Cartridge Discussion: The .220 Swift

Cartridge Discussion: The .220 Swift

This is a discussion on Cartridge Discussion: The .220 Swift within the Defensive Ammunition & Ballistics forums, part of the Defensive Carry Discussions category; A Magnum In Every Respect But the Name For the rifleman who feels the need for speed this terrific cartridge provides it in spades. Even ...

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Thread: Cartridge Discussion: The .220 Swift

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    Cartridge Discussion: The .220 Swift

    A Magnum In Every Respect But the Name


    For the rifleman who feels the need for speed this terrific cartridge provides it in spades. Even after 70-something years, it’s still the leader of the pack of ultra high velocity factory rounds. Perhaps it’s speediest because there are diminishing returns on pushing bullets much faster with the propellants available. It’s amazing to think that within the space of 3 years the Swift followed on the heels of the introduction of the .22 Hornet to the varmint shooting world. Talking about a quantum leap in velocity! Introduced in 1935 in the fine Winchester Model 54 rifle, the Swift made its name in that rifle’s successor, the fabulous Model 70. It is said to have been developed by necking down the 6mm Lee Navy but the case dimensions in its semi-rimmed standardized form don’t match the parent case.



    Only a few cartridges have attained the rarefied height of 4000 plus feet per second. The other factory rounds that reach this blistering speed accomplish it with very small bores and lightweight projectiles. The .220 Swift is unique because it can achieve its ultra high velocities with the useful .224-inch bullets that are common and generally available. These bullets can provide weight and ballistic coefficients that give the .220 Swift a “stretched string” trajectory and good wind bucking capabilities along with negligible recoil. The .220 Swift is a very accurate cartridge too and rewarding to the efforts of a diligent handloader. It responds well to a myriad of combinations of bullet and powder and accurate pet loads are easy to come by. In the early days of bench rest competition just after World War II the Swift (along with cartridges like the .22 Gebby Varminter and .219 Donaldson Wasp) frequently found its way into the winners’ circle along with names like Warren Page, Harvey Donaldson, Charles Magnante, and Mike Walker of Remington. It’s days in bench rest competition were relatively short as the much more propellant-efficient .222 Remington was introduced by 1950. The bench rest crowd embraced this new cartridge with its miserly appetite for powder, reduced muzzle blast, and even better accuracy.



    Being Fastest is a Tough Job But Some Cartridge Has To Do It.



    The mighty Swift has had a roller coaster ride in popularity throughout its existence. It was a standard chambering in the Winchester Model 70 bolt action rifle through 1963 and reasonably popular. Among all the cartridges chambered in their pre-64 Model 70 rifles the .220 Swift falls number 8 in the line-up with .30-06, .270 Winchester, .243 Winchester, .308 Winchester, .300 H&H Magnum, .264 Winchester Magnum, and .22 Hornet being more common. Other rifle makers didn’t exactly jump on the .220 Swift bandwagon over the years with Ruger being the notable exception. In 1964 even Winchester appeared to want to rid themselves of the .220 Swift by dropping production of rifles so chambered when the revised Model 70 was introduced. In place of the .220 Swift Winchester unveiled a new cartridge, the .225 Winchester. A pretty hot .22 center fire in itself the .225 was no Swift and also was no marketing success. It is now moribund. It operates in the performance range of the .22-250. Remington copped the prize when they brought out the .22-250 in 1965. This round had been a very popular wildcat for many years being known as the .22 Gebby Varminter or .22 Varminter and commercial sales have proven to be phenomenal. Remington demonstrated a lot of savvy when they standardized Gebby’s chamber dimensions so that they had a ready market for their ammunition with all the custom rifles of this popular former wildcat already in circulation.



    In addition to the one-two punch of being discontinued by Winchester while being thrust into the shadows by Remington’s new .22-250, the .220 Swift suffered some bad press. It was said both in print and through “the grapevine” that the Swift was a ‘barrel burner”, eroding the throats out of barrels with relatively few rounds fired. There was some truth to this. Winchester provided .220 Swift rifles with stainless steel barrels upon request. They’d provide the stainless steel barrels for other cartridges too but the .220 Swift rifles appeared with stainless steel barrels quite often. Funneling the gases from a case with such a copious volume through a .22 mouth along with the high operating pressures generated toasted a number of Swift barrels through the years. Rapid-fire use of full throttle loads such as might be the case in prairie dog shooting could wear out a barrel in a hurry.


    This reputation for being hard on barrels and its high-pressure characteristics has given rise to the incorrect notion that the Swift is a difficult cartridge to handload. I’ve yet to find any cartridge that is difficult to handload and the .220 Swift is no exception. Watch case length and keep them trimmed as needed. Keep an eye on case necks and ream them if they become thick. Work loads up carefully. Moderate loads extend bore and case life. Bore cleanliness keeps fouling at bay and increases bore life as well. I primarily enjoy shooting the .220 Swift off the bench, seeking tight 5-shot groups. A favorite target load of mine using IMR 4064 is several grains under max and still delivers over 3700 fps with a 52 grain Sierra bullet. It’s pretty cool to be able to “throttle back” to .22-250 velocities! Case life? Haven’t lost any due to splits or case head separations. I’ve always used only once-fired cases for “hotrodding”, relegating the others for moderate duty. I’ve tossed some after I lost count of how many times they’d been loaded but they still appeared to be fine. To be fair I must say I employ a neck sizer for handloading many of the target loads. My Ruger 77V was purchased used in 1987 and has likely had about 2000 rounds fired through it since I’ve owned it. It shoots better now than ever too!



    A few years ago I came into possession of my friend Cres Lawson’s Model 70 .220 Swift. This rifle is 70 years young in 2007. He made regular use of it right up into the late 1980’s when his eyesight failed due to macular degeneration. He was a fastidious shooter who always carefully tended his rifles’ bores. This rifle exhibits no discernible bore erosion and probably is more accurate than my Ruger though I’ve not shot it a great deal. The Swift doesn’t have to be hard on barrels.





    Comparison of .220 Swift to .22-250



    In recent years the .220 Swift has been throttled back both in some handloading guides and at the stroke of the gunscribe’s key. This vexes me. Some comparisons I’ve seen actually show the .22-250 yielding higher velocities than the .220 Swift. Yeah right, and load the Swift mild enough and the .22 Hornet will show higher velocities too! When used as designed the Swift will show its heels to the .22-250 with available bullets. Norma still quotes over 4000 fps and with a 50 grain bullet in its factory offering and it delivers as well when checked on a chronograph.


    (Load data)



    I’ve tried a number of handloads in the Swift. The only ones that ever really shot poorly for me were from efforts to load the cartridge very lightly. One-inch 5-shot groups at 100 yards are boring. I strive to keep them under ½-inch though I’m not always a half-inch shooter on any given day. Using IMR powders as an example one will find that the Swift is happiest with propellants that fall between IMR 3031 and IMR 4320. Any company’s rifle powders that have burning rates in the middle ranges should do the trick for accuracy loads.


    (photos of groups)



    Use on game



    I’ve not used the Swift on all that many varmints. It is predictably violent on smaller varmints. A rancher once requested that a friend and I try to reduce the number of ‘coons in his pecan trees in the river bottom of the Brazos. We spent several nights prowling the river bottom in a WWII Jeep with a spotlight and .22 rim fire rifles without making much of a dent in the ‘coon herd. One ‘coon ran afoul of the .220 Swift and a 45 grain Sierra Spitzer at 100 yards. The result was a perfectly gutted ‘coon, ready to skin out for the grill (hah) or a cap. Neatest job you ever saw. A war with a flock of crazy crows once at a measured 300 yards revealed that the same 45 grain load could not miss from a benched position and poofed them into black clouds. These and a few other instances indicate to me that one could do better work with something less speedy if he wants to retain a pelt or make a meal.

    (old scanned photos of 'coon hunt)



    The .220 Swift and Big Game


    The use of the Swift on big game has always been a subject of some conflict. P.O. Ackley lauded the Swift and even smaller caliber wildcats that cracked the 4000 fps barrier for big game use in his two-volume tome “Handbook For Shooters and Reloaders” but he was a bit over enthused in my view. Lots of deer are taken here in Texas with .22 centerfire rifles, the .223 and the .22-250 being the most popular. It’s a bit of a stunt but, for picked broadside shots, deer can be taken very effectively with such cartridges. I’ve taken 5 deer with the Swift and my son and father have taken one each. It worked perfectly in each instance with no muss or fuss. These shots were taken broadside, the bullet striking just behind the shoulder somewhere from fairly low to midway up the side. A 55 grain Sierra spitzer boat tail bullet over a charge of IMR 4064 that yields 3912 fps from the muzzle of a Ruger 77V was used for all deer except one. Most of the deer were taken at 150 yards or less. Upon field dressing it would be found that only tiny flecks of the bullet were observed in the chest cavity. My dad took one deer at 306 steps. That bullet’s base was wound up in the hide on the off side.



    I used a Sisk 55 grain spitzer flat base bullet on one deer. This bullet was obtained from Cres Lawson who used to regularly travel through Iowa Park where R. B. Sisk had his operation. He used a lot of Sisk bullets in the 1940s and 1950’s in his .220 Swift and his Gebby Varminter (.22-250). These bullets showed only the merest pinpoint of exposed lead. A solid broadside shot dropped the deer at 150 yards and left a most curious cookie-cutter hole through and through. This hole looked as if a plug had been cored out and was the size of a half dollar. News of this hunt tickled Cres who’d given me a partial box of the bullets especially to try in my Swift for deer.



    Cress and his father had good fortune taking deer with his old Winchester Model 70 .220 Swift from the beginning. He’d bought the rifle new in early 1937 from Zimmerman Hardware Company in Cleburne, Texas. They took quite a few deer with it both in Gillespie County, Texas and at their ranch in Mexico. He said the 46 grain Winchester factory load was “one hot stem-winder” and deer collapsed as if struck by lightning. He also took an antelope with the rifle and the 46 grain load in 1951 and another in 1958 with a handload using the 55 grain Sisk bullet. Cres was an outstanding rifle shot and could make most effective use of the speedy round.


    (Summary paragraph)


    The .220 Swift is badly over-bore when considering case capacity to bore diameter. Proportionally speaking, for its size it’s more of a magnum than most any cartridge. Wildcat cartridges have been created that significantly exceed the velocities attainable in the .220 Swift but they are grotesque creations that wouldn’t be commercially viable. I generally hold magnum cartridges in contempt unless they are larger than .30. I guess I like such hot rod rounds if they measure .22 at the bore though because I’m really keen on the .220 Swift. It doesn’t drain a pound of powder to play with this one and recoil isn’t a factor. The .220 Swift has been a most gratifying cartridge for me to shoot over the years and I won’t be without it.



    (Relate story of how Cres and buds once obliterated the cat on the porch of the “unoccupied” derelict house.)
    Charter Member of the DC .41 LC Society "Get heeled! No really"

    “No possible rapidity of fire can atone for habitual carelessness of aim with the first shot.”

    Theodore Roosevelt, The Wilderness Hunter, 1893


  2. #2
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    Sorry about this one. It proves to be a rough draft and I don't have time or the brain to finish it out and stick up photos this evening. I'll try to get back to some load data between now and the end of the weekend. I have a hunter safety class to give on Saturday so may be crowded for time.
    Charter Member of the DC .41 LC Society "Get heeled! No really"

    “No possible rapidity of fire can atone for habitual carelessness of aim with the first shot.”

    Theodore Roosevelt, The Wilderness Hunter, 1893

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    VIP Member Array Doghandler's Avatar
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    I love this. Can I man the spotter scope? I like to watch bullets twist and curve through the atmosphere.
    There is a solution but we are not Jedi... not yet.
    Doghandler

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    Bryan, for posts like this, I have a LOT of patience. Awfully informative!
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    Great rifle and round, a real blast to shoot, literally. My one and only custom rifle is a 220 Swift, I started with an ’09 Argentine action added a Shaw barrel, a Roberts stock and a Timiney trigger. Great fun for dropping rock chucks out in California and prairie dogs in Oklahoma. Only took shots at 300+ yards just to give them a sporting chance.
    On one trip to the range the local range “expert” commented the 220 Swift was inherently inaccurate, Shaw barrels were little better than boat anchors and Timiney triggers were like dragging an iron bar through gravel. When the range was cold I pulled my target, at 100 yards I had a 5 shot group that measured ¼ inch, I told him I think I could be satisfied with such poor accuracy.
    When you have to shoot, shoot. Don't talk.
    "Don't forget, incoming fire has the right of way."

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    Just goes to show that there are nitwits everywhere you turn.
    Bad Bob and msgt/ret like this.
    Charter Member of the DC .41 LC Society "Get heeled! No really"

    “No possible rapidity of fire can atone for habitual carelessness of aim with the first shot.”

    Theodore Roosevelt, The Wilderness Hunter, 1893

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    There's a sucker at every twist and turn.

    Don't forget, we measure by the minute.
    There is a solution but we are not Jedi... not yet.
    Doghandler

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    I'm waiting to hear the story about the cat...
    Smitty
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    VIP Member Array Jaeger's Avatar
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    I've only shot one before my recent purchase. At the time in Ohio you could get an out of state hunting license for the same price as in in-state with a valid Military ID (hopefully that's still the case, as it was greatly appreciated). My first shot with it was off sandbags on the hood of a Chrysler K-Car with no doors, and missing the trunk lid. It was, "The Ground Hog Car". We'd slowly cruise through cut Amish hay fields stopping frequently and glassing for the varmints we sought. The groundhog was probably 350-400 yards, and the owner or the rifle told me to hold right on his head. I had no reason not to believe him, other than I did not think it possible that a rifle could shoot THAT flat. I held on his neck thinking I'd get a body shot. The crack just showed a puff of dust on yonder hill. We gunned a few more, and when we went to retrieve them I'll be darned if that first hog didn't have his throat shot out at my exact point of aim. It didn't drop 1/2 inch. After that I improved my listening skills.

    A year later we went up after Ohio deer season had closed. He had 20 more deer on his kill permit, and wanted us to shoot them out. The Ohio law at the time was noticeably silent on allowable methods for a kill permit. We spotlighted them. I had only heard about this in Missouri as a hillbilly poaching method, and it quickly became clear to me why it's illegal. The deer just stand there and look at the light. They don't even react to the report of the rifle. My friends dad was shooting them in their heads with the Swift, and we were just using the 30-06s we brought. Most were does, but there were a couple of bucks. There was a six point he shot, and when we drove the truck to them to load them up he grabbed the antlers, and though they were still attached, both were just held on by skin. The .220 had powdered it's skull, and only left a penny sized exit wound. I don't for a moment believe it's not a deadly round, but for a long time the Missouri regs mandated .30 caliber or more. I don't know when they switched to "center fire only", but I know it didn't used to read that way.

    We had 20 deer in an hour out of two herds that we snuffed out. The rest of the night and into morning was spent dressing, butchering, and grinding them all. Most was taken to churches and homeless shelters in the Wheeling area, and the rest was given to friends and elderly neighbors who no longer hunted. It's a poor part of Ohio, and everywhere we delivered the meat we were received like we were the Publisher's Clearinghouse guys delivering checks. It was a really neat experience.

    Sooo, I already have very fond memories if not with my new rifle with one very similar to it. Thanks for the reloading info, and I will put it to use at first opportunity!

    I'll let you know how it runs when I get to the range, which better be soon because it's almost time.

    Those aren't posts. Those are magazine articles. Thank you!
    oldskeetshooter likes this.
    “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive." C.S. Lewis

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    Good Lord Bryan, it's stuff like this that makes this forum interesting to me.

    I have fond memories of my old Swift. It was a ******* groundhog gitter. I used to take it up to Ohio before they got stupid about rifles up there, and decimate them on my Aunts farm. Between breakfast and lunch I had 31 blown to smithereens.

    The longest shot that day was measured as 404 long steps. I don't remember that hand load now, but I sure remember the rifle. A joint venture from Savage/Anchuz.

    Regrettably, I lost that rifle in a bet of stupidity.

    Great post!
    Ignorance is a long way from stupid, but left unchecked, can get there real fast.

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    Before 1974 there was a fur trade for harbour seals and the 220 Swift was the gun of choice. Taking the top of the head closed the nostrils and allowed the animal to float. That brings back some fond memories out on the aleutian chain. Great gun and very accurate.

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    I purchased this Ruger 1-V .220 Swift, second hand, in the early 80's. I will admit that I was disappointed with the groups at first. A good friend, Schuetzen man, told me to "Watch the crosshairs when dry firing the rifle". I was amazed tht the crosshairs wiggled around 4". at 100 yards when dry firing. The quick fix was a Wolff hammer spring. With a faster lock time 100 yard group sizes went from 1" to 5/8". I was not willing to invest in any custom work, so the 5/8" groups were acceptable. A few years later, I installed a Mould's hammer and the group size dropped to .275". IMHO:That is decent, in my book, for a Ruger 1.

    We are limited on varmint shooting "game" here in middle Georgia. Our greatest long rang shooting challenge is crows. Crows wreak havoc on pecan orchards. Most of the pecan farmers welcome thinning of the crow population. Most shots are under 250 yards. Occasionally, on a very large pecan farm, a 450 yard shot will present itself. It ain't pretty but, this ole' Ruger has proven itself many times.

    BTW. When struck in the center with a 52gr Sierra MatchKing, A crow looks like a black feather pillow exploding.




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    A wise man once said: "Bugout bag?..What's that? Is that all the junk you sidewalk commandos plan on humping when the SHTF...I'll grab a Nylon 66, a box of 22s and a poncho liner and in less than a week I will have all of your stuff and everything else that I need for the duration."

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    Oh OSS, I just love Ruger #1. It is the coolest rifle Ruger makes, IMO. The falling block action is just so perfect, and I love the way there's a lock release on the end of the lever. It's as smooth an action ar any on any rifle. Guys who are vey good with them can reload almost as fast as working a bolt. When I was a boy one of my Dads friends hunted with one. He didn't miss, but he would throw another one in when he shot like lightning.

    A buddy of mine shoots (and wins) allot of CMP tournaments with a WWII Mauser, and Garand. He's an Army guy, and was in Morters and then PsyOps of all things. You would think he was a rifleman, but he missed his calling when working for Uncle Stupid. Three or four years ago he took a cull buck, on the hoof, at 375yds with the Garand and open sights. It made it about another 20 yds with a heart/lung and was DRT. I shot it with a laser from where he was sitting to confirm. When he isn't using a war relic to hunt he uses a #1 in 30-06.

    The people I hunt with who use them are all marksmen, and most of those handgun hunt too. It's almost like bragging while saying nothing, which is the best kind. Love those guns!
    “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive." C.S. Lewis

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    Ah, the fine old Swift. Rates up there with my beloved 300 H&H. Thanks for jarring my memory.

    I've been spending so much time with these accursed handguns that I have been neglecting my true love, bolt guns.

    And deer season approaches.

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