The .223 Remington is America’s favorite cartridge according to rifle and ammunition sales. The .223 Remington was developed as a varmint cartridge. The .223 is inexpensive, easy to use well, low recoiling, and often very accurate even with military ball-type ammunition. The cartridge is available in bullet weights of 36 to 80 grains. The lightest and the heaviest bullets are less versatile, but very good at what they do. Some of the heavier bullets may not feed well in an AR-15 and are best used in bolt-action rifles.
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There are single-shot, bolt-action, self-loading, and even pump-action .223 Remington rifles. I would have once felt that the top-end bolt-action rifles are the most accurate, but after firing several Wilson Combat AR-15 rifles, I am not certain. The use of the cartridge by our military has led to considerable development. The original 55-grain bullet has been replaced by the 62-grain load in military use.
Civilians began using the cartridge with the 55-grain JSP, a reasonable general-purpose bullet. Development has led to lighter bullets for use on varmints and pests to the coyote class. These 36 to 40-grain bullets, including the famous Hornady V-Max, offer explosive effect on varmints. These bullets do not ricochet, but rather break up on hard ground and are very unlikely to penetrate a varmint’s body. Heavier bullets in the 68 to 77-grain weight have proven effective against deer-size game given good shot placement. The 77-grain OTM has given excellent results in wartime use in the hands our snipers. The .223 Remington has achieved far more than its designers would have imagined.
1. Fiocchi 40-Grain V-Max
This is a 3,650 fps load intended for use on varmints. Results have been excellent in testing. The V-Max bullet features a polymer tip that ensures expansion. The bullet expands rapidly even at extended range, and fragments and blows up varmints at shorter range. This is a solid performer. While lightweight bullets are sometimes problematic in self-loading rifles, the Fiocchi 40-grain V-Max is reliable in every AR-15 I have tested.
2. Federal 62-Grain Green Tip
I have quite a stock of this load. This is the real thing, and at 3,025 fps it is a fine shooter. It is flat shooting, even holding an edge over the majority of 55-grain loads, at extended range. The famous green-tip loads offer superior penetration and long-range accuracy. I like this loading based on Federal Cartridge Company quality and first-class accuracy.
3. Hornady Wild Boar
The .223 Remington has come a long way from its humble varmint shooting origins. The AR-15 is far more accurate in its better examples than ever. The Ruger Mini-14 has been improved considerably as well and will take a back seat to no rifle at 100 yards or a little more. Using the GMX bullet, the 50-grain Wild Boar loading from Hornady offers excellent penetration for use on larger game. Shot placement is everything and this load delivers.
4. Nosler 64-Grain Defense
Many of us keep an AR-15 or Ruger Mini-14 at home ready for defense use. The FMJ load isn’t ideal for many of these applications. The Nosler load — like all Nosler products — underwent a tremendous amount of research and development. The result is a loading with a bullet that penetrates straight and true, retains 90 percent of its original weight, and expands well.
Using the Colt M4 carbine with Redfield Battlezone scope, I fired three-shot 0.9-inch groups with this load at a long 100 yards. That is good enough to ride with, and the Nosler Defense loading is also well-suited to home defense.
5. Winchester USA 55-Grain FMJ
The 55-grain FMJ at more or less 3,000 fps is by far the most commonly encountered .223 Remington loading. Relatively inexpensive, accurate enough for most uses, and available from the major makers, this is a great loading for all-around practice and target shooting. Due to the high velocity, the bullet doesn’t over-penetrate in building structures, far from it, it breaks up more readily than most pistol bullets. Winchester’s USA loading is reliable, accurate, and offers good economy. This is a standard load for training and gauging a rifle’s reliability. It isn’t a poor choice at all for home defense, as high velocity causes it to break up quickly, but an expanding load is a better choice. The Winchester USA loading is a useful practice load I would hate to be without.
Conclusion: .223 Remington
There were a number of runner-up loads, and frankly, they are as good as the loads chosen for a given purpose. These are five loads you can count on, but take your own counsel and choose the best for your needs.
What is your favorite .223 Remington ammunition? Why? Let us know in the comments section below!
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in July of 2020. It has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and clarity.