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22-250 vs 223: Varmint Hunting Versatility for Coyotes to Prairie Dogs

Written by Sam Jacobs Subject: Gun Rights

When the topic of varmint hunting or controlling coyotes are brought up on shooting forums or gun store counters, it doesn't take long for the debate over 223 vs 22-250 to come boiling to the surface. As two of the most popular centerfire rifle cartridges for dispatching furry nuisances at long range, you cannot go wrong with either for your next hunting rifle.

Although the 223 Rem and 22-250 fire the same diameter bullets, each cartridge has its own unique advantages and disadvantages that need to be considered when selecting it for your varmint ammo of choice.

The 22 250 Remington was built with varmint hunting in mind and has been long regarded as one of the best options for long range varmint shooting due to its high velocity and flat trajectory.

However, the 223 Remington is one of the most popular centerfire rifle cartridges on the market, as it is the frontline battle rifle caliber for the US military and NATO and has become popularized by the widespread success of the AR-15 sporting rifle.

In this article, we will compare two of the most popular varmint cartridges on the market today so that you know which is best for your new semi-auto or bolt action rifle.

What is the Difference Between 22-250 and 223?

The difference between the 22-250 and 223 Rem is that the 22-250 has a higher muzzle velocity than the 223 Rem. Both rifle cartridges fire the same bullet diameter, but as the 22-250 has a greater case capacity, its bullets will be fired at higher velocity.

A Note on Nomenclature

Please note that within this article we will refer to the 223 Remington (223 Rem) and the 5.56x45mm NATO round interchangeably. There are differences between the two that you can read about in our article, .223 vs 5.56.

In short, a 223 Rem can safely be fired from a rifle or handgun chambered in 5.56, however the opposite is not true.

Cartridge Specs



When evaluating two centerfire rifle cartridges tuned for high velocity long range shooting, it's a good idea to analyze the cartridge specs to gain more knowledge of each.

When comparing the cartridge case of the 22-250 vs 223, one of the most striking differences is the width of each case. The 22-250 is considerably "fatter" than the 223 Remington with a base diameter of 0.47" for 22-250 compared to 0.376" for 223.

This directly correlates to the case capacity of each cartridge, as the 22-250 has a distinct advantage over the 223 (44.6 gr vs 31.4 gr, respectively). As both rifle cartridges fire the same 0.224" diameter bullet, it's safe to say that we should expect the 22-250 to have higher muzzle velocities than the 223 Remington.

The final difference between the 22-250 vs 223 is their case length. The 22-250 has a longer case at 1.912" compared to 1.76" for 223. This in turn correlates to a longer overall length for the 22-250 of 2.35" compared to 2.26" for 223.

The 22-250 is simply a bigger cartridge, it can hold more powder than the 223 while both fire the same diameter bullets.

Recoil

Neither the 223 nor 22-250 is known for having heavy recoil, and this is one of their greatest advantages for small game hunting. As they both have low recoil, it's unlikely that new shooters will develop a recoil anticipation flinch.

Although recoil for both cartridges is low, the 223 Rem technically has less free recoil as it measures in around 4 ft-lbs compared to 6.7 ft-lbs for 22-250.

Although this is mathematically a 67% difference, only the most recoil sensitive shooters will be able to feel much of a difference between the two.

For most shooters, recoil should not be a major deciding factor between 22-250 vs 223, but for those who have extreme recoil sensitivity the 223 Remington is the clear choice.

Muzzle Velocity and Kinetic Energy

The 22 250 Remington is known for being an absolute speed demon, and for many years it held the title as the fastest round on the market. It has since been eclipsed by the 220 Swift and the 204 Ruger, but the 22-250 is still a hotrod of a cartridge.

This is not to say that the 223 Rem is any slouch when it comes to speed, as it is quite a quick round, the 22-250 is just faster mostly due to its increased case capacity.

For comparison, we will consider a 55-grain bullet for both cartridges, more specifically the Hornady V-MAX as this is an incredibly popular varmint bullet.

Don't forget to check out our Hornady 22-250 ammo page for more ammo options.

The 22-250 is screaming out of the muzzle at an impressive 3,680 fps with 1,654 ft-lbs of muzzle energy.In comparison, the 223 Remington has a muzzle velocity of 3,240 fps and muzzle energy of 1,282 ft-lbs.

Although the numbers for the 223 Rem are impressive, the 22-250 is faster and hits harder with the same bullet weight.

Trajectory

Trajectory is how we quantify a bullet's flight path as it travels downrange measured in inches of bullet drop.

Obviously, a flatter shooting cartridge is preferred for long-range shooting, as a shooter will require fewer adjustments to their optics to compensate for bullet drop. Having a flatter trajectory also means that a cartridge will be more forgiving of ranging mistakes.

The incredibly high muzzle velocity of the 22-250 has given it a well-known reputation for having a very flat trajectory on par with the 6.5 Creedmoor.

Comparing the same 55-grain bullet from the previous section and assuming a 100 yard zero, the 22-250 will have experienced -38" of bullet drop at 500 yards compared to -53" for the 223 Rem.

The 22-250 will generally always have a flatter trajectory than the 223 Rem when comparing similar bullet weights and this makes the 22-250 the better choice for longer range shots.

Ballistic Coefficient



Ballistic coefficient (BC) is a measure of how well a bullet resists wind drift and air resistance. Put another way, it's a numeric representation of how aerodynamic a bullet is. A high BC is preferred as this means the bullet will buck the wind easier.

Generally, heavy bullets will have a higher BC as it takes more force to disrupt the flight of a heavier bullet than a lighter one. Ballistic coefficient varies from bullet to bullet based on design, weight, and other factors that are beyond the scope of this article.

As the 223 Remington and 22-250 fire the same 0.224" diameter bullets, there will be virtually zero difference in ballistic coefficient when comparing similar bullet weights.

However, as the 22-250 has more muzzle velocity, it will reach the target faster and suffer less wind drift compared to the 223. Assuming a 10 mph crosswind, the 22-250 will have experienced 29" of wind drift at 500 yards compared to 35" for 223. Even though the BC for the 55-grain V-MAX is the same for both cartridges (0.255), the 22-250 will be affected by the wind less.

In an apples-to-apples comparison with identical bullet weights and profiles the 22-250 will always come out on top in terms of wind drift. However, it's important to note that the 223 Rem can fire heavier bullets than the 22-250 as 223 rifles typically have a faster barrel twist rate (more on this in another section of this article). Therefore, the 223 can stabilize higher BC bullets like the Sierra 77 grain open tip match (OTM) with a BC of 0.372 whereas the 22-250 is limited to bullets around 60 grains maximum.

Sectional Density

Sectional Density (SD) is the measure of how well a bullet penetrates a target. This is extremely important when hunting big and medium sized game, as you need a bullet that can punch through thick hide, bone, and sinew.

Sectional density is calculated by comparing the bullet weight and the bullet diameter. The higher the SD the deeper the bullet will penetrate into the target. This is a simplified view of penetration as there are other factors to consider, such as bullet expansion and velocity.

As the 223 Remington and 22-250 can fire the same bullets, their sectional density values will be identical. For example, the 55 gr V-MAX has a SD of 0.157 for both 223 and 22-250.

It is unlikely that any hunter will be able to detect any difference in penetration on small game, coyotes, and other varmints with either round.

Barrel Life and Twist Rate

Barrel twist rate is a term that is often thrown around in the shooting world but sometimes misunderstood.

When a bullet is fired, it travels down the barrel and begins to spin due to the rifling. This spin stabilizes the bullet in flight, increasing accuracy and consistency.

For rifle barrels, twist rate is expressed as a ratio of rotations per length of barrel. For example, a 1:7 twist barrel will cause a bullet to experience 1 full rotation per 7 inches of barrel length.

Typically, longer, heavier bullets require a faster twist barrel while lighter bullets work better in a slower twist barrel. This means that your barrels twist rate will directly impact which bullet weights your rifle will fire best.

For your standard 16-18" barreled AR-15 chambered in 223/5.56 NATO, you will generally find there are three different twist rates available: 1:9, 1:8, and 1:7. In comparison, 22-250 rifles are typically adorned with 22-24" barrels with a 1:12 or 1:14 twist rate.

This means that the 22-250 will excel at stabilizing lighter to middleweight bullets that are exceptional for small game whereas the 223 Rem can stabilize middle to heavier weight bullets that work well on small to medium sized game like coyotes.

Barrel life is a metric often thrown around on internet forums as a way to evaluate a rifle cartridge but is extremely difficult to quantify as there are several factors that go into determining how fast a barrel is "shot out."

The biggest enemy of barrel life is heat. The more frequently a barrel gets heated to high levels, the faster the rifling will wear and the shorter your barrel life will be.

As the 22-250 has the higher case capacity, it should, in theory, have a shorter barrel life as the larger powder charge should wear on the barrel harder than a 223. However, most 22-250 shooters do not report their barrels becoming shot out. This is because the 22-250 is primarily fired from a bolt action rifle, and although rapid fire is possible, most bolt action shooters take their time between shots.

Therefore, barrel life should not be a major issue and its very likely that a 22-250 hunting rifle can be passed down from generation to generation.

Hunting

When considering a caliber for your new hunting rifle, it's important to think about what game animals you intend to hunt.

When it comes to small game hunting, it's hard to beat the 22-250. Its flat trajectory allows for longer range shots and its lighter bullets are extremely effective at humanely harvesting varmints while preserving the meat and hides.

The 223 Rem is also extremely effective on small game and has been utilized by varmint hunters since its release, the 22-250 is just slightly better.

For medium sized game like feral hogs and coyote hunting, the 223 would be a better option as you have access to heavier bullets. Something along the lines of a 60 gr Barnes TTSX or Nosler Ballistic tip will make short work of any coyotes that cross your path. As 223 Rem rifles typically have a faster twist rate than 22-250, the 223 rifle will stabilize these heavier bullets.

Many coyotes are felled each year with a 22-250 and it should not be overlooked as a potent coyote hunting caliber, the 223 just offers more versatility in this.

Although both rifle cartridges are excellent choices for small and medium game hunting, neither the 22-250 nor 223 should be utilized for big game as they lack the kinetic energy to ethically (and legally) harvest these game animals.

But what about whitetail deer hunting?

The topic of ethically and legally hunting whitetail with a 22-caliber cartridge has been discussed at length over campfires, at sporting good stores, and hunting forums. Anecdotal stories about survivors hunting whitetail with a rimfire like a 22 Hornet or .22 LR and successfully claiming a deer does not mean that it is ethical to do so or that a 223 or 22-250 would be a better option.

Although the 22-250 and 223 have the muzzle energy to ethically harvest a whitetail, they simply do not have the wounding capabilities of larger calibers such as the 308 Winchester or 6.5 Creedmoor. These larger calibers carry more kinetic energy and create larger wound channels that are considerably more effective at stopping large game.

As such, many states and provinces prohibit the use of 22-caliber bullets for deer hunting, requiring a minimum bullet diameter of 0.243". Can you use a 223 or 22 250 for deer? If your state allows it, yes. Of the two I'd favor 223 as it allows for heavier bullets which will be more effective and harvesting the animal. However, as there are so many more powerful options on the market, I'd prefer something larger like a 308 or 30-06 for whitetail.

Ammo and Rifle Cost/Availability

When it comes to ammo cost and availability, the 223 Remington is the clear winner.

As the 223 Rem/5.56 NATO is a military cartridge currently in service, there is a plethora of surplus ammo available on the market that drives prices down. Furthermore, the widespread success of the AR-15 sporting rifle has catapulted the 223 to incredible heights of popularity.

Every major ammo manufacturer, like Hornady, Nosler, Sierra, Federal, PMC, Wolf, and Remington all have multiple factory loads for 223.

Even though wildcat loads for the 22-250 predate the round's standardization, it never reached the levels of success seen with the 223.

On average, cheap steel-cased 223 ammo can go as cheap as $0.40/round while premium hunting ammo typically costs $1.20/round on average.

Buying in bulk is always smart, make sure to check out our stock of 223 bulk ammo.

Comparatively, practice ammo for 22-250 starts around $1.60/round with premium ammo going for $2.20/round and up.

When it comes to rifles, most 22-250 shooters are limited to bolt action rifles. Although you can easily find bolt action rifles for 223, most shooters prefer the semi-auto AR-15. All major rifle manufacturers like Savage, Remington, Winchester, Weatherby, and Sako have offerings in both calibers.

You simply cannot beat the 223 Remington in terms of price and availability for ammo and rifles, as its widespread popularity has driven the price considerably lower than the 22-250.

Reloading



One way to reduce your overall cost per round is by handloading your own ammo. This helps offset the cost of factory ammo, especially for 22-250.

And if you like to reload, both the 223 Rem and 22-250 are excellent options as the share the same bullet diameter. This means you can buy your bullets in bulk and use them to reload for both rifle cartridges.

Handloading allows you to really tailor your rounds to your rifle(s) and reach the pinnacle of accuracy for both cartridges.

Virtually every bullet manufacturer, like Hornady, Sierra, and Nosler, have multiple offerings for 0.224" diameter bullets to really dial in your reloads.

In terms of brass, finding 223 cases is ridiculously easy. As it is a military caliber and currently in service, there are numerous vendors selling once-fired or factory new brass for relatively low prices. However, 22-250 brass is a bit more difficult to come by, so you should expect to pay a bit more for these cases than you would for 223.

Handloading for both cartridges is an excellent way to keep your shooting costs as low as possible, or to shoot more for the same price! Sounds like a win-win scenario if you ask me.

Continue reading the full guide on 22-250 ammo vs 223 ammo here.

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