If I had to name one calibre that is commonly found, but will sit stale on a gun shop shelf more than any other, it is the ‘treble two’. A humble, diminutive and little-used cartridge today, it certainly gives us a buyers’ market when it comes to second-hand rifles. They have, for the most part, fallen out of fashion, despite being one of the most pleasant and arguably suitable calibres for our three smallest deer species.
Of course, they can and have been used with notable success on every species in the UK in the past, but within current laws we are limited to the smaller species in any case, and most would consider the cartridge’s primary suitability to lie here.
So where did the story start? In an age where the most popular .22 cartridge is arguably the .223 Rem, we haven’t moved on all that far from the 1950’s .222 Remington.
The cartridge was designed and credited to long-time employee of Remington, Mike Walker, becoming a benchrest and varmint hunters favourite almost as soon as it hit the shelves. Over the years of its reign the benchrest accolades came streaming in, testament to the accuracy of the cartridge. The mild recoil, rimless case and freshly original design saw it build momentum in the target world and become a small calibre leader, not just in America, but also with considerable draw on home soil and into Europe. It was revolutionary at the time as far as .22 centrefires were concerned, with the choice pre-222 being the .220 Swift and .22 Hornet, amongst some other lesser known cartridges. Over time it trickled its way to the rest of the world, becoming a calibre of choice for teaching youngsters to shoot.
Owing to the small, light bullet, target distance was modest: a 200 yards or less cartridge. Although wholly suitable for smaller deer under reasoned conditions, it was banned across many states for use on big game, due to the reduced margin for error when using such a small calibre. This reflects today in our own restrictions with regard to the species with which the calibre can be legally used.
Less than 10 years after the launch of the .222, Remington introduced a beefed up version known as the .222 Remington Magnum. This began life as an experimental military cartridge, designed in conjunction with the Springfield Armory. In the end it was rejected, but Remington released it for civilian rifles. The cartridge offered an extra 18 per cent case capacity, pushing bullets 100fps faster. This extended practical ranges, with greater downrange energy delivery.
By 1964, the US military had adopted another Remington cartridge in the .223 Rem, which appeared on the drawing board just about the time the .222 Rem Mag was shunned. Undoubtedly this cartridge has superseded both the .222 cases in modern days, even if in reality it offers very little over the .222 Rem Mag.
The availability of .222 Rem rifles today is not what it used to be, and it’s unlikely you will see a new one on the shelf. In fact, you will struggle to find a .223 Rem intended for stalking on the shelf of most gun shops. It has become the foxing calibre of choice and, as a result, the rifle set-ups reflect this, tending to be heavy, varmint barrel versions.
That doesn’t make the .222 Rem any less effective today than it was at its inception. The brass and minimal powder loads, as well as the off-the-shelf factory ammo, are economical, with rifles chambered in the cartridge tending to be light, compact and manoeuvrable. Second-hand rifles, for the most part, come from a time when rifle makers in Europe produced some of their finest models. It is a gentleman’s calibre, and one I increasingly feel the need to get acquainted with once more.
It’s hard to see a reason for owning the .222 Rem today over a .223 Rem as far as ability is concerned. That said, the .222 Rem is nicer to shoot, and the cartridge cogniser has a slightly more sophisticated feel to it than the .223. Much like a scaled-down version of the 7×57 and the history of feeling that embraces when using it in the field, there is something lovely about shooting the diminutive .222 Remington. It’s not a calibre I have ever owned, although I have hunted with it. I dare say if space allowed, and the right rifle presented itself, I wouldn’t mind making it a small deer specialist once again.