Recently, I had an opportunity to wring out some Nosler Varmageddon .223 77-grain Hollow Point Boat Tail (HPBT) Match Grade ammunition on the range. This ammo is labeled as varmint ammunition but is also classified as match grade, suggesting it’s extremely accurate. Did it live up to the claims?
Shortly after World War II concluded, John Amos Nosler was dissatisfied with his hunting bullets. He noted the bullets he used either opened up too quickly and did not penetrate. Some bullets failed to open at all and over-penetrated the game animals he hunted (which happened to be moose at the time).
Nosler resolved to create bullets that expanded at lower velocities and maintained their integrity at higher velocities. He began hand-turning bullets on his lathe for personal use initially. In 1948, he began selling his bullets commercially. Over the years, the company grew and became very successful. Today, Nosler is associated with very high quality.
As the name implies, Nosler Varmageddon is marketed towards varmint hunters. Nosler states the bullet is constructed of a lead-alloy core and copper-alloy jacket that violently expands upon impact.
Aside from helping expansion, the hollow point helps to reduce drag and makes the bullet more aerodynamic in flight. The boat tail design further assists with aerodynamics, helping the bullet maintain speed over distance.
Another advantage for the heavier 77-grain bullet is it obviously hits harder than 55-grain projectiles. For quite some time, the military has realized the advantages of heavier .223/5.56mm projectiles. They take enemy combatants out more efficiently than lighter rounds. As well, the heavier rounds resist wind drift better than lighter ones. Let’s take a look at some of the performance specifications for this ammunition.
Nosler’s used a 24″ test barrel for their specs. Muzzle velocity is listed at 2,600 feet per second. At 100 yards, velocity is 2,342, 200 is 2,099, 300 is 1,872, and 400 is 1,661.
Muzzle energy is 1,156 foot-pounds. At 100 yards, it is 938 ft-lbs, 200 yards is 753 ft-lbs, 300 yards is 599 ft-lbs, and at 400 yards, is 472 ft-lbs.
With a 100-yard zero, the trajectory is 4.9 inches low at 200 yards, 300 yards is 17.7 inches low, and 400 yards is 40.4 inches low. With a 200-yard zero, the round hits 2.4 inches high at 100 yards, at 300 yards it’s 10.4 inches low, and, at 400 yards, it hits 30.7 inches low.
A nice touch from Nosler is they put much of this information on the back of the ammunition box. It’s right there for shooters to see without hunting for it.
I’ll throw out a disclaimer right now: I did not go varmint hunting with this ammunition. Because of that, I can’t tell you for certain how it will perform on varmints. However, I highly suspect it will take out any varmints that it comes into contact with.
However, if I were to set out hunting varmints, I’d likely choose one of Nosler’s lighter-weight rounds. I’d want explosive impact on little critters, and I doubt a 77-grain bullet will deliver that as effectively as lighter bullets would. With that said, the Nosler Varmageddon 77-grain should work well on animals such as foxes and coyotes, which are on the larger side of the varmint spectrum. For these animals, I think the 77-grain pills would work well.
Given the solid bullet interior and small hollow point cavity, I think this round would be viable for self-defense. The fact it’s heavier than many other .223 rounds on the market gives it some extra points. A heavier bullet will hit harder and should penetrate more than lighter rounds without breaking up. While marketed as a varmint round, I don’t foresee it breaking up that quickly in the flesh.
In The Magazines
For the range session, I used an aluminum 30-round magazine from ASC. The 77-grain Nosler Varmageddon rounds, being longer than most others, left no spare room at the front of the magazine. It was a relatively tight fit. However, the rounds fed perfectly from the magazine into the rifle.
Since I didn’t have a bolt-action .223 caliber varmint rifle available, I used the rifle that I had on hand for this test. The rifle was a Stag Arms AR-15 Carbine, often referred to as an “M-4gery”.
The Stag Arms AR-15 is a middle-of-the-road AR. It’s not cheap, but not uber-expensive either. I’ve had it for a number of years and it has been 100% reliable to date. No stoppages or malfunctions of any sort so far. A Leupold 1.5-4x variable scope tops the rifle.
I had one concern, though, going into this project with heavier than usual .223 ammunition — the Stag’s barrel twist rate is 1:9. Twist rate refers to how many inches it takes for the bullet to make one revolution inside the barrel. In the case of the Stag, that occurs once every nine inches. Nowadays, that’s a little slow. Currently, more popular twist rates are usually 1:8 or 1:7. This faster twist rate stabilizes heavier bullets (they will also stabilize lighter rounds). Generally speaking, faster twist rates are a good thing for heavier projectiles. Sometimes, the 1:9 twist rate will not stabilize heavier bullets well.
Why do I say “sometimes”? Because each barrel is different and unique unto itself. For example, you could line up ten rifles from the same company, same exact model, and each barrel will differ slightly. Five out of ten might prefer a certain round while the rest might not shoot it as well. It’s also the same with pistol barrels and most other firearm barrel types.
As a quick history lesson, AR-15/M-16 rifles originally had a 1:14 twist. The M-16A1 used a 1:12 twist. These slow twists made the bullets highly unstable and caused them to tumble when hitting flesh. Back then, 55-grain 5.56mm bullets were exclusively used. This is also probably where the myth began about M-16 bullets tumbling as they flew through the air.
My Stag Arms carbine has a 16-inch barrel. Because of this, my rifle will obtain considerably less velocity than those obtained by the factory-tested 24-inch barrel. Because of my rifle’s slower twist rate, I went into this test somewhat expecting groups on the larger side with this ammo.
My accuracy concerns were completely unfounded. Apparently, the slow twist rate didn’t phase the heavier ammunition. I fired some surprisingly tight groups with this rifle and the Nosler Varmageddon ammunition. The best 100-yard group was five rounds that went into 1 1/16th inch, excluding a flyer that was my fault.
Honestly, I’m flabbergasted by the accuracy. I attribute my ability to shoot that group to the scope. These days, my eyes aren’t as sharp as they once were. Honestly, someone with better eyesight would have probably shot even tighter groups than I did, so this ammo and rifle would likely outshoot me.
It comes as no surprise Nosler Varmageddon ammunition is of the highest quality. The real surprise was its accuracy in my particular rifle.
The heavy 77-grain projectiles are attractive in several aspects. These Nosler Varmageddon rounds hit harder and buck wind better at longer ranges than lighter bullets. The consistency, shape, and match-grade nature of these bullets lend themselves to great accuracy. If from a bolt-action rifle, I have a feeling these rounds would be extraordinarily accurate.
Once again, Nosler has come through with top-shelf ammunition. Similar ammo is available at GunMag Warehouse and sells for $26.99.