In a previous Caliber Battle, I described the .223 Remington as a “classic Army brat.” If that’s the case, the .22-250 is the hippie flower child of the high-velocity, .22-caliber family.
Remington introduced the .22-250 as a factory cartridge in 1965, but it spent its formative years as a wildcat. Its variants included the .22 Varminter, the .22 Wotkyns, and the Original Swift, and no one knows exactly who fathered the original cartridge or when it was first made.
Frank C. Barnes notes that the cartridge was based on the .250-3000 Savage, which was first introduced in 1915. At least five wildcatters worked on versions of the .22-250 between 1915 and 1937, when the cartridge earned a standard design in the wildcat community.
Both the .223 and the .22-250 are excellent varmint rounds that can take down whitetail in a pinch, but they overlap to such an extent you may only want one in your safe. If you have to choose between the Army brat and the flower child, which should you take?
.223 Rem. Ballistics vs. .22-250 Rem. Ballistics Ballistically speaking, these cartridges are extremely similar. Both can accommodate bullets ranging from 40-70 grains, and both launch projectiles well over 3,000 feet-per-second (fps) at the muzzle.
Comparing bullets of equal weight, the .22-250 boasts a slight ballistic advantage. If you’re looking for something that can tackle both varmints and whitetail, a 55-grain bullet is a solid choice, so we’ll start there.
Federal’s 55-grain Trophy Copper .223 Rem. flies 3,240 fps at the muzzle and maintains terminal performance minimal velocity (1,800 fps) out to 500 yards. At that distance, the bullet has dropped 34 inches and has drifted 29 inches with a stiff, 10-mph crosswind.
Federal does not offer a Trophy Copper .22-250, but its Varmint and Predator 55-grain load flies 3,670 fps at the muzzle and maintains terminal performance minimal velocity (1600 fps) out to 600 yards. At 500 yards, the bullet has dropped 34 inches and drifted 29 inches in a 10-mph crosswind.
Most .22-250 loads follow this pattern. At the muzzle, the cartridge provides a 300-400 fps advantage, which starts to even out past about 500 yards. Within 300 yards, however, that muzzle velocity pays dividends. Comparing the same two loads at 300 yards, the .22-250 drops 2.4 inches less (more then enough to make or break a shot), drifts 0.4 inches less, and flies 174 fps faster.
Of course, added velocity comes at a cost. Faster-shooting cartridges tend to wear out barrels more quickly, and the .22-250 is no exception. You can mitigate wear and tear by not heating up the barrel too much, but it’s something to keep in mind.
Hunting rifles shot only a few times a year can take a lifetime to burn out, so the .22-250 is the clear (though not overwhelming) winner in this category.
Winner: .22-250 Remington
.223 Rem. Shootability vs. .22-250 Rem. Shootability The winner of this category depends a lot on the rifle’s intended use.
In the field, hunters are unlikely to notice much difference in recoil energy. Chuck Hawks reports that the .22-250 is a little snappier, but the difference between 3.2 foot-pounds (ft.-lbs.) of recoil energy (for the .223 Rem.) and 4.7 ft.-lbs. (for the .22-250) is almost negligible. Most shooters don’t report much discomfort with anything below 15-20 ft.-lbs., so neither cartridge will cause trouble for new or young hunters.
Intended use becomes a factor when considering each cartridge’s cost. The .223 Rem.’s adoption by the U.S. military means it can be found in cheap abundance. While these days you’re unlikely to find it for less than $0.75 per round, it wasn’t unusual to find it for $0.30 per round in non-pandemic times.
Contrary to popular belief, the .223 Rem. is also one of the easiest rounds to find these days. As I outlined here, most ammo dealers have at least a few boxes of .223 Rem. in stock, and Federal currently has in stock two SKU’s of their plinking loads.
The .22-250 is more expensive and harder to come by. The cheapest offerings run about $1.20 per round, and you can pay up to $1.90 per round for a box of 20. Federal doesn’t list any .22-250 as available, and a quick survey of the big online dealers doesn’t turn up any in-stock options.
Hunters who don’t plan to burn more than 100 rounds in a season between practice and hunting can get away with the .22-250 relatively unscathed—both in terms of their shoulders and wallets. Thirty-five bucks for a box of 20 cartridges is a lot for varmint hunting, but for whitetail it’s no more than most popular deer loads.
There’s no question, however, that the .223 Rem. is cheaper and marginally less snappy, which is why I’m giving this one to the .223 Rem.
Winner: .223 Rem.
.223 Rem. Versatility vs. .22-250 Rem. Versatility The versatility of these cartridges depends largely on whether a hunter is comfortable taking medium-sized animals with a .22-caliber projectile. Books have been written (mostly in internet forums) about whether cartridges like the .223 Rem. and the .22-250 are appropriate for deer species. Given the right bullet and proper shot placement, both cartridges can take a whitetail without much issue. But they don’t come with as much room for error as their larger cousins.
The .223 Rem. can more often be found with heavier bullets in the 73-80-grain range, and the .22-250 is more often loaded with 40-grain varmint bullets. But manufacturers most frequently load both cartridges with 55-60-grain bullets, and overall bullet weight range is extremely comparable.
Most rifle manufacturers chamber a bolt-action hunting rifle in both cartridges. If you like to hunt with an AR-platform rifle, the .223 is the better choice. But if you’re looking for a classically-designed rifle from Weatherby, for example, you won’t have trouble finding firearms chambered in either caliber.
Like every category in this Caliber Battle, this one is close, but I’m giving the slight edge to the .22-250. Its added velocity allows hunters to reach out a little further with light, 40-grain bullets and hit a little harder with heavier, 60-grain bullets. The .223 can take both varmints and whitetail, too, but the .22-250 is better at both.
And the Winner Is… For a hunter who doesn’t spend hours at the range, the .22-250 is the way to go. It’s superior ballistics and versatility trump its higher cost and lower availability. If you want to hunt with an AR-15 that does double-duty as a home-defense firearm, the .223 Rem. is the classic choice. But for something with a little more oomph, give the .22-250 a look.
Overall Winner: .22-250