Bruce Potts explains the .22-250 calibre and wildcat round
I recently received this query from a reader asking what a wildcat round was and decided to explain its origins with the .22-250 calibre.
Q: “I see you mention wildcat cartridges quite a lot in your reviews. What are they and are they better than a standard round?”
Primarily, a wildcat round is one that has been modified to improve its performance both in terms of accuracy, velocity and case life. You can improve the case by removing any body taper and increasing the shoulder angle — both of which increase powder- case capacity — and, hopefully, velocity will improve too. It can also involve necking up or down, so larger or smaller projectiles can be shot from the parent case.
True, this can seem a daunting task to many shooters, but in reality most shooters are already shooting some sort of wildcat round already. Many of the great cartridges available on the market are commercialised wildcat rounds. The most prevalent was the .22-250 calibre . Starting life as a .25-3000 Savage case, it was necked down to .22 calibre way before it was adopted by Remington in 1965. Similarly, the .270, .25-06 and .280 Rem are all standardised wildcats from the parent .30-06 Springfield round. My own contributions are the .20, .22 and .30 Satan, 6.5 Rapier, 300 Broadsword and 500 Kimera.
A bit of background
Here’s a piece I wrote a few years back (in 2006), entitled The .22-250 calibre review which goes into the subject in more depth.
.22-250 calibre review
Most of us are happy to shoot .222 Remington cartridges at mid-ranges; however, sometimes a cartridge with more velocity can be desirable.
The .22-250 is the best of the .22 centrefires in terms of versatility and ballistics. The .220 Swift may be regarded as the king as far as velocity goes, but the .22-250 can be loaded to be as good if not better and is more flexible in reloading. The .22-250 is the choice of shooters who want velocity combined with accuracy and performance at extreme ranges.
The .22-250 started life as a Wildcat cartridge and has its origins as far back as 1915. Its parent cartridge was the mild .250 Savage cartridge, designed for deer use.
However, after much modification it evolved into a necked down version, which became the .22 calibre and was capable of pushing a 50-grain bullet at more than 3,750fps.
Despite a good following among many enlightened shooters it was not until 1965 when Remington, which knew a good thing when it saw it, legitimised the Wildcat into a factory round. When any Wildcat cartridge was adopted by a firearms manufacturer its popularity soared.
Factory ammunition and cheap brass for reloading encouraged shooters to use the .22-250 over the .222 Remington. The advantages were obvious – at least a 475 to 650fps difference was evident from good handloads and though more powder was burnt less efficiently than the smaller cases, accuracy was not impaired.
Coupled with a scope of high magnification and loaded with carefully prepared handloads, the .22-250 was taking corvids and foxes at 400 yards with great certainty. Not only was the extra velocity an advantage, but the ability to launch heavier 55-grain bullets at higher velocities than almost any other cartridge offered the varmint hunter major advantages.
As with most benefits there are pitfalls – obviously more powder is necessary to achieve these inflated ballistics and that causes more recoil, barrel throat erosion and noise and muzzle flash. Even in a heavier- barrelled rifle the target will disappear from view under recoil unless you have a muzzle brake. Noise and muzzle flash are only a problem in certain situations.
In unpopulated areas where foxes or varmints are encountered during daylight it shouldn’t cause any problems. However, start lamping foxes in an urban setting and your presence may not be appreciated.
Bullets in the 50-grain and 52-grain range are more like the ideal varminting weight as 35.75 grains of Alliant RL15 generates 3,671fps and 3,611fps respectably. This load makes an excellent long-range foxing round as well as being more than capable for roe in Scotland.
If you prefer to use a heavier bullet, especially for extended ranges or for roe, then I use the 55-grain bullets with a powder weight of 38.0 grains of Hodgdon Varget or Vit N140, which achieves a healthy 3,600fps with a 55-grain bullet head.
This weight is about ideal in a .22-250 round as it gives predictable accuracy, good wind-bucking properties and a reliable performance on varmints, foxes or roe in Scotland. As with all bullet choices, be sure to match the bullet type, ie. thick or thin jacket, hollow or soft point, to the game you are after, otherwise the heavy bullets will not expand predictably on small varmints such as crows or rabbits, while 40-grain or 50-grain V-Max.
TNT or similar may expand too quickly and cause surface wounds with little penetration, which is definitely not what you want on foxes.
A 52-grain Hornady A-Max bullet travelling at 3,700fps when zeroed 0.5in high at 100 yards drops 0.9in at 200 yards, 3.1in at 250 yards and 6.2in at 300 yards, thus allowing for minimum sight correction.
Of course, there are heavier bullets available in the .22 centrefire range, such as 60-, 63- or 70-grain bullet heads.
For example, 38.0 grains of H414 gives 3,494fps with the 60-grain head and 37.75 grains gives 3,417fps with the 63-grain bullet.
However, because most standard .22-250 factory rifles have a barrel rifling twist rate of 1:14, they are designed to stabilise the lighter bullet weights better.
With this in mind, you may find that the heavier bullet weights will deliver poor accuracy, as the bullets will not stabilise adequately. I like the 52- or 55-grain, which gives the best of both worlds for foxes or roe in Scotland.
Shooting a .22-250 does not just mean running at full throttle, sometimes a reduced load becomes useful for those quieter moments in life when the sheer power of the .22-250 is not required. A load of 18 grains of H4198 with a 50-grain Sierra Blitz King bullet, which gives a healthy 2,388fps, is great for around the farm with a sound moderator.
Do not think you have to reload to achieve these ballistics – commercial manufacturers offer the shooter a comprehensive range of loads that span all the available bullet weights. I tested a broad cross-section from most manufacturers. Factory ammunition these days is very good and the test ammunition shot well in a Tikka T3 and Howa varmint rifle.
Despite its age, the .22-250 calibre continues to offer excellent performance and inherent accuracy. It is a very versatile and flexible cartridge, offering a range of bullet weights and velocity spectrums.
With a good range of factory ammunition and reloading components, this calibre will be around for many years to come.