From a beloved wildcat cartridge to a competitive shooting champion to a blazingly fast modern varminting round, the venerable .22-250 has more than earned its stripes over the years, and remains one of the most popular centerfire .22 cartridges in production. We’re going to explore the history of this cartridge, analyze its ballistic performance, and cover some of its most useful applications, so if you want to see whether a .22-250 is right for you, you’re in luck!
A Brief History
Though it has enjoyed almost 60 years of enduring popularity as a commercial cartridge produced by Remington, the true origins of the .22-250 cartridge can actually be traced all the way back to the late 1930s, when a series of wildcat cartridges based on a necked down .250-3000 Savage case gained a dedicated following among small game hunters.
Accounts of these early wildcat days differ, and few agree on all the details, but most historians agree that one of the earliest and most successful pioneers involved in the process was Grosvenor Wotkyns. After significant testing of every variable from case taper to shoulder angle, Wotkyns settled on a cartridge that was intended to be adopted as a factory round by Winchester under the name of .220 Swift.
The exact details of what followed are murky – Winchester did indeed release a .220 Swift cartridge, but instead of using Wotkyns’ design for a necked down .250-3000 case, they based it on a modified version of the 6mm Lee-Navy cartridge instead. Why Winchester made this change is unclear, but the decision angered Wotkyns enough to cut ties with Winchester and strike out on his own.
This time, Wotkyns sought out some help from an experienced handloader named J. Bushnell Smith, along with a professional gunsmith and shooting champion named Jerry Gebby. Together, they designed, tested, and eventually perfected a cartridge that they would name the .22-250 Varminter.
Ironically, the choice to trademark the Varminter name is part of why it took so long for the cartridge to be adopted for commercial production, despite its significant popularity. To avoid legal issues, gunsmiths building rifles chambered for this cartridge simply called it the “.22-250,” and because there was no system of standardization, many of these rifles had small variations in chamber design and tolerances. This lack of standardization made many firearms manufacturers wary of producing it as a factory round, fearing that all of the variations could present some legal issues if a rifle that was supposedly chambered for .22-250 could not reliably or safely fire their ammunition.
The release of the popular .222 Remington cartridge made many manufacturers lose interest in .22-250, even as the wildcat cartridge proceeded to outperform .222 Remington in formal benchrest competitions.
But in 1963, the Browning Arms company made an unprecedented decision to sell a version of their Browning High Power Rifle chambered in .22-250, the first time that a major firearms manufacturer had offered a rifle that no factory ammunition was being produced for. It took another two years for Remington to finally formalize the cartridge, submit it for SAAMI approval, and offer it for sale alongside their new Model 700 rifle, firmly establishing the .22-250 Remington cartridge’s reputation as a top-tier varminting round.
.22-250 Remington has consistently proven itself to be an incredibly accurate and fast-moving round – in fact, the 35-grain Superperformance cartridge offered by Hornady has the distinction of being the fastest production cartridge on the planet, clocking in at a blistering 4,450 feet per second. 40-grain bullets are also quite popular, especially among prairie dog hunters in the western United States, who have to contend with strong crosswinds that would wreak havoc on heavier, slower-moving rounds.
However, 50 and 55-grain bullets tend to the most common and widely available, so to keep things simple we’ll look at how they stack up:
As you can see, .22-250 is a flat-shooting cartridge that maintains its trajectory over an admirable distance. With even a 55-grain bullet clocking in at 3,680 feet per second, a rifle chambered in .22-250 is more than capable of bagging small game all the way out to 1,000 yards, though optimal performance starts to taper off at about 550 yards when the bullet drops to a velocity of roughly 1,600 fps, which is about as far as you’d want to shoot to reliably harvest coyotes.
.22-250 vs. .223/5.56
Of course, no matter how popular any other centerfire .22 cartridge is, the elephant in the room and the yardstick by which all competitors are measured will always be .223 Remington / 5.56 NATO. So how does .22-250 Remington stack up? As it turns out, pretty well!
There’s no two ways about it: .22-250 shoots flatter, moves faster, and hits harder than .223 does. Even if we compare it to a .223 rifle with a 24-inch barrel, .22-250 still boasts roughly 12% more velocity and 20% more foot-pounds of energy on impact. When it comes to small game, those numbers make a big difference – especially if your shot placement is anything less than perfect.
Does that mean it’s time to ditch .223 and buy a .22-250? Well, that depends on what kind of shooting you do. .223 does still have some advantages: it’s cheaper to shoot, the ammunition, rifles, and aftermarket parts are more widely available, and the wide array of different bullets available for a rifle chambered in .223 does give it some additional versatility, especially if you do most of your shooting within 300 yards.
On the other hand, if you’re chasing tighter shot groupings, want a dedicated varminting rifle, or live in a state where most of your hunting occurs at longer distances or in stronger winds, .22-250 simply outperforms .223 in every metric that counts. It’s also a dream cartridge for reloaders, as it is extremely flexible in terms of powder load - the legendary outdoorsman and firearms writer Jack O’Connor recounted a time that he saw a shooter simply dunk a handful of .22-250 cases into a can of powder without any kind of measuring, seat a bullet on top of each one, and proceed to shoot a 1-inch group.
Small Game Hunting and Varmint Control
Unsurprisingly for a cartridge that was originally designated .22-250 Varminter, Remington’s commercial version of .22-250 is also a world-class varmint hunting or ranch gun option. It is especially popular among coyote and prairie dog hunters, but it it more than capable of handling any other small game as well, and has been used to bag many a rabbit or raccoon even at distances out to 1,000 yards. It has even seen success as a deer hunting cartridge, though ethical kills require skilled shot placement.
In addition to its high velocity, .22-250 is also an exceptionally accurate cartridge – enough so that both the British and Australian Special Air Service purchased Tikka M55 rifles chambered in .22-250 to be used as sniper rifles during counter-terrorism operations. If you want a tack-driving rifle more than capable of sub-MOA groups, .22-250 is more than up to the task.
.22-250 was a dominant cartridge in the early days of formalized benchrest shooting, and for a time it actually held the majority of officially recognized benchrest records. While more inherently accurate factory cartridges have come along to edge out .22-250 for the throne, it’s still a reasonably popular choice for competitive shooting, and a great option for shooters who want a versatile all-in-one rifle that won’t break the bank.
.22-250 was a revolutionary cartridge when it was first introduced, and modern improvements to powders and bullet technology have ensured that it has lost none of its luster after all these years. While other cartridges can outperform it in specific niches, the fact that .22-250 has retained its popularity for so long largely comes down to just how versatile it is – it can handle bullets ranging from 35 to 64 grains, and can be loaded to velocities ranging from 1,500 feet per second to over 4, 400 using a wide array of specialized bullets, all while maintaining consistent accuracy and long-range performance and without any of the downsides that many niche cartridges deal with.
The bottom line: if you’re looking for a reliable, soft-shooting varmint rifle that can harvest game out to 1,000 yards while also giving you sub-MOA groups off of a benchrest, .22-250 Remington is in a class of its own.
[See the teaser for Bear Creek Arsenal's .22-250]