There’s a new .22 centerfire cartridge in town that’s kicking butt and taking names. It’s the .224 Valkyrie and it’s from the Federal cartridge people. With its introduction in December, it brings to an end after only one year the .22 Nosler’s claim as the most potent .22 centerfire available in an MSR. The “MSR” by the way, is quickly replacing the familiar “AR-15” designation that’s been used ever since the gun was introduced by Colt in 1963 as the civilian version of the Army’s M-16 service rifle.
An acronym for Modern Sporting Rifle, it’s simply deemed more politically correct than “AR” because the general public mistakenly believes it stands for “Assault Rifle” rather than what it really means, which is Armalite Rifle, in deference to the company that originally designed it, but then sold the manufacturing rights to Colt.
Anyway, I was always intrigued by the fact that in the 58 years since the AR-15 was rolled out, little was done to develop a .224 cal. cartridge that would improve upon the performance of its original .223 Rem. (5.56×45 NATO) chambering. Not that there’s been a dearth of cartridges adapted to, or designed specifically for, the MSR platform.
Today there are MSRs available in a wide range of calibers that stretch the limits as to cartridge length and girth as imposed by the basic design. By changing uppers, bolt heads and magazines, existing MSRs can be adapted to .22 LR, 6.5 Grendel, 6.8 SPC, 7.62×39, .300 Blackout, .458 SOCOM, .50 Beowulf, even 9mm Parabellum and the .410 shotshell. But again, there was a conspicuous absence of even one .224 cal. cartridge.
That of course all changed in January of 2017 with the introduction of the 22 Nosler, a cartridge that significantly bested the .223 by about 25 percent in velocity and 30 percent in energy. Now, just one year later, we have the .224 Valkyrie, which Federal claims raises the bar for MSR performance yet again. There are, however, some caveats which we’ll deal with in turn.
Genealogy-wise the Valkyrie is based on the obsolete .30 Rem. case, which was introduced in conjunction with Remington’s first semi-auto sporting rifle, the Model 8, in 1906. Just about the time Remington stopped production of .30 Rem. ammunition — around 2002 I believe — the Special Operations Command (SOCOM) of the U. S. military began experimenting with the case in an effort to come up with a cartridge that could improve upon the long-range performance of the 5.56 NATO round within the design limitations of the M-16 rifle.
What they came up with was the 6.8 Rem. SPC (Special Purpose Cartridge) based on a shortened .30 Rem. case modified to take a small rifle primer and necked down to accept a .277-caliber bullet. It is the 6.8 SPC case that became the basic vessel for the 22 Nosler, and now for the Valkyrie as well. Both cartridges, then, are derived by necking down the 6.8 Rem. SPC to .224”. However, the Nosler rim is rebated to .378” to match that of the .223 Rem. so that no bolt head change is required in converting a .223/5.56 MSR. The Valkyrie on the other hand, retains the same .420” rim diameter as the original .30 Rem. and 6.8 SPC, so a conversion requires a bolt head switch.
The difference in rim diameter notwithstanding, the Valkyrie is .170” shorter in body length, and longer in the neck than the Nosler. At this point you may be asking: “If the Valkyrie’s body length is decidedly shorter and therefore of less powder capacity (14 percent less to be exact) than the Nosler, what alchemy does Federal perform to be able to claim such superior ballistics?”
Well, first off, they use selective comparisons — apples vs. oranges if you will. By that I mean, no direct comparisons can be made because not one of the four initial .224 Valkyrie loads (bullet weights), are found in the 22 Nosler line. Secondly, the Valkyrie employs a 1-7” twist rate, while for the Nosler a 1-8” twist is standard. That allows the Valkyrie to stabilize the heaviest .224 bullet available — the Sierra 90-grain MatchKing, while the heaviest Nosler loading is a 77-grain hollow point match bullet (though a 1-8” twist will stabilize bullets up to 80 grains).
Without going too far into the ballistic weeds, Federal uses this 90-grain Sierra MatchKing Valkyrie load to claim its superiority over the 22 Nosler. Touted by Federal as a true 1,000-yard cartridge, it leaves the muzzle at 2,700 fps from a 24” test barrel, is still going 1,950 fps at 500 yards, and 1,360 fps at 1000 yards. It does not go subsonic (below the speed of sound) until it passes the1,300-yard mark, at which point accuracy begins to degrade, as it would for any bullet regardless of caliber once stability is lost.
The 90-grain Sierra MatchKing bullet has a G1 Ballistic Coefficient of .563, which is unusually high for a .224 caliber bullet; so high in fact that it compares favorably with match bullets in 6.5, 7mm and .30 calibers. Just seeing the 90-grain MatchKing bullet next to the 77-grain Nosler, which has a BC of .345, the aerodynamic superiority of the former is obvious. The 77-grain Nosler load exits at 2,900 fps, or 200 fps faster, but the superior shape of the 90-grain MatchKing quickly catches up and surpasses the Nosler load to where it goes subsonic at 875 yards. As to how that translates into bullet drop and wind deflection in a 10 mph crosswind compared to the 22 Nosler and .223 Rem., consider:
- At 1,000 yards with a 100-yard zero, the .224 Valkyrie’s 90-grain MatchKing load exiting at 2,700 fps drops 392 inches and deflects 93 inches in a 10 mph crosswind.
- The 22 Nosler 77-grain Custom Competition loading with a muzzle velocity of 2,900 fps drops 481 inches and deflects 162 inches at 1,000 yards.
- Remington’s 69-grain Sierra MatchKing load in .223 Rem. exiting at 3,000 fps drops 519 inches and deflects 157 inches.
All the aforementioned data is courtesy of Federal as established in 24” test barrels. The 90-grain MatchKing offering is obviously a match load for long range recreational and competitive shooting, but there’s a second 90-grain Fusion factory load designed for hunting that would be quite suitable for feral hogs and deer-size game. There’s also a 60-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip offering that should be dynamite on varmints and predators, and an economical ($13.95/box of 20) American Eagle 60-grain TMJ load for recreational shooting with MSRs.
By the time you read this, several manufacturers will be chambering for the .224 Valkyrie in their MSRs and/or bolt action rifles — Savage, Mossberg, LWRC and Barrett to name a few. Surely others will follow. I believe that 20 inches will be the most popular barrel length in your typical MSR, so there will be a loss in velocity of at least 100 fps, but in 24-inch barreled bolt guns, the full potential of the cartridge can be realized.
By switching the upper (barrel assembly), magazine and bolt head (if applicable), any .223 Rem./5.56 MSR can be converted to the Valkyrie. It must be pointed out however, that the 22 Nosler’s 14 percent greater case capacity means that handloaders can surpass the Valkyrie’s performance by at least 60-75 fps with any bullet up to 80 grains in weight. So if you’re into 1,000-yard shooting, competitively or otherwise, the Valkyrie obviously makes more sense. But if you’re a hunter looking for the most potent .22 that’ll work in an MSR, the advantage is with the 22 Nosler.
With the roll-out of the Valkyrie, Federal issued more technical data than I have ever seen accompanying the introduction of a new cartridge. While they are promoting the versatility of the cartridge as a hunting/predator/varmint round, the emphasis is unquestionably on its 1,000-yard capability. Now I’m all for any form of long range recreational and competitive shooting; it’s fun, it’s challenging, and the more men and women who get involved in it the better.
I just worry that this emphasis on extreme range shooting bleeds into the world of hunting, and whether intentional or not, the subliminal message that comes through in ad and catalog copy of late is: “Hey, if you can shoot 10-inch groups at 1,000 yards, why not take that capability into the hunting fields?”
No rifle, scope or ammo manufacturer I know of promotes shooting at game at extreme range, and some even specifically articulate against it. Nevertheless, the implication, the possibility, is there. Like all ethical questions pertaining to hunting, how we personally feel about shooting at a deer or elk at 1,000 yards is a question each of us must address for him or herself.–Jon R. Sundra