It has been said many times that what goes around comes around.
I’m not sure exactly what that means, but I think I know, so stay with me. If my interpretation of that phrase is correct, then it describes my use of a certain cartridge. It’s the one that I started with after I deserted the .22 rim fire and started a quest for shooting groundhogs at a bit longer range. I had nobody to teach me, so the learning curve to long-range shooting and reloading was a journey of many mistakes. But there was one thing that was not a mistake and that was the purchase of a bolt-action rifle in the new .222 chambering.
Remington had just offered the 721 and the 722 rifles to the public in 1947, and three years later announced a new varmint round, the .222. One of the top dogs in the research department of Remington was a fellow named Mike Walker. Mike was an avid and quite successful benchrest shooter and the new cartridge of 1950 was the .222 and was Walker’s brainchild.
Most new cartridges are little more than taking an already existing round and necking it up or down to handle a different size of bullet. Take the popular .243 – it is like nothing more than a necked-down .308. But in the .222, Walker had developed an entirely new case. Many outdoor writers of the 1950s said the .222 looked like a miniature .30-06. But whatever it looked like there was little competition from rounds like the .22 Hornet and the .218 Bee.
Groundhog hunting and accurate shooting were growing in popularity by leaps and bounds. This little case could push a 50-grain bullet up to 3,200 feet per second and shoot groups that were only a bench shooter’s dreams. Groundhogs that stood up looking at that strange critter in the field 250 yards away was now taking a dangerous chance.
Back then, the interest in accuracy was growing, which led to benchrest shooting. This type of shooting is a test of man, rifle and ammunition. Up to 1950, the .22-250 and the Donaldson Wasp dominated the bench matches. That is, they were No. 1 rounds until some shooter discovered the new-at-the-time 222. From then, for quite a few years, almost all matches were won by people shooting this little cartridge designed by Mike Walker. No, it wasn’t a 500-yard cartridge nor was it big enough to double as a deer round, but since most groundhogs were being taken at the 200-yard distance it was an immediate success in the pastures. Hand-loaded with a 50-grain bullet it is not only adequate for those medium-range shots, but it is easy on the barrels and used less powder than those large rounds so popular today. Talking on barrel life, I must admit I have never seen a .222 that was shot out and I own one with more than 8,000 rounds shot with it.
My rifle back then was a little Sako L46 that I wished I still owned. My partner in most hunts was then-shooting another newcomer, a 243 that could reach farther than I could, so goodbye little light Sako and hello new .243. Oh, how I wish I still had that L46 but that’s the way it is when you are an addicted gunswapper.
Back to the rifle. The first rifle to be chambered for the .222 was the Remington 722, which was nothing more than the 721 with a short action. Other firearms-makers soon jumped on the bandwagon with the low-priced Savage 340 following the 722. The sales of both the Remington and the Savage were booming. Falling between the .220 Swift and the Hornet, it filled a gap in the performance factor and is still a useful but overlooked round today.
What goes around comes around, and today I find myself shooting rifles in those chamberings more and more. It has earned my respect. On top of that, it is the grandfather of the .222 Magnum, 221 Fireball, 17 Remington and the most popular round used today, the .223. While today’s benchrest shooters switched to the PPC rounds, my bet is a good .22 could challenge their supremacy. It’s that good a round both in the field and on the bench.
Mike Walker did good.