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April 18th, 2021

Sunday Gunday: 20 Practical 4200+ FPS Varmint Slayer

.20 20 practical varmint cartridge .204 Tikka lilja Warren

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.

20 Practical Tikka Bolt Action for Varminting

by Warren B (aka “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.

.20 20 practical varmint cartridge .204 Tikka lilja WarrenSimply Neck Down .223 Rem to Make a 20-223 Wildcat
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, it truly is a very practical cartridge. In addition to the generous and inexpensive availability of brass and dies, the 20 Practical is an easy case to create, requiring no fire forming as a final step. Simply neck your .223 Rem cases down, load and shoot.

[Editor’s Note: Over the years, other shooters have experimented with .223 Remington 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 original PTG 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 is great to work with. Kevin liked the idea of the 20 Practical so much he agreed to purchase the project reamer. (BTW Kevin didn’t even need to purchase a Go/No-Go gauge, he just used an existing .223 Rem gauge.)

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 [anyone] 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.

There Are Plenty of Good .204-Caliber Varmint Bullet Options
20 Practical .204 Ruger .20 caliber bullets

How to Form 20 Practical Cases — Simple and Easy
Forming 20 Practical cases is very easy. No fire-forming is required. Start with any quality .223 Rem brass. Then simply run the case into your bushing die with the appropriate bushing and call it done.

Project Componentry
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.

Test Report–How’s 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.

Gunsmith’s Report from Kevin Weaver
The 20 Practical: Origins and Development

Editor’s NOTE: We can’t say for sure who first necked down the .223 Rem to .20 caliber and chambered a rifle for that wildcat (as opposed to the .20 Tactical). But here is an account from way back in 2006 when the Warren B first came up with the idea of a .20 Practical cartridge, complete with reamer specs.

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.

Bullet Wt. Powder Charge Wt. Velocity FPS Comments
32GR H4198 24.1 4025 Warren’s lighter gopher load
32GR AA2460 27.8 4154 Warren’s coyote/prairie dog load
32GR N133 26.0 4183 Coyote/PD load, clean burn
33GR H4198 26.0 4322 Hot Load. Use with Caution!
33GR N133 27.0 4255 Kevin: 0.388” 5 shot group
40GR H335 25.0 3583 Kevin’s barrel break-in load
40GR H4198 24.0 3907 Hodgdon “Extreme” Powder
40GR IMR4895 26.0 3883 Kevin: 0.288″ 5-shot group
40GR N133 25.0 3959 Kevin: 0.227″ 5-shot group
Warren’s Load Notes: My pet loads are all with IMI cases, 32gr Hornady V-Maxs, and Fed 205 primers (not match). These are the most accurate loads in my rifle so far. I haven’t even bothered with the 40s as I have the 20 PPC and 20 BR for those heavier bullets. I prefer the lighter bullets in the 20 Practical because I wanted to keep speed up and recoil down in this sporter-weight predator rifle. Also, the 32gr V-Max is exceptionally accurate and explosive. I like N133 the best as it burns so clean. IMI cases are tough and well-made.
Kevin’s Load Notes: I used Remington 223 cases, Hornady V-Max bullets, and Remington 6 1/2 primers to develop the above loads. CAUTION: all loads, both Warren’s and mine, should be reduced 20% when starting load development in your rifle. All load data should be used with caution. Always start with reduced loads first and make sure they are safe in each of your guns before proceeding to the high test loads listed. Since Weaver Rifles has no control over your choice of components, guns, or actual loadings, neither Weaver Rifles nor the various firearms and components manufacturers assume any responsibility for the use of this data.

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
20 Tactical 1.5232″ .360 30° 1.755″
20 Practical 1.5778″ .3553 23° 1.760″

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.”

(more…)

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March 7th, 2021

Sunday GunDay: Half-Mile ‘Hog Rifle, John’s 6mm Rem AI

groundhog varmint rifle .243 6mm Rem Remington Ackley Improved AI

Spring varmint season is just around the corner. So here’s a very accurate Half-Mile ‘Hog rifle, that can drill a groundhog at long range. While just about any cartridge from a 22 magnum on up will do the job on a groundhog at close range, when you want to “reach out and touch” your prey at very long distance, it takes a case capable of tossing a heavier, wind-bucking projectile at ultra-high speeds. This week we feature a 6mm Remington Ackley Improved (6mm AI) belonging to our friend John Seibel, who ran the Varmints for Forum website for many years. John’s handsome BAT-actioned rifle sends the 87gr V-Max at a blistering 3675 fps. With its 1/4-MOA accuracy and flat-shooting ballistics, this gun is a varmint’s worst nightmare, a rig that regularly nails groundhogs at a half-mile (880 yards) and beyond.

Quarter-MOA Accuracy For Long-Distance Varminting

GunDay Report by John Seibel
John reports: “So far this gun has been an awesome long-distance varmint rig, with enough velocity to smack those critters hard at 800 yards and beyond. I have some more testing to do, but it seems that the 87gr V-Max (molyed) pushed by 52 grains of N160 or 51.5 grains of RL-19 shoots very well indeed. Velocity runs around 3675 fps. I shot consistent 1″ groups at 500 yards with both of these loads. Warning: These are max loads that work in my rifle, so start at least 10% lower and work up.

500yd SteelMy fire-forming procedure is just jam and shoot. I start with a powder (such as H414) that works for the parent case, fire a few cases as I work up the load to where I get a well-formed case, then shoot them at varmints. Then I work my load up with the newly-formed cases over a chrono. If a load looks good at 100 yards, I will go straight for 200 yards. I’ve seen that some loads which grouped well at 100 won’t shoot well at 200. If it is consistent at 200, then I’ll shoot it a steel plate at 500 yards. Then the truth will be told.

Man I love that BAT action! I have tried some Berger 88gr Lo-Drag bullets as well. They have the same BC as the V-Maxs but offer excellent accuracy. The action is BAT’s Model B round action configured Right Bolt, Left Port, with a fluted .308-faced bolt. The port is 3.0 inches wide — perfect for the 6mm Rem Improved cartridge’s OAL. I use a NightForce 8-32x56mm NXS scope mounted to BAT’s 20-MOA aluminum Weaver-style base. I use Burris Signature Zee rings because they are self-aligning and easy on scope tubes, plus you have the option of adding more MOA if needed.

Krieger with Harrell Brake
The barrel is a stainless Krieger 1:12″ twist Heavy Varmint contour, finished at 26″. I installed a Harrell’s muzzle brake because I hate recoil and I like to be able to spot my hits when target shooting and hunting–especially hunting.

When hunting I am usually by myself so when I eyeball a varmint I want to see my shot flatten him … and I hardly ever miss (heh-heh). Make sure you have your earplugs in though — that muzzle brake is loud!

Easy-Steering Thumbhole Varminter
The stock is Richard’s Custom Rifles Model 005 Thumbhole Varminter. This is a big stock that rides the sand bags very well. Took me a while to get used to this stock as I had never shot a thumbhole before. It is very comfortable and easy to control when you are shooting a moving target. In fact, my first kill with this rifle was a coyote at a little over 200 yards, she was moving along at a slow clip and I had to give her the ole’ Texas heart shot before she disappeared over a hill! (It’s pretty rare for me to shoot moving varmints though — at long-range, I want my cross-hairs steady on the target.)

Regarding the stock selection, I like Richard Franklin’s stocks because they are well-suited to my kind of shooting. I prefer a stock that is flat most of the way back towards the action because when I’m shooting out of my truck window it has to balance around mid-point. Also his stocks seem to track very well on the bench. I guess the stocks I like the most are his Model 001 and Model 008 F-Class. [Editor’s note: John often shoots from the driver’s seat of his truck because he is partially paralyzed. He also has a hoist in his truck bed for his wheelchair. Even with his mobility challenges, John tags more varmints in a season than most of us ever will.]

6mmChoice of Caliber — A 6mm with More Punch for Long Distance
I picked the 6mm Rem Improved mainly because it has that long neck for holding long bullets and it doesn’t burn the throats out as fast as a .243 AI would. I don’t use Remington brass; it splits when fire-forming and seems to work-harden fast. Another reason I picked the 6mm Improved was what I saw in the field–it seemed to be a perfect long-range groundhog getter. I saw my stocker, Richard Franklin, flat smack groundhogs out to 900+ yards with regularity. The OAL of a 6mm Improved does make it hard to remove a loaded round from a standard Remington 700 action. That’s why I went with the BAT Model B, with its longer 3.0″ port. For a standard action, a .243 AI might function better.

As for the 6 Dasher, from what I have read, I think it is a fine round. I’m a hunter though and a lot of case-forming isn’t worth it to me. Forming the Ackleyized cases is bad enough. The 6-250 is a real screamer and very accurate but it doesn’t have the capacity to drive the heavier bullets as well as the 6mm Improved. I have tried a .243 WSSM, also with a Richard’s stock (#008) and a BAT action. It may not shoot as well as the 6mm Rem Improved, but I like those short fat cases.

John’s Views on the Great Moly Debate
Editor: John started with moly-coated bullets for this 6mm Rem AI rifle, but he has moved away from that. He does have considerable experience with coated bullets, and now, at least with custom, hand-lapped barrels, he normally uses uncoated bullets. He now favors coated bullets only for the small .17 caliber.

Moly or no moly… hmm? I have used moly and Danzac for several years, mainly Danzac. In my experience, both moly and Danzac can work well for somebody who shoots a lot of rounds before cleaning. A barrel has to be broken-in correctly whether you use moly or not. I have done break-in with naked bullets, using the conventional method of shooting and cleaning till the copper stops sticking. I have also gone through the break-in process using molyed bullets from the start. It seems to me the barrels broke-in more readily with moly bullets than with naked bullets. I think if there are any rough or sharp places in the barrel the slick molyed bullet doesn’t grab it as badly and the moly will “iron” the flaw out without leaving copper behind.

molybdenum danzac bullet collet moly varmint bullet

The main mistake I think most people make with moly is improper cleaning. By that I mean they don’t get the bore clean from the beginning. Some people will scoff at me for this but I use JB bore paste for most all my cleaning, hardly ever use a brush. Just JB and Montana Extreme or Butch’s Bore Shine. It works for me! Now shooting molyed bullets works fine to say 500 yards, but any further and you really need a lot of tension on the bullet. If not you will get bad flyers.

Personally, I use coated bullets only with .17 cal rounds now. I did use them initially in my 6mm Rem AI but I am starting to move away from that. With proper break-in, the fine custom barrels we have now will not copper if you clean correctly and don’t push those bullets too fast! And remember that powder-fouling build-up is an accuracy-killer too. That is another reason I use a lot of JB paste.

groundhog varmint rifle .243 6mm Rem Remington Ackley Improved AI
John lives and works on a farm in Virginia. Getting rid of intrusive varmints is part of the job of running the farm. Here is one of John’s bolt-action pistols, which is very handy when shooting from a vehicle.

The Guru of Varmints For Fun
For many years John Seibel ran the popular Varmints For Fun website (now offline). This site offered excellent advice for hunters and reloaders. John covered a wide variety of varmint chamberings, from big 6mm wildcats, to the popular 6BR, 22BR and .22-250 caliber varmint rounds, and even the micro-caliber wildcats such as the 20 Vartarg and 20 PPC. Shown below is one of his favorite rifles, a 20 PPC with a special short version of Richard Franklin’s Model 008 stock.

John tells us: “I guess one reason I started my web site is that I was getting a lot of inquiries about hunting groundhogs, custom rifles and reloading. Plus I thought it was a fine way to get young people interested in the shooting sports. Lord knows hunting and firearms aren’t taught any more. I get a lot of young hunters and shooters asking what’s the best caliber for hunting varmints, and they’ll ask for reloading help too. It’s a shame, but many of them have no one to teach them. I do my best to help.

Showing others that a person can still shoot, even with a disability, is another reason I started my web site. I am a C 6-7 Quadraplegic, which means I have no grip in my hands. Imagine shooting those 1.5 oz Jewels that way! I had a therapist tell me I wouldn’t be able to shoot or reload once I got out of the hospital…shows you how much he knows! First time I got home from the hospital it was deer season and I had Pops park me at the edge of some woods. Well I had a 7-point buck on the ground in thirty minutes! Being raised on a farm didn’t hurt none either–it helped me figger ways to jury-rig stuff. Of course I couldn’t have done much if it wasn’t for my family and my lovely wife Cathy[.]”

John’s Favorite 20 PPC Varmint Rifle

Cartridge History Lesson — the Original .244 Remington
Here’s bit of cartridge history. The 6mm Remington, parent of John’s 6mm AI, actually started its life with a different name, the “.244 Remington”. What we now know as the “6mm Remington” was originally called the .244 Remington. The cartridge was renamed because it was not a commercial success initially, being eclipsed by the .243 Winchester. The .244 Remington and the 6mm Remington are identical — only the name was changed.

6mm Remington cartridge .244 John Seibel varmint rifle

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