In many states, such as Wyoming and Kansas, the high-velocity, small-caliber .22-250 Remington round is forbidden when hunting big game. In other states, including Idaho and South Dakota, it’s legal. Some say it kills like lightning. Others say it wounds like thunder. Who’s right?
The simple truth is that no cartridge or bullet is perfect for everything, but smaller ones are less forgiving than their big brothers. A heavy, wide bullet can fail to expand on impact and still leave a fairly wide, deep hole. A small bullet that doesn’t expand leaves a pin hole. But more often, it expands too much, too soon, leaving a surface wound.
Quick expansion is not a problem in varmint bullets. It instantly terminates critters the size of coyotes and smaller because all the energy within the high-velocity, frangible bullet radiates or “explodes” outward, spreading massive shock waves and tissue destruction over a major percentage of the animals total body area. In larger game, a similar effect can be realized if the bullet reaches the heart/lung or brain/spine areas.
Therein lies the .22-250 Rem’s challenge.
The genesis of this famous varmint cartridge was the .250-3000 Savage concocted by Charles Newton and released in Arthur Savage’s M99 lever-action in 1915. It drove an 87-grain bullet 3,000 fps, thus its title. This was the first cartridge in history to hit that velocity. Shooters who wanted even more speed necked the .250 case down to .22 in the 1930s and called it the .22 Varminter. It drove a 50-grain bullet 3,700 fps, a 55-grain 3,600 fps.
Remington legitimized the .22 Varminter in 1965, renaming it .22-250 Remington, of course. Some of today’s newest powders can push a 55-grain pill to 3,800 fps and 40-grain bullet to 4,300 fps from a 24-inch barrel. This is good and bad. Good because at those speeds shock is tremendous and can kill even a big whitetail instantly. Bad because at those speeds the bullet can disintegrate on the surface, leaving just a flesh wound. This is why some states outlaw it. But there’s more. Because of the relatively poor aerodynamic efficiency of those little bullets, they shed velocity and energy rather quickly. By 250 yards, the 55-grain slug falls below 1,000 foot-pounds of energy. At 350 yards, this has dropped to 743 foot-pounds, taking that massive shock with it.
The tricks to making a .22-250 Rem. effective on big game are: keeping shots inside 250 yards; placing bullets precisely behind the shoulder, low and on or near the heart; hitting spine or brain (not recommended because these are small targets that can shift and move suddenly); and tougher bullet construction.
Tougher, controlled-expansion bullets in .224 (bullet diameter for the .22-250 Rem.) are new. Traditionally, this caliber was thought to be exclusively for varmints, so all bullets were light and frangible. Today, you can find 60- to 75-grain projectiles engineered like big game bullets. Fired from a .22-250 Rem., they penetrate extremely well. In fact, when Randy Brooks of Barnes bullets tested his first .224 X-Bullets, fired from a .22-250 Rem., against a traditional 180-grain bullet shot from a .300 Win. Mag., the smaller bullet penetrated farther. I’ve used the bonded, 75-grain Swift Scirocco successfully on whitetails.
The problem with these heavy bullets is that they’re usually too long to stabilize from the 1/12- and 1/14-twist barrels common on most .22-250 Rems. The cure is to re-barrel with a 1/8 twist rate. Then, 60-grain bullets should hit 3,600 fps, the 75 grainers 3,200 fps.
Three lighter-but-tougher bullets that should stabilize in slow-twist .22-250s are the Barnes 50-grain TSX and TTSX, and the Hornady GMX, all monolithic (solid) hollow points. Nosler’s 60-grain Partition (Federal loads this one) might work in 1/12 twist, too.
Using a 60-grain Partition in a fast-twist barrel, I shot completely through a mature white-tailed buck quartering toward me. That little bullet broke the shoulder, spine and hip before landing somewhere out on the prairie. Does that make the .22-250 Rem. a great cartridge for deer? No. But it makes it viable.
You might use a .22-250 Rem. as a mild-shooting starter rifle for new shooters. If you do, make certain they take only broadside, behind-shoulder shots with varmint bullets. With those tougher bullets, virtually any angle into the heart/lungs should work. Keep ranges less than 250 yards.