Reloading for .223 and .243
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- Last updated: 20/03/2019
Reloading is more than a procedure to make cheap ammunition for range days; by its nature, the art of reloading a case, new or used, allows the user to tailor make a round to suit their individual rifle.
Sure, if you shoot competitions or have a fun range day, then volume of shots can add up, so reloading is a very practical way to keep costs down. To me, as I mainly hunt, then its reloading to achieve the best possible ballistic and accurate load I can for each individual rifle.
Here’s some of the loads that have worked for me over the years for the popular .223, .243; I’ll look at the everpopular 308 next month.
The .223 Remington started life as an experimental military round, originally specially developed as a low recoiling, mid-range assault cartridge for troops and developed for the new AR-15 and later M16; the .223 or 5.56mm cartridge was standardised in 1964 by the military. With the military seal of approval, Remington launched the sporting version of the round to the civilian market as the .223 Remington in that same year.
The .223 filled a nice niche between the venerable .222 Remington and the larger .22- 250 round and would serve as an excellent all-round small game and varmint round, as well as target round. However, as always, choice of rifling twist is crucial to maximise the benefits of the wide range of bullet weights available and suitable for use in the .223. In fact, where most .22 centre fire rounds utilise a 1 in 12 or 1 in 14 twist for the lighter bullets, the .223, because of its military heritage, can also utilise the heavy bullet weights and tighter twists of 1in 9, 1in 8 or even as fast as 1in 7, thus making it a truly flexible round to reload for.
Despite its .223 nomenclature, the wee Remington uses .224 calibre bullets, ranging from as light as 30-grain varmint profiles, through to the mammoth and specialised 90 grain, windbucking torpedoes for longer range work. The .223 Remington is a very popular round and is chambered in nearly all the available rifle makes and thus the industry provides a varied and extensive diet to feed it with both factory ammunition and components for reloaders.
Fast twist bullets start around 70-grains, as the std 1 in 12 twist rate on sporting rifles is good for bullet stability up to 60-65-grains. 70-grains and above and 1 in 9 is so much better and when the 90-grain bullets are used, then the 1 in 7 is fine but 1 in 6.5 is better. When you start looking at heavier .224 bullets, you are transcending the realms of varmint with target type projectiles and you have a plethora of bullets available.
It’s hard to beat the Berger range of bullets with choices from the 70-grain Match VLD with its 0.371 G1 BC value, right the way up to the 90-grain Match VLD or Match BT Long Range with 0.551 and 0.512 G1 BCs respectively. You also have 73, 75, 77, 80, 80.5 and 82-grain weights in between, so every possibility is available to fine-tune a load for your individual rifle. The style of bullet differs from the VLD type that needs correct seating depth to achieve best accuracy to the BT and OTM Tactical types that are more seating depth tolerant.
Hornady also offer some really nice .224 longer-range bullets, with their 75-grain A-Max or newer ELD Match bullets. High Ballistic Coefficients are the key words here, with better down-range performance.
The Sierra bullets that I have always found to be excellent performers with their Game King range ideal for small species deer or Roe in Scotland. But their Match King bullets were the industry standard for long-range rifle shooting and their new tipped TMK bullets are superb performers.
For the .223 fast twist rifle, then the 80-grain Match King bullet is excellent with its seating depth and twist rate tolerant design and BC of 0.413.
I have used to good effect the 90-grain Match King too and they always seem easier to get to shoot accurately than other bullets of similar weight and these have a BC of 0.504. Their new TMK bullets i.e. Tipped Match Kings, are new; the 77gr TMK has a BC of 0.420.
You also have to remember that the .223 is a small case compared to a .22-250 or BR case and so 90 grain bullets are pushing it a bit, but with a long barrel are still great performers. 80gr Berger Match VLD bullets with 21.0gr of Alliant RL15 powder can achieve 2623fps and 1222ft/lbs, or a 90gr version with 20.0-grains of RL15 powder achieves 2524fps/1273ft/lbs.
Most regular or standard twist rifling rifles chambered in .223 Rem have a 1in 12-inch twist rate, some a 1 in 14-inch. This is because it is designed to handle the lighter and faster velocity bullet weights that give the .223 Rem its all-round status as a vermin round.
With this twist rate, you can comfortably handle bullets from 30gr to 55-grains in weight and covers a huge bullet demographic and in there are varmint, target and pure small species deer bullets.
Smallest have to be the diminutive Berger 30gr bullets. These are hollow point in design and are really deadly, closerange vermin loads primarily, due to their thin copper jacket and hollow point design. I use a load of 25.0-grains of Vit N120 powder that I like in the lighter weight bullets and this achieves a velocity of 4000fps from my RPA barrel with 26- inch length and 1 in 12 twist.
At over 4000fps, these Bergers make up for their lower BC of 0.119 with spectacular on target expansion, very humane on crows.
If you can’t get Vit N120, then Hodgdon’s H4198 is always good, a bit milder at the same powder charge of 25.0-grains gives 3844fps for 985ft/lbs energy and is a superbly accurate load.
Lead-free 35-grain Nosler Ballistic Tips are a new bullet that gives shooters another weight to play with. These can be loaded to 3894fps/1178ft/ lbs with a load of 24.5-grains of H 4198 powder.
36-grain Barnes Varmint Grenades have always proved a bit tricky to get shooting, as they are long for their weight, as with the Nosler lead-free. The Varmint Grenades use a sintered core and are best loaded with bullets well seated in the case.
The .223 Rem is a small case size but it is efficient and 40 grain bullets are a good choice; flat base, hollow points, soft points or polymer tipped. My favourite is a load of 24.5-grains of Reloder RL10X with the good old Hornady V-Max. This load gives 3726fps from a 24-inch barrel for 1433ft/lbs and the V-Max has a BC 0.200 with sleek aerodynamic design that gives good down-range terminal ballistics. Having said that, the Sierra Blitz King is also a superb performer too, as are the Nosler Ballistic Tips and Berger Varmint flat bases.
Another really good, solid load is using a Speer Varmint soft point 40gr bullet with a payload of 24.25-grains of Vit N130 also tops the 3700fps mark at 3711fps. Expansion is a little more controlled and accuracy is always excellent, despite its rather dummy look.
Several manufactures make 45-grain bullets such as Speer, Barnes, Hornady and Sierra. I have not used them much but have found the Hornady 45-grain Hornet bullet (.224) to be ok with a load of 21.5-grains of IMR 4227 for 3553fps.
The beauty of the .223, it has a dual role ability, you can use from 50-grains for varmint or small species deer rated bullets.
I have dabbled with many deer .224 bullets and found that, in a .223, my preferred lighter, cross-over bullets are the 55-grain Sierra Game King. Always accurate with good controlled expansion for penetration and then expansion in the vitals. I use a load of 22.5gr of Vit N 133 for 3055 fps and 1140 ft/lbs.
The 50-grain Berger Match Varmint bullet, despite its name, is a good bullet and super accurate. Again, Reloder RL 10X is a nice powder and 23.5gr will speed this bullet at 3288fps for 1201ft/lbs.
However, if you want a heavier 50-55-grain varmint bullet and not deer, then the 50-grain Hornady V-Max has a nice BC of 0.255. Launched at 3189fps with a load of 26.0-grains of Benchmark powder. Better still, are the 52-grain bullets, again A-Max, Hollow points soft nose or boat tail designs are available from most manufacturers.
Berger Match Grade FB Varmint 52gr bullets expand well and shoot straight with 23.0-grains of Norma 200 powder up its back side for 3282fps.
Small deer loads My personal favourite light bullet load for roe in Scotland or Muntjac south of the border is the Sierra SPT bullet, it just works in the Sako .223 custom rifle. A load of 23.5gr RL10X is dead accurate at less than 0.5-inch at 100-yards and develops 3274fps/1190ft/ lbs and hits hard.
Warren Page and his fellowshooting buddy, Al Marciante, from the USA necked down an experimental case similar to the .308 case to 6mm/.243 and called it the .240 Page Pooper. However, it was much later that Winchester Arms Company in 1955, after seeing Warren’s original case, designed that their own proprietary .243 Winchester. The original .243 design was really meant to be a good wind-bucking varmint round for long range woodchuck hunters but people soon realised the potential this efficient cartridge had as a mid-range deer gun.
A fast 1 in 9-inch or 1 in 10-inch twist would stabilise the heavier 100-grain class deer loads; or, should they opt for the slower 1 in 12 or even 1 in 14 twist rate, to achieve peak performance in the light varmint bullet weights. This dilemma often had deer hunters loading 100-grain bullets in 1 in 12- inch chambered rifles and wondering why the accuracy was less than spectacular.
The 243 Win can handle bullets with weights ranging from 55-grains for varmints and foxes yet still deliver with the heavier 100-grain projectiles for deer. Nearly all the leading manufacturers produce a load for the .243, such is its continued popularity and the wealth of reloadable bullets is staggering.
Bullet choice falls into two main categories, these are the fox/varmint class, that range from 55-grains up to the 75-grain weight bullets, and then the deer class bullets of 80-grains up to 100-grains, commonly. Varmint style bullet configurations usually are built with a lighter jacket wall for faster expansion on target and less pass throughs, as the targets are usually soft skinned and small. The deer calibre weights have a thicker jacket wall that enables the bullet to penetrate further with then predictable expansion after entry into the vitals and shed the retained energy within the body cavity.
Ballistically, it is capable of launching a 55-grain bullet at nearly 3800fps and a 100-grain projectile at 3000fps and thus covers a broad spectrum of uses in the field. The Nosler Ballistic Tip 55-grain bullet is especially designed for varmint/ fox shooters, it can be pushed at 3775fps with 49.75-grains of H380 powder or 45.0-grains of Varget at 3756fps and, as such, offers the shooter a very flat-shooting, explosive cartridge combination. If zeroed at 100-yards, the bullet has only dropped 5.75-inches at 300-yards, however the muzzle energy has deteriorated from 1740ft/lbs to 883ft/ lbs at that range, because of the light bullet weight and lack of momentum at range.
If you want to step up in the weight stakes, then there is a good choice of 70-, 75-grain bullet weights offered by Hornady, Nosler, Barnes, Speer, Berger, Sierra to name not a few. They are available in a number of styles that range from conventional round nose soft points, which can be used for smaller deer, whilst the hollow points, Ballistic Tips, V-Maxes and Blitz Kings are designed for varmint use, because of these thinner jacket walls. Typical velocities range from 3550fps for the 70-grainers and 3400fps for the 75-grain bullets with 1959ft/lbs energy and 1925ft/ lbs energy respectively. This bullet design is great for use at those longer shots at varmints, it bucks the wind better with their better ballistic coefficients and delivers good on target energy figures at range.
The 80-grain, 85- and 95-grain bullets make excellent deer bullets if not pushed too fast for smaller species of deer at 3225fps, 3175fps and 2950fps respectively with the soft point, Spitzer, Partition and Ballistic Tip type of bullets. If placed properly on target, the extra weight penetrates well and delivers a good compromise between kinetic clout and pure hydrostatic shock caused by velocity within the body cavity area (heart/lung).
The heaviest 100 – 105-grain bullets are solely used for deer stalking or long-range shooting. One of my favourite deer loads for the .243 is 41.5-grains of Hodgdon H4350, a shortened extrude powder, under a Sierra 100-grain Game king. Velocity is 2883fps from a 24.0-inch barrel, which equates to 1846ft/ lbs energy and so deer legal it is mild recoiling very accurate and the GameKings expand very dependably on game with predictable results.
Although Nosler Partitions, Speer Grand Slam, Nosler Accubonds, Barnes TSX or Hornady Interlock or SST bullets are also good performers in my rifle and I have been using Hornadys SST 100-grain projectile to very good effect. Remember sometimes a slow moving, heavier bullet is very good for small deer species, such as Roe or Muntjac, as the limited expansion, yet hard hitting kinetic energy is sufficient for humane one shot kills without excessive meat damage. 105gr Nosler Competition work very well for long range target work with a load of 43.0-grains of RL19 for 3102fps.
Norman Clark. normanclarkgunsmith.com Reloading supplies, Berger
Raytrade Ltd. raytradeuk. co.uk Remington, Barnes
RUAG. ruag.co.uk Norma, RWS
Henry Krank. henrykrank.com Sierra, PPU, reloading supplies
Hannam’s Reloading Ltd. hannamsreloading. com Reload supplies
Edgar Brothers. edgarbrothers. com Hornady, Alliant powder
Highland Outdoors. Highlandoutdoors.co.uk Sierra, Nosler bullets
JMS Arms. jmsarms.com MAE mods and Quickload
GMK. gmk.co.uk Federal
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