other By: Stan Trzoniec | October, 22
For this and over the longer winter, my interest grows for a new rifle, perhaps chambered for an existing cartridge never used before for varmints. With the fire going, I sat down with a pile of catalogs, a computer with access to the internet and started turning the pages. Trying something different, I recalled a conversation I had a few years back with Al Russo, then the director of firearms marketing at Remington Arms. As we all sat around talking guns, cartridges and hunting trips, Al was looking for a cartridge to chamber into their new line of Model 700 “Classic” rifles. Everyone had a suggestion of course, but when I mentioned the .221 Fireball, you could hear the ice melting in the glasses! Come to find out later that my suggestion “has not fallen on deaf ears” and while it would take a little longer to design the gun properly to feed (a magazine modification) the Fireball, in 2002 it was on line. Prior to this, the Remington XP-100 pistol was home to the Fireball, and while I liked this little .224-inch entry, this space pistol was not for me and when it came to the Model 700, yikes, I had more than I could handle at the time.
For those who like a little more on their rifle without going through a long list of options, this Model 21 might be just the gun. Naturally, with this model, expect to pay a little more but considering all the standard features included in the $3,900 price tag, it might be worthwhile to order one. On the list is a half-minute of angle accuracy out of the box with premium factory ammunition, a 24-inch chrome moly premium barrel, and a 3-lug stainless steel bolt all wrapped around a fully-adjustable, single-stage trigger. That is just the beginning!
During my tenure as a gun writer, I have seen, shot and photographed more than my share of fine weapons. The boys at Cooper outdid themselves with this gun when it came to the finish, design and the more conservative, classic approach. The stock rates every bit of the AAA grading with bands of fiddleback and swirls of color that are the trait of Claro walnut. The oil finish represents that found of vintage guns turned out by the master’s years back. Smooth to the touch and applied as to fill the pores of the wood, all completed, it has a satin patina worthy of a gun of this stature.
The checkering is straight to the point and done with pointed diamonds, no run overs and cut to a fine 24 lines per inch (my count). On the forend, the pattern runs around this part of the gun with a ribbon breaking it up into three panels. On the tang of the grip, the checkering meets at the top of this part of the stock in a perfect “V” pattern. The ebony tip is without any spacers and the well-designed pistol grip is finished off with a metal grip cap that can be customized with engraving of the buyer’s design. Typical of a high-grade gun, the cheekpiece has a shadow line and with the straight comb, leads the eye to the center of the scope every time. Ready for field use, I ordered a thin, presentation recoil pad with a black spacer and sling swivels for carrying the gun outdoors.
Finally, options. If a few words could contain the content of the list, it might be never-ending, as they comprise almost 40 different custom grade options plus four engraving packages. While I cannot list them all (they are fully detailed in their catalog), exhibition grade wood of French or Turkish walnut and maple seems to be the most popular. These would be followed by such items as the Cerakote coating of various parts, checkering of the bolt, grip cap, a Neidner or skeleton buttplate, various barrel contours or fluting, special custom checkering patterns or even a stainless barrel with quarter rib express sights.
Since we have the rifle detailed, the .221 Fireball is the star of the show for varmints. For those into the history of cartridges, Remington introduced the Fireball in 1963 in concert with its ill-fated XP-100 pistol. While the pistol fell to the wayside, the cartridge always seemed to be hiding in the shadows until companies like Cooper, Thompson Center, CZ-USA and others, brought it back into the limelight. For the varmint shooter, it was a no-brainer as bullets in the .224 caliber are out there by the dozens, brass is available in limited quantities from Remington, Lapua, Norma and Nosler and with a case that just beckons for the right powder with economy to boot, accuracy and distance is assured.
Some research is good to find out what powder is the best for this particular cartridge and good for a relaxing evening. I found that IMR-4227, AA 1680, IMR-4198 and Reloder 7 filled the bill for a case that holds roughly 21.0 grains of water in a gun with a 24-inch barrel and after a few hundred rounds, I have stayed the course. With bullets, the variety is much wider, but for the most part, I lean towards bullets in the 50- to 55-grain range from Hornady, Remington, Berger, Sierra and Speer in many designs. They all work and with tuning the cartridge to the right powder charge and can be extremely accurate.
I’ll give a few examples of the best of the best that have been with me for years now. The most accurate I have ever shot in the Cooper was with the Sierra 52-grain boat-tail over 16.0 grains of IMR-4227 with a velocity close to 3,000 feet per second (fps) with groups running around .312 to .315 inch consistently at 100 yards. Overall length was 1.825 inches with the bullet installed. Second best would go to the 52-grain Hornady V-MAX with 15.8 grains of IMR-4227, 2,999 fps, overall length of 1.900 inches with groups with a mean of .500 inch. Last in the trio of awarded handloads goes to the Speer-55 grain softpoint over 17.6 grains of IMR-4198, overall length of 1.820 inches, a velocity of 2,818 fps ending up with a group of .750 inch. Once you get this far, why change when you have loads that fit your gun like a comfortable old shoe.
While I have only touched on a few accurate loads for the .221 Fireball, it’s not hard to see this is a great varmint cartridge and combined with a good rifle like the Cooper, it will be your partner in the field for a long time.
Just ask the man who owns one!