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.220 Swift


Based on the 6mm Lee Navy case necked down to .224 the 220 Swift was released by Winchester in 1935 for the Model 54 bolt action rifle. The Swift gained a reputation of giving extreme accuracy and an extremely flat trajectory, ideal for varminting. In early years throat erosion caused concern among some consumers but these fears have faded as metallurgy techniques have improved. 

In 1964 Winchester released the .225 Winchester, designed as a face lift to replace the 220 Swift. The .225 was offered in the standard or varmint style Model 70 and these combinations had a reputation for tack driving accuracy, capable of driving 55 grain bullets at realistic speeds of over 3500fps. Nevertheless, the .225 never gained popularity because in 1965 one year after it's release, Remington’s 22-250 completely eclipsed it.
Due to the overnight success of the 22-250 production of the .225 ceased in 1972, just eight years later.  The Swift however, has continued to enjoy a small following amongst varmint shooters. For many years, the 220 Swift held the record for being the fastest commercial cartridge in the world. This record was held until Winchester released the .223 WSM in 2003.


Like all .224 caliber sporting cartridges, the .220 Swift was designed purely for varminting but has found favor with many light medium game hunters. On light medium game at close to moderate ranges, the ultra velocity .224’s cannot be compared to the slower .224’s such as the .223. Furthermore, the ultra velocity .224’s cannot really be compared with any other cartridges because no other calibers produce muzzle velocities of plus 4000fps.
The .220 Swift can be utilized in one of two ways. The hunter can either use the highest possible velocities and bullet blow up as a method of killing or utilize premium projectiles for more consistent results with varying shot placement and at varying ranges.
With varmint type projectiles at close ranges, entry wounds on medium game are commonly as wide as .75”, an immediate indication of bullet blow up. Up to a 3” circle of ribs may be destroyed as the bullet enters the chest cavity followed by total destruction of the lungs. At this point, the soft and flexible vital tissues absorb the last of the varmint projectile’s energy. Small particles of copper can be found against or amongst the offside ribs while the lead of the projectile vaporizes into dust.
Obviously it is wise to avoid major round bone if using the .220 Swift on medium game when using varmint type bullets, this includes avoiding the skull, especially with polymer tipped 40 grain bullets. Utilizing the strengths of the .220 Swift and understanding its limitations are vital for success. The most spectacular wounds are produced at impact velocities of above 3300fps - inside 125 yards. As range is increased, wound channels become narrower and narrower resulting in slower killing. Like all .224’s, projectiles fired from the Swift lose roughly 100fps per 25 yards. The Swift has a very flat trajectory but suffers terribly from wind drift.
With premium projectiles, the Swift produces surprising good performance on light medium game. Again, best performance occurs at close to medium ranges where velocity is high. Whether using varmint or premium bullets, the .220 Swift, like other .224’s, is best suited to game weighing around 40kg (90lb) and up to 60kg (130lb) as a safe maximum. This cartridge does not produce a high level of hydrostatic shock but with suitable loads, death from chest shots at close range occurs very quickly.

Factory Ammunition

Winchester no longer produce ammunition for the Swift. Remington produce two loads, a 50 grain soft point at 3780fps and the 50 grain V-Max Hornady bullet at the same 3780fps. Both are varmint loads and must be used accordingly, either utilizing the meat saver shot as described in the .222 text or for neck shots which can be very spectacular.

Hornady factory loads include the 40 grain Moly coated V-Max at 4200fps, the 50 grain Moly coated V-Max at 3850fps, the 55 grain Moly coated V-Max at 3680fps, the 55 grain V-Max without Moly coating at the same 3680fps and finally, the traditional 60 grain Hollow Point at 3600fps. Again, all of these loads are designed for varmint shooting. Actual velocities with factory ammunition are largely dependent on barrel length and as there are so many variations in Swift barrel lengths, muzzle velocities from rifle to rifle can differ by up to 200fps.

The 40 grain V-Max bullet should always be used with caution. On game under 60kg (130lb), it gives surprisingly deep penetration with meat saver shots. That said, on head shots, the V-Max will sometimes explode before penetrating the brain, even at extended ranges of 180 yards where velocity is mild. Neck shots are usually fatal however, at extended ranges, slight movements made by the animal can result in shot placement error and severe but non fatal wounds. Realistically, the meat saver shot is the most humane method of killing if a 40 grain bullet is the only available load. 

The 55 grain V-Max load is far superior to the 40 grain load when used on light bodied medium game for obvious reasons. Bullet weight and sectional density are considerably higher and the velocity of the 55 grain load is much slower than its 40 grain counterpart. The 55 grain V-Max produces clean kills with head shots, nevertheless the meat saver shot is always the safest option at ranges beyond 150 yards. 

Hand Loading

Brass for the Swift is currently available from Norma and can of course be sourced from once fired Hornady and Remington cases. Optimum powders are those in the 2208 (Varget) and 4064 range. As previously stated, the muzzle velocities achieved from the Swift differ from rifle to rifle because of variations in barrel length. Realistic velocities from a 24 inch barrel include 3800fps with 50 grain bullets, 3650fps using 55 grain bullets, 3550fps with 60 grain bullets and 3300fps utilizing the long 70 grain Barnes TSX. Longer barrels of 26” and more achieve higher velocities identical to the velocities achieved by Hornady factory ammunition. 

As stated, the Swift can be utilized in either of two ways, as an explosive killer or in a more conventional manner. With regard to explosive loads; at close ranges it is impossible to tell the difference in results from one bullet brand to the next whether plastic tipped or soft point. As ranges approach 100 yards, the Hornady V-Max and A-Max bullets begin to show wider wounding than the traditional 55 grain soft point projectiles produced by Hornady, Sierra and Speer but as range is increased further, out towards 300 yards, all .224’ projectiles can produce somewhat lack luster killing. It is important to refrain from using light bullets (40-50 grains) in the Swift on medium game as head shots will sometimes explode on impact but fail to enter the brain, wounds can be immensely cruel.

Of the premiums, the 60 grain Nosler Partition loaded to 3550fps is a violent killer. At close range, the partition creates a .75” entry wound, indicative of bullet blow up, however, after its frontal area disintegrates, the rear core continues to penetrate for several more inches. This is a very good projectile for lighter medium game, producing a wide wound channel over a depth of around 7” providing no major bones are struck during penetration.

Barnes produce .224” bullets weighing 53, 62 and 70 grains. Barnes also produce a 53 grain XLC coated projectile for those who find that the TSX does not produce optimum accuracy in their rifles. All of these projectiles are good, light medium game projectiles and in most cases, far better than conventional 6mm bullets as used in the .243. The 53 grain bullet loaded to 3600fps is capable of exiting after penetrating through both shoulders of lighter medium game. The .224” Barnes projectiles are prone to a small amount of petal loss when impacting bone but wounding is still vivid. Again, all .224” projectiles perform best inside 200 yards when used on medium game, simply because as velocity deteriorates, wound channels become narrower.

Lastly, the Norinco 55 grain FMJ projectile is perhaps the optimum medium game projectile for the Swift.  The wound from the tumbling Norinco bullet is incredibly broad at its extremities and exit wounds on medium game tend to be very wide, similar to the .25-06 and .270 Winchester. Again, beyond 125 yards, as velocity and energy fall accordingly, wounds become narrower and kills less spectacular.

Closing Comments

The .220 Swift and other ultra velocity .224’s cannot be directly compared with other cartridges due to their unique performance. The Swift can be a spectacular killer but it does have serious limitations.
Regardless of bullet style, when used on medium game, the .220 Swift is deadliest when used as a 125 yard cartridge. Beyond this range, the Swift is identical in performance to the .222 and .223. The Swift is not therefore consistent in its wounding performance over normal hunting ranges (out to 300 yards).  When used on animals of 60kg (130lb) and up to 80kg (180lb), this cartridge is best utilized by experienced hunters. For general use on medium game where body weights may be as heavy as 120kg (260lb), the Swift should never be chosen as a first option. Emphasis should always be towards the welfare of the animal, not the skill of the hunter.
Comments made regarding the .220 Swift as being more effective than several .243 loads must be understood in context. The .243 can be just as easily exploited and once optimized, is far superior to and far more versatile than the swift.

Suggested loads: .220 Swift Barrel length: 24”
No ID   Sectional Density Ballistic Coefficient Observed  MV Fps ME
1 FL Hornady 55gr V-Max .157 .255 3650 1627
2 HL 55gr Norinco FMJ .157 .272 3650 1627
3 HL 53gr Barnes TSX .151 .231 3600 1525
4 HL 60gr Nosler Partition .171 .228 3550 1680
Suggested sight settings and bullet paths         
1 Yards 100 150 246 285 300 325 350
  Bt. path +1.7 +2 0 -2 -3 -5 -7
2 Yards 100 150 248 287 300 325 350
  Bt. path +1.7 +2 0 -2 -2.9 -5 -7
3 Yards 100 150 239 276 300 325 350
  Bt. path +1.7 +2 0 -2 -4 -6 -8.5
4 Yards 100 150 244 283 300 325 350
  Bt. path +1.7 +2 0 -2 -3 -5 -7.5
No At yards 10mphXwind Velocity Ft-lb’s
1 300 9 2490 756
2 300 9 2500 767
3 300 10.7 2347 648
4 300 11 2295 702
 220 swift final.jpg
  Imperial Metric 
A .473 12.01
B .445 11.30
C 21deg  
D .402 10.21
E .260 6.60
F 1.723 43.76
G .300 7.62
H 2.205 56.00
Max Case 2.205 56.00
Trim length 2.195 55.7
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