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Loading The Triple Deuce

By Jim Waddell.


223remnormaTwo things in the shooting world fascinate me: .22-caliber centerfires and .22 centerfires that aren’t popular anymore.

I’ve already written about the .221 Fireball and the .22 Hornet so now its time to report on my experiences with the “Triple Deuce” or just “deuce” as some call it. Introduced in 1950, it was designed as an original cartridge, meaning it wasn’t an off-shoot of some existing caliber.

The .222 was the king of the benchrest shooters for several decades after its introduction until it was knocked off its perch by the 6mm PPC. Both calibers are “inherently accurate,” a term I’ve seen used many times by professional gun writers. Personally, I don’t know if there is such a thing but the deuce has a well-earned reputation among the benchrest crowd. I recently read where the difference in accuracy between these two cartridges is measured in less than .10 MOA.

.222 Remington (L) alongside a 6mm PPC

.222 Remington (L) alongside a 6mm PPC

Not being a benchrest competitor, which cartridge shoots the tiniest group means little to me. About 8 years ago I decided I wanted a .222 after having read about them all of my life. It seemed like the perfect caliber for what I wanted which was a medium-range, very accurate round with light recoil, moderate report and long barrel life.

I searched all of the usual places, local guns shops and several online sources and I found there just weren’t many of these rifles to be had. Remington’s custom shop and of course Cooper Firearms of Montana would fix me up but at the time, I wasn’t interested in taking out a second on the house to make this purchase.

Finally I found one during an internet search. The listing was for a Sako Riihimaki, a bolt action made in Finland that had a pretty decent reputation as being a quality made firearm.

Intrigued, I called the proprietor of the gun shop that was located someplace in Washington State. Wary of purchasing firearms sight unseen, I interrogated the man quite thoroughly. I listened carefully to all his answers using a skill I had learned in a class called “Detecting Deception,” which I attended 20 or so years prior while in law enforcement.

The man told me the rifle would shoot one-hole groups with 50 grain Noslers as long as I did my part. He sounded so convincing I sent him the 500 bucks he wanted for it. The rifle arrived about a week later.

222sako72It was a sporter model and looked to be in pretty decent shape except for the magazine. A detachable box-type, it was either over-sized or had suffered some abuse that wasn’t visible but I could only get it in and out with the help of a couple of hand tools. Not to be deterred by that triviality, I set out to making up some loads to see what it would do.

Remembering what the seller said about it shooting 50 grain Noslers so well, I assembled a few. They were Ballistic Tips I had been using in a .22-250. I also loaded some 40 grain Sierra Blitzkings as I preferred that weight bullet for its slightly flatter trajectory and higher velocity.

A 5-shot group with the 50 grain Ballistic Tips looked like someone was trying to put a 6 inch happy face on the target with a hole punch. The eyes, nose and the corners of the mouth were all in the right spots. I had loaded those with IMR 4198, an old standby for this caliber that goes back many years. I tried a few more, this time using Accurate 2015. Same thing. So much for me being skilled at detecting a lie on the phone. Maybe the one-hole groups he was talking about were made with just one shot.

Remembering similar issues I had with the .22 Hornet and the .221 Fireball, I started thinking, “What is it with me and these blasted 22 centerfires? Why can’t I find just one that will shoot without me having to sell a body part to China to keep getting more components to try?” Then a more rational thought entered my mind. “If you keep getting someone else’s discards, how can you expect to find a bug-hole shooter? If the rifle was capable of putting 10 rounds into one hole, it would not have been on the market.”

Next I tried some of the 40 grain Blitzkings and the groups shrunk considerably. I loaded several groups of 5 using H322, IMR 22240blitz724198 and A2015. These groups averaged about 1-1/2 inches at 110 yards. Ok but not as good as I had wanted. The .222’s reputation for accuracy kept me from being satisfied. Of the three powders tried, 2015 edged the others but just slightly.

I made sure I cleaned the bore of all fouling, powder and copper. It did have a considerable amount of copper in the bore as it took several applications of copper solvent before the patches came out free of the tell-tale bluish-green color.

All of the 50 grain bullets were left on the shelf and I went into more detailed load development with the 40 weights. I had a

Sierra's Blitzking Bullets

Sierra’s Blitzking Bullets

supply of Sierra Blitzkings, Nosler Ballistic Tips and Hornady V-Max.

To allay speculation, I’ll state right here I have somewhat of a reputation among my group of shooting buddies who feel I could easily wear out a rifle barrel testing all the possible combinations of bullets, primers and powders. This is a bit over-stated but not that much. This is what I like to do. Tinkering with new rifles and calibers and subsequent load development gives me great pleasure.

I won’t bore anybody with charts, graphs or detailed explanations of groups and their measurements but after extensive testing with a myriad of components, this rifle would more often than not, put 8 out of 10 shots into a 1 ½ inch circle. This level of accuracy would not win many shooting contests but it was enough to take it along on my annual squirrel hunt.

I used this rifle for two seasons, shooting ground squirrels in Oregon. During the second season, I noticed I was getting more misses and fewer hits. Like 200 and sometimes even 150 yard shots were missing and occasionally missing by a lot.

About that time, I noticed new bullets and other components were coming out so I thought it a good time to get back to the bench for some updated load development. After putting together another group of loads to test it was becoming obvious, this barrel’s best days were in the past.

I hit the trail for Oregon, to Gunner’s Sport Shop in the town of Brookings. Ernie, the owner and gunsmith, came highly recommended by Pac-Nor Barrels and had previously done some barrel work for me. One look through his bore scope at the inside of that barrel was all it took. It was diagnosed with a terminal sore throat. His scope was attached to a computer screen that clearly showed the condition of that bore which wasn’t good to say the least.

Ernie specializes in custom barrels and blueprinting actions. I got to choose from several options and decided to keep my action and stock. I could have chosen from several different calibers that were derivatives of the .222 such as the .17 Remington, 221 Fireball, .223 Remington, .204 Ruger and the .380 ACP, without much in the way of modifications to the receiver as they all fit the bolt face. I decided to stay with the “deuce” since my desire for that caliber is what started all of this. (I was kidding about the .380. Wanted to see if you were paying attention, even though it does use the same shell holder according to Midway USA).

I chose a medium weight barrel with a 1 in 14 inch twist. For less than 500 bucks and for all practical purposes I had a brand new rifle.

It arrived about 5 weeks later. I had a supply of loaded rounds left over from the doomed barrel. They were loaded with IMR’s 8208 XBR, which shot slightly better than Hodgdon’s Benchmark with the 40 grain Sierra Blitzking and Remington 7 ½ primer.

220072At the time, I had little experience with Accurate or Ramshot powders. The experience I did have was with Accurate 1680 which performed much better than its closest rivals’ Hodgdon’s Lil’ Gun and IMR 4227’ in the .221 Fireball. I had also tried some 2015 with the old .222 barrel which did pretty well also.

I shot several groups of 5 with this 8208 load. The results were ok but not what I was expecting. I did not break the barrel in as Ernie had assured me that was not necessary with the custom barrel he installed. The groups hovered around an inch or slightly above and often with a flyer.

I remembered seeing a supply of Accurate 2200 in one of our local gun shops. I had read that this powder was best suited for the small calibers such as the .17’s, .20’s and especially suited for the .222 and .223 Remington with lighter bullets.
With that in mind I returned and purchased a pound of 2200 and loaded up several groups of 5 rounds, starting at the minimum listed weight given by Western Powders for the 40 grain bullet. I increased the load a half a grain at a time, and stopped just below maximum of 23.0. I started off using Nosler’s Varmageddon bullet, the one with the flat base and black polymer tip.

The first 5 shot group was a smile-producing cluster of 5/8 inch. As I worked on up to the maximum I had loaded which was 22.5 grains, the groups all hovered around a half inch, with 22.5 being the tightest at just under a half inch. I loaded this series with CCI BR-4 primers, using Winchester brass.

I think most normal varmint hunters would be inclined stop right there, document the 22.5 grains of Accurate 2200 with the other components, load up a few hundred and be ready for the first spring varmint hunt. The key word in this paragraph is “normal.”
I’m not one of those.

I was thinking, “…Wonder what would happen with Remington 7 ½ Benchrest primers.” I loaded 15, using the same data but changing to this primer. I shot them in 3 separate 5-shot clusters. Accuracy again was great, not quite as tight as the first series. Then I thought, “What happens if I run short of Varmageddons and have to substitute with Sierra Blitzking or Hornady V-Max.” Will they be as accurate? Will they shoot close enough to the same point of aim that I won’t have to adjust the scope?”

I grabbled a little sanity and decided to stop right there and for the time being, stay with the load that printed the best. There’s very little doubt as time goes on, I’ll be back at the bench, tinkering with these loads trying to make them shoot better than I am capable of holding.

lt3272I can’t say enough about the performance of Accurate 2200 powder. It’s a very fine-grained, spherical or ball powder that won’t bridge in a funnel or in small mouthed cases and it performed like a dream. I went back to that gun shop and now own five more cans of the stuff.

I just purchased a can of LT-32 and that’s next on the agenda but I’m going to wait until after the next varmint season. If I wear out this custom, Pac-Nor barrel, no problem, five weeks and a few hundred bucks and I might get a .222 Remington Magnum this time. Haven’t tried that one yet.

JimwaddellJim Waddell is a retired law enforcement officer and graduate of the FBI National Academy. In his nearly 40 years of service he worked for two sheriff’s departments and was a chief of police. Jim is a firearms instructor and competed in many statewide pistol matches. He lives in central California where he grows almonds.