For decades since its official introduction in 1962, the .223 Remington has been one of the most popular hunting cartridges in the U.S. But why? Indeed, compared to the other long-established hunting cartridges, such as the .30-06 Springfield, .243 Winchester, and even the .22-250 Remington, it’s smaller and slender but still has much to offer.
This article prepared by the Gritr Sports gun store will familiarize you with the .223 Remington cartridge. We will touch upon the history a bit, explain how the .223 Remington is different from the 5.56x45mm NATO, and discuss what .223 Remington loads are good for hunting what animals. So let’s begin with the history.
How the .223 Rem Came to Light
The development of the .223 Remington coincided with the development of a new lightweight, small-caliber, high-velocity combat rifle, the AR-15, which was designed by ArmaLite in the late 50s. Why would the Army need a small-caliber combat firearm? Such a rifle would allow soldiers to carry more ammo and maintain control in full auto.
The .222 Remington cartridge was a starting point. Though the cartridge was popular with hunters and competition shooters, it didn’t meet the velocity and penetration requirements of the Continental Army Command, failing to retain the supersonic velocity at 500 yards to penetrate a steel helmet. The decision was to design a cartridge that would have more power and velocity. Thus, the .222 Remington Magnum appeared. Thanks to a larger case, it held more powder that added 100 fps to muzzle velocity. However, the shelf life of that new cartridge was short.
The cartridge we know today as the .223 Remington obtained a bit shorter case than the .222 Remington Magnum to reach the right particulars for use in the AR-15.
A few years later, the AR-15 was adopted as the M16 military rifle, and its chambering named the 5.56mm ball cartridge, M193 was developed from the .223 Remington. In the 1970s, the M193 was refined to accept a heavier bullet and got the name 5.56×45mm NATO.
Since .223 Rem and 5.56x45mm NATO are so similar, many shooters begin wondering whether or not they can use the cartridges interchangeably. Well, let’s enlarge on that.
.223 Remington vs. 5.56x45mm NATO
Both cartridges have nearly identical external dimensions, so let’s take a deeper look.
The .223 Rem and 5.56 NATO have similar case capacity, but their shoulder profile and neck length differ. The thing is that the 5.56x45mm NATO was designed for use in chambers with a longer leade and a shallower angle.
The 5.56 NATO also has thicker case walls to achieve higher pressure by burning the same amount of powder in a smaller space. The average maximum pressure for the 5.56x45mm NATO is 58,000 psi. In contrast, the SAAMI-recognized maximum average pressure of the .223 Remington is 55,000 psi.
So, you shouldn’t use the 5.56 NATO ammunition in a .223 rifle because the latter is designed to withstand lower pressure than generated by the former. The 5.56x45mm NATO is already higher-pressure, so firing it from a chamber with a shorter leade (which by itself creates higher chamber pressure) can lead to an incident. However, you can safely shoot .223 ammo from a 5.56x45mm NATO chamber.
.223 Remington for Hunting
The .223 Rem is a choice of many hunters and target shooters for several reasons. First of all, it’s pleasant to shoot since it produces light recoil and low report as opposed to bigger-caliber rounds. A .223 Rem bolt-action or semi-automatic rifle can also be a great training firearm to introduce new shooters to the centerfire world and prevent them from developing flinching.
Originally designed smaller for soldiers to carry more rounds without breaking a sweat, .223 Rem ammo won’t load you down, allowing you to move around during a whole day without feeling too much weight on your body.
The abundance and affordability of the .223 Remington ammo is also a huge benefit. The hunters are free to choose from a great variety of loads for an array of their needs. As opposed to the .22 LR rimfire cartridge, the .223 Rem can be reloaded multiple times, lowering the cost of hunting and shooting.
The .223 Remington cartridge is easy on the barrels since it contains less powder than, for instance, the .22-250 Remington.
But what hunters value the most is the versatility of the .223 Rem. With a proper load, you can hunt lots of animals. First of all, it’s considered a varmint cartridge and is highly effective in controlling the population of rodents, such as woodchucks, rock chunks, and jackrabbits that may come to treat themselves to your crops.
The cartridge is also proven to be effective against predators that may be a threat to your poultry or cattle. You can humanely take down a fox, coyote, raccoon, and bobcat at 250-300 yards.
Many hunters wonder whether you can deer hunt with a .223 rifle. The answer is yes, the .223 Remington can be effective against such larger game species as whitetail deer, pronghorn, javelina, and feral hog as long as you place your shot properly and pick the right bullets. However, it’s not the best deer hunting caliber at your disposal, and other, larger-caliber options are more suitable for such a task. Your marksmanship should be excellent, and the maximum range should be around 200 yards. Before heading out for your .223 deer hunting trip, check your local regulations because some states limit the use of the cartridge to smaller animals.
As you see, the .223 Rem can be a great all-around cartridge in the hands of an expert. Now, let’s consider what loads are the best for hunting.
Best .223 Remington Loads for Hunting
.223 For Deer
Federal 62-grain Trophy Bonded Tipped
Generally, the best deer hunting small-caliber ammunition accepts bonded bullets because the design provides better controlled expansion that prevents fragmentation and increased weight retention needed for deeper penetration. Federal improved the bonded design with a polymer tip that improves the ballistic coefficient and aids expansion and named it Trophy Bonded Tipped. The 62-grain bullet has a muzzle velocity of 3050 fps.
Federal Premium 60-grain Nosler Partition
Here we have another excellent .223 Remington deer hunting ammunition from Federal. Nosler Partition bullets have an innovative core design with a soft front part performing swift expansion on impact and a hard rear part remaining intact to promote deeper penetration. The bullet’s muzzle velocity is 3,160 fps. The load will surely knock down deer or similar-sized game at a close or mid-range.
Remington 62-grain Hypersonic Bonded Core-Lokt Ultra
The load contains better-than-standard bullets boasting 3,260 fps of muzzle velocity and 1,463 ft-lbs of muzzle energy. For you, it means superior accuracy due to the reduced drop and dominating terminal performance. The Core-Lokt bullets are bonded, meaning they have the core and the jacket fused to improve weight retention and expansion.
.223 For Varmints and Predators
Hornady 55-grain V-MAX Varmint Express
The 55-gr bullet of the V-MAX leaves a 24-inch barrel at 3,200 fps with 1,280 ft-lbs of muzzle energy, which is sufficient for hunting prairie dogs and predators at mid- or long-range depending on the barrel length and the rifling twist. The V-MAX bullets are polymer-tipped, meaning they are more accurate, have a higher ballistic coefficient, and provide fast fragmentation on impact.
Nosler 40-grain Ballistic Tip Lead-Free Varmint
Lead-free bullets aren’t a novelty, but it’s nice to have such for use in lead-free zones. The 40-grain BTLF bullets are great for hunting coyotes and rodents at short and long ranges. The polymer tip and thin jacket mount ensure violent and fast expansion. The jacket is gradually thickening to the bottom, which means better energy transfer and more weight retention. Nosler BTLF bullets fly out of the barrel at 3,620 fps with 1160 ft-lbs of energy.
Sig Sauer 40-grain Varmint & Predator
Sig Sauer’s Varmint & Predator rounds have single base extruded powders for consistent muzzle velocity and temperature. The bullets with a muzzle velocity of 3,650 fps and energy of 1180 ft-lbs also feature polymer tips for flatter trajectory and devastation expansion.
We hope our humble guide to the .223 Remington containing the history of creation, advantages and disadvantages for different applications, and the recommendation on the best ammo loads will help you pick the right bullets for your game. Good hunting!
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