223 Rem. Bolt-Action Shootout: Savage’s New Model 25 Wins
Our shooters were taken with the Savage and CZ-USA’s 527 American field rifles—they shot great and wouldn’t break your back. The Ruger Hawkeye just wasn’t as good, testers said.
The 223 Remington is a practical cartridge with broad appeal and application. It has already been some 44 years since the U.S. Army adopted it, based on the 222 Remington that itself was quite a commercial success since its 1950 introduction. Like most cartridges or variants adopted by the military, its long-term popularity is virtually guaranteed. It is one of our favorite cartridges, with a variety of ammunition available at reasonable prices. Unlike some of the older "burn a lot of powder in a small hole" rounds such as the 220 Swift, or perhaps the more recent 204 Ruger, the 223 Remington offers generally good barrel life and overall economy that makes it a fabulous choice for many as a general-purpose 22-caliber centerfire.
Likewise, the 223 comes chambered in a wide selection of rifle styles, and for this test, we have selected three rifles with sporter-profile barrels and lighter, handier overall dimensions compared to heavy-barrel varmint rifles. Our test guns are the types of reliable, fun rifles that are ideal for coyote and other predator hunting where mobility is required. Call them ranch rifles, coyote rifles, long-range groundhog guns, walking varminters, or even whitetail rifles in some areas—they have tremendous utility and flexibility, easy on shoulder and wallet alike. The contestants are the CZ USA 527 American 03022, $711; Ruger HM77R Hawkeye 07103, $779; and the Savage Model 25 Classic Sporter, $616.
Bob Forker’s Ammo & Ballistics II lists about 67 different factory 223 Remington loads, and that’s just scratching the surface—not counting custom ammo, the tremendous number of reloading recipes, and the new variants introduced annually. We wanted to compare results with reasonably priced, "non-match" ammo—but we didn’t want to go the route of various one-off bulk buys or surplus ammo, either. In times past, South African battle-pack military surplus 5.56mm rounds and Israel Military Industries (IMI) cartridges have both given unimpressive results, so we don’t feel the "just making brass" class of ammo is worth the bother these days. SAAMI warned against the use of 5.56mm ammunition in 223 Remington chambered rifles back in January 1979. We believe in erring on the side of caution and safety; therefore, the ammunition we test will have a headstamp that matches the barrels of our rifles.
Over the years, we have found that Federal American Eagle 50-grain jacketed hollowpoints have given us surprisingly good performance considering the price tag. Here, we tested Federal load #AE223G; in the pile of 200-round bulk packs we bought it is #AEBP223G. This 50-grain hollowpoint is a 3400 fps MV load, with a published G1 ballistic coefficient of .204. It was this load we decided to use as a baseline for the bulk of our testing. We also shot a five-shot strings under just adequate range conditions (89 degrees F., 10-15 mph pulsing crosswind) as fast as possible, letting the groups stand as they were shot: no discarding "flyers" or any artificial skewing of the results. This is the type of shooting we feel is relevant to "minute-of-coyote" field performance. Further, we fired three-shot accuracy groups at 100 yards from bag and cradle, testing Stars & Stripes Custom Ammunition 40-grain Barnes Varminator rounds, Remington-UMC 45-grain jacketed hollowpoints, and again with our Federal American Eagle 50-grain rounds.
To record velocities, we used a Competitive Edge Dynamics CED M2 Chronograph set 15 feet from the muzzle, and the shooting was done at a range 500 feet above sea level, with air temperatures around 77 degrees. We shot the CZ 527 in set trigger mode for this portion because we found it resulted in tighter groups than the standard trigger pull. In all the firing, we had only one hang-up; a failure to feed a Remington-UMC round from the clip of the CZ.