Shooters have a need for speed and achieving the fastest bullet velocity possible is something of an obsession for many. It’s not a bad thing. In some instances it’s a necessity when targeting varmint and predators at long range. After all, an extremely high-velocity load will generally have a flatter trajectory and more resistance to wind drift than a similar load at a slower velocity.
Increasing the speed of a bullet also offers more room for error when estimating the range or wind. And the really high-velocity bullets can produce very impressive results when they hit something. The good news is that many of the major gun and ammunition manufacturers have devoted considerable time and effort into developing many cartridges that are ideal for predator and varmint hunters that also offer the highest velocity possible.
Keep in mind that this list of the cartridges that produce the fastest bullet velocity only includes cartridges in current production for the typical civilian hunter or shooter, not one off experiments like the 22 Eargesplitten Loudenboomer or larger and more advanced projects like a railgun. Additionally, this list should not be considered all-inclusive. Nor are we ranking them in any way. These are simply options that are among the fastest, and they’re all worth shooting to see if they’ll work for your needs.
Introduced all the way back in 1971, the .17 Remington was the first commercially produced .17 caliber centerfire rifle cartridge. It just was never extremely popular. It’s gained more of a following in recent years, but the cartridge has a devoted fan base among those who loved the super high velocities from the beginning. This cartridge also offers flat trajectories, minimal recoil, and impressive terminal performance the little cartridge produced on varmints.
Nosler currently offers two factory loads for the .17 Remington as part of their Varmageddon line (We just love that creative name!) that push a 20 grain Varmageddon bullet at a blistering 4,200 feet per second. Handloaders can improve upon that performance to a certain degree and the cartridge is capable of velocities in excess of 4,300 feet per second with a 20-grain bullet.
.17 Remington Fireball
The .17 Remington Fireball is a much newer cartridge than the .17 Remington. It was developed by Remington in 2007. This round packs a similar level of performance into a smaller package. It’s almost (but not quite) as powerful as the .17 Remington, but the .17 Remington Fireball achieves that performance while burning less powder. That means less of a mess, and less time spent cleaning the firearm afterwards.
Even still, it’s capable of pushing a 20-grain bullet at over 4,000 feet per second with outstanding accuracy and it does that with even less report, and recoil than the bigger .17 Remington.
Using a very fat bodied case that has been necked down to shoot a small diameter, .22 caliber bullet, the .223 Winchester Super Short Magnum (WSSM) has a very large propellant capacity. When combined with very lightweight bullets, it’s possible to achieve extremely high muzzle velocities over 4,000 fps. Indeed, the .223 WSSM vies with the .220 Swift for the title of the centerfire rifle cartridge with the fastest bullet velocity.
Unfortunately, the .223 WSSM has fallen by the wayside in recent years. It’s still possible to get factory ammo for the cartridge, but current production .223 WSSM ammo normally uses heavier 50 or 55 grain bullets at a milder (though still pretty darn fast) muzzle velocity. You’ll probably need to handload and use lighter bullets to achieve the highest bullet velocity.
.224 Weatherby Magnum
Weatherby Magnum cartridges are known for very high velocities and the .224 Weatherby Magnum is no exception. The only issue is that this round has fallen into obscurity a little. Weatherby still manufactures their famous Mark V chambered for it. However, they only sell one factory load for the cartridge: a 55-grain bullet with an advertised muzzle velocity of 3,650 fps. It can go for upwards of $90 per box, making it an extremely expensive round to shoot. However, handloaders can potentially save some money and squeeze faster velocities in the 4,000-4,100 fps range (or perhaps even faster) by dropping down to a lighter 40 grain bullet.
Low recoil, great trajectory within 150 yards, it’s little wonder this cartridge became a classic. The .243 Winchester stands with one foot firmly planted in the big game hunting world and the other in the varmint hunting world. For that reason, the cartridge is equally at home using heavier bullets for big game, but also has a relatively large case capacity that’s useful for launching much lighter projectiles at very high velocities.
In fact, there’s a Hornady Superformance Varmint factory load for the .243 Winchester shooting a 58 grain V-Max bullet at an advertised velocity of 3,925 fps and comes within a hair of breaking that magical 4,000-fps barrier.
While most factory loads use heavier bullets at more sedate velocities, Nosler has published reloading data showing the cartridge is capable of velocities exceeding 3,900 fps with a 40-grain bullet. That’s absolutely screaming performance, especially considering that the cartridge accomplishes such a velocity while using a relatively small package.
Nosler does manufacture several varieties of factory ammo for this round. The numbers are greatly reduced, but they’re still nothing to sneeze at. Their 55-grain expansion tip, lead-free option is doing 3,500 fps at the muzzle. They also make a 53-grain flat base tipped option in their Varmageddon line that’s got a muzzle velocity of 3,450 fps.
The .220 Swift has been around for nearly a century but remains one of the fastest (if not the fastest) rifle cartridge in common use. It was the first mass produced rifle cartridge designed for hunters to break the 4,000-fps barrier, and improvements in propellant technology have further increased the velocity potential of the cartridge in the interim. Federal Premium manufactures a factory load pushing a 40 grain Nosler Ballistic Tip at a lightning fast 4,250 fps and handloaders can achieve velocities exceeding 4,500 fps with the cartridge using lighter 29-grain and 35-grain bullets.
All that speed does come at a cost, though: firing light bullets at extremely fast velocities is rough on barrels. Not surprisingly, the .220 Swift has something of a reputation as a barrel burner, so use caution with those fast loads. However, if you’re looking for the absolute fastest rifle cartridge in mass production and in common use, then you’ve found it in the .220 Swift.
The aptly named .250-3000 Savage made a big splash in the early 20th Century as the first mass produced cartridge capable of breaking the 3,000-fps barrier. In the 1960s, Remington standardized an old wildcat cartridge using the .250 Savage case necked down to shoot .22 caliber bullets. That original .250-3000 Savage was a very fast cartridge when it first came on the scene, and the much newer .22-250 Remington descended from it also knocked the socks off velocity hungry hunters and shooters.
It’s not quite the fastest cartridge available, but it’s arguably the most popular and widely used today of the really fast cartridges, especially among varmint hunters. Make no mistake though, the .22-250 Remington is still extremely fast. Hornady currently offers two factory loads for the cartridge in their Superformance line and both break the 4,000-fps barrier: a load featuring a 50gr V-Max bullet at 4,000 fps and a load firing a 35gr NTX bullet at a scorching 4,450 fps. They also manufacture two factory loads in their Varmint Express line that are no slouches either. The 55-grain V-MAX does 3,680 fps, and the 50-grain version does 3,800 fps at the muzzle.
Compared to the relatively old .220 Swift and the .22-250 Remington, the .204 Ruger is extremely new and was first introduced in 2004. It uses a somewhat unusual .204″ diameter bullet that’s bigger than the .172″ bullets used by .17 caliber cartridges, but smaller in diameter used by the extremely popular .224″ bullets used in .22 caliber cartridges.
The result is a cartridge capable of launching very small bullets at an extremely fast velocity. However, it still retains plenty of power to take down coyotes and other varmints. Since it burns much less powder than some of the other cartridges known for very high velocities, the .204 Ruger does all that with virtually no recoil and a relatively mild report. Not surprisingly, it’s right up there with the .22-250 Remington as far as popularity goes.
Don’t let the small size of the .204 Ruger fool you. This little cartridge offers incredibly fast bullet velocity. Hornady currently offers 3 factory loads for the .204 Ruger in their Superformance Varmint Line: a 40gr V-Max at 3,900 fps, a 32gr NTX bullet at 4,225 fps, and a 24gr NTX bullet at 4,400 fps.
READ MORE: THE TRUTH ABOUT BARREL LENGTH AND MUZZLE VELOCITY