of choice for the AR-15.” This was a good place to start for the new cartridge, but the .224 Valkyrie belongs in a bolt-action rifle just as much as it belongs in an AR-15. What the Valkyrie offers, that no other cartridge does, is a factory-supported .22-caliber VLD-friendly cartridge case that can fit loaded rounds in the length-restrictive standard AR-15 detachable magazine. To understand where and how the Valkyrie makes sense, it’s best to take a detailed look at its chamber and cartridge design, followed by an assessment of how it does in both bolt-action and semiautomatic platforms.
The rifle-shooting community understands why long and heavy Very Low Drag (VLD) bullets are a good idea, and why they’re preferable to the short, fat bullets of yesteryear. VLD bullets are more aerodynamic, so they retain velocity and energy better than short and fat bullets. The improved aerodynamics of the VLD also equate to less wind drift and a higher hit probability, everything else being kept equal.
The .224 Valkyrie is the only factory-supported .22-caliber cartridge designed around VLD bullets. If a rifleman wants to be able to shoot long distances with absolute minimum recoil, this is the cartridge. The 90-grain Matchking bullet has a G1 ballistic coefficient (BC) of .563, and the 80.5- grain Berger has a G1 BC of .441. Those BCs, with the velocity the .224 Valkyrie offers, make it an excellent choice for ringing steel out to 1,000 yards. Doing it all day without developing a flinch is well within reach for most shooters, especially if there’s a suppressor on the rifle’s muzzle. The small powder charge in each cartridge also means it takes
a while for the barrel to get hot, so extended firing strings aren’t as problematic as they would be with something larger, such as the 6.5 Creedmoor.
When developing a cartridge for use with VLD bullets (including the .224 Valkyrie), there are important factors to consider. The first is that bullets fired in a gun are being pushed from behind; the longer they are, the more likely they will yaw or “get crooked” in the chamber before engraving in the bore’s rifling. Should this occur, the center of gravity forcibly relocates and accuracy goes into the trash. Using a technique first employed on the .17 HMR, and then the 6.5 Creedmoor, the .224 Valkyrie keeps the freebore diameter tight around the bullet. This helps to prevent yaw.
“Freebore” is where the bullet sits prior to firing and engraving in the rifling. When the cartridge fires, the bullet moves from the case mouth through the freebore and into the rifling. The best way to keep the bullet straight during these transitions is to make the chamber tight around the bullet while it’s moving. The .224 Valkyrie has a SAAMI-minimum freebore diameter of just .2246-inch, which leaves a .0006-inch gap between bullet and barrel wall, .0003-inch on each side. The SAAMI-maximum diameter is .2266-inch, which leaves a .0026-inch gap. This dimension offers a lot more wiggle room for the bullet, but still seems to be effective.
Shooters looking to get the most out of the .224 Valkyrie will be best served by building a custom rifle because of the control this offers over the reamer used to cut the chamber. Large rifle-production companies buy reamers at SAAMI’s maximum dimensions and use them until they no longer meet SAAMI’s minimum dimensions. This means rifle chambers cut with a new reamer will be larger and looser than those cut with an old reamer. Accuracy from a barrel will still be good with a new reamer, it just won’t shoot quite like a chamber cut after the reamer has worn down and dimensions shrink to near minimum. The advantage of a custom rifle is that they are cut with reamers ordered to SAAMI-minimum dimensions, so the freebore is always tight, which yields great accuracy. As proof, look at the accuracy table for a rifle I had built by Mile High Shooting Accessories (milehighshooting.com) with a Shilen barrel. Every single type of ammunition I tested yielded five-shot groups that averaged between .5 to .6 MOA. It’s unusual for one rifle to shoot such a wide range of bullets so well. Everything from Hornady’s 60-grain V-Max to 90-grain MatchKings grouped well. That is the power of a correctly chambered rifle using a chamber designed for accuracy instead of convenient production.
From a Bolt-Action
When the .224 Valkyrie was introduced, it was touted as a precision rifle cartridge for an AR-15. Such a rifle is still a good fit for this cartridge. However, the .224 Valkyrie is also an excellent choice for a bolt-action rifle. This is largely due to the bullet types and bullet weights that manufacturers offer. Sixty-grain bullets left the muzzle of my rifle’s 26-inch barrel at 3,379 feet per second (fps). Ninety-grain bullets traveled at 2,733 fps. The former makes an excellent varmint combination, which is also capable of taking coyotes. The latter is a low-recoil dream for shooting steel well past 1,000 yards. Federal even has a 90-grain Fusion load that pushes
a bonded bullet at 2,655 fps. Where legal, that’s a lethal and low-recoiling combination for whitetail, especially for youth and new shooters. Typically, .224 Valkyrie ammunition is inexpensive because it’s loaded on the old 6.8 SPC machines. As you can see, there are plenty of upsides to using the .224 Valkyrie in a bolt-action rifle; it belongs here as much as it does in an AR-15.
Flight of the Valkyries
In 2021, I took a Franchi Momentum Elite in .224 Valkyrie on a Montana prairie dog and antelope hunt with several other hunters. Of the four antelope shot with the .224 using the 90-grain Fusion load, no animal required more than one shot at distances out to 260 yards. Once I had my antelope, I loaded up the 60-grain ballistic-tip ammo and spent a few days thinning the prairie dog ranks. I know of no other cartridge that would handle this combination so well.
The downside to using the .224 Valkyrie is the odd-sized case head. The case rim has a diameter of .422-inch, which means it fits few bolt-actions. I know of two custom-action manufacturers that make rifles to accommodate the .224 Valkyrie: Zermatt (bighornarms.com) and American Rifle Company (americanrifle.com). Zermatt makes its TL-3 and Origin featuring removable bolt heads, so it’s easy to get any of these actions to accept the .224 Valkyrie. Zermatt uses a 6.5 Grendel/6mm ARC-size bolt head (.44-inch) and then pairs it with a special extractor that makes for a very smooth-feeding .224 Valkyrie rifle. Mile High Shooting built the custom rifle seen here on a Zermatt action (as described above) and it functioned flawlessly during my testing. American Rifle Company actions also have removable bolt heads, but they have one specific to the Valkyrie that’s cut to accept the .422-inch case head.
The other hurdle to clear in order to get the .224 Valkyrie to feed well in a bolt-action rifle is finding a reliable magazine. Truth be told, it really requires figuring out how to modify off-the-shelf magazines. Have no fear; we’ve done that here at Guns & Ammo! If you want reliable feeding of both the .224 Valkyrie and 6mm ARC from bolt-action rifles that use AICS-pattern detachable box magazines, just purchase standard .308 Winchester AICS-pattern magazines made by Accuracy International. Next, buy the 6mm BR magazine kits from Primal Rights (primalrights.com). Install the kit in a magazine and use a feed lip adjustment tool to pull the feed lips in about .1-inch to accommodate the narrower cartridge body of the Valkyrie and ARC. For Master Class-level feeding, use a Dremel to polish the inside of the magazine feed lips. I’ve been using magazines modified this way for more than a year in a couple different rifles and I haven’t had a single feeding malfunction. No factory AICS-pattern magazines, to include those marketed as “6mm BR” AICS magazines have had the same reliability. (The Franchi Momentum’s detachable-box magazine feds that rifle with absolute reliability, no modifications required.)
The .224 Valkyrie was made for AR-15s, so it still belongs here. AR-15s are predominantly used for plinking, home defense and as duty firearms, so the .223 Remington/5.56 NATO round will remain its most popular chambering.
However, many riflemen want to shoot further than the .223 allows, and some want to use heavier bullets than the cartridge can accommodate.
One of the best ways to understand the .224 Valkyrie is to think of it as a 6.5 Creedmoor with less recoil and more affordable ammunition. If you compare the 140-grain Match loads for a 6.5 Creedmoor against the 90-grain match loads of the .224 Valkyrie, you’ll find the .224 requires less elevation correction inside 800 yards — and they are tied at 1,000 yards. The .223 can’t make that claim.
All shooters, not just new ones, are less likely to develop recoil-induced bad habits with the Valkyrie. While the Valkyrie generates less energy on target than the Creedmoor, it is more than capable of taking whitetails and smaller animals. The .224 Valkyrie is a precision rifle shooter’s dream. It has a variety of bullet weights available to it, and is one of the more affordable factory-loaded long-range cartridges. That’s a feature everyone can appreciate.
Mile High Shooting Zermatt Custom Specifications
- Type: Bolt action
- Cartridge: .224 Valkyrie
- Capacity: 12 rds.
- Barrel: Shilen, 26 in.; 1:6.5-in. twist
- Overall Length: 33.5 in. (folded), 43.75 in. (extended)
- Weight: 14 lbs., 12 oz. (tested)
- Stock: Spuhr SICS
- Grip: Spuhr
- Length of Pull: 12.75 in. (collapsed), 15 in. (extended)
- Finish: Cerakote, black
- Sights: None
- MSRP: $5,500
- Manufacturer: Mile High Shooting Accessories, 303-255-9999, milehighshooting.com
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