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221 Fireball: Blazing Away with LT-30

JimwaddellBy Jim Waddell

I noticed recently an inquiry made to Dear Labby regarding data for the .221 Remington Fireball, using Accurate’s new LT-30 powder.  Barry, I hope you read this as I’ve had very good results with this combination.

lt3072I’ve been shooting this caliber for about 6-7 years now after purchasing a Remington 700 Classic, new in the box.  When I first started working up loads for this rifle, I hadn’t had much experience with Accurate powders.  I used Lil Gun from Hodgdon and I tried IMR’s 4227 and 4198.

Right from the beginning I found where the barrel of this rifle evidently had some tool marks or otherwise a rougher than ideal finish as it would foul pretty badly after just a few shots.  This was after going through a break-in regimen suggested by one of the major custom barrel makers.  Whether a rough bore was my problem or the rifle just didn’t do well with the powders listed, I didn’t have very good results with accuracy.

After getting an advanced lesson in getting carbon and copper fouling out of a barrel, I persisted in developing loads for the Fireball.  That made a big difference in accuracy.  I bought a can of 1680 and without getting into boring details I ended up with an accuracy load of 19.0 grains with a 40 grain Nosler Ballistic Tip.

Last year, I got a can of LT-30 after I found it had a burn rate that should work well in the .221 Fireball.  Always the experimenter, I just had to try it in this caliber and also, the .222 Remington.

.224 Nosler Ballistic Tip 40-grain.

.224 Nosler Ballistic Tip 40-grain.

I should mention that early in my testing with the Fireball, I quickly learned it did not like 50 grain bullets which was fine with me as I preferred 40’s in this caliber.  The ballistics of the 40 grainers fit more of what my shooting preferences are.  All of my load testing and shooting has been with 40 grain plastic tips from Sierra, Hornady and Nosler.

I contacted the lab at Western Powders and was told they did intend to test LT-30 in the .221, sometime in the near future.  In the meantime it was suggested I start with 16.5 grains and work up slowly from there.

221 group B 72Starting at 16.5 grains of LT-30 I loaded many groups of 5, increasing the powder charge a half grain until I reached 18.0.  At this load, I started seeing slight signs of pressure in the primers.   There weren’t any other symptoms of excessive pressure but caution told me to stop there.  I tested this powder in this manner, using Nosler Ballistic Tips, Nosler Varmageddon tipped, flat base, (they also make a boat-tail hollowpoint), and Sierra’s Blitzking.  Again, all of these bullets were 40 grains.

The first tests were with Remington cases as I had several hundred saved up.  Remington was the only U.S. component supplier to make brass in this caliber and very difficult to get.  I haven’t confirmed this but I recently heard Remington is going to discontinue making fireball brass.  I used Remington 7 ½ benchrest primers throughout.

221 groups 72Test results were better than expected.  I had no unacceptable groups, meaning all shot close to MOA, some groups well under MOA.  This was with all bullets tested.  Again, my rifle isn’t anything close to being a benchrest or target model.  It’s light weight with a fluted, sporter-weight barrel, 22 inches long.

The best groups attained were those around 17 to 17.5 grains.  The few I loaded to 18 grains started spreading out.  I selected as my best load that shot consistently at around .75 or less, 17.5 grains under the tipped Varmageddon.  I used this load earlier this spring on a ground squirrel hunt in southern Oregon and got fantastic results consistently out to 250 yards and beyond.

The difference in accuracy between 1680 and LT-30 in my rifle is minute.  LT-30 gets the nod but only slightly and I was told by Rob at Western, LT-30 should produce higher velocity than 1680.  I didn’t take the time to chronograph any of these loads.  I do like 1680 better in my Redding powder measure as it meters more reliably than the extruded LT-30 but for my varmint loads, I take the extra time to weigh them anyway so that point is moot.

Just in case the rumor is true about Remington discontinuing .221 brass, I tightened my belt and dug deep into my piggy bank and ordered a couple hundred new cases from Lapua.  Some of the benchrest shooters at our local gun club swear by Lapua brass.  They tell me the extra cost of the brass is offset in spades by its lifespan as they can get twice as many loadings and even more, than the stuff made here.

The Original .221 Fireball, Remington's XP-100

The Original .221 Fireball, Remington’s XP-100

In testing the Lapua cases, I am making the switch.  I really appreciate the bullet pull or case-neck tension being consistent throughout.  The flash holes are drilled rather than punched which means more consistent ignition for finer accuracy.  It did make a difference in accuracy over my Remington brass.  It might be expensive but it’s available.

So in answering Barry’s question to Dear Labby, yes, LT-30 works great in the .221 Fireball.  I have no experience in reduced loads in this caliber.  When I want a load that shoots less, I stick the .221 in the rack and grab the .22 Hornet.