January 28, 2018
Sitting on the rifle range for the start of a December 2017 Mossy Oak hunt at Vatoville, a sprawling 9,300+ acre ranch about an hour's drive from San Angelo, there were several rifle options to test out before the chase for a good Texas whitetail began.
In one corner was the rifle caliber I'm most familiar with, a Savage Arms bolt action chambered in 30.06. Aware of what that gun can do — both in terms of ballistics and shoulder thump — I continued looking.
Next up was a Savage bolt action chambered in the 6.5 Creedmoor, perhaps the hottest rifle cartridge in America these days. Not having the caliber in my gun cabinet, I reached for this rifle and fired off several shots at paper downrange at 100-yards. Satisfied with the results, I almost called it good and went to don my Mossy Oak camo as snow flurries flew in the chilly Lone Star State air.
That's when JJ Reich, communications manager for Vista Outdoor (the parent company of Federal Premium Ammunition and Savage Arms) stopped me and said, "Why don't you give the new 224 Valkyrie cartridge a try?"
Several shots later, I was greatly impressed with the round's low recoil and accuracy. Since I'll be the first to note that I'm not a Jack O'Connor-style gun writer, suffice it to say that if I can shoot good groups with this round, then anyone can.
Over the next couple of days, I was able to learn more about the brand-new cartridge, one that is blistering fast, offers great accuracy even at extended ranges, and gives great bullet expansion upon impact. Add in low recoil and the round is perfect for smaller and moderate sized game, including Texas Hill Country whitetails that field dress around 125-pounds, give or take.
While I did eventually opt for the 6.5 Creedmoor — partly to please the boss, Jeff Phillips, one of the cartridge's biggest fans and partly because others in camp wanted to give the new 224 Valkyrie cartridge a try — it wouldn't take long for me to see firsthand results as to what the new round can do for a whitetail hunter.
First up was Tim Harmsen of the Military Arms Channel, who opted to test the cartridge out on the hunt's first night.
With cloudy, cold conditions and the occasional snow flurry, Harmsen would use the 224 Valkyrie in a 90-grain Federal Premium Ammunition Gold Medal Sierra MatchKing bullet shot from a new Savage MSR 15 Recon rifle. With that combination, he would down a high tined eight-point buck followed up by a doe, becoming perhaps the first person to take a big game critter with the new round anywhere in America.
The next day, as sunshine brightened the Texas sky and moderated temperatures a bit despite a stiff northerly wind, it was Reich's turn as he used the 224 Valkyrie to down a high-racked 10-pointer and a doe.
In all four instances, the results from the Federal Ammunition 90-grain loads were accurate shots, deadly downrange punch at impact, and quick, humane harvests of four Lone Star State whitetails.
Ok, if that's what happened out in the field, what are some of the numbers that rifle enthusiasts and reloaders want to know about?
After talking to Reich in camp, looking at the press releases given out, and seeing the results out in the field, there is much to like about the 224 Valkyrie cartridge.
Why is that? For starters, this is a very fast round coming out of the barrel. According to data supplied by Reich, when the 90-grain Federal Ammunition Fusion bullet is fired out of a 24-inch test barrel with a 1:7 twist, the round has an estimated 2,700 fps (feet per second) muzzle velocity that remains supersonic out to approximately 975 yards.
Why is that last fact important?
"The longer you can fly faster than the speed of sound, the more you can maximize the accuracy and ballistics the bullet is designed to provide," notes Jim Gilliland, a well-known long-range shooter and a brand ambassador for Federal Premium. "Once a bullet falls into subsonic flight, it's much harder to hit your target."
Next, Reich indicates that the 224 Valkyrie is designed around bullets that feature aerodynamic designs, shown by top-end ballistic coefficient (BC) ratings typically found with bigger caliber bullets. In layman's terms, the BC ratings simply tell the tale of how well the bullet flies downrange — the higher the number, the better the bullet flight.
"In practical terms, elevated BCs help the bullet shoot flatter, buck the wind better and hit harder when it reaches the target," notes Reich, talking about characteristics important to a Texas deer hunter.
What about downrange terminal performance when the bullet arrives on target?
"For hunters targeting medium-sized game like deer and hogs, the 90-grain Fusion produces 1,457 foot-pounds at the muzzle, retains 605 foot-pounds at 500 yards, and 250 foot-pounds as it falls below supersonic at 975 yards," notes Reich.
Ok, so the round packs plenty of punch, but at what cost with recoil?
"On that front, the 224 Valkyrie provides comparable ballistics as larger counterparts like the 6.5 Creedmoor — but with as little as half the felt recoil," said Reich.
Reich noted that when shot from a scoped Savage MSR 15 Recon rifle weighing 9.64 pounds, the 90-grain Fusion MSR bullet generates 4.35 foot-pounds of felt recoil.
It's important to note that the 224 Valkyrie's mild recoil isn't just pleasant on a middle-aged shoulder like mine — there's also a great added benefit to a hunter if a follow up shot is necessary.
"Lower recoil allows you to see where your shots are going through the scope and make follow-up shots as needed, rather than having to reset your sight picture like you might have to with a heavier recoiling round," notes Federal Premium development engineer Jacob Burns.
I could go on since the 224 Valkyrie cartridge is a superb performer for those that like to test out their long-range shooting skills at the range where steel targets might be 1,000-yards downrange. In fact, Reich says that the new cartridge will offer 1,000-yard-plus accuracy out of gas driven MSR 15s and short-action bolt guns, getting shooters into the long-range game without hefty recoil and price tags.
Speaking of price tags, for the budget minded hunter, the 224 Valkyrie is also a relatively economical round when compared to other long-range cartridges. According to information supplied by Reich, boxes of 20 cartridges will run from $13.95 (75-grain American Eagle TMJ) to $28.95 (90-grain Fusion MSR) to $29.95 (60-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip) to $31.95 (90-grain Gold Medal Sierra MatchKing). What's more, the Savage Arms MSR 15 checks in with two models — the Patrol and the Recon — with both carrying price MSRP price tags of under $1,000.
With the combination of long-range ballistics, low felt recoil, superb terminal accuracy and reasonable economics in terms of rifles and bullets, there's much to like about this new 224 Valkyrie cartridge. That includes what I like most at the end of a whitetail hunt — a good buck hanging on the meat pole with heavy antlers heading for the taxidermist's shop and a fresh supply of tasty venison being packaged up for the freezer.