This article comes from Fenix Ammunition and is reprinted with permission gained via Twitter DM on 2/17/21. Fenix Ammunition has recently made the news because it forces anyone wishing to do business with them to check a box certifying that they did NOT vote for Joe Biden. It is largely symbolic but I also think it does make the person who did vote for them think harder about their choice. They have a great Twitter and they are outspoken Patriots. Check out their products here and, if you order anything, let them know we sent you!
The two major sporting ammunition manufacturers that offer light medium game loads for the .223 are Federal and Winchester. Federal offer a 64 grain soft point at 3090fps, the 55 grain trophy bonded bear claw at 3100fps and the excellent 60 grain Nosler Partition at 3160fps although 22” barrels average 70fps below Federal test barrel specs. Winchester offer their traditional 64 grain power point at 3020fps. All of these loads are adequate for chest shooting lighter medium game but are very mild performers and are slow killing at ranges beyond 100 yards with a noticeable deterioration in killing power between 200 and 250 yards when chest shooting medium game.
One new comer on the international market is Fiocchi. Fiocchi produce a very basic 55 grain soft point load at 3180fps yet this bullet stays together extremely well when used on light medium game. The Fiocchi projectile is able to break both shoulders of animals weighing less than 60kg (130lb), much the same as the Federal Premium loads listed above. Nevertheless, kills can still be slow with ordinary chest shots, regardless of the excellent performance of this projectile.
Most other .223 loads are designed strictly for varminting and true muzzle velocities for all brands of 55 grain ammunition usually average around 3180fps from 22” barrels. Hornady have focused on the production of V-Max loads, starting at 40 grains up to the 55 grain V-max. Remington produce the 55 grain Accutip, a 55 grain hollow point and a conventional 55 grain soft point load. The softest of these loads are the V-max and Remington hollow point which are adequate for neck, head and meat saver shots on lighter medium game.
PMC, Highland and a great many other manufacturers also produce 55 grain soft point loads. All of the projectiles used in these designs are very soft and although expansion is violent, animals always run after being chest shot with these loads.
The most useful FMJ designs to look out for are Norinco’s 55 grain ammunition along with Federal American Eagle 62 grain ammunition. The Norinco cartridge is truly unique. Muzzle velocity is no less that 3300fps from barrels as short as 20”. Accuracy is always around 1MOA and terminal performance is outstanding. Other 55 grain FMJ loads do not duplicate this performance. Please note: the cartridge case of the Norinco M193 ball is made to military dimensions which are slightly smaller than sporting ammunition dimensions in order to ensure smooth feeding in military arms. This can occasionally create problems in sporting rifles with maximum dimension chambers resulting in frequent misfires. This problem can be remedied by replacing the bolt spring with a heavier after market spring (Wolf Springs).
The 62 grain FMJ Federal American Eagle load is similar to Norinco in terminal performance so long as tumbling does actually occur on impact. Readers are reminded that the 62 grain bullet is designed for 1:7 twist military barrels. The new 1:9 twist sporting barrels also stabilize this load and produce poor terminal performance. By using the 62 grain FMJ in sporting barrels with the typical 1:12 twist, the shooter can in essence, attempt to duplicate Eugene Stoner’s/ Hutton’s original design premise. This requires experimentation on a rifle to rifle basis with regard to accuracy and yaw.
The .223 is generally easy to hand load for. Fast burning powders in the 4198 range produce the highest velocities without load compression. From 22” sporting length barrels, maximum safe working velocities include 3750fps with 40 grain varmint bullets, 3450fps with 50 grain bullets, 3300fps with the 53 grain Barnes, 3250fps with 55 grain bullets and 3100fps with 60 grain bullets. Readers will note that the velocity of 3250fps for the 55 grain bullet is 50fps below Norinco factory ammunition, nevertheless, in many rifles, case life is short when continually loading to 3300fps or higher.
Bullet choice for the .223 can be divided into two categories, explosive projectiles which require care with shot placement to avoid major bones and premium projectiles capable of breaking major bones on lighter medium game but should also be utilized carefully to ensure that wounding occurs in the forwards and largest portion of the lungs. In recent years, several manufacturers have produced 60 to 63 grain bullets which produce adequate penetration with shoulder shots but should never be regarded as fast killers.
Hornady projectiles include the 50 grain Super Explosive SP, a standard 50 grain soft point flat base bullet, the 50 grain V-Max, 52 grain A-Max, the 55 grain V-Max, 55 grain soft point flat base, 60 grain hollow point flat base, 60 grain soft point flat base, 60 grain V-Max, 75 grain A-Max and finally, the 80 grain A-Max.
When studying the performance of Hornady’s 55 grain bullets, there really isn’t a great deal of difference in penetration between the standard soft points, V-Max and the 52 grain A-Max. The major differences, are that the A-Max and V-Max produce much wider wounds than the standard bullets. On 60kg (130lb animals), the V-Max and A-Max normally produce a .224” entry wound, then immediately expand to produce a 2 to3” wound channel through onside muscle and bone. The wound extends to the vitals but usually goes no further, the remaining fragments arrest in vital organs with very few making it to the offside chest wall.
As bullet weight is increased, performance improves slightly and where twist weight allows, it is worth utilizing Hornady’s heavier bullets. The 60 grain projectiles, like their 52-55 grain counterparts are all prone to total disintegration however the reduction in muzzle velocity and slight increase in SD slow this process down, enabling deeper wounding. The 60 grain V-Max gives a good compromise between velocity and terminal performance while also being suitable for standard twist rate barrels.
Of the Hornady range, the heavy weight A-Max bullets are the best performers on lighter medium game but require fast twist rates of either 1:8 or 1:7. Although these start out slower than their lighter counterparts (around 2900fps), the heavy A-Max bullets have incredibly high BC’s. In the .224” caliber, most traditional soft point 55 grain projectiles have a BC of around .230. The 75 grain A-Max on the other hand has nearly double this at .435 while the 80 grain A-Max boasts a BC of .473. Retained energy at 300 yards is vastly superior to other .224” loads. Some 1:9 twist barrels produce acceptable accuracy with the heavy A-Max but results are difficult to predict.
Sierra produce a 50 grain flat base soft point, a second FBSP but with a thin “Blitz” varmint style jacket, a 50 grain semi point soft point and the BTSP BlitzKing. The more typical .223 Rem projectile weights include the 55 grain Blitz (flat based), the 55 grain BlitzKing BTSP, 55 grain HPBT, 55 grain flat base soft point and 55 grain semi point. Heavy bullets include the 60 grain HP, 63 grain semi point and the very popular 65 grain BTSP GameKing. Sierra also produce a range of match bullets from 55 to 80 grains however these do not produce reliable expansion on game.
The Sierra line of projectiles are rather generic. On light bodied medium game, performance of the 55-60 grain bullets is fair; wounds tend to be wide but shallow as with all soft point .224 bullets. The one Sierra projectile that stands alone is the 65 grain GameKing. This bullet has been used by hunters around the world to take countless light weight deer species. Again, as with all .224” projectiles, penetration is limited however, the 65 grain GK produces uniform wounds through vitals.
Speer make a wide range of .224 bullets from 30 to 70 grains. The Speer TNT bullets (30-55 grains) are extremely frangible and in no way suitable for use on lighter medium game. The TNT should be used as intended – on varmints Medium weight bullets include the traditional 50 grain soft point, 50 grain Trophy Bonded Bear Claw, 55 grain soft point, 55 grain soft point with cannelure (for slightly greater controlled expansion), the once popular 70 grain semi pointed soft point and lastly, the 75 grain BTSP.
Of the Speer range, the 50 grain TBBC is the toughest. This bullet (like the Barnes bullets) is capable of relatively deep penetration and will almost always exit lighter framed deer species. Penetration from raking shots can sometimes be quite impressive however, due to both the nature of this bullet design and limitations of the caliber, wound channels are not tremendously wide. For this reason, the TBBC does its best work inside 150 yards, steadily losing the ability to produce wide wounding thereafter.
The 70 grain Speer semi pointed soft point (SMP) was once one of the only readily available projectiles for hunters targeting medium game with .22 center fires. Furthermore not all rifles were capable of shooting such a heavy bullet due to the twist rates adopted in early days. The Speer was and still is, a relatively effective lighter medium game bullet. Like all .224” soft points, the 70 grain Speer is forced to dump its energy immediately. Wounds through vitals tend to be very broad, penetration is adequate for cross body or lightly quartering shots while exit wounding is rare. The BC of the 70 grain Speer is low at .219 however this bullet is adequate for chest shooting lighter medium game out to ranges exceeding 200 yards.
The Nosler 50 and 55 grain Ballistic Tip projectiles perform in much the same way as regular soft point .224” projectiles, wide wounding with shallow penetration. The 60 grain Nosler Partition on the other hand, is one of the most reliable .224” light medium game projectiles available. Like all .224” projectiles, penetration is limited and on light bodied animals exit wounds are rare, nevertheless this bullet penetrates vitals through relatively stout bone, produces wide lung wounds and ruptures off side chest cavities. Those who hunt light bodied deer with the .223 should never be without a box of 60 grain Partition projectiles.
Barnes produce both frangible varmint bullets (30-50 grains) and stout TSX projectiles. The TSX is available in the weights 53, 55, 62 and 70 grains. For ordinary chest shots on light medium game, the 53 grain Barnes TSX produce far superior performance in comparison to all other bullet designs.
Unfortunately very few .224” fans appreciate the effectiveness of a stout bullet. Often if a slow kill is witnessed, the hand loader goes back to the bench, determined to find the most frangible bullet available in order to effect fast killing. Although frangible bullets are useful on medium game with heavy calibers, the same cannot be said for the .224”. Where bullets like the 80 grain A-Max can create quite a deep, wide wound, there is always an element of uncertainty towards the reliability of such a load across varying body weights. This is the reason why experienced .224” shooters tend to opt for neck and head shots. The 53 grain Barnes TSX is different in this regard and results are quite predictable. On game weighing between 60 and 80kg (up to 130lb), chest shots with the 53 grain Barnes are still within the realms of David versus Goliath however the Barnes renders a deep, adequately broad wound. The heavier Barnes TSX projectiles are even more effective, ensuring free bleeding exit wounds.
In recent years, Berger bullets have put a lot of research towards producing optimum BC .224” projectiles. Berger offer a wide range of bullet weights ranging from 30 to 90 grains. Berger do not recommend any of their .224” bullets as being suitable for use on lighter medium game and are instead offered as either match or varmint options.
Lastly, for those who are able to find a source, Norinco projectiles do appear on the market from time to time. These projectiles are often sold off, after the original load has been pulled and a new soft point projectile has been seated by an aftermarket manufacturer. The Norinco projectile is simply the most effective .224” bullet available for hunting lighter medium game and hunters should have absolutely no hesitation in trusting it beyond all other .224” offerings.
The .223 Remington/5.56NATO certainly has an interesting military history. As a hunting cartridge, the .223 is a conundrum. Few people have witnessed or truly understand the vast difference between the dramatic terminal performance of tumbling military ball and the slower, lack luster killing which can occur when chest shooting game using conventional soft sporting ammunition. Along with this are the modern super explosive varmint loads, shallow but broad wounding.
In all cases a lot can and does occasionally go wrong when the .223 is used on medium game. It is wise that many states of the U.S do not allow the .223 to be used on medium game. In more lax countries, the .223 is a cartridge that inexperienced shooters often look to when choosing a low recoiling medium game rifle. In truth the .22 centerfires loaded with ‘off the shelf’ varmint ammunition will work best in the hands of highly experienced hunters or youths who have hunted under such tuition in an ongoing manner.
As stated in the .222 text, accurate shot placement, realistic expectations and an understanding of limitations are the keys to success. More information regarding shot placement for the .224’s can be found in the within that text.