Why the .20-250?
By Dave Affleck
First, I need to confess that even from the start, I never had any illusions about the .20-250 being “practical”, or even making much sense on many levels. Indeed, at the time I was ordering barrel blanks and sending rifle parts off to Greg Tannel, I knew full well how likely it was that none of the current mass production bullets were even going to work well for my specific objectives. But I’m a hot-rodder at heart, and have reached a point in my hunting/rifle/hand loading hobbies that I’m more interested in raw pure performance and things that are “unusual” than I am in “practical”. So, I decided to go ahead with the project, knowing that I was taking a chance and that it might not work out.
So, how did I decide on the .20-250? A bit of background to put things in context, might be helpful in understanding how I arrived at the .20-250. I’ve been using my .17 Predator almost exclusively for coyote hunting for a couple of years now. After having killed over 100 coyotes with the .17P, I am of the opinion that it is the closest thing to “perfect” for an every stand calling rifle, that I have ever used. For the ballistics inclined readers, and for reference, my working load for the .17P has the 30 gr. Gold with a B.C. of .270 doing just under 4100 fps. You can read all about my .17P project by clicking here. So, when I got the itch to begin a new rifle project, I decided that there was not much point in trying to improve on the .17P for what I call an “every stand” coyote hunting rifle. Instead I wanted to build an “extreme performance” rifle. Something that would provide just incredibly flat trajectory, flatter than any factory made rifle. Trajectory so flat it would allow me to “hold on fur” all the way out to 400 yards. This would not be a rifle use on every stand; but rather for more specialized circumstances, or times when I would be glad to get every ounce of performance possible. Every ounce of performance possible within certain parameters, that is! Those “certain parameters” are the initial goals for what became this .20-250 project. Those goals were:
#1 – Extreme flatness of trajectory and extended “point blank range”. Even flatter trajectory and longer point blank range than the .17 Predator. I wanted something that would shoot flatter and have a longer PBR than any factory offering. A tall order, given the other goals!
#2 – More downrange energy than the .17 Predator.
#3 – Accomplish #1 and #2, while still keeping recoil low enough to maintain my site picture in a heavy sporter weight rifle, without a muzzle brake. This goal effectively ruled out larger calibers and made the project much more interesting!
#4 – Accomplish #1, #2 & #3, while also providing bang-flop, dead-right-there terminal performance. As expected, this has proven to be a function of bullet design and construction and the area that has been most challenging.
#5 – The rifle had to be a repeater, with slick feeding and no fancy magazine arrangements or modifications to achieve slick feeding. Hence my choice of the vanilla ‘250 case, rather than using the BR case or any AI designs.
#6 – Accomplish all of the above in a barrel no longer than 25”, to maintain the handling characteristics I prefer in a coyote calling rifle.
Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? But, when I started getting down to the nitty gritty details of accomplishing each of these goals, without making it impossible to achieve any of the others, the possible options got fewer and fewer. After some head scratching, talking to lots of other people and doing a lot of number crunching, I decided that the .20-250 could accomplish all of my goals simultaneously. So, I decided to give it a try!
I need to point out one parameter that is conspicuously absent from these goals for the project and that is barrel life. For this application, I just don’t care about barrel life. Not even a little bit. This rifle won’t see any prairie dog shooting, maybe just a little bit of jack rabbit or rock chuck shooting. But primarily, it’s a predator hunting rifle, and a special purpose predator hunting rifle at that. If the barrel only lasts 500 rounds, that will equate to many years of service. So, as long as I get 500 rounds out of it, which I’m sure I will, I’m happy. Anything more than that I’ll take as a bonus.
Another parameter that is conspicuously absent – “fur friendly”. While I would love to achieve all these goals and be fur friendly too, I just did not think that is very feasible. So I decided to accept that I’d likely end up with some big exit holes. While I was willing to accept large holes in the pelts for this application, I absolutely demand “bang flop” terminal performance to go along with those large holes. This really comes down to bullet design and construction. But of course, at the time I was planning this project, there simply weren’t any .20 caliber bullets available designed for the kind of velocity and the kind of use I intended. I knew from the very beginning that finding the right bullet for my application was probably going to be the biggest challenge on this project. And indeed, that proved to be true, as I’ll show and describe later.
So, now you know the twisted logic that led this poor inflicted gun nut down the path to the .20-250. I knew from the outset that I was taking a chance, and that the project just might end up a failure. Indeed, many of the arm chair ballistics experts on the internet forums prophesized nothing but problems ahead for my project. Some of these guys, with no actual experience to back up their opinions, said I’d wear out the barrel before finding a good load, that the .20-250 was so grossly overbore that it would end up barely out performingthe .204 Ruger. I generally tend to ignore these types on the forums and didn’t take any of their opinions too seriously. But that didn’t mean I was brimming with confidence, either. But I took the time to seek out opinions from people that actually do have real experience for advice. I was able to locate several fellow shooters who had already built similar large capacity .20 caliber rifles. I gained valuable insight from each, and for that I am grateful. It turns out that both of the riflesmiths I contacted about my project have considerable experience with large capacity .20 calibers as well. Both Greg Tannel, who I chose to build this rifle, and Kevin Weaver have done a lot of experimenting with large and extra large capacity .20 calibers. Talking to these men confirmed nearly all my own thoughts. Namely, that the accuracy and velocity I wanted to achieve was realistic, that the standard .22-250 case was nearing the limit of useful capacity for the bullet weight range that I wished to use, and that indeed, finding bullets constructed to perform the way I wanted them to was likely to present a challenge.
Why the big fuss over flat trajectory?
This whole project has been largely misunderstood by many of the people I’ve talked to about it. It seems that many don’t understand my goals and reasoning without some explanation. Most people, when I’d start to talk about building a .20-250, would immediately jump ahead and assume I wanted to shoot heavy for caliber bullets (50 gr. and up), in a fast twist, at long range. When in reality, I wanted to do nothing of the sort. So when I’d start to explain that what I really wanted to do, was push medium weight bullets, in the range of say 37 to 40 gr., at really high velocity, a lot of people just couldn’t understand why I’d be willing to go to such extremes of powder capacity and short barrel life just to push the same old light bullets a few hundred feet per second faster. I mean, really, when you look at it, the velocity gains of the .20-250 over the .204 Ruger or Tac .20 might seem hard to justify when you consider the difference in amounts of powder burned and the dramatic difference in barrel life. But for my purposes with this project, shooting at distances of 500 or 600 yards or more were not part of my planning, at all. Performance at anything beyond about 450 yards is purely peripheral to this project – I’ll take it if it’s there, but it’s not the point of what I’m doing.
But people just tend not to understand why I want the specific performance I do, when there is so much “better” long range performance to be had using heavier bullets and a faster twist. Really, I think these are mostly people that just don’t understand my brand of coyote hunting. Honestly, for my style of coyote hunting, I just don’t care about “long range”, at all. It simply isn’t relevant. Todd Kindler, whom I like and respect and whom is a strong proponent of the .20-250, in one of his .20-250 articles, made mention of the advantages to the Western coyote hunter of the 50 or 60 grain .20 caliber bullet in a 9 or 8 twist barrel. He spoke of taking coyotes at 500 or 600 yards. This is the common thought process I see. Well, sure, if coyotes at 600 yards is your game, then I can easily see the advantage of the heavier bullets. But I very rarely shoot at a coyote beyond about 450 yards. None of the coyote hunters I know shoot at coyotes that far away except on rare occasions. But shot opportunities at between about 300 and 450 yards are not all that uncommon. I do realize that people using different methods, in different areas, have different needs. But for my areas and methods, these 300 – 400 yard shots are where we are struggling. And again, these shot opportunities are not that unusual.
It seems that there is this vaguely defined area between about 300 yards and 500 yards that gets no attention by anyone. I call it the “ignored medium range”. Long range enthusiasts begin their number crunching and analysis at about 500 yards. Shorter range varmint hunters and most coyote hunters seem to generally not be concerned much beyond about 300 yards or so. In between is the area where me, the western open country coyote hunter, occasionally finds himself wishing for flatter trajectory than the typical hot rod varmint chambering offers. But still not into the kind of distance where the wind bucking and long range trajectory assets of fast twist VLD type setups start to earn their keep. Essentially, with this project I’m trying to extend the so called “maximum point blank range” beyond what is possible with conventional/traditional chamberings. In concrete terms, I want to be able to “hold on fur”, from the muzzle to 400 yards. Obviously, an “extreme” chambering is where this has led me. To anyone not familiar with the kind of coyote hunting I do, that might seem like a silly thing to try and accomplish. Especially at such cost in terms of short barrel life etc. Heck, even a lot of guys that are very familiar with the kind of coyote hunting I do are going to think this is foolish. That’s fine, I don’t expect many people to understand the “why”. Indeed, as I said to begin this article, I’m under no illusions that this is a “practical” endeavor. The .20-250 simply provides a set of features and an increased level of performance that isn’t available off the shelf, anywhere, that I’ve decided to try and create, and which if achieved, I certainly will put to good use.
The Rifle – Choosing an Action
My choice of action to use for this project was an easy one. I had acquired a brand new Nesika Model T repeater about a year earlier that was just sitting in the safe waiting to be used. Indeed, having a nice custom action in hand to build on was a large part of my motivation to get this project going in the first place. This Nesika T has a Remington tang, is setup for using a Remington safety, has a Rem. 700 magazine cutout, a long “tactical” style handle and oversize knob on the fluted bolt, a thick recoil lug double pinned in place, and is setup to use Remington trigger pins. I ordered a set of stainless finish Remington 700 BLD bottom metal, magazine box, follower and spring to go with this action.
The Rifle – Trigger
The trigger was another fairly easy decision. While I did have a couple of Remington 700 factory triggers on the shelf that could have been used, it didn’t seem right to use anything less than the best in the superb Nesika receiver, so I ordered up a Jewel HVR with Remington style top safety. When it arrived I fitted it to the action and adjusted it to my preferred pull for a field rifle of 28 oz.
The Rifle – Stock
As I’ve talked about in other articles, I’ve settled onto a basic setup that I like to use on all my hunting rifles. These rifles all have the same stocks, use the same barrel contour, use the same trigger setting and most have the same scopes.
I’ve just found that by having these rifles all setup very close to the same, it’s much easier for me to go from one rifle to the other and not have to get “reacquainted” with the fit and feel. The result, for me, has been better shooting in the field with a variety of calibers. The stocks on all these rifles are the Remington Classic pattern.
So, the stock was another no-brainer decision. I called McMillan and ordered a Rem. Classic pattern, inletted for my Nesika T, BDL bottom metal, Lilja #4 barrel contour combination. I made this one of their “bowling ball” marbled color stocks. For the color marbling, I wanted to try and come up with a color combination that would make a good camo match for my typical coyote hunting habitat. I specified 50% tan, 35% green and 15% black. I had no idea how it was really going to look when finished, but it turned out great. The stock actually did turn out to be a pretty good camo pattern for the sage brush and grassy areas I usually hunt.
The Rifle – Barrel
The barrels on the rifles previously mentioned are all Lilja #4 contour, 24” long. I have found the #4 to be a great all around contour for my tastes. So, a Lilja #4 contour barrel was the automatic choice.
Twist rate was a much less automatic decision… Nearly everyone I had spoken to in the early planning stages thought I would be crazy to go with a slow twist for such a large capacity case. Most people thought I should do a 9 twist, in order to be able to shoot the 50 gr. Berger. In the end though, I decided to commit to the medium weight .20 caliber bullets in order to achieve the flat trajectory and mild recoil goals for the project. So a .20 caliber barrel with a twist rate of 1 in 12 twist was ordered.
Barrel length was a tough choice too. For such an intense cartridge as the .20-250, a long barrel of at least 26” is really called for. But… I know from years of experience what I like and what I don’t like in a coyote hunting rifle. An overly long, cumbersome rifle is not much of a pleasure to get in and out of a pickup truck 15 times a day, carrying to and from stands etc. Let alone the issues of balance and feel. And the Nesika action was already a bit longer and heavier than the Remington 700’s I usually use (and quite a bit longer and heavier than the Model Seven action on my favorite rifle, my .17 Predator). The scope I had chosen is longer and heavier than the Leupold’s on most of my hunting rifles too. So I figured I was already getting a bit long and a bit heavy, even without a long barrel. In the end, I decided that even if everything else turned out perfect, I wouldn’t be happy with the rifle if I didn’t like the way it balanced and felt, or if it was a pain in the rear to get in and out of the truck all day. So I decided on having the barrel crowned at 25”. That’s 1” longer than I usually like, a small compromise in recognition of the intense nature of the .20-250 chambering and the benefit of longer barrels when dealing with really over bore cartridges. Between the slightly longer barrel, the heavier and longer receiver and the heavier scope, I knew this rifle would end up a bit heavier and a bit less “handy” than most of my hunting rifles, but I hoped it wouldn’t be truly unwieldy or unpleasant to carry and hold. In the end, it worked out just fine. The rifle is just a tad long for my tastes in a hunting rig, but the weight is a non-issue and the balance is great. All in all, I think the barrel contour and length were an excellent compromise.
The Rifle – Scope
Previously, all the rifles I have setup in the Rem. Classic stocks and using the Lilja #4 barrels had been equipped with Leupold 4.5-14×40 scopes, with medium duplex reticules. I really have no major complaints with these scopes. In general, they have served me admirably. But, I have to admit, though I’ve never had any real complaints, I’ve never felt like they were anywhere near perfect, either. One minor complaint I always had, was the fact that the eye relief changes with magnification on these scopes. A small matter, a nit pick, really. But, one that had caused me minor irritation on countless occasions. My favorite thing about them has always been their small size and light weight when compared to most other quality scopes of the same magnification range.
On this rifle though, I knew that with the Nesika, I was starting with a somewhat larger and heavier action than usual. I also figured that the barrel would end up longer than usual as well. So I knew from the start I’d end up with a somewhat larger and heavier rifle. So, I thought, “what the heck”, may as well add a few more ounces and try another scope besides the Leupold. My main criteria were simply that I wanted something in the same magnification range, and I wanted constant eye relief. Oh, and I wanted glass that I thought was better than Leupold. In the end, I chose a Zeiss Conquest, 4.5-14×44. It has turned out to be precisely as I had expected and hoped. Other than being larger and heavier, I really do like it more than my Leupold’s. And, as it turned out, the place I found the best price on the Zeiss, was giving away free Talley rings and bases with them. And coincidentally, Talley is one of the few manufacturers that has a standard set of bases that fit the Nesika action and also come with the larger 8×42 screws that the Nesika is tapped for. Perfect!
The Rifle – Riflesmith
In researching the .20-250, I talked to a couple of riflesmith’s who had a lot of hands on experience with the cartridge, as well as with other even larger capacity .20 calibers. One of these riflesmith’s was Greg Tannel. Greg had already built my current all time favorite rifle, my .17 Predator, and I had nothing but positive experiences with him throughout that project. Greg also had a superb understanding of what I was trying to accomplish with my .20-250, having done much experimenting along these same lines already himself. It was a pretty easy decision to have Greg build this rifle. So, once all the components had arrived, I boxed up them up and sent them off to Greg with instructions on how I wanted the barrels chambered, throated etc. In addition to chambering the two barrels I also had Greg pillar bed the action into the stock.
Nesika Model T with a Jewell HVR trigger and Rem. BDL bottom metal
Lilja #4, .204 12 twist, to be chambered in .20-250
Lilja #4 .243 13 twist, to be chambered in 6/284 (another project!)
McMillan Rem. Classic pattern stock
Zeiss Conquest 4.5-14×44/Talley bases and rings
Loading Dies and Brass Forming
For loading dies to use with the .20-250, I simply used Redding .22-250 bushing style dies that I already had on hand. All I had to do, was first chuck the decapping rod from the Redding Competition neck sizing die in a drill motor to file and polish the diameter of the decapping pin keeper down enough to fit through smaller .20 caliber necks. Then simply reassemble the die and use with appropriately smaller neck sizing bushings for the .20 caliber. Necking down new .22-250 cases to .20 caliber was accomplished with a single pass through the neck sizing die. Piece of cake! For bullet seating, I simply use the Redding .22-250 Competition seating die with no alterations. Loaded rounds have very minimal runout. If I ever need to bump the shoulders, I’ll use the Redding .22-250 body die.
Load Work and Load Data
I’ve kept load work for this rifle to a minimum. I really don’t know how many rounds the barrel is going to last, and the rifle wasn’t built for shooting paper anyway. So I just don’t want to shoot at paper with it any more than I really have to. Basically, all I’ve done is to take each bullet I’ve wanted to try, and worked up to maximum with a couple of different powders for each bullet. For much of the initial working up to maximum process, I used only a single shot at each load increment. Most of the groups I’ve shot have been three shot groups only. My goals during load work for this rig are simple. As far as accuracy goes, anything in the neighborhood of ½ inch, three shot groups is “good enough”. Anything over about .625 at 100 yards is “not good enough”. Most of the bullet and powder combinations I’ve tried have shot ½ inch groups or better, some of them have been ¼ inch. Of course I also had some velocities in mind that I was hoping to see. The velocities I’m actually getting, are just a hair lower than I was hoping for, but not by much (my bet is on barrel length as the reason). Over all, I’m satisfied with the accuracy and velocity performance I’m seeing. Below is some of the data from my load work with my .20-250.
Please note! As with any individual load data, these loads should be approached with caution. This is ESPECIALLY true of ANY data you find on the internet from an individual such as myself. Heck, for all you know, this data isn’t even safe in MY rifle, let alone yours!
All loads are with the bullet in firm contact with the lands (“square marks”) and using Fed. 210 primers.
|20-250, Lilja 12 twist|
|11/21/2006||N550||37.0||3.030||4033||0.815||2 shots, quite windy, MAX!|
|11/10/2006||Big Game||37.5||3.030||4113||0.850||Max., accuracy so-so, try 37.0|
|11/26/2006||37.0||3.030||4027||0.575||Probably best so far w/45 Horn.|
|11/10/2006||36.5||3.030||3986||0.740||Best group of day w/45 Hornady|
|40 Berger||11/21/2006||N550||39.0||3.035||4267||0.300||Max., warm load!|
|11/22/2006||38.5||3.035||4235||0.290||Best load to date!|
|11/21/2006||38.0||3.035||4139||0.340||Quite windy, good powder!|
|40 Vmax||11/22/2006||N550||38.5||3.010||4295||0.350||Excellent load|
|40 Nosler||11/21/2006||Big Game||38.0||3.040||4157||0.835||quite windy, good velocity|
|38 Unmussig||1/24/2007||N550||39.3||3.035||4299||0.540||Max., but 25*, use 39.0|
|3/30/2007||39.0||3.035||4273||0.510||Good working load|
|1/17/2007||38.5||3.035||4137||0.580||Very cold, 10*, try 39.0|
|10/10/2007||Big Game||37.5||3.035||4094||0.455||No pressure|
The real story of my .20-250 project has been the quest to find the right bullet for my specific application. You might want to pour yourself a cup of coffee and prepare to settle in for a bit here, this is going to be a long story…
From the beginning, turning the .20-250 into the coyote hunting tool I wanted it to be, has been all about finding the right bullet. The problem in a nutshell, is finding a bullet constructed to withstand the very high muzzle velocities the .20-250 is capable of. A bullet that will give sufficient penetration on a coyote for clean kills, without simply blowing up on the surface. The bullet also needs to be of light enough weight to allow reaching the high velocities required to achieve my medium range trajectory goals. Not more than 40 gr., really, and a few gr. lighter would be even better. The bullet should have a relatively sleek shape to go along with the light weight and high velocities too. All that and a tough enough construction to avoid surface blowups at close range on a coyote when launched at 4300 fps. That’s a lot to ask of a single bullet! And it’s important to remember, that when I first started planning this rifle and even at the point that I had obtained an action to build on and ordered my barrel blank, there were precious few .20 caliber bullets available. At that time, the Hornady 45 gr. was not yet even rumored. Nosler and Sierra weren’t selling .20 caliber bullets yet. All there was on the factory side, were the two Hornady’s (32 and 40 Vmax), and the Bergers (primarily the 35 and 40 gr.). I already had plenty of experience with the Hornady Vmax in my .20BR and felt pretty sure that they weren’t going to work well on coyotes at .20-250 velocities. But there were numerous small custom makers out there, some of whom I was already familiar with. I was hopeful that one or more of them could make me a bullet to do the job. And of course I had the belief that the major manufacturers were all going to be coming out with more .20 caliber bullets all the time – which has proven to be true.
So… Based on my previous experiences using the Vmax bullets in my .20BR, and having seen horrible surface splash and very poor killing performance, I decided to concentrate on the 40 Berger initially. Even though it suffers a low B.C. compared to the Vmax, Ballistic Tip or Blitzking. Much as I like the B.C. of the plastic tips and the help that B.C. provides in achieving my trajectory goals, I hoped the Berger would be less likely to display surface splash and poor penetration. All the flat trajectory in the world is worthless if the bullets don’t kill the coyotes cleanly. I should point out right now, that even to this day I have not actually tried any of the plastic tips out of my .20-250 on coyotes. I have shot a few coyotes with them out of my .20BR, with extremely poor results. But I’ve heard from quite a few guys that the 40 gr. Vmax has been working good on coyotes in the .204 Ruger and even one or two guys reporting good results with the 40 Vmax out of .20-250 class cartridges. So, maybe my prejudice is unfounded. But, at any rate, based on my own first hand experience with them in the .20BR, I just didn’t think it likely that they would work good in the .20-250 on coyotes. So, I headed off to the range to work up a load for the 40 gr. Berger. After just a little bit of load work at the range, I had a load for the 40 Berger using N550 that drills little bug holes at 4250 fps.
Next, I set out to kill some coyotes using the 40 gr. Berger at 4200+ fps to see how they would perform. The first three coyotes I killed with the Bergers seemed to show some promise.
The first coyote was a large female (pictured below), shot broadside at 300 yards. Bullet hit perfectly right in the pocket, exit hole about 1.5”, bang flop.
So far, so good!
Second coyote was a 36 lb male, at 80 yards, facing me at an angle. I hit him in the chest between center and the outside shoulder. He went down immediately, but flopped around quite a bit and even got back up and staggered a few steps before expiring. Great big hole. It was hard to even distinguish the entrance from the exit. Not very good performance, but only the second coyote, so…
Third coyote was a 28 lb female, at 210 yards, broadside. Hit too far back, in the guts. Football sized exit hole. She made a few spins before going down and flopped around a lot on the ground, but didn’t go anywhere. Poor shot placement, and the bullet did exit, so no real cause for too much concern.
Then a few weeks later, I got out for another morning of coyote calling…
Warning! Totally tasteless, graphic photos below! I don’t normally even take pictures like these, let alone publish them. But, I was out there testing my rig for it’s intended purpose – and these photos illustrate the performance I’m wasn’t happy about better than any words can.
So, anyway… I was able to get out for a few hours by myself and make a few stands and do some more testing with the Berger 40 at about 4250 fps muzzle velocity. Here is a photo of the results, carefully arranged to hide the gore:
Before going any further, I need to stress that I am NOT trying to be critical of the Berger bullets. They are a great product. These bullets are superbly accurate in my rifle. They simply were not designed for the application I tried to use them in. It’s not the fault of the bullet, or the bullet maker. It’s my fault for using them in a way that they were never intended to be used or designed for.
Now, on to the ugly photos, showing the ugly bullet performance…
Below is the first coyote of the morning. A 39 lb male, 50 yards, broadside, hit just behind the shoulder. What you are seeing is the entrance wound, there was no exit. This is big time surface splash. He did some spins and staggered around for a few seconds before going down. And even after going down, I could see him breathing for much longer than I’m comfortable with. Remember, this was a perfectly placed shot, at 50 yards. I consider this kind of bullet performance to be a failure and simply not acceptable. A perfectly placed broadside shot at 50 yards should be a bang-flop, instantly dead coyote. But again – don’t blame Berger, it’s not their fault I took their great bullets and pushed them to such high velocity, and then hoped that they would not expand and disrupt on impact.
Next photo is the second coyote of the morning. A 37 lb male. He was running towards me when the bullet hit him in the chest at 60 yards. As you can see, ugly surface splash again, with a huge entrance wound and no real exit. And again, spinning, staggering, flopping. Another perfectly placed shot, another bullet failure.
Last one, the third coyote of the morning, a 31 lb male. Standing broadside at 90 yards, hit him perfect, low behind the shoulder. Much to my dismay, after first doing the ugly spin, stagger and drop routine, this coyote got back up and made a sickly sprint 50 yards uphill before I shot him again in the back of the head to finish him off. I guess you could call that mess an “exit” wound, but certainly not the kind I want to see on a broadside perfectly placed shot.
So, after that last coyote, I was done with the 40 gr. Berger… Called it a day and went home. Again, I want to stress that the Berger is really a very good bullet. But simply not designed or constructed for penetration of heavy tissue at the velocity I’m pushing it. Looking back at the first day, the two coyotes I hit at 210 and 300 yards, where the bullet had scrubbed off some velocity, the bullet penetrated and performed well without surface splash. It again appears to me that on closer shots, the velocity is just more than the bullet can take.
So… I was left to look at other bullet options. I had a couple of heavier, 45 gr bullets to work with in the Hornady and a custom made bench rest bullet (which is no longer available). I was optimistic that one or both would give better penetration and more reliable terminal performance. But, by going to one of these heavier bullets, I’d be losing some of the trajectory flatness that is a primary goal for the project. Indeed, one of the 45’s at 4100 fps will be no flatter than my .17 Predator, probably not even as flat. I was thinking that I’d much rather find a sleek, tough 38 to 40 grain bullet that would perform better. Not that I’d consider the project a total failure if I ended up using one of the 45’s to good effect. But without accomplishing my trajectory goal, I couldn’t consider it a total success, either. If, on the other hand, I could get my hands on a lighter, tougher bullet, one that would penetrate without surface splash even when pushed to velocities in the neighborhood of 4300 fps, all the goals for the project will have been reached and I would consider it a complete success.
I thought something like a sleek bonded core 37 gr. bullet would be the hot ticket. But… I’m wasn’t going to hold my breath hoping to ever actually see one. And I suspected that even if someone did make a bonded core .20 caliber bullet, it would be a stubby 45 gr. with a low B.C., intended for people that want to shoot deer and the like with their .204 Rugers. I thought that my most realistic hope, for the short term, would be a bullet made on a tougher jacket than the Berger or the Vmax etc. One of the small custom makers, using drawn down .224 J4 jackets, or perhaps even .224 Sierra jackets. Of course, I might find that even a bullet made on those jackets wouldn’t take the velocity. But I sure wanted a chance to find out, one way or the other!
So, I turned to the greatest resource available for solving problems like this – the great groups of guys that frequent the forums at Go Go Varmint Go and at Jim Saubier’s small caliber forum. I received a lot of great input and many generous offers of bullets to try. In fact, I still have several types of bullet that were sent to me, that I simply have not been able to try on coyotes yet. Including some custom 40 gr. bullets made on .224 J4 jackets and some custom 38 gr. bullets. All I’ve been able to get done so far is work up accurate loads on the range with them. Terminal performance is still unknown. It’s entirely possible that I’ve got a winner just sitting here waiting to be tested.
In addition to actual bullets to try, I also got some good advice. Amongst the good ideas offered, was that I should call Don Unmussig. It was suggested that he would be able to make me any kind of .20 caliber bullet I wanted.
So I put in a call to Mr. Unmussig. Sure enough, he could make me just about anything I wanted! I described what I was trying to do and we discussed the possibilities. The upshot of that phone call was the Mr. Unmussig agreed to make me up a special batch of .20 caliber, 38 gr. bullets. They were to have boat tails of about .060, have long and sleek 9 caliber ogives, a short one caliber bearing surface and the tightest meplat he could put on them. And made on .224 jackets. As we planned them, these bullets should come close to the high BC of the plastic tipped bullets like the 40 gr. Vmax or 39 gr. Blitzking, have the accuracy potential of the Bergers, but be constructed to give better penetration than any of them. In other words, pretty much exactly what I had been wishing for. Don said I should see them in about 3 weeks. I was stoked!
While waiting for the new Unmussig bullets to arrive, I did some quick load work and then field testing with the Hornady 45 gr. bullet. It’s kind of a chunky bullet, with a lower B.C. than the lighter plastic tips or Bergers, but the construction appears to be of a somewhat heavier design. And the heavier weight equates to lower velocity, which further helps reduce the likelihood of surface splash and enhances penetration. I had to try several different powders before I found a load that gave me the accuracy I wanted and the velocity I was expecting. But once the right powder was tried, I quickly had 3 shot groups hovering around ½” and a muzzle velocity of 4050 fps. Plenty good enough to hunt with! This is the first coyote I killed with the 45 Hornady at about 4050 fps:
The shot was about 50 yards, with the coyote facing me (my favorite kind of shot). The bullet hit him where the neck joins the chest (my favorite place to hit them), well centered. He spun around a couple times before going down, but it was obvious that he wasn’t going anywhere. The Hornady made an entrance hole that was larger than caliber, maybe about the size of a dime, but no exit. I got two more coyotes with the Hornady 45 gr., both very similar shots, about 75 yards, facing frontal. Both of them were clean, instant kills. Again no exit, again larger than caliber entrance (about 1”). Three coyotes simply isn’t enough to form any solid conclusions. The next three might display miserable failures. But, the Berger 40 failed miserably on exactly these kinds of hits – every time. Based on my very limited experience, I think the Hornady 45 at 4050 fps is probably a solid, reliable coyote killing combination. But… the heavier weight (low velocity), and poor BC of this bullet combine to defeat the original trajectory goals for my .20-250 project. So, while I consider the Hornady 45 a good potential “Plan B”, and I may end up going with it when all is said and done, it’s still not quite exactly what I’m after.
Unmussig 38 gr.
Next, my newly designed Unmussig 38 gr. bullets arrived. They looked awesome. Using the fine JBM calculator, I conservatively estimated the B.C. at .260. After getting a well educated second opinion and observing drop on target, I feel pretty good that this estimate is realistic. The first load I tried with the Unmussig 38 gr. bullet, clocked 4310 fps and grouped under 1/2″ for five shots. A velocity of 4300+, combined with the good B.C. of .260, and plenty accurate enough for the application, there was no need for further load work. Time to take them hunting. Yippee!
Here is the first of two coyotes killed with this bullet on the first day:
This was a little gyp, shot facing me from about 120 yards. The bullet hit her spot on the money, right where the neck joins the chest. Classic bang-flop. Dead before she hit the ground. And a simply ferocious meat report. Tiny little spot of blood for an entrance (couldn’t actually find the hole), no exit. This is text book perfect bullet performance, in my book.
My partner Tim shot the second coyote. A good sized, mature male. He hit it while it was running towards us, at about 50 yards. Shot it in the face, between the nose and left eye. Instant lights out and a nicely acrobatic tumble. You might not think a head shot like that is a good one to judge bullet performance by, but I think it is actually a pretty good test. I’ve seen many coyotes hit in the face like that, not expire immediately, requiring follow up shots, due to the bullet totally disrupting on non-vital bone mass of the skull outside the brain pan. This bullet appeared to hold together long enough to penetrate significant heavy tissue and bone before scrambling the coyotes brain.
Unfortunately, I’ve only been able to shoot just a few more coyotes with the 38 gr. Unmussig since that first day. Only a half dozen total. A series of circumstances, including but not limited to family issues, work responsibilities, my partner Tim’s longest missing streak with a rifle of his life and last but not least the end of the ’06 – ’07 fur season, all combined to end my field testing for the year before I could kill enough coyotes with the 38 Unmussig to form any solid conclusions. Of the next three coyotes I killed with this bullet, two were broadside, at about 60 yards and 130 yards – one dropped in his tracks, the other ran dead on his feet for about 15 yards before piling up. Both had small entrance wounds and substantial exit wounds, about 2” or 3”. I MUCH prefer to see that, compared to large, shallow entrance wounds and no exit. The last one, was hit while running away, raked through the hips. That first shot entered a ham at and angle, made a large entrance wound, broke the femur and did not exit. A follow up shot took out the lungs and broke the far shoulder on exit.
So, anyway… Only a few coyotes so far with the 38 Unmussig. Certainly, too early to start celebrating. But, so far, so good! They have the B.C., they have the velocity, they have the accuracy. So far, they also appear to have the desired construction to penetrate before disrupting, without ugly surface splash. Things were looking pretty good!
Fast forward to the start of the 2007 – 2008 season… I still have not had the chance to do any further field testing with the 38 gr. Unmussig. But, a friend in California, Gary Naymola, had himself a nice .20-250 built over the summer and ordered some of the 38’s from Mr. Unmussig. Gary has now shot I think in the neighborhood of about 15 coyotes with this bullet. More than twice as many as I have. He’s reporting that on close shots, he’s seeing significant surface splash and coyotes are not always being anchored cleanly when well hit. Folks, I have to admit, I AM prone to the use of foul language once in awhile. I won’t type it out, but go ahead and assume that I’ve just laid out an exquisitely descriptive string of phrases illustrating my disappointment…
Gary is getting a bit more velocity out of his barrel than I am out of mine. And I believe the average size of the coyotes he’s killing is a bit smaller than the average size of the ones I’ve got with the 38’s. Small differences, perhaps they aren’t really anything at all. But they could start to explain why his results differ from mine. Then again, I might find that if I go out and kill another dozen coyotes with these bullets that I start to see the same results as Gary. Regardless, it does appear at this point that the hopes I had pinned on this bullet might now be dashed. Time and more field testing will tell.
I got an email from Gary just this week, and he’s been killing a few coyotes with the Nosler 40 gr. Ballistic Tip, at about 4300 fps. It’s generally accepted that the solid base of the B-tip allows it greater penetration than it’s Vmax and Blitzking plastic tipped cousins. Gary says he’s only shot a few coyotes with them so far, but so far so good! Once again, I have to confess that I have not even tried the plastic tips, out of a preconceived prejudice that they won’t provide sufficient penetration. But, once again, it’s entirely possible that I’m just wrong about that. One of these days, I’m going to have to break down and go kill a few coyotes with the plastic tips and my .20-250 and just see for myself.
And so it goes, and the quest continues… I’ve been in recent contact with a bullet maker. This bullet maker is currently getting tooled up to make some new .20 caliber bullets, and my optimism that the quest will end with a nearly perfect bullet for my application is at an all time high! Way back, at the very beginning of my project, my “dream” bullet was a sleek, 38 gr., bonded core bullet. But I felt that really was just a pipe dream, unlikely to ever actually happen. Well, I was wrong. It’s happening! This bullet maker has plans for just such a bullet! It is still in the stages of setting up tooling etc., so it’s not going to happen immediately. But… the maker has given me enough details on the bullets planned to be offered (more than one!), that I’m virtually positive that one or more of them is going to be just exactly what my .20-250, and all the other extra large capacity .20 caliber coyote thumpers out there need. I’m now anxiously awaiting pre-production samples of several different types to test. Check back around the first of the new year for an update.
Final thoughts – where are we at now and where are we going?
Where we’re at now… Well, we know that we can get the velocity and accuracy performance we want. We know we can achieve greater point blank range than with any factory rifle and nearly any other wildcat in existence, and with so little recoil that we see every shot impact through the scope. All that and still delivering more than enough energy downrange to kill coyotes well beyond 400 yards. We know that some of the bullets I’ve tried really aren’t going to work. We know that there are still many bullets already available that I have not tried yet. There might be one already out there that will perform the way I want it to perform and I just haven’t got to it yet (a plastic tip, maybe?). But, even if there isn’t one out there yet, I’m confident that there will be, soon.
As I write this, it is the last day of October, 2007. Within the next week or two, I’ll resume my field testing of the .20-250 with the 38 gr. Unmussig. Even though Gary has been seeing some erratic performance, I may as well add some data points to the mix while I’m waiting for the new bonded core bullets to be made. Perhaps the terminal performance I saw at the end of last year was not a fluke, maybe for my rifle and my coyotes this bullet will continue to perform. Someday, I’d like to get around to trying a plastic tipped bullet too – if Gary keeps reporting good results with the 40 gr. Ballistic Tip, that day might come sooner rather than later. The samples of the new bullets I’m awaiting will be 38 gr., lead tip, flat base with a 10S ogive, on both .224 and .243 jackets, in both bonded and non bonded core configurations. Four types to test in all. The long sleek 10S noses should assure a good B.C. Given the construction of them, with a choice of either .224 or .243 jackets, with the option of a bonded core for either one, I simply can’t believe that one or more of these won’t perform superbly. Check back here in a couple more months and I should have some updates posted.
Meanwhile, I’m also quite optimistic that the future will bring even more viable bullet choices for shooters building large capacity .20 caliber rifles. Barnes bullets has just recently gotten into .20 caliber production too. Their first offering, a “Varmint Grenade” is not anything I have interest in, but Barnes has some great offerings of strongly constructed bullets for the .22 bore. I’m hopeful that we’ll see some .20 caliber Triple Shocks one of these days. I’d love to see a .20 caliber Gameking from Sierra, too. And there are more small custom makers coming up with new .20 caliber bullets all the time. In fact, there are now enough custom .20 caliber bullets that have potential to work for my application, that I simply can’t test them all. In short – while I’ve had to go through some trials and tribulations finding a bullet to work in my .20-250 for coyotes, I think anyone having a .20-250 or similar large capacity .20 caliber rifle built today, will have a much easier time than I have. Indeed, I would expect that anyone starting a .20-250 project right now, will have several proven bullets from which to choose by the time their new rifle is completed.
So, is the .20-250 for you? Well… That depends. I think that for the average coyote hunter, the short answer is “no”. As I said at the very beginning, the .20-250 is extreme. It is not practical. For most people, it won’t even make any sense. It is not for the casual hunter or shooter. So who would the .20-250 be for? It’s for someone that desires to have an increased level of trajectory performance and a set of features not available off the shelf. Someone who is not just willing to put up with the trade offs and extra work and expense that come along with that performance, but who will find enjoyment in the process. Someone who is not bothered by the specter of a short lived barrel. If that sounds like you, then it probably is! And you’d probably enjoy the heck out of hunting coyotes with your very own .20-250! If you decide to go ahead with it, shoot me an email and let me know how it is working out for you, I’m always happy to talk about this stuff.
– Dave Affleck
It’s been exactly two years since I last updated this article. As I write this today, it is the last day of October, 2009. I occasionally get an email, asking how things ended up with the .20-250 project and if I ever found a bullet I really like. So, I decided it was about time I wrote another update to answer those questions.
I do, indeed have a bullet that meets all my expectations. It’s the 38 gr. Unumussig that I was using and wrote about two years ago. Now, two years later, with many more dead coyotes taken with the Unmussig bullet, I am totally satisfied with the performance I have seen. It gives me the accuracy, velocity, trajectory and terminal performance I was looking for. So, that said, the whole .20-250 project was a complete success, as far as I am concerned.
My only real regret, is that there aren’t more days in the week and more hours in a day and more days off to hunt coyotes! Due to a lack of all these things, I have never found the time to test all of the bullets I have on hand. I got those bonded core bullets I wrote about two years ago and worked up accurate loads for them, but never got around to killing any coyotes with them. Likewise with several other excellent looking custom bullets that were sent to me. The Unmussig bullets have simply worked so well, I’ve just not felt like messing with a good thing. But, without any doubt, some of these other bullets would work equally well, if not better. For that matter, I still have not tried any of the plastic tipped .20 caliber bullets on coyotes. Bottom line is that anyone contemplating a similar project today need not have any fear that finding a good bullet will be any problem.
Final word? The project is a complete success!
– Dave Affleck
It’s hard to believe that over ten years have gone by since I built my .20-250. An awful lot has happened in those years. A lot of hunts, a lot of coyotes, a lot of new projects.
As I wrote in 2009, I did get all the bugs worked out and the .20-250 project was a complete success. But if you recall from the early part of this opus, I had two barrels chambered for this project. Once the .20-250 had been used for a full season with complete satisfaction, I moved on to trying the 6-284 barrel, which is another story – but it too proved a complete success. I campaigned the 6-284 for two full seasons. Then I went back to my “main squeeze”, my old .17 Predator. And the .20-250 barrel just sat on the shelf for a few years.
But in 2016 I ordered my first suppressor. That too, is another story. But I decided to pull the .20-250 barrel off the shelf and have it shortened and threaded for use with the suppressor. I wanted to have at least one rifle for coyote that would not be overly long with the 7″ can attached.
So, I had the barrel cut down to a mere 19″ and threaded. Yes, significant velocity was lost. My once screaming .20-250 now tots along at a mere 4,000 fps or so. One upside of the lower velocity, is that my bullet problems from earlier in the project seem to have mostly gone away. So I tried the Sierra 39 gr. Blitzking, at about 4,000 fps even.
After half a season, the 39 BK at 4,000 fps seems to be working very well on coyote. The rifle is still relatively handy and not a PITA to get in and out of the Jeep even with the can attached. The TBAC Ultra 7 is very effective at reducing muzzle blast. The recoil, which wasn’t much to begin with is even less now, offering a totally uninterrupted sight picture. The overall package, is just about the neatest rig I have ever used on coyote! Quiet, still quite flat shooting, essentially zero recoil, superbly accurate, folds up coyote like cheap lawn chairs. I love it!
Dave Affleck, 2017