Modern rifle cartridges keep getting faster and faster, but which are the fastest?
Fads are a reality in almost every area of life, and the world of guns is no different. Gun fads are just as common as fads in fashion, music, or dieting; whats popular today may not be popular tomorrow. While accessorizing your firearm has never been more popular (paint it black, call it tactical, and sell it for double), the types of guns and the cartridges they shoot are also susceptible to changes in popularity.
Anyone with even a passing interest in guns can tell you that there is a strong interest nowadays in cartridge speed. New cartridges (or new loads for old ones) are being developed all the time, each promising just a few more fps.
Here is our list of the eight cartridges with the highest fps speed. While you may have a home-brew .30-06 load that pushes 3,000 feet per second (fps), it’s got nothing on these barrel burners.
Disclaimer: We know muzzle velocities can vary wildly from gun to gun and even load to load; what we’ve tried to go is give a broad example of the high muzzle velocities that many modern cartridges are capable of. “FPS” below refers to “feet per second.” Muzzle velocity data was compiled from Gunners Den and Gun Data.
1. .224 Weatherby Magnum- 3650 fps
Cooked up in 1963 by Roy Weatherby, the .224 Weatherby Magnum is a proprietary cartridge made only by Weatherby. While it has never been quite as popular as the similar-performing .22-250, its high velocity makes it a great choice for long-range varmint hunting.
2. 6.53mm (.257) Lazzeroni Scramjet- 3750 FPS
Introduced in 1996, John Lazzeroni developed this cartridge for hunters who wanted to take down game at over 500 yards. Firing a 6.5mm bullet at anywhere from 3,500-4,000 fps, the Lazzeroni Scramjet is an incredible round that’s also incredibly expensive. While a 120-grain bullet can produce 3,200 pounds of kinetic energy, we found some for sale for $9.95… per cartridge.
3. .223 Winchester Super Short Magnum- 3766 fps
Co-developed by Winchester and Browning, the .223 Winchester Super Short Magnum used a shortened .300 WSM case that’s necked down to accept a .224 caliber bullets. While velocities are said to exceed 4,300 fps, 3,700 fps is a more realistic average. While Browning states that the .223 WSSM offers a 600 ft-lbf advantage over the standard .223 Remington, its reputation as a barrel-burner has kept it from becoming more widely accepted.
4. .22-250 Remington- 3787 fps
Originally designed as a .250 savage case necked down to accept a .224 caliber bullet, the .22-250 Remington has gained more commercially acceptance than the similar yet higher performing .220 swift. The steep shoulder angle of the case keeps more of the powder burn from occurring in the throat of the barrel, leading to longer barrel life and more consistent performance with various loads. While some loads are said to reach 4,220 fps, around 3,700 is a fair average. While extremely popular with western hunters, some states even allow this round to be used for big game hunting.
5. .220 Swift- 3845 fps
First introduced in 1935, the .220 swift was the first factory loaded rifle cartridge that could reach 4,000 fps (using a 60-grain bullet, however, drops the muzzle velocity to around 3,600 fps). While viewed by many as a “barrel-burner,” and not nearly as popular as the (slower) .22-250, the .220 swift remains popular with long-range shooters and varmint hunters.
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6. .204 Ruger- 3935 fps
A variant of the .222 Remington magnum, the .204 ruger was designed to “split the distance” between rounds like the .220 swift or .22-250 and the minuscule .17HMR (and similar). While the Hornady factory load is rated at 4,225 fps, this uses a proprietary powder not available to bandleaders. Due to the case design, proponents of the .204 say that it achieves .220 swift-like velocities with less recoil and less heat, leading to less wear.
7. .17 Remington Fireball- 4000 fps
Created in 2007 as a response to many popular wildcat cartridges, the .17 Remington fireball factory loads drive a 20-grain bullet up to 4,000 feet per second. While its velocity is approaching that of the .17 Remington, it does so with less powder, meaning less barrel fouling and lower heat, which in turn leads to longer barrel life.
8. .17 Remington- 4145 fps
One of the few cartridges where the powder load is often heavier than the bullet weight, the .17 Remington was introduced by Remington in 1971 as a varmint load for their 700-series rifles. While its poor ballistic coefficient limits its effective range to around 440 yards, its flat trajectory, low recoil and minimal noise makes it a fantastic choice for varmints and other small predators. Some factory loads can reach speeds of over 4,400 feet per second, making it the fastest commercially-available rifle cartridge.
While firearms technology is increasing at an alarming rate, these are the eight cartridges with the highest fps speed available. While not all shooters or hunters are looking for blazing fast speed, if you are then look no further.