Wildcatting: .20” Something
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- Last updated: 26/04/2019
I love my twenties, I think the 20 Tactical is the best of them, likewise the 20BR and 20 Dasher, sublime long range flat shooting vermin rounds. But I never took to the 204 Ruger, as it was simply the 20 Terminator wildcat copied and re-badged with a few minor tweaks. Not Ruger’s fault, it happens all the time and we have some great cartridges from that process, but I have been shooting a few 204 Rugers recently and put my bias aside.
It’s a very good round and with the availability of some excellent rifles to shoot it and the ever-increasing excellent factory ammunition, the 204 Ruger has to rank as a great 20 cal vermin tool for fur or feather.
I have shot it now in everything from a Thompson Center Encore, CZ 527 to Howa stainless steel sporter to the new Remington SPS varmint model. Whether factory-loaded or fed reloads it does a very fine job at reducing the pests around the farm land.
Twenty calibre rifles are all the rage these days. Nestling nicely between the .17 (.172) and .22 (.224) calibre centrefire rounds, the .204 has the benefit of a slimmer projectile diameter blended to an intermediate weight, which translates into more efficient downrange ballistics from either of the former two candidates. I am surprised other .20”cals have not been factory-chambered but that`s to the 204 Ruger’s benefit.
Introduced in 2004, blimey seems like yesterday, based on the .222 Rem Magnum case, which was the largest of the 0.378” head size small calibre cases at the time and based around the 222 Rem and 223 Rem. With a 5 to 6% increase in internal capacity the 222 Rem Mag is actually a great cartridge, but it never really took off! But that extra 6% propellant potential in a necked down 222 Rem Mag to .20” was just waiting to happen. It was originally designed to push a 32-grain bullet at 4225 fps and a 40-grainer at 3950 fps. Although actual velocities were usually 100 fps slower than advertised and reloading to achieve these figures was difficult due to Ruger’s use of non commercial and available powders at the time. However, now Hodgdon’s Superformance loadings are common place. Saying that; a 32-grain V-MAX trotting along a 4100 fps is still a mighty fine varmint round and with some judicial reloading especially with the lighter bullets some healthy velocities can be achieved.
A loaded round has an overall length of 2.260” with a case length of 1.850”, and a trim to length of 1.840” with a shoulder angle of 30º. Typical capacity is around 30-grains dependent on who makes the brass you have decided to use.
It’s a fine looking design, although I think it could benefit from a slightly longer neck, as it’s only 0.305”. If you load the longer, 55-grain Berger’s then throat length and seating depth become very important. However, as a standard overall length and throat the neck is fine and a standard rifling twist rate of 1 in 12” would not stabilise the heavier Berger’s anyway.
The 204 likes medium-ish burn rate powders and although the old Varget was great, it’s no longer available, which means that numbers like RL 10X, RL15, Vit N133 or 135 and RS 40 all make good candidates. Accuracy too is usually very good, as it’s one of those cartridges that just shoots well, factory or reloads.
I have tested Howa`s, CZ Rems and T/C`s to name a few 204 Rugers, but not an actual Ruger! And each with differing length barrels and chamber dimensions, so here is what I have found over the years.
The Howa stainless steel synthetic is instantly likeable as sporting rifle, light pointable and reassuring well built, so you just concentrate on the stalk without worrying about scratching the stock and would make a great truck lamping rig setup or walking vermin rifle. However, this small calibre, high velocity round does suffer from shorter barrel lengths than the normal and this was the case with the Howa .204 with its 22” tube.
I shot Remington and Hornady factory loads with 32 and 40-grain bullet weights with a small selection of reloads to see if I could improve accuracy and velocity potential. The Remington 40-grain sped out of that 22” barrel at 3634 fps and 1173 ft/lbs energy, which is over 200 fps down on listed velocities for this bullet weight. Similarly, the Hornady 40-grain produced 3605 fps and 1155 ft/lbs, a bit sedate, but still in real terms more than good enough for any varmint foray.
Dropping down to the lighter 32-grainers, the Hornady V-MAX load gained another 200 fps and shot at 3808 fps, generating 1031 ft/lbs. this would be a nice flat shooting, highly frangible and safe round to use for any night time lamping trip. It shot best with several 0.75”, 3-shot groups at 100 yards, but both the 40-grainers printed larger. A reload of 25.5-grains of Vit N133, Federal Match primers with the 32 grain V-Max managed a velocity of 3899 fps with good accuracy of 0.65” at 100 yards and was my choice for a spot of varmint shooting.
The CZ 527 varmint is an old design and now superseded by the CZ 557, but is still a great little rifle especially with a longer 25.5” barrel. However, as most things; the truth lies in the actual testing and although the CZ proved to be an accurate rifle with all the ammunition tested, velocity figures despite its long tube where below par.
This is because test barrels and factory quotes usually do not relate to the individual rifles and their idiosyncrasies. However, I achieved best accuracy from the Remington 32-grainers, with 0.5” groups at 100 yards with a velocity of 3987 fps and 1129 ft/lbs energy. The 40-grain Hornady’s came in a very close second with 0.75” and velocities and energy figures of 3735 fps and 991 ft/ lbs respectively. Regardless of velocity even at these figures, a 32-grain bullet when zeroed at 100 yards will still be within a chest cavity of a fox at 275 yards and that in real life is all that matters.
The T/C Encore is a great lightweight walking/stalking gun, when you can get one and I have used it to good avail on hooded crows in Scotland around lambing time when they become bothersome to the new borns.
Reloads here are best and from its 24” barrel a 32-grain V-MAX will achieve 3984 fps with a load of 29-grains of RL15 powder and keyholing group sizes. The 40-grain Ballistic Tips are equally accurate and a load of 27.25-grains of Vit N140 (max) this time achieves a healthy 3735 fps and 0.65” groups.
The new Rem SPS with synthetic GRS stock is a corker and factory loads shot 4001 fps for the 32 and 3731 fps for the 40 grain Hornady factory loads. I really pushed this Remy with some lighter and heavier bullets I had been using in the 20 Dasher. Here the 30-grain Berger’s which are incredibly accurate shot 0.5” groups at 100 yards, with the best load of 25.5 grains of Vit N133 for 4013 fps. The 32 and 33-grain Hornady V-MAXs were equally good at 3992 fps velocity and 1132 ft/lbs from the 26” barrel. The 40s shot really well with 1/2” clusters of 3-rounds at a velocity of 3742 fps for 1212 ft/lbs energy with a load of 23.5 grains of RL10X. The 45-grain Hornady soft points were also good, offering more controlled expansion, but could still be pushed to 3508 fps with a load of 24 grains of Vit N133. 50 grain and 55 gain Berger’s were not as good, so I stopped there.
The reality is that shooters of .222, .223 or .22-250 rifles will be quite happy with their performance but owners of any Twenty calibre, especially the 204 Ruger will be doing it more efficiently. At normal fox or varmint ranges say 200 yards max there is not a lot of difference any way, let`s be honest! But in terms of longer range ballistics and stream line bullets of the same weight compared to a similar .22 centrefire then the .204 calibre is King.
I still really like the 20 Tactical based on the .223 Rem case, but there is no factory ammo and the smaller 20 Vardar which is a necked down .221 Fireball is a perfect low recoil, low noise and high accuracy vermin round. You will also find other than a custom barrel the 1 in 12 twist rate is standard that preclude the larger 55-grain Berger .20 cal bullet, which is so excellent in the 20 BR, 20 Dasher or 20 Satan for that matter. I started out ambivalent to the 204 Ruger, but it was not hard to see its real value as a great, off-the-shelf varmint cartridge ideally suited to accurate flat shooting vermin control in the UK!
JMS Arms Quickload and MAE mods 07771 962121 www.quickload.co.uk
Raytrade Ltd 01635 253344 Remington rifle and ammunition
Edgar Brothers 01625 613177 Hornady ammunition, bullets
Norman Clark 01788 579651 Reloading dies, cases, powder
Henry Krank 0113 2569163 Sierra bullets
Thomas Jacks Ltd 01789 264100 Thermal Imaging
Highland Outdoors 0845 0990252 Howa rifle
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