January 29th, 2023
Sunday GunDay: Beyond .223 Rem — Alternative AR Cartridges
Instead of using the standard .223 Remington or 5.56x45mm NATO round, you have many options for an AR-15. Dozens of cartridge variants have been tried in AR-15s. Some of the most noteworthy and popular alternative chamberings for AR-15s are:
20 Practical — This is simply the .223 Rem necked down to .204 caliber. Requires new barrel. Same bolt, same magazines. Best bang for the buck.
.224 Valkyrie — A necked-down version of the 6.8 SPC, the .224 Valkyrie was introduced by Federal a few seasons back. It has better ballistics than the .223 Remington, if used with a suitable barrel.
6mm ARC — Relatively new cartridge that works well for varminting, self-defense, tactical competitions, and deer hunting. Good selection of bullets and factory-loaded ammunition.
6.5 Grendel — Accurate and proven across the course, the 6.5 Grendel requires a new barrel, bolt, and magazines. Most use the 6.5 Grendel for competitive shooting and/or hunting.
.300 Blackout — Moderately expensive, the .300 Blackout requires a barrel change. This is used for home defense, and hunting. WARNING — with some bullets this round can be chambered in a .223 Rem barrel, with disastrous consequences.
.458 SOCOM — Pretty expensive, requires new barrel and bolt. The .458 SOCOM round is typically used for hunting though it was originally designed for Close Quarters Battle (CQB).
Of these six options, our favorite is the 20 Practical, followed by the 6mm ARC and 6.5 Grendel. The 20 Practical is a great varminting round. Check out our featured 20 Practical AR Rifle Report. This 20 Practical cartridge is highly effective on small varmints, and has shown outstanding accuracy in AR-platform rifles crafted by Robert Whitley.
20 Practical — High-Velocity, Affordable Alternative
The 20 Practical is simply a .223 Remington necked down to .204 caliber. This efficient little cartridge can launch 32-grainers at over 4200 fps, with impressive results on P-Dogs. This makes the 20 Practical a great choice for an AR-based varmint rifle.
20 Practical Ultimate Varminter
A decade ago, as a “proof-of-concept”, AccurateShooter.com created a 20 Practical AR15 Ultimate Varminter with a custom 20-caliber upper from Robert Whitley of AR-X Enterprises, LLC. That project rifle was ultra-accurate — every 5-shot group out of the gun was less than the size of a dime. That gun was auctioned off, but Robert Whitley continues to produce custom 20 Practical AR15 uppers. (The 20 Practical cartridge is simply the .223 Rem necked down to 20 caliber — you can use standard .223 brass and load with standard .223 Rem dies. Just swap in a smaller expander and use smaller neck bushings.)
6mm ARC — Popular New SAAMI Cartridge Promoted by Hornady
In June 2020, Hornady introduced the 6mm ARC, a new SAAMI cartridge optimized for AR-platform rifles*. The new 6mm ARC is basically a 6.5 Grendel necked down to 6mm, with the shoulder moved back around .030″. That pushed-back shoulder does reduce case capacity (and velocity), but we assume Hornady did that to create a shorter, proprietary chamber so people could not simply neck-down Lapua 6.5 Grendel brass, as has been done for years with Robert Whitley’s outstanding 6mm AR wildcat.
If you are intrigued by the 6mm ARC, you’ll find the products you need at Brownells — uppers, barrels, bolts, and magazines. Brownells also sells Hornady-made 6mm ARC factory-loaded ammo but most is out-of-stock currently. MidwayUSA currently has Hornady 108gr ELD Match 6mm ARC ammo in stock. For general information, see 6mm ARC Info Page.
What Is the 6mm ARC Cartridge?
The 6mm ARC cartridge is a modern SAAMI-spec cartridge based on the 6.5 Grendel case necked down for 6mm bullets, with the shoulder moved back 0.030. Yes it is designed to run in AR15-platform rifles. You’ll need a new barrel, bolt, and mags. If you already have an AR chambered in 6.5 Grendel, the ONLY thing you need to change is the barrel. Everything else — bolt, magazines, gas system – is compatible with 6mm ARC.
▶ Official SAAMI Cartridge (not wildcat)
▶ Fits standard AR15-platform rifles
▶ Fits Short/Mini action bolt rifles
▶ Efficient short, fat case design
▶ 30-degree case shoulder
For more INFO, see 6mm ARC Info Page.
What Do I Need To Shoot the 6mm ARC?
Faxon and Ballistic Advantage are already producing barrels, with more manufacturers sure to follow. All the other required components are already on the market for 6.5 Grendel rifles. Aero Precision already offers complete 6mm ARC uppers.
If you’re converting a standard 5.56×45 mm (.223 Rem) AR15 upper to shoot 6mm ARC, you’ll need a 6mm barrel, a Type II 6.5 Grendel bolt carrier group, and new magazines. Some folks have suggested standard AR mags will work, but trust us, you want the magazines that have been designed for 6.5 Grendel. All the hardware you need is currently available at Brownells.
While 6-6.5 Grendel shooters are known to run stout pressures, the new 6mm ARC cartridge has a relatively moderate Maximum Average Pressure (MAP) rating of 52,000 psi according to the official SAAMI specifications. For a variety of reasons, is wise to keep pressures in a semi-auto rifle moderate. Don’t chase the velocities you might get in a bolt-action gun.
The 6.5 Grendel — Accurate, Plus Good for Hunters
The 6.5 Grendel round is one of the most accurate cartridges for the AR-15 platform. The 6.5 Grendel round offers a larger-diameter, .264-caliber (6.5mm) bullet running at good velocities. This provides ample energy for smaller game and deer. The 6.5 Grendel is often used for hunting deer up to 300 yards.
History of the 6.5 Grendel Cartridge
The 6.5 Grendel originated as a 6mm PPC necked up to 6.5 mm. After Alexander Arms relinquished the “6.5 Grendel” Trademark, the 6.5 Grendel was standardized as an official SAAMI cartridge. It has become popular with target shooters and hunters alike because it is accurate, efficient, and offers modest recoil. Good for small to medium game, the 6.5 Grendel has been offered in lightweight hunting rifles, such as the Howa 1500 Mini Action.
.224 Valkyrie Cartridge — Impressive with Heavy .22-Cal Bullets
The new .224 Valkyrie was introduced in 2019 as a Hot Rod cartridge that will work in AR15s. Basically a 6.8 SPC necked down to .22 caliber, the Valkyrie has a shorter case than the .223 Remington (and 5.56×45 NATO). This allows you to load the longest, heaviest .224-caliber bullets and still feed reliably from an AR15-type magazine. Designed to rival the .22 Nosler while still running well in ARs, the .224 Valkyrie offers excellent long-range performance when loaded with modern, high-BC bullets. We expect some bolt-action PRS shooters might adopt the .224 Valkyrie. Why? Reduced recoil. With the 90gr SMK, the .224 Valkyrie offers ballistics similar to the 6.5 Creedmoor but with significantly less felt recoil. It can also be a viable alternative to a .22-250 for varminters using an AR platform.
Image from Social Regressive .224 Valkyrie Youtube Video.
Our friend Gavin Gear of UltimateReloader.com found a superbly accurate load with Berger 80.5gr bullets. Watch this video to learn more:
Sierra Bullets has published extensive load data for the .224 Valkyrie. This covers over a dozen powder types — many more than the Hodgdon database. Sierra’s .224 Valkyrie load data covers projectiles from 50 grain all the way up to 95 grains. With the 90 to 95 grain bullets, the little Valkyrie can give 6mm match cartridges a real run for their money — offering similar ballistics with less recoil. When selecting a barrel for the long .224-cal bullets, specify a fast enough twist rate: “Sierra recommends a 1:6.5″-twist barrel for the #9290 22 cal 90 gr HPBT bullet. However, for cartridges like the Valkyrie, that can push them over 2650 fps muzzle velocity, a 1:7″-twist barrel will stabilize the bullet correctly.”
CLICK HERE to DOWNLOAD Complete Sierra .224 Valkyrie LOAD DATA.
.224 Valkyrie vs. .22-250 Remington
The Social Regressive explains: “There are two key reasons why the .224 Valkyrie is unique and desirable. First, it is specifically designed to fit the limitations of the AR-15 platform. It does so even when loaded with gigantic bullets, like the 90-grain SMK that Federal announced. The .22-250 Rem is too long and too fat to work in the AR-15 platform; it needs an AR-10 bolt and magazine.”
The .224 Valkyrie has been marketed as a low-recoil round that can stay supersonic to 1300 yards and beyond (with 90gr Sierra MatchKings). Here a Sniper’s Hide duo shots an AR-platform .224 Valkyrie at distances out to 1550+ yards. To be honest, the accuracy wasn’t that impressive. However this test confirms that the .224 Valkyrie does launch the long, heavy projectiles at high enough velocities to prove superior to the standard .223 Rem. Frank Galli (aka “Lowlight”) teams up with Brian Whalen of Colorado Precision Rifle at the Blue Steel Ranch in New Mexico.
The .300 Blackout — Risky Business
The .300 Blackout appeals to folks who want a .30-caliber defense round. This can be loaded at various velocities. Loaded at subsonic speeds and shot with a suppressor, the .300 BLK offers very low sound levels. Unfortunately, that .300 Blackout cartridge can fit in a .223 Rem chamber. Shooting a .308-caliber bullet in .223 bore is a recipe for disaster.
The .300 AAC Blackout aka “300 BLK”, is a compact 30-caliber cartridge designed to work in AR-15 rifles. It has a shorter cartridge case to accommodate the bigger 30-caliber bullet while still fitting in a standard AR-15 magazine. Unfortunately, that’s the danger. A careless shooter can toss a .300 Blackout cartridge in with .223 Rem rounds without noting. And because the case-head size is the same as the .223 Rem (5.56×45) the rifle’s bolt assembly will happily chamber and fire the .300 BLK round. Problem is, that forces a .308 diameter bullet down an undersized .223-caliber bore. Not good!
This images were provided by Tactical Rifle Shooters on Facebook. The message was clear: “Don’t try to run 300 Blackout in your .223/5.56mm. It won’t end well. The problem is identical rifles and identical magazines but different calibers.”
Image from Accurate Shooter Forum. Cutaway shows the jammed .30-Cal bullet:
For those who MUST have a .300 Blackout, here are some things you can do:
1. Use different colored magazines for .300 Blackout vs. .223 Remington.
2. Mark .223 Rem upper handguards with the caliber in bright paint.
2. Fit all your uppers with caliber-labeled ejection port covers.
4. Mark all .300 BLK Rounds with heavy black marker.