Handloading The .223 Rem.

Precision handloads for the .223 Rem. can really highlight your rifle’s potential.

posted on November 20, 2022
.223 Rem.

One powder, four projectiles and four recipes make for a variety of uses while simplifying the handloading process.

Because shooters tend to use a rifle for more than one purpose, they tend to have several loads they like for every rifle they own. When they find a load that they like, they’ll stock up on the components. Generally, this results in not just multiple bullets, but most often multiple primers and powders. Before long, your loading bench and shelves can look like a chef’s spice rack. It doesn’t have to be that way, and while working up four very different loads for my .223 Rem. bolt-action rifle, I proved it.

Handloading is like cooking. It’s a mixture of various ingredients that are used to create a palatable result. In the case of shooting, “palatable” means effective and accurate. We test food recipes by tasting them and we test handloads by shooting them. But, just as how with food different people have different tastes, so too do rifles. What one person or rifle might like, another will not. Still, trends exist, and you can learn from what other shooters have experienced.

I’ve owned a bolt-action .223 Rem. of one style or another for decades. Recently, I reduced my stable of bolt-action .223s to one, and I wanted it to be compatible with the four different loads I use most often. The problem was that not only did these loads use four different bullets, they also used three different powders and two different primers. To simplify my cooking (handloading), I wanted to be able to create these four loads by using the same powder and primer in each one. After some research and testing, I settled on Federal small rifle primers and Hodgdon CFE 223 powder. Here are my four favorite—and now much simpler to stock up for and create—loads for a bolt-action .223 Rem.

50-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip
Nosler’s 50-grain Ballistic Tip is ideal for varmints and predators up to coyote size. Delivering around 10 inches of penetration, it’s even a good choice for tactical applications if intermediate barriers are not an issue. Federal loads the 55-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip in its Tactical Law Enforcement TRU line. This bullet creates massive, but moderately shallow, tissue destruction, ideal for vermin and self-defense applications. Hodgdon lists a maximum load of 28.5 grains of CFE 223 for a 50-grain bullet with a velocity of 3,500 fps. Nosler, however, lists a 29.0-grain maximum load at 3,379 fps. (This goes to show you that data from different sources do not always agree.) 

60-grain Nosler Partition
This is an excellent bullet for deer and feral hogs, and from a tactical standpoint it performs very well because of its ability to defeat intermediate barriers. In 10-percent ordnance gelatin or Clear Ballistics, you can expect 20 inches of penetration with the bullet’s deformed frontal diameter measuring almost .4 inch. Hodgdon’s maximum recommended charge of 26.7 grains of CFE 223 pushed this bullet to 3,100 fps out of my 22-inch barrel. Precision was not on par with the 50-grain Ballistic Tip, but a five-group average of 1.1 inches is totally sufficient for a load I intend to use inside 200 yards. This bullet does not have a reputation for delivering extreme precision.

70-grain Nosler AccuBond
I’ve killed more big-game animals with AccuBonds than any other bullet, mostly because they deliver an ideal balance of penetration and tissue damage. They also only need to impact at about 1,800 fps for measurable bullet upset. Nosler is the only company offering a factory 70-grain AccuBond load for the .223 Rem., but it can be hard to find. In its latest load manual, Nosler does not list CFE 223 for bullets between 70 and 85 grains, but Hodgdon lists a maximum load of 24.7 grains. With this bullet’s BC of .37, it’s still traveling 2,000 fps at 300 yards. This, combined with the precision it delivered, makes it an ideal multi-purpose load. In tactical applications, the bonding helps with intermediate barriers, and you can expect 17 inches of penetration.

Nosler 77-grain Custom Competition
Because of its light recoil, ringing steel and punching paper are joyous pursuits with the .223 Rem. For that you need a bullet that’s accurate and will fly reasonably flat. Nosler offers a factory load for the .223 Rem. that uses its 77-grain Custom Competition bullet, but it retails for more than $40 per box of 20. It’s advertised at 2,600 fps, and with Hodgdon’s maximum load of 24.3 grains I got 2,680 fps out of my rifle. 

Seating Depth
Nosler offers its 77-grain Custom Competition bullet with and without a cannelure. I used the cannelured version, but seated it out rather far to an overall length of 2.40 inches. However, the cannelure is posited perfectly for the .223 Rem.’s standard overall length of 2.26 inches. My handloads exceeded 2.26 inches, which is why the overall lengths (OALs) are not listed. Most .223 Rem. rifles will not chamber cartridges with an OAL beyond about 2.30 inches.

This brings up the topic of seating depth. My rifle was built by New Ultra Light Arms, which has a proprietary throat that permits bullets to be seated out further than normal, and the magazine box is 2.5 inches long. You’ll have to adjust the seating depth for your rifle, but the good news is that with the CFE 223 powder, you’ll have room to do so without encroaching
on powder space, no matter the bullet or its companion charge weight.

I now have four loads that will allow me to do everything I want to do with a .223. The best part is that they all use the same powder and primer, so I don’t have to keep a variety of components on hand. This is cooking simplified, and it works mostly because of the excellent CFE 223 powder which shoots very clean and meters extremely well.


Ed Brown
Ed Brown

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