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Guns & Ammo

by Jon R. Sundra

It should come as no surprise to anyone who follows new developments in the firearms world that Hornady has come up with another new cartridge. This time the company has turned its attention to the .22 caliber in the form of the 22 ARC Advanced Rifle Cartridge. 

It’s especially noteworthy because heretofore, all the new rounds they’ve introduced as their own or developed for gun manufacturers like Ruger, Marlin and Thompson-Center have been in 6mm caliber or larger. 

Basically, what the Hornady folks have done is to incorporate the basic features that distinguish their Precision Rifle Cartridge, PRC, family and the 6mm ARC, to a .22 centerfire that’s compatible with, but not limited to, the AR-15 platform.

All the aforementioned are characterized as having a squat case body of minimum body taper, a 30-degree shoulder, and shallow-seated heavy-for-the-caliber bullets having extremely high ballistic coefficients that require faster twist rates to stabilize. Chamber and throating specs were specifically designed to ensure optimum bullet-bore concentricity and minimize bullet yaw during free bore travel. 

When it comes to .22 centerfires, it’s been a somewhat fickle journey for me. After a good bit of experience shooting groundhogs in Pennsylvania, I felt the .22-250 was the perfect cartridge. However, when I moved to North Carolina, there were no sod poodles to be found in the southern region of the state, and my varmint hunting was confined to the fairly regular treks I made out west to wreak havoc on prairie rat towns. 

Back in those halcyon days, you could shoot 500 rounds in the morning and do the same again in the afternoon. However, after launching several hundred rounds from a bench or prone, even with the extra weight of a varmint rifle, what little recoil there was with a .22-250 began to unnerve me.

Then I tried the .223, first in bolt guns, then later in ARs and it became my new favorite. Though it didn’t have the velocity of the .22-250, its much lighter recoil allowed me to spot my misses and make corrections without a spotter. And at the end of the day, I figured my hit percentages were no less than with the .22-250. 

I eventually settled on the AR rather than a bolt action because not only was there even less recoil, but the correctional shots often needed when shooting across wind-swept prairies were just a second and a trigger pull away. Moreover, with a bolt gun, cycling the action disturbs the gun enough that you often lose your sight picture, and in the time it takes to reacquire it, your target has gone underground or moved out of sight in the sage.

My next epiphany came when the .204 Ruger came on the scene in 2004. It took just one rat shoot, and I was hooked. Developed by Hornady for Ruger, the .204’s 40-grain load at nearly 4,000 feet per second was dynamite on rat towns. However, the several shoots I attended were press outings sponsored by various gun makers, most of whom furnished bolt actions, so I didn’t get to use the .204 in an AR as much as I would have liked.

Fast forward to 2017 and the debut of the .22 Nosler. The first gun I tested (and purchased afterward) was built on a Bushmaster lower, with a Timney trigger and a 20-inch Shilen heavy barrel. With Nosler’s 77-grain factory load, I got a consistent half-minute of angle groups. It’s my favorite varmint rifle, but that may change.

Enter Hornady’s 22 ARC. Three loads are being offered initially: a 62-grain ELD-VT V-Match, a 75-grain ELD Match Black, and an 88-grain ELD Match. It took a while to get them, but by mid-December I had all three loads on hand. The nominal muzzle velocity of these Hornady factory loads, as established in 24-inch test barrels, is as follows: 

  • 3,300 fps for the 62 gr. ELD-VT
  • 3,000 fps for the 75 gr. ELD-Match
  • 2,825 fps for the 88 gr. ELD-Match

As for trajectories, here’s what they look like based on a 200-yard zero, in inches:

                           300 yards      400 yards       500 yards

62 gr. at 3,300 fps            -5.6 inches   -16.4           -33.5

75 gr. at 3,075 fps             -6.2           -18.1             -36.6

88 gr. at 2,820 fps             -7.3           -21.1           -42.1

As for the test gun, the earliest example I could find in either a gas or bolt gun was a complete AR-15 upper from Odin Industries. The company manufactures the award-winning OTR-15 (Odin Tactical Rifle), a premium grade AR, the major components of which are all produced in their Boise, Idaho, manufacturing facility. 

Odin is offering the 22 ARC in a choice of three barrel length/weight combinations: 16-inch Coyote Light, 18-inch Light Contour, and 21-inch Heavy Contour. I chose to go with the 21-inch tube as the best choice for showing the 22 ARC’s accuracy potential in an AR platform. In addition to complete rifles, uppers and lowers, Odin offers all the other components and accessories needed to build one’s own premium quality AR.

When the package arrived (you don’t need a dealer’s license for an upper; only lowers, which are serial-numbered and require shipment to an FFL dealer), was an Odin Works Complete Billet Upper consisting of a 21-inch stainless steel Match Grade barrel with a 1:7 twist fitted with Odin’s Atlas 5 compensator, which comes standard with the purchase of a complete upper; an adjustable gas block; extended charging handle latch; 17.5-inch MLOK 02 Lite forend, and a Low Profile Harris-type bipod rail. 

As it came from the box, the upper weighed 5 3/4 pounds, which was kind of heavy, but what do you expect with a 21-inch heavy barrel and a compensator? As for something to stick it on, I decided to use the lower receiver of my 22 Nosler, figuring its 2 1/4-pound Timney trigger couldn’t but help accuracy. When fitted to the Bushmaster lower with its Hogue grip and A2-style buttstock, the complete rifle weighed 8 1/2 pounds and measured 41 1/4 inches overall.

For optics, I went with a Burris Veracity 5-15×50 scope in a Weaver MSR (Modern Sporting Rifle) mount. The MSR is a terrific mount in that it combines its Picky’ rail base with integral, forward extension rings, making for as near a monolithic system as you can get, and it provides lots of fore/aft latitude for scope positioning.

At the range, everything worked seamlessly and without a hitch. I normally test guns using a heavy tripod and sandbags, but with bipods being so popular with AR shooters, I decided to attach a Caldwell bipod. 

The gun shot very well indeed, but then I’ve never gotten quite the accuracy with a bipod than I could with sandbags whenever I tried both systems with the same rifle, and this was no exception. I just couldn’t get the kind of rock-solid steadiness needed to show what this rifle was capable of. Switching to the tripod and a sandbag under the forend, the table below shows the results, which, to me, are nothing short of mind-blowing. 

Consider: 45 shots with three different factory loads averaging .71 inches! I discounted three groups because of called fliers due to the Timney trigger that was so light it took some getting used to. I shot five 3-shot groups from benchrest at 100 yards as measured in inches.

                                                          LARGEST GROUP     SMALLEST GROUP     AVERAGE

Hornady 62 gr. ELD-VT                                           .73                                  .45                        .61            

Hornady 75 gr. ELD-Match                                    1.15                                 .62                        .94                

Hornady 88 gr. ELD-Match                                      .69                                 .23                        .57

Of the more than a thousand rifles I’ve tested over the span of some 60 years, I could probably count on my ten fingers how many sporter-weight non-competition guns proved to be this accurate with factory ammunition, and all but one were bolt actions! Every gun is a law unto itself, but I’m fairly certain this rifle wasn’t an anomaly. I can only imagine what kind of accuracy these factory loads could do in a bolt action varmint rifle!

Aside from the accuracy, there were two things that made the time spent with this gun special, and those were the two-and-a-half-pound Timney trigger and Odin’s Atlas 5 adjustable compensator, which literally eliminated muzzle rise. What little recoil there was came straight back, barely moving the gun off target. 

The Atlas is a 3-piece affair consisting of the main body, which is 416R Stainless, a vented Titanium sleeve, and an end cap that locks in place with three small set screws. It’s adjustable in that there’s a small vent hole in the sleeve and a witness groove behind it. Normally, the vent is oriented at 12 o’clock, but when shooting off bipods especially, there’s a tendency for shots to nudge a tad right of hold if you’re right-handed and vice versa for southpaws. With the Atlas, you can rotate the vent hole in either direction to neutralize any such tendency. For me, however, the 12 o’clock position worked just fine.

With the 22 ARC, I once again find myself at a fork in the road. Does that make me fickle? I don’t think so. I’ll know more when I get out West again and can put the ARC through its paces on a rat town. In the meantime, let me say that over the years, whatever rifle and cartridge I thought to be perfect applied to but a moment in time. Things change, and technology changes. If one cannot change, one cannot change anything! 

Jon R. Sundra, Safari Magazine’s Field Editor, has been a professional firearms writer for more than 50 years. His autobiography, “Hell, I’m Still Here,” is available via Amazon and other booksellers. Reach him at [email protected].

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