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9 Rifle Cartridges With the Fastest Bullet Velocity

picture of 9 Rifle Cartridges With the Fastest Bullet Velocity 204 ruger 22-250 223 220 swift
The Big Game Hunting Blog

Do you feel the need for speed? If so, here are some cartridges that deliver the fastest bullet velocity currently available in a centerfire rifle cartridge.

There has always been a certain obsession among hunters and shooters with achieving the fastest bullet velocity possible. This is especially important among varmint and predator hunters.

After all, an extremely high velocity load will generally have a flatter trajectory and more resistance to wind drift than a similar load at a slower velocity.

Increasing the speed of a bullet will offer a bit more room for error when estimating the range or wind, both of which are ideal for shooting a small target at long range in a rapidly developing situation. At the same time, really high velocity bullets can produce very impressive results when they hit something.

The good news is that many of the major gun and ammunition manufacturers have devoted considerable time and effort into developing a number of cartridges that are ideal for predator and varmint hunters and offer the highest velocity possible. In many cases, these cartridges deliver very fast bullet velocities along with outstanding accuracy.

Keep in mind that this list of the cartridges that produce the fastest bullet velocity only includes cartridges in current production for the typical civilian hunter or shooter, not one off experiments like the 22 Eargesplitten Loudenboomer or larger and more advanced projects like a railgun.

Additionally, this list should not be considered all-inclusive, and the cartridges are not presented in any particular order. They're definitely among the fastest, and they're all worth shooting to see if they'll work for your needs.

.17 Remington

Introduced all the way back in 1971, the .17 Remington was the first commercially produced .17 caliber centerfire rifle cartridge. For various reasons, it was never extremely popular, but the cartridge has a devoted fan base among those who loved the super high velocities, flat trajectories, minimal recoil, and impressive terminal performance the little cartridge produced on varmints.

Nosler currently offers two factory loads for the .17 Remington as part of their Varmageddon line that push a 20 grain Varmageddon bullet at 4,200 feet per second. Handloaders can improve upon that performance to a certain degree and the cartridge is capable of velocities in excess of 4,300 feet per second with a 20 grain bullet.

.17 Remington Fireball

The .17 Remington Fireball is a much newer cartridge than the .17 Remington and packs a similar level of performance into a smaller package. It's almost (but not quite) as powerful as the .17 Remington, but the .17 Remington Fireball achieves that performance while burning less powder.

Even still, it's capable of pushing a 20 grain bullet at over 4,000 feet per second with outstanding accuracy and it does that with even less report, recoil, and fouling than the bigger .17 Remington.

.223 WSSM

Using a very fat bodied case necked down to shoot a small diameter, .22 caliber bullet, the .223 Winchester Super Short Magnum (WSSM) has a very large propellant capacity. When combined with very lightweight bullets, it's possible to achieve extremely high muzzle velocities well in excess of 4,000 feet per second. Indeed, the .223 WSSM vies with the .220 Swift for the title of the centerfire rifle cartridge with the fastest bullet velocity. 

Unfortunately, the .223 WSSM has fallen by the wayside in recent years. It's still possible to get factory ammo for the cartridge, but current production .223 WSSM ammo normally uses heavier 50 or 55 grain bullets at a milder (though still pretty darn fast) muzzle velocity. You'll probably need to handload and use lighter bullets in order to achieve the highest bullet velocity.

.224 Weatherby Magnum

Weatherby Magnum cartridges are known for very high velocities and the .224 Weatherby Magnum is no exception. Weatherby currently only sells one factory load for the cartridge: a 55 grain bullet with an advertised muzzle velocity of 3,650 fps. However, handloaders can potentially achieve velocities in the 4,000-4,100 fps range (or perhaps even faster) by dropping down to a lighter 40 grain bullet.

.243 Winchester

The .243 Winchester stands with one foot in the big game hunting world and the other in the varmint hunting world. For that reason, the cartridge is equally at home using heavier bullets for big game, but also has a relatively large case capacity that's useful for launching much lighter projectiles at very high velocities.

In fact, there's a Hornady Superformance Varmint factory load for the .243 Winchester shooting a 58 grain V-Max bullet at an advertised velocity of 3,925 fps and comes within a hair of breaking that magical 4,000 fps barrier.

22 Nosler

While most factory loads use heavier bullets at more sedate velocities, Nosler has published reloading data showing the cartridge is capable of producing velocities in excess of 3,900 fps with a 40 grain bullet. That's absolutely screaming performance, especially considering that the cartridge accomplishes such a velocity while using a relatively small package. 

.220 Swift

The .220 Swift has been around for nearly a century, but it still remains one of the fastest (if not the fastest) rifle cartridge in common use. It was the first mass produced rifle cartridge designed for hunters to break the 4,000 fps barrier, and improvements in propellant technology have further increased the velocity potential of the cartridge in the interim.

Federal Premium manufactures a factory load pushing a 40 grain Nosler Ballistic Tip at a lightning fast 4,250 fps and handloaders can achieve velocities in excess of 4,500 fps with the cartridge using lighter 29 grain and 35 grain bullets.

All that speed does come at a cost, though: firing really light bullets at extremely fast velocities is pretty rough on barrels. Not surprisingly, the .220 Swift has something of a reputation as a barrel burner, so use caution with those really fast loads.

That said, if you're looking for the absolute fastest rifle cartridge in mass production and in common use, then you've found it in the .220 Swift.

.22-250 Remington

The aptly named .250-3000 Savage made a big splash in the early 20th Century as the first mass produced cartridge capable of breaking the 3,000 fps barrier. Well, in the 1960s, Remington standardized an old wildcat cartridge using the .250 Savage case necked down to shoot .22 caliber bullets. That original .250-3000 Savage was a very fast cartridge when it first came on the scene, and the much newer .22-250 Remington descended from it also knocked the socks off velocity hungry hunters and shooters.

It's not quite the fastest cartridge available, but it's arguably the most popular and widely used today of the really fast cartridges, especially among varmint hunters. Make no mistake though, the .22-250 Remington is still really, really fast.

Hornady currently offers two factory loads for the cartridge in their Superformance line and both of them break the 4,000 fps barrier: a load featuring a 50gr V-Max bullet at 4,000 fps and a load firing a 35gr NTX bullet at a scorching 4,450 fps.

.204 Ruger

Compared to the relatively old .220 Swift and the .22-250 Remington, the .204 Ruger is extremely new and was first introduced in 2004. It uses a somewhat unusual .204" diameter bullet that's bigger than the .172" bullets used by .17 caliber cartridges, but smaller in diameter used by the extremely popular .224" bullets used in .22 caliber cartridges.

The result is a cartridge capable of launching very small bullets at an extremely fast velocity for plenty of power to take down coyotes and other varmints. However, since it burns much less powder than some of the other cartridges known for very high velocities, the .204 Ruger does all that with virtually no recoil and a relatively mild report. Not surprisingly, it's right up there with the .22-250 Remington as far as popularity goes.

Don't let the small size of the .204 Ruger fool you. This little cartridge offers incredibly fast bullet velocity. Hornady currently offers 3 factory loads for the .204 Ruger in their Superformance Varmint Line: a 40gr V-Max at 3,900 fps, a 32gr NTX bullet at 4,225 fps, and a 24gr NTX bullet at 4,400 fps.

For shooting accessories and more, check out the inventory.

Like what you see? You can read more great articles by John McAdams on the Big Game Hunting Blog. Subscribe to his show: the Big Game Hunting Podcast. 

NEXT: SIG SAUER CROSS RIFLE FOLDS THE GAP BETWEEN TACTICAL, HUNTING PURPOSES

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9 Rifle Cartridges With the Fastest Bullet Velocity