Warren’s 4200 FPS “.20 Practical”
Just Neck Down Your .223s for 4K Velocities the Easy, Cost-Effective Way
Do you have 20-Cal Fever? Do you yearn to see what a 4200+ fps projectile can do to an unsuspecting prairie dog? Well you could go out and purchase a 204 Ruger rifle, fork over the money for a new, complete die set, and hope that the brass is in stock. Warren B (aka “Fireball”) has a more cost-effective solution. If you have .223 Rem dies and brass, all you need to shoot the 20 Practical is a new barrel and a .230″ bushing to neck down your .223 cases. Warren’s wildcat is simple, easy, and economical. And the 20 Practical matches the performance of the highly-publicized 20 Tactical with less money invested and no need to buy forming dies or fire-form cases. Warren’s cartridge was aptly named. Practical it is.
Yes, Warren tells us, it does get sunny now and then in Vancouver, WA. Of course it did rain the next day.
20 Practical for Varminting
by Warren B (“Fireball”) and Kevin Weaver
After building my 20 PPC, I wanted to do another .20 caliber, this time a repeater for predator hunting that could also serve as a gopher/prairie dog rifle. I wanted to use a Tikka M595 stainless sporter I had. This rifle is the ultimate repeater with an extremely smooth-feeding cycle from its single-column magazine. Since the Tikka was a .223 Remington from the factory, I first looked at possible case designs that would fit the magazine. The 204 Ruger was a very new round at the time and brass was scarce. I also didn’t care for the overly long case design or the standard throat dimensions of the cartridge. I then looked at the 20 Tactical. It was a nice cartridge but I didn’t like the fact that (at the time) an ordinary two-die Tac 20 set with just a plain full-length die and standard seater were $150. Not only did the costs bother me, but I was accustomed to using a Redding die set featuring a body die, a Type-S bushing neck die, and a Competition seater. To be honest, I also didn’t care for the 20 Tactical’s name–there is absolutely nothing tactical about the cartridge. I didn’t want to adopt a new cartridge based on what I perceived to be a marketing gimmick (that “tactical” title).
Warren B, aka “Fireball”, with his Tikka 595. With its smooth action and phenolic single-column mag, it cycles perfectly in rapid fire.
I decided the best thing to do for my purposes was to simply neck down the .223 Rem case and make a 20-223. I already had the dies, the brass, and a rifle that would feed it perfectly. I decided to call the cartridge the 20 Practical because as you will see in this article and the accompanying side-bars, it truely is a very practical cartridge. In addition to the generous and inexpensive availability of brass and dies, it is an easy case to form, requiring no fire forming as a final step. Just neck it down and shoot. [Editor's Note: Over the years, other shooters have experimented with .223 Rem cases necked down to .20 caliber, some with longer necks, some with different shoulder angles. Warren doesn't claim to be the first fellow to fit a .20-caliber bullet in the .223 case. He gives credit to others who did pioneering work years ago. But he has come up with a modern 20-223 wildcat that involves no special case-forming, and minimal investment in dies and tooling. He commissioned the new 20 Practical reamer design, and he and Kevin did the field testing to demonstrate the performance of this particular version.]
I chose Kevin Weaver at Weaver Rifles to fit and chamber the barrel to my rifle. Kevin does excellent work and has one of the best personalities to work with in the business. Kevin liked the idea of the 20 Practical so much he agreed to purchase the project reamer. (In the end I felt a little guilty so I sent him a few extra dollars to help defray the reamer cost.) And speaking of practicality, Kevin didn’t even need to purchase a Go/No-Go gauge, he just used an existing .223 Rem gauge he had. Before Kevin ordered the reamer. I talked over the reamer specs with him. My priorities were tolerances on the tight end of the .223 Rem SAAMI specification, a semi-fitted neck with no need for neck turning, and a short throat so that we could have plenty of the 32gr V-Max in the case and still touch the lands. I also wanted this short throat in case I or anyone else ever wanted to chamber an AR-15 for the 20 Practical. A loaded 20 Practical round will easily touch the lands on an AR-15 while fitting into the magazine with no problem. With its standard 23-degree shoulder, the 20 Practical case also feeds flawlessly through an AR-15.
As for the barrel, I only use Liljas on my rifles. I have had great luck with them. They have always shot well and they clean up the easiest of any barrels that I have tried. I had previously sent my Tikka barreled action to Dan Lilja so that he could program a custom contour into his equipment and turn out a barrel that would perfectly fit the factory M595 sporter stock. There isn’t much material on an M595 sporter stock so the contour had to match perfectly and it did. Dan Lilja now has this custom contour available to anyone who would like to rebarrel their M595 sporter with one of his barrels.
My 20 Practical rifle started out as a Tikka Model 595 Stainless Sporter in .223 Remington. Though the M595 is no longer imported, if you shop around you can find M595 Sporters for bargain prices. Mine cost under $500. I think the action alone is worth that! The receiver has a milled dovetail for scope rings plus a side bolt release like expensive BR actions. The bolt cycles very smoothly. Ammo is handled with super-reliable 3- or 5-round detachable single-column magazines (FYI, Tikka’s M595 22-250 mags will feed a 6BR case flawlessly.) We kept the standard Tikka trigger but fitted it with a light-weight spring. Now the trigger pull is a crisp 1.8 pounds–about as good as it gets in a factory rifle. We replaced the factory tube with a custom, 24″, 3-groove Lilja 12-twist barrel. Dan Lilja created a special M595 sporter contour to allow a perfect “drop-in” fit with the factory stock. For optics, I’ve fitted a Leupold 4.5-14x40mm zoom in low Talley light-weight aluminum mounts. All up, including optics and sling, my 20 Practical weighs just under 8.5 pounds.
Field Report–How Does It Shoot?
I sent the barrel and barreled action to Kevin and in a very short time it was returned. Kevin did a perfect job on the rifle. I had asked him to try to match the bead blasted finish of the Tikka when he finished the new barrel. It came out perfect and the only way one can tell it is a custom is the extra two inches of length and the “20 Practical” cartridge designation.
So, no doubt you’re asking “how does she shoot?” Is my “prototype”, first-ever 20 Practical an accurate rig? In a word, yes. Even with the standard factory stock, and light contour barrel, it can shoot 3/8″ groups. Take a look at the typical target from this rifle. This is from an 8.5-pound sporter with a very skinny fore-end and a factory trigger.
The 20 Practical: Origins and Development
A year ago I received a call from Warren with a great idea. Warren asked “Why couldn’t we simply neck down the .223 Remington case to 20 caliber and get basically the same performance as the 20 Tactical? This way you can forgo the expensive forming dies that are needed for the 20 Tactical.” The idea made perfect sense to me, and I saw no major technical issues, so we got started on the project. I ordered a reamer from Dave Kiff at Pacific Tool & Gauge (PTG) with a .233″ neck. The .233″ neck should allow for a simple necking-down of the 223 Remington case to produce the 20 Practical in just one step. No fire-forming necessary! Furthermore, the PTG 20 Practical reamer Dave created should work with any available .223 Rem brass, commercial or military.
The first 20 Practical round was launched down range (through Warren’s Tikka) just a few months later. The brass formed as easily as expected. All one needs is a Redding type “S” bushing die with a .230 bushing and with just one step I had a .20 caliber case ready to shoot. Warren is brilliant. [Editor's Note: We concur. For more details on Warren's case-forming methods and his tips for adapting .223 Rem dies, read the technical sections further down the page.]
It would be almost six months later until I got around to building a dedicated test rifle chambered for the 20 Practical. I used a Remington 722 action, Remington synthetic semi-varmint stock, and a 24″ Douglas stainless steel XX 12-twist barrel. I formed and loaded about 30 cases using Remington brass in about 20 minutes. I used a .223 Rem seating die to seat the 20 Practical bullets. The .223 seating stem seated the small 20-Cal bullets just fine. The first loads sent the 40gr Hornady V-Max bullets down range at a modest 3500 FPS. I did not shoot for groups. I just wanted to use this load to sight in the rifle and break in the barrel. Load development was painless–I used reduced .223 Rem loads for 40gr bullets and worked up from there. In the table below are some of my preferred loads as well as Warren’s favorite recipes for his 20 Practical.
Comparing the 20 Practical and 20 Tactical
Kevin tells us: “The 20 Practical and the 20 Tactical are almost identical cartridges. There are only slight differences in case Outside Diameter, shoulder angle, and case body length. The neck length on the 20 Tactical is a bit longer, but there is still plenty of neck on the 20 Practical to grip the popular bullets, such as the 32gr V-Max. Here are some specs:
|Cartridge||Bolt face to shoulder||Shoulder O.D.||Shoulder Angle||Total length|
Both the 20 Tactical and the 20 Practical are fine .20 caliber cartridges. At present, the 20 Tactical is the more popular of the two because it has had more publicity. However, my favorite would be the 20 Practical. Warren’s 20 Practical gives the SAME performance as the 20 Tactical without fire-forming, or having to buy expensive forming dies. So with the 20 Practical you do less work, you shell out a lot less money, yet you give up nothing in performance. What’s not to like? To create 20 Practical cases, just buy a .223 Rem Redding Type “S” Bushing Die set with a .230 or .228 bushing and have fun with this great little cartridge.”
Warren’s Tips on Forming 20 Practical Cases
Forming 20 Practical cases is very easy and no fire-forming is required. Start with any good quality .223 Rem brass. I’m happy using IMI cases. One can simply run the case into your bushing die with the appropriate bushing and call it done. I however like to make it a little more involved by doing the neck reduction in steps. I find that taking steps doesn’t overwork the brass as much as one step does. Also, if you resize the neck in too large of a step, sometimes, depending on the neck thickness, the neck will not be dimensionally what you would expect when finished. This is especially important towards the last step when one is getting close to the final required neck diameter.
For my IMI cases the first thing I did was to run them into an old RCBS .223 Rem full length die with the decapping assembly removed. This will take care of any dented necks on the raw cases and bring the necks down to around 0.243″. Since all standard full-length dies oversize the necks way too much, starting with a .223 FL die actually reduces the neck diameter quite a bit–and obviates the need to buy an extra bushing for the first step. I then use my Redding Type-S die with two bushing sizes to get down to where I need to be. In other words, I start with the FL sizer, then move to a Type-S with a 0.233″ bushing and finish with a 0.228″ bushing. Notice how, as I get to the final step, I use progressively smaller increments in size between the reductions. (Note: Depending on your brass your final bushing size may be different.)
I also take incremental steps when forming my other .20 calibers. The 20 PPC takes the least amount of steps as the parent 220 Russian case is pretty close to being a .20 caliber as it comes in its raw form. The 6mm BR case takes the most number of steps to form down to 20 BR as it comes with the largest neck diameter in its raw form. Remember, this is how I have chosen to form all four of my “practical” .20 calibers, the 20-222, the 20 Practical, the 20 PPC and the 20 BR. One could easily reduce the number of steps or eliminate them altogether on some of the parent cases, but be aware of just how much brass you are moving around at the neck in one pass.
If you already own a Redding Type-S bushing die set for a “parent” .22 or 6mm cartridge, you can easily adapt your die set for use with a .20 caliber version of the same cartridge. I have done this with four .20 caliber cartridges so far: 20-222, 20 Practical, 20 PPC, and 20 BR. All shoot wonderfully. Other possibilities include the 20-221 and even the mighty 20-250.
The parts needed to convert your current Redding .22 caliber or 6mm Type-S bushing dies for .20 caliber use are available from either your favorite reloading supplier, or from Redding itself. You will obviously need a new bushing or two. Redding now offers a wide range of bushing sizes for .20 caliber use, as does Wilson. You will also need either a 17 Mach IV or 17 Remington Type-S decapping assembly. The 17 Mach IV assembly works in the shorter 20-221, 20 PPC and 20 BR. The 17 Rem assembly is used for the longer 20-222, 20 Practical, or 20-250. These two decapping assemblies allow use of Redding’s .204-diameter sizing button.
If you don’t plan to use a button in your die you can get away with the stock decapping assembly by turning or filing down the existing button. One can also use a decapping pin retainer nut from one of Redding’s carbide button kits that has been turned or filed down. I prefer to use a button whenever I don’t neck-turn a cartridge. This ensures consistent neck tension on un-turned factory necks. I sure wish Redding would market .20 caliber carbide buttons for us .20 caliber shooters. I use carbide buttons in all my larger dies and they work great.
The photo shows: A) the two different length .22 seater plugs for the Redding Competition Seater; B) the short 17 Mach IV Type-S decapping assembly used in the 20-221, 20 PPC and 20 BR; C) a .20-cal button; and D) two Hornady .20 cal V-Maxs. Parts List: Redding Part # 10715, decapping rod stem for bushing neck die (short) $4.00; Redding Part # 42203, .20 caliber size button $4.00; Redding Part # 55042, BR seat plug for .22 cal (long) $21.00.
As for the seater, I use Redding’s Competition seating dies for all of my cartridges. You can also use just about any other brand of seater. But I have noticed that Redding’s Competition seaters give very repeatable results. I have also noticed that these seaters have given me the same consistent results when using them on my .20 calibers even though they were intended for the larger parent calibers. The .204 caliber bullets engage the .224 seater plugs very well, perfectly seating the bullet in terms of straightness going in and concentricity of the final loaded round.
Of the four .20 calibers I have built using the “practical” method, only one has required a change to the seater die. This was with my 20 PPC. The seater plug inside the die may, or may not, be required–depending on how your rifle is throated. My 20 PPC was throated very short so my 22 PPC Competion Seater wasn’t quite able to get the bullet far enough into the case. Redding makes the .22 seater plug for the Competition Seaters in two lengths. The PPC and BR Competion Seaters come with the short length plug. So I had to order the longer seater plug for my 20 PPC. The longer plug easily gets the bullet far down into the case with adjustment room to spare.
Ever since the .20 caliber was legitimized by some of our top suppliers with bullets, barrels and cleaning rods, it has been apparent to many varmint shooters that it was going to be the perfect combination of velocity, BC, recoil, and down-range energy for our sport.
After many years of varmint shooting, I had quite a collection of dies for the various cartridges we tend to use for blasting dirty little critters. I had been through many old favorites like the Fireball, the Deuce, the .223 Rem, the 22 PPC and the 22/6mm BRs by the time the .20 caliber took hold in the shooting industry. When I decided on building my first .20 caliber rifle I looked at all the alternatives at the time. I chose to take a practical approach and do a 20 PPC using an existing rifle and die set that I already had in 22 PPC. The start-up cost for this project was low as I already had everything, including all the necessary reloading tools. All I needed was a barrel and a few odd parts to convert my Redding dies to work with the 20 PPC (see other sidebar). The project was a success and I have been hooked on the .20 calibers ever since.
So far I have done four “practical” .20 caliber rifle/cartridge combinations, the 20-222, the 20 Practical, the 20 PPC, and the 20 BR. For all four of them I already had a complete Redding die set (body die, Type-S neck bushing, Comp seater) from reloading their parent cases. All four of these .20 calibers shoot terrific and have a unique place in my varmint rifle battery. Another one I would like to do is the 20-221 but I just haven’t gotten around to it yet. As an indication of how sold I am on the .20 caliber for live varmint shooting, I have either sold or rebarreled almost every .22 and 6mm rifle/cartridge combination that I used to own. In fact I sold the 6mm BR barrel for my Panda on the forums here at 6mmBR.com and have never looked back. Once you plaster a prairie dog at 500 yards with a 20 BR in an eleven-pound rifle and can witness the shot, it would be hard indeed to go back to the heavier recoiling 6mm BR for this type of shooting.
I’ll never forget my first outing to Montana with my 20 BR. After shooting a few prairie dogs way out there and being able to clearly witness my hits I turned to our guide and good friend John Wickens and said “John, you need to bring your rifle out and enjoy some shooting yourself as I don’t need a spotter anymore”. Yes, the .20 calibers have changed the way I shoot critters. A message to all you professional varmint spotters out there–your jobs are endangered! Better start packing a rifle and join in the fun. Just make sure it is a .20 caliber. (Below is a sample of the .20 caliber bullets available.)
16850 Sage Creek Rd.
Peyton, CO 80831
Topics: Ruger, .204 Ruger, 20 Caliber, 20-Caliber, Twenty Caliber, 20 BR, 20 PPC, 20BR, 20PPC, 20 Vartarg, Vartarg, 20 Tactical, Tactical 20, Cooper, Cooper firearms, M21, Model 21, MT varminter, Montana, 20 caliber, .204, .204 Ruger, Ken Lunde, Wildcat, Wildcatter, Wildcatting, Ackley, precision rifle, hunting, varmints, varminting, groundhog shooting, Prairie Dogs, rifle accuracy, guns, 6mmBR, 6BR, 6 Dasher, .223, 223 Rem, Ackley Improved, Vihtavuori, N120, N133, Varget, IMR 4064, AA 2520, BAT custom actions, PacNor, Savage, Walnut, Laminated Walnut, Reloader 7, Reloader 10X, H4895, 8208, H4198, H322, Benchmark, reloading, powder, case forming, fire-forming, Winchester, Sierra, Blitz-King, V-Max, Hornady, bullets, moly, gunstock.