.221 Fireball, heavy bullets, long barrels, and Varget


August 14, 2005, 02:13 AM
I'm approaching my next project and I really like the .221 Fireball but want to try it in a whole new incarnation, with 75gr AMAX bullets in a 1/7" twist. No, I'm not hoping for impressive velocity, but I am counting on low SD's and muzzle blast, along with it long barrel life on a nice accurate paper and small varmint puncher.

Now here's my question: In a 26" or longer barrel, would Varget be applicable? It's never listed in the reloading rags with .221 Fireball, always with much faster powders due to the generally short barrels and light bullets in this caliber. .221 Fireball runs at the same max pressure as the .223, so I wonder if the small case permits slower powders with heavier bullets in long tubes. And before people just suggest going .223 from the get go (almost inevitable if I don't mention this) I already own two other accurate .223's. I have owned an LVSF in .221, loved the cal but want to try it as stated above.


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Jim Watson
August 14, 2005, 11:53 AM
Let me be the first to say:
I don't know.
You will undoubtedly be the first owner of a heavy-bullet Fireball on your block. I think one of the internal ballistic software packages would be a big help. Otherwise it is going to take a lot of shooting with chronograph and eyeball pressure estimation.

August 14, 2005, 01:04 PM
even in the 223, varget is at the very edge of useable because the slow burn rate requires the case to be filled - and sometimes you just can't get enough of the stuff into the case.

based solely on my experiences w/ small cartridges other than the 221 fireball, i would not even be compelled to try.

btw, a 221 fireball is next on my list of cartridges - and if i can find one in a vls-type configuration, it will be here shortly. if not, then yet another lvsf it will be (guess i might as well just go ahead and finish off the lvsf collection, anyway)...

August 15, 2005, 12:25 AM
Well we'll have to see, I wouldn't mind trying it with true rifle powders in general in this setup, not the typical slow pistol/shotgun powders. For example a more moderate but still much slower than standard choice for the .221FB such as H4895.

August 30, 2005, 08:42 AM
Did you ever try this combo? I'd be interested in how it turns out!

December 6, 2005, 07:25 PM
It got sidelined for now... :( Pacific Tool and Gauge is making me a 7mm WSSM reamer right now instead, that project got priority. With the 7mm WSSM I'm aiming for 6mmBR "big brother" performance shooting the 162gr AMAX (which has a smokin' BC) along with ultra low SD's and long barrel life. There appears to be a trend in my target cartridge choices... :p I like ultra efficient low to medium capacity cases principally.

December 7, 2005, 12:03 AM
A medium burning powder will probably be best. You will still get a complete powder burn.

BTW, what action will you be using?

December 13, 2005, 07:59 PM
Be using M700 SA's for both... Use them for all my projects to date other than one AICS's long range rig that was built on a 40X. Hard to beat the price of an SPS for an action...

December 14, 2005, 07:01 PM
You might take a look at Hodgdon "LilGun" for the 221. If I can resurect the article I read I'll post it, the performance claims for the cartridge using that powder were impressive. I love Varget for a variety of cartridges but I don't see it as a good fit for the 221.

December 15, 2005, 02:01 AM
You might take a look at Hodgdon "LilGun" for the 221. If I can resurect the article I read I'll post it, the performance claims for the cartridge using that powder were impressive. I love Varget for a variety of cartridges but I don't see it as a good fit for the 221.

Yup, 'Lil Gun is one of my favorite powders simply due to its amazing performance in large capacity handgun cases and small rifle cases. I got almost 2300fps out of a .357 carbine with 158gr Gold Dots. Loaded it for .221 too, very accurate, but never chrono'd them.

August 29, 2007, 07:44 PM
Ardent, You started tis thread 2 years ago... did you ever get around to building that Fireball?
I ask because I'm thinking of building a .221 by setting back a .223 barrel in a Savage, with a 1:9 twist, which should let me use bullets up to about 65 or 70 grains.

September 2, 2007, 10:38 PM
I re-chambered a Savage Model 16 .223 that was 1-9 twist. I usually shoot 52 gr SMK's but have shot 77 gr SMK's and 65 gr. gamekings. Accuracy was good but the bullets were not what I needed to accomplish my goal.

With 52 SMK's I get 3000 fps. easily from a 20.5" barrel. This is a very efficient cartridge and generally does not require much barrel to burn the powder charge. Remember, this cartridge was designed to be shot from a pistol.

The Whisper series of cartridges use the fireball as the parent case. It is very efficient.

I hope you find your answers, the proof is in the pudding I suppose. Most people I talk to say 50 gr bullets are about ideal for this cartridge.

September 3, 2007, 01:12 AM
You might take a look at Hodgdon "LilGun" for the 221. If I can resurect the article I read I'll post it, the performance claims for the cartridge using that powder were impressive. I love Varget for a variety of cartridges but I don't see it as a good fit for the 221.

Be careful of using Lil'Gun in a fireball size case with heavy bullets. The fireball is the largest case for caliber listed for Lil'Gun and then for lighter bullets. I have just started using Varget(AR2208) in my hornet!


August 26, 2008, 08:48 PM
Am developing a half size load for a 14" Contender. have 77 gr Sierras. Thinking IMR4227 perhaps, Lil Gun? Ideas and thoughts please.

November 9, 2009, 07:48 AM
I know this is a very old thread, but have anyone any results with heavy bullets and 6-7" twist in a 221 fireball ?
best regards /221swede from sweden

November 9, 2009, 09:48 AM
Welcome to THR, 221swede.

I do not own a 221 Fireball, but my access to loads and ballistics show that heavy bullet use in that caliber is questionable. It something that you have to decide whether it is worth doing or not.
I have loads at one site showing a Speer 70gr pushed by IMR4198 to a velocity of 2045 fps, but that is out of a 10.75" barrel.
If you already have a fast twist barrel, then it is something to ponder.
It takes a careful nudge to get the larger bullets moving initially, without spiking the pressures.
I would imagine that your powder selection includes Vihtavouri and Norma and Vectan Tubal powders.
Good shooting.


November 9, 2009, 06:29 PM
hello again
thanks :)
well I know that the idea with the 221 fireball is to use fast powder, light bullets and a slow twist.
my dilemma is that I need a bullet with high BC which means heavy bullets, fast twist and a slower powder.

can I get enough speed out of the 221-case to make a 90 grains useful at 200 yards?

I guess the twist for a 90 grains boattail at slow speed is 6" - 6.5"? (probably a 20" barrel, 3grooves)

best regards

November 9, 2009, 07:24 PM
This data is off the Hodgdon website for a 223 Remington. I don't know how you correlate it to a 221 Fireball cartridge that is rated at the same pressure and still operate in a safe zone. What is interesting is the particular powder required 18.0 grains at the low end of the load range. The Fireball case can accomodate that much powder if the bullet is not seated too deeply in the case. Does you gun have a lot of freebore that would allow you to seat the bullet really long without touching the lands? Jamming a really long bullet into the short case eats up powder capacity in a hurry. I'm not suggesting you try this by any means. I just find your question interesting.

Cartridge: 223 Remington
Load Type: Rifle
Starting Loads

Maximum Loads


Bullet Weight (Gr.) Manufacturer Powder Bullet Diam. C.O.L. Grs. Vel. (ft/s) Pressure Grs. Vel. (ft/s) Pressure

90 GR. SIE HPBT IMR IMR 8208 XBR .224" 2.380" 18.0 2270 45,600 PSI 19.6 2419 52,800 PSI

November 10, 2009, 03:24 AM
I have not built the rifle yet. :)
this means that I can make a sort of wildcat with an extra long throat on the case and actually ream the barrel for this and have very long bullets whithout seating too deep and the case will still have a good grip on the bullet.

I would prefer to use a 6,5x55 but the rules for this hunting says 22LR, hornet or 221fb. :uhoh:
I need a bullet that can handle the wind, a case that can give enough speed and a rifle to shoot the cartridge...

the big question is if this is possible??

best regards

November 10, 2009, 07:15 AM
What game are you shooting? If the restrictions are for small caliber weapons only I can't imagine needing a non-conventional rig. I've shot 60 grain bullets in my Fireball with a 1:12 twist, some of them have a very respectable BC. Flat base bullets will probably be better for your application because they stabilize more quickly and with the range limitations on the Fireball they may be a better overall choice. Some folks claim outstanding velocity using AA1680 powder. I use LilGun and Reloader #7. My primary bullet is a 50 grain Sierra.

November 10, 2009, 07:36 AM
the rifle will be made for capercaillie ,red fox, crows and Rock Ptarmigan
range 30m - 200 meters
the major problem is the very windy conditions

another problem is that velocity will destroy the meat..:)

best regards

November 10, 2009, 04:55 PM
Sierra makes a 63 grain Semi Point that has a flat base and lead tip. It is a compact package and should be more than enough bullet for what you need. It even bucks the wind pretty well. It would allow an adequate amount of powder at conventional seating depths to give respectable velocities.

November 10, 2009, 06:38 PM
If the rules allow and you are only going to 200 yds I use a 22 Hornet for Half Size IHMSA metallic silhouette pistol shooting. This load is more than enough for the steel animals and is easy on recoil. USUAL DISCLAIMER ..... SEEMS SAFE IN MY GUN BUT I CANNOT RECOMMEND LOADING THIS FOR YOUR GUN. Now do as you please but I have used this load for 4 seasons now and have not lost one piece of brass to expansion or head seperations, however I neck size with a Redding bushing die and keep all brass segregated to this particular Contender frame and bbl. I also anneal the brass and check for case "trim to" length at the end of each season. Have never had much problem with stretching of the cases probably because of the use of the bushing dies.

Hornady 55 gn spire point
6.5 gns Accurate #5
Winchester small rifle primer

velocity is 1700 fps with some pretty nice es and sd numbers. This is easily a .750 moa load off the bags and the tiny 200 meter rams are easy prey, in fact I am the DUMMY that shoots the half scale targets from the standing position using a 3 inch high rise and a taco hold. This is probably my favorite gun and load as I used it to win the Field Pistol scope category at the IHMSA Internationals a few years back.


I also shoot the 221 Fireball also at the half size targets and when the wind is favorable the Fball is capable of taking the auto reset full size targets. Again I use the USUAL DISCLAIMER AS ABOVE and will share the load I am using

75 grain Hornady boat tail match bullet
16.0 gns Hodgon H322
Winchester small rifle primer

This is fired from a Contender with a custom 10 inch bbl that sports a 7 twist rate. Load is quite "barky" with the short bbl however it is quite effective. Woluld be much quiter in a rifle. I also form my brass from Federal 223 brass. Never cared much for the Remington brass and this way I can make my necks a bit longer which is a plus in the Fball. Since my case walls are thicker than norm my pressuer is probably a bit higher but I like the idea of the thicker brass case. If you go this route you must of course neck turn the brass as the thicker walls will not chamber.


November 10, 2009, 08:43 PM

I modeled a 90 grain bullet on a .221 Fireball case for you. With bullet base seated one caliber deep the COAL is WAY long - around 2.380“. SAAMI is 1.830. So, yeah, you will need to have the chamber throated. Give your gunsmith some dummy cartridges when you have the work done so he’ll know how long to cut the throat.

Muzzle velocities around 2,400 fps should be obtainable with a fairly long barrel, the right powder, and proper hand loading techniques. I expect it would shoot plenty flat out to 300 yds and be effective on all the game animals you mentioned in your earlier post. Greenhill twist rate calculation confirms 1 to 7 is sufficient for stabilization.

My modified Powley Computer shows the ideal powder has a burn rate in the range of Vihtavouri’s N135, N140, and N540. That is what the model predicts and the model is typically spot on. I have a supply of Alliant Reloader 15, so I would start with that, and work up loads with a chronograph.

Regarding cartridge effectiveness for hunting, the model predicts it would be appropriate for game animals up to 166 lbs. Making it ideal for any fur bearing varmint and animals as large as medium deer and antelope.

Four, out of five, predictive indicators for effectiveness are in agreement: Matunas Optimal Game Weight (OGW) formula, Thorniley Stopping Power, Kernel DRT (a tweaked TKO), and even simple old muzzle energy (close enough) are all in the same range.

Only Taylor Knock Out (TKO) factor is out of step. This due to it’s equation’s large emphasis on bore size. Small diameter bullet are penalized.

So… ya hey dere, my Norski friend. Let us know how it turns out.

November 12, 2009, 02:27 AM
hello again
thanks very much
I was reading about 22 brx with berger 90 VLD and a 6.5" twist was recomended.
will 7" twist be enough for 221fb even when the velocity is lower ?

best regards

November 12, 2009, 01:56 PM

The simple Greenhill twist calculation is:

Twist Rate = 150 * (Bore Dia, in)^2 / (Bullet Length, in)

I use a modified version I call the Greenhill-Velocity twist calculation:

Twist Rate = ((0.0375 * Muzzle Velocity, fps) + 75) * (Bore Dia, in)^2 / (Bullet Length, in)

Basically, my equation modifies the constant, 150, accordingly to a linear equation dependent on velocity.

So, if we assume 2,400 fps and a 1.200" long bullet (how long is your bullet?), per simple Greenhill calculation the twist rate is 6.3. Per my Greenhill-Velocity equation the twist rate is 6.9.

The math says a 1:7 twist should stabilize your bullet based on velocity, and 1:6.5 based on the equation that does not use velocity. I think 1:7 would work fine. However, this is all theoretical. I would want to hear some real-world results from actual shooters. 1:6.5 might be better. The difference between 1:7 and 1:6.5 is pretty slight. But, I doubt a faster twist would hurt anything. When in doubt, most shooters (and gunsmiths) will opt for the faster twist.

November 12, 2009, 03:24 PM
many thanks again
I am sorry for beeing so problematic..
but do you have any idea on how light/short bullets I can shoot with that brutal twist?
best regards

November 12, 2009, 03:33 PM
That's a good question because it would leave one to believe you can over stabilize the bullet ... but to what detriment? I think the issue becomes one of bullet integrity. Will it hold together when spinning that fast? At the velocities you might achieve I think you would be fine with just about any quality bullet. Extremely thin jacketed bullets that are designed to vaporize on impact may not hold together in a fast twist barrel.

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