by John Barsness
1-12 vs. 1-9 Twist in .223's
NOT ALL THAT LONG AGO, the standard rifling twist in .223 Remington barrels was one turn in 12 inches, but a few years ago new rifles started appearing with 1-9
twists. What does all of this mean to the average shooter? To understand that we have to understand the reasons behind the change.
The Nosler Ballistic Tip was one impetus. Prior to the mid-1980's, when the Ballistic Tip was introduced, most shooters saw the .223 as a medium-range
varmint cartridge. We considered 300 yards the extreme edge of .223 range; beyond that we needed a .22-250 or .220 Swift.
Now, plastic-tipped bullets (and even other "hard-tipped" bullets) had appeared before. But in .224 bullets the Ballistic Tip radically changed the way
we thought not just of bullets but varmint cartridges themselves. Before then there were two kinds of expanding varmint bullets: soft-point and
hollow-point. The soft-point expanded reliably at long range (or what we thought was long range), while hollow-points were regarded as more
accurate. Unfortunately, to make hollow-points expand reliably on small varmints, the "hollow" had to be larger. This cut down drastically on
ballistic coefficient. And even the ballistic coefficient of soft-point bullets wasn't all that great.
Enter the Ballistic Tip. The plastic tip covered a big hollow-point, so not only raised ballistic coefficient but ensured expansion way out
there. Essentially the new bullet combined the expansion of soft-point and accuracy of hollow-point varmint bullets - and increased ballistic coefficient over
I first shot Ballistic Tips at prairie dogs in the late 1980's. At the time I followed the pretty much standard wisdom of using a .223 for shooting out
to 300 yards, especially on calm days, and a larger rifle (in this case a .220 Swift) for shooting beyond 300 yards and in wind. The handload I'd worked up
in the .223 used 50-grain Ballistic Tips at around 3400 fps, and accuracy was the best I'd ever gotten from any varmint rifle, well under ½-inch for five shots at
100 yards. During the shoot I found myself using the .223 more and more, and extending the range. Eventually I started shooting prairie dogs at
400 yards, supposedly well beyond the effective range of the .223, because the new bullets not only shot noticeably flatter and very accurately, but expanded violently
way out there.
During this same period more people started using the .223 for longer-range target shooting, having made the discovery that yes, recoil does enter into good
shooting, and ballistic coefficient combined with velocity is what affects long-range accuracy, not just bullet weight. (Actually some shooters knew this,
it just took a long time for the average shooter to get over the notion that bullet weight is the main factor in wind drift.) This meant heavier bullets, which in turn
meant faster twists.
Eventually, too, companies started making "deer" bullets in .224 diameter. I am not going to debate the ethics of shooting deer with ".22's"
here. However, it is simple reality that the new deer bullets were longer than typical .224 varmint bullets, whether the 55-grain Trophy Bonded, 60-grain
Nosler Partition, or 53-grain Barnes Triple Shock.
Eventually, of course, plastic-tipped bullets became the norm for varmint shooting. Almost every company started making them - and plastic-tipped bullets
are longer than soft- or hollow-point bullets.
Eventually a sort of Catch-22 for .22's evolved. As more shooters started using longer bullets in .223's, more shooters started using faster rifling twists
in their .223 barrels - and more people started shooting longer bullets.
Eventually it was discovered that another piece of long-time conventional wisdom wasn't true, or at least wasn't as true as it used to be. For centuries
rifle shooters had been wary of using bullets that were too short for the twist in their barrels. This was because the bullets then became "over-stabilized," and
accuracy went downhill. Even in the 1970's many shooting "authorities" warned that 110-grain bullets didn't shoot all that well in .30-06's, because of the
This was probably true when those authorities started shooting the .30-06, but by the 1980's most bullets were so well balanced that very short bullets could be
shot accurately from twists that were theoretically too fast. One of these well-balanced bullets, of course, was the Nosler Ballistic Tip, which probably
also benefited a little from being a little longer than conventional bullets.
My wife and I have three .223's in our house, an older, "conventional" Remington 700 with a 1-12 twist heavy barrel, a Bushmaster carbine with a 1-9 twist, and a
semi-custom sporter based on the Remington 788 action, with a sporter-weight E.R. Shaw barrel with a 1-9 twist. The 700 is the rifle that shoved
all the .22-250's and .220 Swifts we owned out the door (at least for now; Eileen is thinking of another .22-250 for deer hunting). With the advent of laser
range-finders and multi-point scope reticles, the .223 proved fully effective for 500 or even 600-yard prairie dog shooting. Why put up with the recoil of a
bigger round if it isn't needed?
But the Bushmaster and the 788 have also proven very accurate with bullets as light as 40-grain plastic-tips. These two rifles can also, however, shoot
very long bullets quite accurately, including 60-grain plastic-tips (now available from both Nosler and Hornady), .224 "deer" bullets, or match hollow-points in the
70-grain range. In fact the 788 will put 68-grain BTHP Hornady's into basically the same hole at 100 yards, and that's a very effective bullet for some varmint
shooting, especially way out there when the wind blows.
So if you've been nervous about switching to a 1-9 .223, just because you like the way your old .223 shoots those super-fast 40-grain plastic-tips, don't
be. A 1-9 will work fine for those too, which is why when the barrel on our old Remington 700 finally goes, the barrel that replaces it will have a 1-9 twist.
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