Howa 20 VarTarg - my project

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  • Howa 20 VarTarg - my project

    The 20 VarTarg


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    I’ve always been one of those ‘different caliber’ people, been intrigued by having something different to everyone else in pursuit of the ‘perfect cartridge’. I have owned and fired most ‘standard’ calibers and it all started as a 15 year old kid working in a gun shop when I bought a Ruger No.1 chambered in .22 Cheetah.

    The king of the 22 caliber as I knew it at the time, a wildcat cartridge formed from either 308 or 243 necked down to .22 and firing the 55 grain projectile at 4000+ fps. God I shot that thing a lot, and it was a favorite for years turning rabbits, hares and foxes inside out all around the district of Armidale in the New England farming areas. I still own a .22 Cheetah, but that is another story!

    Since then I have gone onto owning, using and selling various rifles but of late I have found interest in a little performer. The 20 VarTarg. This interest came from having owned a .204 Ruger and not being happy with the cartridge’s accuracy.

    My keen shooting brother-in-law Matt had researched and already fallen in love with the caliber without even firing one. He had ordered the famous ‘Cooper’ in .20 VarTarg and sat out the waiting period for it to arrive (close to 24 months for those wanting one).

    The 20 VarTarg is based on the .221 Remington Fireball case, necked down to fire a .204 bullet. The main and only difference between the 221 and 20 VarTarg is the change in shoulder angle from 23 degrees in the 221 to 30 degrees in the VarTarg. The VarTarg is created simply by passing the 221 Fireball case into the 20 VarTarg full length die, load and Shoot. Pretty simple wildcat really.

    The VarTarg is popular in the USA with varmint hunters because it provides good range (up to 300 meters) and uses relatively little powder, so the rifle barrel doesn't heat up quite as fast. It pushes the 32 grain projectiles over into the 3750fps range with much less powder than is used by the .204 Ruger. The VarTarg achieves this performance by using fast, high-energy propellants. The name VarTarg is a portmanteau of varmint and target. The cartridge was designed by Todd Kindler in the USA (www.woodchuckden.com) some 15 years ago.

    So meanwhile while Matt was waiting for his Cooper, I also got interested. I decided I would give it a go and bought a stainless Howa Varmint 204. It was sent to my good friend and gunsmith John Clapham in the Blue Mountains along with a Bell & Carlson stock and a 1 in 14 twist 22 cal barrel. I planned to make this rig a switch barrel 20 VarTarg / 221 Fireball. I am a big fan of the Howa action as it is relatively cheap, smooth and accurate.
    The plan was to re-chamber the .204 and use the standard Howa barrel and have a few alterations made including the switch barrel .221, firing pin bushed, trigger lightened and the action bedded.


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    A few months down the track I had a call from John with the heads up to come and collect the little thing. The timing couldn’t have been better as Matt’s Cooper had just arrived after a lengthy import process.

    I mounted my Swarovski 4-16x50 in some Burris signature rings and off I went to Armidale to shoot in the VarTarg… and kill some vermin with it.


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    We both spent a Saturday afternoon at Matt’s private range loading, sighting in and running in our rifle…the joys of owning some land. Then came some load development and hey presto, we had some promising loads. Unfortunately it was a windy and gusty day with 25-25km/h winds with gusts of up to 30km/h. Made creating groups a bit hard.Shooting the 32 Grain Nosler Ballistic Tip and 32 grain Hornady V-Max, the velocity is 3800 fps with a stiff load of Reloader 7 or AR2207. Maximum velocity found was 3824fps.


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    We were both busting to go and get our virgin kills so we trotted over to a neighbours property we had permission to shoot on and we knew a few bunnies would be. Sure enough, just before dusk there were rabbits about everywhere. My fist shot was at a burrow about 170m out the window of the landcruiser off a window rest. CRACK! WHOP! First rabbit down, and my first impression was what a sweet calibre it was to shoot. We shot a dozen or so more before heading home for some tea and preparing for a night spotlighting foxes.


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    Being November, we knew that there were going to be plenty of fox pups so we were prepared for a late night and headed to a property north of Armidale. Matt, my brother Jimmy (shooting a 22PPC in Ruger No1) and I shot 34 foxes that night, and rolled back home to bed about 3am. There were plenty of dumb little pups included in that 34, but we took no prisoners. They all grow up!


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    So to conclude, this caliber has now become a favourite. It’s pleasant, no recoil, great velocity and won’t heat the barrel quickly. Its a cool little critter and hits small game like a road train. smoke

    The only problem I found with the rifle was feeding ammo from the magazine. They would begin to feed but pop out at the last minute and jam up. Even though Matt’s Cooper is a single shot, it was disappointing for me so I began trying some modifications, and after speaking with John Clapham I found a solution. I discarded the plastic Howa follower and used an alloy Remington follower, shortening it at the rear by 10mm and putting a wood block in to shorten up the magazine. it did the trick and she feeds 5 rounds from the mag repeating flawlessly.

    As 221 Fireball brass is only made by Remington and hard to come by at the moment, I have gone to some trouble to form my own brass from the trusty 222. Using Lapua 222 brass and a form die, I formed some up, trimmed them off, neck turned and annealed them. I am yet to use them but I can imagine they will be a good thing. It takes some time to do, but good brass lasts a long time. I am still playing with some loads in pursuit of absolute tack hole accuracy. I will keep this updated when I get there and add some photos of some groups.

    I am writing this and plan on adding and editing it a little with the intention of submitting it to a couple of Magazines (Sporting Shooter & Australian Shooter) so looking for some feedback.

    A big thanks goes out to my gunsmith, John Clapham of JK Precision, Blue Mountains, NSW.
    And my wife Emily for editing…

  • #2
    Nice one VP - I was reading all about it on AHN - I look forward to seeing how it all turns out once you get some loads it likes. (by the way sort those pics out) not easy having to turn the computer on its side to look at em. :lol:

    Cheers mate
    Whacking Varmints is my passion!

    Comment


    • Guest's Avatar
      Guest commented
      Editing a comment
      Yeah for some reason, the pics are correct on my computer - but flip once posted ?? Bit puzzled

      I got a heap more pics but thats all I could do at one time

    • Guest's Avatar
      Guest commented
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      I have figured out I need saving to the computer - but I don't seem to be able to edit this post anyway!

      Originally posted by Varminator" post=39986
      Nice one VP - I was reading all about it on AHN - I look forward to seeing how it all turns out once you get some loads it likes. (by the way sort those pics out) not easy having to turn the computer on its side to look at em. :lol:

      Cheers mate

  • #3
    the vartarg is got to be one of the best small game cartridges around.
    nice write-up.

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    • Guest's Avatar
      Guest commented
      Editing a comment
      Yeah, a good read & a great little project....Well done.

      It had me wondering all the way thru as to how close that would be to a necked down .222 but you kinda answered that at the end. (long time .222 fan here)

      Cheers, Mick.

  • #4
    Nice write up mate and a very nice rifle, I look forward to reading some more about it in the magazine's.

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    • moofy07
      moofy07 commented
      Editing a comment
      Nice presentation mate, the 20 Vartarg is very high up on my next to do list.
      When trimming your cases have you tried a small 2 inch cut off saw. I use one when making my 300Blackout brass and then form the case, after that I use a Possum Hollow trimmer, it really speeds up the process.
      I have used Lapua Brass but have found the ADI 223 brass is equal or even better than the Lapua stuff.

  • #5
    Hey varmintpid,
    i bet the rifle hardly even moves upon firing?
    bet those cross hairs dont even budge.
    i've used a 17fireball, must be similar?

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    • Guest's Avatar
      Guest commented
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      Originally posted by Send-it" post=40445
      Hey varmintpid,
      i bet the rifle hardly even moves upon firing?
      bet those cross hairs dont even budge.
      i've used a 17fireball, must be similar?
      Yep exactly right, it sits and doesn't move a bit. You can watch your shot hit the mark every time.

      It is similar to the fireball but has some more energy

  • #6
    can't use 221 brass?

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    • Guest's Avatar
      Guest commented
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      Yep thats the simplest way, but it is only made by Remington and in demand. Personally I am no fan of Remington, I have used it to get me started cause I got hold of 200. Th other option is to use 17 Fireball and neck up. Still only made by Remington. I am a big believer in good quality brass.

      Lapua is said to be asked to make it but is yet to do so.



      Originally posted by Send-it" post=40573
      can't use 221 brass?
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