Hunting Bullet Guide – 220 Swift

The 220 Swift is one of the most awesome cartridges there is for hunting varmints and predators. Developed by Winchester in 1935 for their Model 54 bolt-action rifle. The 220 Swift was really ahead of its time. It was the first truly high velocity varmint cartridge.

SBST220 - 220 Swift

  • Ballistic Coefficient: 0.175
  • Product Symbol: X220S
  • Description: Rapid expansion or fragmentation on impact. For Prairie dog, coyote, woodchuck.

Rifle Ballistics

Velocity (fps) 3870 3310 2816 2373 1972 1616
Distance (yds) Muzzle 50 100 200 300 400 500
Energy (ft. lbs.) 1663 1226 881 625 432 290
Distance (yds)   50 100 150 200 250 300
Short Trajectory (in.)   -0.4 0.0 -0.4 -1.7 -4.1 -7.8
Distance (yds) 100 150 200 250 300 400 500
Long Trajectory (in.) +0.8 +0.9 0.0 -2.0 -5.2 -16.7 -37.1

50 gr. Super-X® Pointed Soft Point

Winchester’s original load, a 48-grain bullet at the velocity the 220 Swift is capable of producing (4100 fps), was unheard of in 1935. With barrel quality be what it was in those days it earned the reputation of being a barrel burner. Coupled with unrealistic expectations as a game cartridge it’s popularity suffered. Fortunately barrel quality has improved greatly and hunters and shooters have realized it is best suited as a varmint/predator round. I have owned a 220 Swift in a Remington 700 VS for 7 years now and it still shoots as good today as it ever did. The 220 Swift is based on the 6mm Lee Navy case re-necked to 22 (.224) caliber. The only negative I’ve found with the 220 Swift, as with other high-velocity rounds, is cases are prone to stretching. On the positive side the little case is very durable and semi-rimmed. Being semi-rimmed allows the 220 Swift to be easily used in both single shot and bolt-action rifles. A little creative loading is required for bolt-action rifles. Stack the last loaded round’s rim in front of the previous round’s rim. When the bolt is cycled to load the next round that round’s rim is in front of the one’s below it. When this loading procedure is followed the 220 Swift will feed just as smooth through a bolt-action as any rim-less cartridge. This especially important when more than one coyote comes to your call! I have often heard that the 22-250 Remington performs every bit as well as the 220 Swift. From a coyotes point of view this statement is probably true. I’ve never had one tell me different. From a shooters and hand loaders point of view it’s a different story. With bullets 40 to 53-grains there is no noticeable difference. Using heavier bullets, 55 to 60+-grains, the 220 Swift will out perform the 22-250 Remington. These heavier bullets can reach as much as 200 fps or more over the same bullet in a 22-250 Remington. This added velocity results in a flatter trajectory, an inch or more in some cases. It seems the wind is always blowing and drift is a real issue with 22 caliber bullets. Bullets in the 55 to 60+-gains aren’t as affected by wind. This is good thing for small varmints and predators that do not offer much margin for error in judging distance and wind drift. Popularity of the 220 Swift is growing and with that so are the choices in factory ammunition. Remington’s “Premier Varmint” load with its 50-grain nylon tip bullet is the most accurate factory load I’ve used in my rifle. The little bullet performs well on everything form jackrabbits to coyotes. I took a Grey Fox with this load right after I bought my rifle. He was just a little over 100 yards looking strait at me. I hit him square in the chest. The little bullet disintegrated in his chest cavity killing him instantly with no exit wound. Hornady loads a 60-grain that works well on coyotes, but it seems to take a faster twist than a 1:14”, to get the really tight groups varmint hunters like to see. My rifle prefers a hand load consisting of Nosler’s 55-grain Ballistic Tip and Reloader 15 powder. This load will shoot groups in the .5” to .75” range at 100 yards from a solid rest. I used this load to take a nice Rio Grande Gobbler in the 2000 Texas Spring Turkey Season. I had watched him for almost an hour with a group of no less than a dozen hens. My efforts to call him away from them had failed. There was no way he was going to leave his little harem. Really, who can blame him? I tried several times to get a shot at him but I couldn’t get a good rest. As the group fed along ridge a long distance from me I was able to work my way though the Mesquite brush without being seen. Once in position for a solid rest I ranged the big Tom at 340 yards. I watched him though my scope until he turned facing me. I settled the cross hairs on his beak and squeezed off a shot. Hitting him in the neck just above his feathers. Over the past few years I’ve grown pretty fond of the 220 Swift. I’ve tried other rounds for my varmint and small game hunting in the past but I’ve always come back to my 220 Swift (affectionately referred to as “Thumper”).

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