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Cartridge Comparison: Hornady's New 22 ARC vs .223 vs .22-250

Hornady's 22 ARC is the most well-rounded factory .22 centerfire cartridge available today. Does that mean you should give up on your .223 or .22-250?

Cartridge Comparison: Hornady's New 22 ARC vs .223 vs .22-250
(Photo courtesy of Hornady)

Hornady has been rolling out a number of highly successful rounds in recent years, and their newest offering is the 22 Advanced Rifle Cartridge, or 22 ARC. Unlike earlier .22 centerfires designed for varmint and predator hunting, the ARC isn’t about pure speed. For years the “better” varmint cartridges were those that shot flatter and hit harder. Subsequently, speed became the primary factor dictating performance. Push a bullet faster (and make it shoot flatter) than the .223 Remington and you have higher performing .22-250, which has been a staple among varmint and predator hunters for years.

Things began to change for the better when velocity became a factor in cartridge design and selection, but not the only factor. As black guns became the dominant platform for varmint and predator hunters one of the .22-250’s weaknesses became obvious: it wouldn’t fit in a svelte AR-15 rifle, so it required a bigger, heavier AR-10 gun. Things shifted somewhat in the .223’s favor, and while it couldn’t match the .22-250’s velocity, trajectory, and downrange energy it did allow hunters to carry AR rifles comfortably in the field.

Left to Right: .223 Remington vs .22-250 vs 22 ARC
Left to Right: .223 Remington vs .22-250 vs 22 ARC. (Photo courtesy of Brad Fitzpatrick)

Big Performance, Smaller Package

Shooters don’t like compromise, so companies started looking for cartridges that offered .22-250 performance in AR-15 rifles. That discussion occurred at Hornady as early as 2010, but the primary issue was the lack of suitable, heavy-for-caliber high BC bullets available. But an outline of the .22 Coyote (the cartridge’s original code name) was already taking shape. Meanwhile, the .22 Nosler arrived in 2017, and while it did offer .22-250 ballistics, it did so with the same bullet weights as the .22-250 itself. The .224 Valkyrie from Federal followed a year later, and it offered heavier grain weight bullets at impressive velocities but it had a tendency to be fickle with different bullet weights.

Enter the 22 ARC, the realization of the original .22 Coyote concept. It’s based on the 6mm ARC case in that it shares a .441-inch rim diameter, but the 22 ARC is a bit longer than the 6mm ARC since shorter .22 bullets didn’t dip as deeply into the case. Twist rates are 1:7 to stabilize heavy bullets, and Hornady stuck with the 30-degree shoulder design that work so darn well on the PRCs and Creedmoor cartridges.

ELD Match ammo
(Photo courtesy of Hornady)

The 22 ARC was fast, but not blistering fast. Hornady’s 75-grain ELD Match load (part of their Black line) traveled at 3,075, and their 88-grain ELD Match pumped along at 2,820. The fastest of the lot is their new 62-grain ELD-VT (Extra Low Drag-Varmint/Target) bullet that clocks 3,300 feet per second. Heck, a 55-grain V-Max from a .223 Remington has a velocity of 3,240, and a .22-250 is substantially faster at 3,680 with a 55-grain V-Max. In contrast, the ELD-VT’s higher BCs allow it to perform better at extended ranges. The Hornady V-Max .22-250’s high muzzle velocity allow it to shoot slightly flatter than the 22 ARC to 500 yards, but by 600 yards the ARC shoots 2.3 inches flatter than the .22-250 when both rifles are zeroed at 100 yards. The ARC’s trajectory advantage grows as distances increase: at 700 yards the 22 ARC shoots 10 inches flatter than the .22-250 at 700 yards and almost 25 inches flatter at 800 yards.

ELD-VT Bullets
(Photo courtesy of Hornady)

Bucking the Wind

The 22 ARC also drifts less in crosswinds than the .22-250. A coyote coming directly to the call offers a target that’s only about six inches wide, and prairie dogs are about half that. Wind drift is therefore an important consideration when choosing a varmint or predator cartridge, especially in areas like South Dakota, Wyoming, or Nebraska where wind is an almost constant factor. In a 10 mph full-value crosswind (which is mild for the Great Plains) the 22 ARC drifts less than a foot at 400 yards, considerably less than the 18 or so inches a .22-250 55-grain V-Max drifts at that same distance. Push things out to 600 yards and the 22 ARC drifts just 29.1 inches in that same 10 mph crosswind compared to 45.1 inches of drift for the .22-250 load. At 800 yards the ARC’s wind drift is a full three feet less than the .22-250, and the ARC hits with 352 foot-pounds at 800 yards compared to 172 foot-pounds for the .22-250. If you’re shooting varmints and predators beyond 500 yards the 22 ARC offers a decided ballistic advantage over the .22-250, especially in windy conditions.

Clearly, the 22 ARC is very well-rounded and efficient. Its velocities don’t burn barrels as quickly as faster rounds, but the ARC’s heavy bullets make up in BC what the .22-250 gains from raw speed.  Just as importantly, the 22 ARC is so efficient that it accomplishes peak performance with barrel lengths that are six inches shorter than a .22-250, and in an age where suppressors are increasingly commonplace who really wants a 24-inch barrel or the associated gun weight? The 22 ARC’s design also allows it to operate at lower pressures than the .22-250, which has a SAAMI max pressure of 65,000. The 22 ARC, by contrast, has a max pressure of 52,000 PSI—on par with a .223 Remington. And since the 22 ARC works in AR-15 rifles you can simply purchase a new upper and immediately upgrade the performance of your .223/5.56 AR rifle.

Hornady 22 ARC 62 Grain ELD-VT cartridge box
(Photo courtesy of Brad Fitzpatrick)

Out With the Old, In With the New?

So, shall we pitch our .223s and .22-250s onto the junk heap? Not necessarily. There are parts of the country that aren’t as windy and wide-open as the Great Plains or Rockies, and in many of those areas shot opportunities are limited to 500 yards or below. Under those circumstances, a .223/5.56 or .22-250 are still a viable option. The popularity of the .22-250 is likely to take a beating with the release of the 22 ARC, but there have been train car loads of coyotes, foxes, and ground-dwelling rodents killed with the ‘250 over the decades. It’s not a bad or ineffective tool, although the numbers will show that the 22 ARC offers substantially better performance at extended ranges. There are also lots of .22-250 factory loads and rifles out there, and you’ll likely see some fine .22-250 guns hit store shelves now that the 22 ARC has captured the attention of hunters and shooters.

Staying power is also a consideration. The .223 and .22-250 have been around for over a half-century, and there are so many guns floating around out there that you’ll always be able to find ammo. The 22 ARC has the resume to hang on and eventually displace the .22-250, but that will take some time.

22-250 side by side with 22 ARC cartridge
22-250 side by side with 22 ARC cartridge. (Photo courtesy of Brad Fitzpatrick)

Hornady’s ammo team continuously churns out superb new loads, and it’s no secret why they’re so successful: it seems like everyone at the company is a serious hunter, competitive shooter, or both. That wealth of knowledge and the brand’s shoot-for-the-top ethos are the reasons the 22 ARC (and 6.5 Creedmoor, and the various PRCs, etc.) exist in the first place. Their new Double Deuce is, quite simply, a better .22—but that doesn’t mean it will displace the .22-250 or .223.




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