Hornady’s .22 ARC Cartridge: A .22-250 Killer?

Hornady has just rolled out a new cartridge they’re calling “the most versatile and high-performance .22 cal option that you can put in an AR-15 and a bolt gun.” That cartridge is the .22 ARC (Advanced Rifle Cartridge). The .22 ARC features new aerodynamic bullets in a necked-down, high-volume 6.5 Grendel parent case for maximum performance. Wildcatters have been shooting similar cartridges for a while, but the .22 ARC is the first actual SAAMI-spec cartridge.

Hornady .22 ARC ammunition in AR-15
The .22 ARC cartridge was specifically designed for the AR-15. (hornady.com)

Hornady designed the .22 ARC’s chamber concurrently with the cartridge to control and facilitate proper performance across all compatible rifles and platforms. Hornady says the .22 ARC is an “unlimited” design compatible with a wide spectrum of bullets and powders, like the 6.5 Creedmoor, describing it as “very forgiving” thanks to its high velocity and flat trajectory.

The new long-boattailed, high ballistic coefficient bullets won’t work without the proper chamber geometry and 1:7 SAAMI twist rate. Hornady attributes the new bullets to improved technology, noting that they cannot be used in legacy cartridges, since they won’t fit in those cases, chambers, or magazines, and the legacy twist rates may not be fast enough to stabilize them.

The cartridge’s overall SAAMI length is 2.260 inches, making it a perfect fit for AR-15 rifles. Hornady did that purposely since the .22 ARC was specifically designed for the AR-15, though it also runs great in bolt-action rifles. Hornady wanted to make it easy for gun manufacturers to add .22 ARC by keeping the magazine dimensions the same as they are for .223 Remington, 6.5 Grendel, and 6mm ARC rifles.

.22 ARC vs. .22-250 Remington

The .22 ARC was designed to bring .22-250 performance to the AR-15 platform. So, how do the two cartridges measure up? Hornady Marketing Communications Manager Seth Swerczek calls the .22-250 “the venerable predator cartridge of the last century.” Thousands of hunters would likely agree. So, what does the .22 ARC have on the older, proven cartridge?

Hornady .22 ARC ammunition
A bold claim, but here’s hoping. (hornady.com)

Hornady Chief Ballistician Jayden Quinlan says the .22-250 “is really limited by the design of the era when it came out. There were no sleek, long, .22 cal bullets back then, so the compensation method (to make it flat shooting) was just raw velocity.” The new bullets allow the .22 ARC to match — and even exceed — the .22-250’s velocity and energy performance.

That performance is achieved using a smaller cartridge designed for AR-15 and bolt-action rifles. Swerczek offers an “apples to apples” comparison using the Hornady .22-250 Varmint Express load with a 55-grain V-Max bullet and the Hornady .22 ARC V-Match round using a 62-grain ELD-VT bullet. The .22-250 round leaves the muzzle at a screaming 3,680 feet per second. The .22 ARC is a bit slower with a muzzle velocity of 3,300 fps. But by the 250-yard mark, the .22 ARC retains more velocity, despite its slower start. The two bullets’ trajectories are within one inch of one another at 500 yards, but the .22 ARC will have a higher velocity and more energy, with “substantially more wind deflection.”

The .22 ARC is also easier on rifle barrels since it uses 25% to 30% less powder per shot with lower pressures. AR-15 conversions can be achieved with a new bolt, barrel, and magazine. At least one company that I’ve seen is already taking pre-orders for those components and may offer complete rifles soon.

Hornady .22 ARC ammunition choices
Hornady offers .22 ARC is three different loads for now. (hornady.com)

.22 ARC versus .223 Remington

Since the .22 ARC cartridge was specifically designed for the AR-15, Swerczek and Quinlan also discuss how the new round stacks up with the .223 Remington cartridge, acknowledging that the .223 is a “go-to varmint round.” But, they say, “the .22 ARC will do everything the .223 can do, plus way more.” The .223 is great, but it’s limited by its legacy design. The projectiles are limited in terms of aerodynamics and bullet weight.

“Essentially,” says Quinlan, you’re “stepping out of the .223 world and into the .22-250 world out of an AR-15. Using that same platform, you can now leap forward to much higher levels of performance” than with the .223. “The .22-250 is world-renowned for its ability to be flat-shooting and wind insensitive out to those couple hundred yards.” But even then, “the bullets that it uses are just like that .223, 40 to 60-grain class bullets, typically, and they just don’t have the aerodynamics that the .22 ARC does, so it just leaves them behind.” The .22 ARC matches the .223’s varmint-hunting prowess at short and medium ranges but provides superior wind deflection, velocity, and energy at extended ranges. “A legacy .223,” says Quinlan, “just cannot be adapted to keep up” with the .22 ARC.

.22 ARC and Hunting

Speaking of hunting prowess, both Swerczek and Quinlan believe the .22 ARC will be the “varmint king,” thanks to its superior performance at longer ranges. But Hornady will also offer loads suitable for whitetail deer and antelope, depending on individual state laws. The .22 ARC is especially well-suited for night hunting, which they say is a major reason the cartridge exists to begin with. The high velocity and flat trajectory can help mitigate difficult ranging at night.

Hunting at night with an AR-15
The .22 ARC was developed with night hunting in mind. (hornady.com)

Bolt-Action Rifles

As noted, the .22 ARC was specifically designed to “fit, feed, and function from an AR-15.” But many people, like hunters and competition shooters, prefer bolt-action rifles and the new cartridge works great with those guns. The primary benefit to bolt gun use, however, will be to hand loaders.

Bolt-action rifles can handle higher pressures than gas guns, meaning that hand loaders will easily be able to gain an additional 75 to 100 fps from their .22 ARC loads. All Hornady factory ammo will be tailored to gas guns, at least for the foreseeable future. Even that’s impressive, with muzzle velocities ranging from 2,800 to 3,300 fps, depending on ammo choice. However, the company will provide loading data for those wishing to get even better performance from the round.

Factory .22 ARC is available in Hornady’s V-Match line with a 62-grain ELD-VT (Extremely Low Drag-Varmint Target) bullet; the Match line with an 88-grain ELD match bullet; and the Hornady Black line with a 75-grain ELD Match bullet.

Firing a bolt action rifle
Hand loaders will get even faster loads for bolt action rifles. (hornady.com)

.22-250 Killer?

It remains to be seen whether the .22 ARC will significantly impact the varmint-hunting world. After all, the .22-250 is a beloved cartridge with a big head start. But technology advances for a reason, and we expect better products as we move forward. Hornady is obviously putting a lot into the .22 ARC. If it’s as good as they say, we may have another great option for hunting and target shooting.

Only time will tell, and we will see. Many rounds claim to be the next greatest thing, but few actually catch on and deliver. What do you think? Will the .22 ARC become a mainstay, or will it only be a flash in the pan, only used by a niche group? Let us know in the comments.

William "Bucky" Lawson is a self-described "typical Appalachian-American gun enthusiast". He is a military historian specializing in World War II and has written a few things, as he says, "here and there". A featured contributor for Strategy & Tactics, he likes dogs, range time, and a good cigar - preferably with an Old Fashioned that has an extra orange slice.

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