.220 Swift

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.220 Swift
.220 Swift (center) with .223 Rem (left) and .308 Win (right).
Place of originUnited States
Production history
VariantsWilson-Wotkyns .220 Arrow[1]
Parent case6mm Lee Navy
Case typeSemi-rimmed, bottleneck
Bullet diameter.224 in (5.7 mm)
Neck diameter.260 in (6.6 mm)
Shoulder diameter.402 in (10.2 mm)
Base diameter.445 in (11.3 mm)
Rim diameter.473 in (12.0 mm)
Case length2.205 in (56.0 mm)
Overall length2.680, 2.580 H.P. bullets
Case capacity47 gr H2O (3.0 cm3)
Rifling twist1 in 14–16 in (360–410 mm)
Primer typeLarge rifle
Maximum pressure62,000 psi (430 MPa)
Maximum CUP54,000[2] CUP
Ballistic performance
Bullet mass/type Velocity Energy
40 gr (3 g) HP 4,213 ft/s (1,284 m/s) 1,577 ft⋅lbf (2,138 J)
50 gr (3 g) SP 3,947 ft/s (1,203 m/s) 1,800 ft⋅lbf (2,400 J)
55 gr (4 g) SP 3,839 ft/s (1,170 m/s) 1,800 ft⋅lbf (2,400 J)
60 gr (4 g) SP 3,647 ft/s (1,112 m/s) 1,772 ft⋅lbf (2,403 J)
Source(s): Hodgdon[3]

The .220 Swift (5.56×56mmSR) is a semi-rimmed rifle cartridge developed by Winchester and introduced in 1935 for small game and varmint hunting. It was the first factory-loaded rifle cartridge with a muzzle velocity of over 1,200 m/s (4,000 ft/s).[4]


The velocity of the cartridge ranges from 2,000 km/h (1,200 mph; 560 m/s; 1,800 ft/s) up to about 4,500 km/h (2,800 mph; 1,200 m/s; 4,100 ft/s). The Swift is a large-cased .224 caliber cartridge and bullet that was created for small game such as prairie dogs, groundhogs, marmots and other vermin (or "varmints" in the US). When introduced it was 1,400 ft/s (430 m/s) faster than its nearest varmint-hunting competitor, which was the .22 Hornet (also .224 caliber).[5] It was found to be an extremely accurate cartridge as well.[6] The .220 Swift is the fastest commercial cartridge in the world, with a published velocity of 1,422 m/s (4,665 ft/s) using a bullet of 1.9 grams (29 gr) and 2.7 grams (42 gr) of 3031 powder.[7]

Due to its very high velocity its bullet drop allows precise sighting to ranges out to 375 yd (343 m), and it is still considered an excellent cartridge for taking varmints by experienced Swift shooters.[citation needed]

The original factory load from Winchester provided a 48-grain (3.1 g) bullet launched at 1,200 metres per second (4,100 ft/s). Handloaders could marginally improve on this but only at maximum loads. The Swift can be loaded with light bullets to reach 1,300 m/s (4,400 ft/s).[8] In recent times 75-grain (4.9 g) .224" bullets have been developed for use in high velocity .22 caliber rifles for taking larger game and long-distance shooting. Heavier bullets perform best in rifles that have an appropriate rifling twist rate taking into consideration the diameter, length, and other physical properties of the projectile.


The prototype for the .220 Swift was developed in 1934–35 by Grosvenor Wotkyns who necked down the .250-3000 Savage as a means of achieving very high velocities. However the final commercial version developed by Winchester is based on the 6mm Lee Navy cartridge necked down, but besides inheriting headspacing on its rim from the parent, a feature already considered obsolete by 1930s, the protruding rim which complicates loading was even made larger to fit with 12mm-wide .30-06 bolt faces. The .220 Swift was developed by Winchester and introduced in 1935 as a new caliber for their Model 54 bolt-action rifle. When the Winchester Model 70 bolt action was first issued in 1936, the .220 Swift was one of the standard calibers offered and continued to be until 1964 when it was discontinued.[9]


The Swift has the dubious privilege of being possibly the most controversial of all the many .224 in caliber cartridges,[10] and has inspired equal heights of praise and criticism. Traditionalists have roundly condemned it as an overbore "barrel burner" which can wear out a chromoly barrel in as few as 200–300 rounds, especially if long strings of shots are fired from an increasingly hot barrel.[11] Its supporters have maintained that the fault lies with poor-quality barrel steels and the failure of users to remove copper fouling after firing, and point to instances of rifles with fine-quality stainless steel barrels chambered for the Swift, which have maintained sub-MOA precision after well in excess of 4,000 shots.[12] More popular, however, is the smaller and slightly lower velocity .22–250.[13]

.220 Swift maximum C.I.P. cartridge dimensions. All measurements shown in metric (mm) and imperial (inch) systems of units.


Due to the cartridge being over capacity for the bore diameter and the extreme velocity of the projectiles, throat erosion is a common problem. Modern metallurgy and cryogenic treatment have vastly improved barrel life with the .220 Swift and other 4,000 ft/s (1,200 m/s) cartridges, although weapons firing these cartridges still usually require rechambering or rebarreling much sooner than those firing lower-velocity cartridges such as the .222 Remington and the .223 Remington.

Hunting controversy[edit]

The Swift remains a controversial deer caliber. Its use is prohibited in many US states and also in the Netherlands, England, Wales and Northern Ireland for large deer such as red, sika and fallow, but some states, such as Minnesota, currently allow smaller caliber rounds like the .220 Swift to be used.[14] In the cartridge's early days during the 1930s, expert red deer stalkers such as W.D.M. Bell used the .220 Swift on large stags with great success, and extolled the caliber's seemingly magical killing powers, which they attributed to massive hydrostatic shock waves set up in the animal's body by the impact of the very high-velocity bullet.[15]

Critics of the Swift have maintained[by whom?] that the light, 50-or-55-grain (3.2 or 3.6 g), bullet leaves an inadequate margin for error in bullet placement for the average deer shooter's skills[citation needed], and thus invites wounding, which would have otherwise been avoidable[citation needed]. There is, however, little debate about the Swift's proven effectiveness on small deer species, such as roe, provided very fast-fragmenting "varmint"-type bullets are not used.[citation needed]

Most factory Swift rifles come with a fairly slow twist-rate such as 1–12 or 1–14 inch, designed to stabilize the lighter bullets popular in varmint hunting. Custom Swifts can have faster twist-rates such as 1–9 inch allowing them to stabilize heavy bullets, including those with a construction suitable for larger game.[16][17]

P.O. Ackley maintained that the .220 Swift was a fine round for medium-large game and used it extensively for example when culling wild burros in the American West.[18]

Famous Alaskan wildlife control officer Frank Glaser also utilized the caliber extensively during the 1930's and 40's. Glaser used the Swift on all sorts of Alaskan big game, including wolves, moose, caribou and Dall sheep, and found that with carefully placed lung shots it would produce more instantaneous kills than any other caliber. However he considered it completely inadequate against grizzly bears, once having to shoot an aggressive sow eleven times to put the animal down.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Landis, Charles S. Twenty-Two Caliber Varmint Rifles (1947) Small Arms Technical Publishing Company pp.36–43
  2. ^ Max chamber pressure - saami specs. Return to the index to LASC. (n.d.). Retrieved May 1, 2023, from http://www.lasc.us/SAAMIMaxPressure.htm
  3. ^ Hodgdon Online Reloading Data Archived November 11, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ handbook for shooters and reloaders Volume 1 P.O. Ackley
  5. ^ Simpson, Layne. "The 220 Swift". Rifle Shooter Magazine. Archived from the original on February 11, 2010. Retrieved October 25, 2010.
  6. ^ 220 Swift article Archived August 20, 2016, at the Wayback Machine at Gunners Den
  7. ^ Handbook for shooters and reloaders volume 1 P.O. Ackley
  8. ^ Cartridges of the World 12th Edition ISBN 978-0-89689-936-0
  9. ^ ".220 Swift | Varmint and Small Game Powerhouse round?". November 1, 2022. Retrieved November 5, 2022.
  10. ^ Lewis, Don (January 2002). "Is the 220 Swift Still King?". Varmint Hunter (41).
  11. ^ Boddington, Craig. "Barrel-Burners". Guns&Ammo. Archived from the original on March 9, 2012. Retrieved October 25, 2010.
  12. ^ Speer Reloading Manual Number 13. Speer, Blount, Inc. 1998. p. 160.
  13. ^ Simpson, Layne. "The 20th century's Top Rifle Cartridge". Shooting Times. Archived from the original on May 14, 2008. Retrieved October 25, 2010. True, the .22–250 is more popular, but it simply follows the trail blazed over half a century ago by the .220 Swift.
  14. ^ "Legal big game cartridges". Retrieved October 13, 2020.
  15. ^ Handbook for Shooters & Reloaders vol I, Book by P.O. Ackley; Plaza Publishing, 1962, ISBN 978-99929-4-881-1
  16. ^ "Remington's VS SF II .220 Swift Part I". Archived from the original on November 7, 2015. Retrieved April 19, 2010.
  17. ^ Van Zwoll, Wayne. ".220 Swift". Petersen's Hunting. Archived from the original on September 27, 2010. Retrieved October 25, 2010.
  18. ^ Handbook for Shooters & Reloaders vol. II, by P.O. Ackley; Plaza Publishing, 1966, ASIN B000BGII48
  19. ^ Alaska's Wolf Man: The 1915-55 Wilderness Adventures of Frank Glaser, by Jim Rearden; Alaska Northwest Books, 2014, ASIN B00K0HYQSK