The .222 Remington is now 70 years old – venerable by any standard except geologic time – and its praises have been sung (by my count) by three generations of writers. It’s unquestionably the most influential small-caliber rifle cartridge of the twentieth century, ranking with the .30-06 and .375 Holland & Holland in terms of impact and progeny.
That being the case, one wonders, what on earth is left to say about it? The truth is, not much, except that many of today’s riflemen, especially new shooters, probably have not read everything that’s gone before. In fact, many have either never heard of the .222 or dismissed it as an octogenarian has-been. If that’s the case, they’re missing a bet, because the .222 Remington is one of the sweetest little numbers ever created, still excellent for a range of uses, some of which did not even exist when Remington unveiled it in 1950.
The .222, or “triple deuce” as some “slangsters” like to call it, was introduced into a world that was vastly different than today. Even five years after the end of the war in Europe, American factories had still not returned to full civilian production, and shooters had a vast appetite for anything that would go “bang,” as well as the wherewithal to keep doing so.
The 1930s had seen a proliferation of what were then termed “varmint” cartridges, the varmint in question being primarily the eastern woodchuck. The fad for high-velocity .22 centerfires began with the .22 Hornet in the 1920s and went on to include the .220 Swift and a rash of wildcats. All had one problem or another. Some had rims, which were old-fashioned; others were chambered in rifles with tubular magazines, requiring ballistically-inferior flat nose bullets; as for the Swift, the cartridge that broke the 4,000 feet per second (fps) barrier, it was just too much for most shooters: Too loud, too powerful, too hard on barrels.
When the dust settled after the war, Remington decided to start with a completely clean slate and design a brand-new cartridge and a modern, accurate rifle to go with it. Remington designer Mike Walker was put on the project, and after looking at what was available as a “basic” case to start from, decided to design one that was completely new. The result was a trim little rimless cartridge, with slight body taper, a sharp shoulder, and enough neck to hold bullets firmly without crimping. Many have called it a scaled-down .30-06, and the comparison is not inapt, as the accompanying photograph shows.
Unsurprisingly, the new cartridge had some teething problems. Its original 48-grain bullet was prone to ricochets. Remington thinned the jacket, which allowed more room for lead, and the resulting bullet weighed 50 grains. That became the standard, and the usually touted velocity was 3,200 fps. Some loads were slower, others faster, but 3,200 was the benchmark.
The rifle Remington made to go with it was the Model 722 bolt action. It was plain, bordering on homely, but it was inexpensive, and boy, was it accurate – by 1950 standards, at least. The 722 marked the beginning of Remington’s dominance in the field of accuracy for the next 50 years.
Not coincidentally, Mike Walker was one of the prime movers in the sport of benchrest shooting, then in its infancy, and the .222 Remington quickly established itself as the king of benchrest. For the next 25 years, it was noteworthy if someone won a match with anything other than a .222. It was not finally dethroned until the early 1980s, with the development of the 6 PPC.
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