Lights out at long range, the .224 Valkyrie might leave some wanting at more pedestrian distances.
When it comes to long-range shooting, what cartridge do you turn to? For the everyman, maybe the 6.5 Creedmoor. For the competitor, perhaps 6mm Dasher. For the independently wealthy, possibly the .375 CheyTac. For the AR-15 owner … that’s where things get interesting.
For many years, owners of America’s favorite rifle were stuck when it came to reaching out with the eminently flexible firearm. That’s surprising given that for more than a half-century the AR-15 has been nearly all things to all shooters. But it took the better part of the rifle’s rise for a dedicated cartridge meant to put copper-jacketed lead on target at the horizon to come about. Of course, here we’re alluding to the new(ish) .224 Valkyrie.
While the cartridge has yet to achieve the notoriety of some of its AR-15 cohorts—5.56 NATO and 300 Blackout especially. The ballistically talented .22-caliber has still carved out a solid and respectable niche in the world of semi-auto rifles. When it comes to downrange performance, without having to jump up to the AR-10, there are few other cartridges that hold a candle to the .224 Valkyrie. That said, it’s not for everybody.
Valkyrie Takes Flight
Wait a tick … what do you mean the cartridge isn’t for every shooter? Don’t take it the wrong way. If you can’t live without a .224 Valkyrie in your arsenal, don’t let anything hold you back—especially digital ink. However, if you’re wary about how and what you lay your hard-earned cash down on, then you might need to consider a few things about the cartridge.
A good place to start, as always, is the beginning.
Federal Ammunition introduced the .224 Valkyrie in 2018 with great fanfare and a bold promise: supersonic performance out to 1,300 yards. They weren’t the first to soup up the good old .224 caliber—the year previous to the Valkyrie hitting the scene Nosler unveiled its blistering hot Nosler 22. But how Federal aimed to reach its goals varied substantially from its competitor. Whereas the Nosler 22 achieves its goals through pure brute force—larger case capacity—the .224 Valkyrie is more nuanced. The case capacity offers a modest improvement over the tried-and-true 5.56/.223, but the secret sauce is bullet weight. A ceiling around 90-grains, the .224 Valkyrie offered up longer and sleeker bullets, with those high-value ballistic coefficients (BC) that buck air resistance and wind drift. Again, nothing new.
Daring handloaders have upped their projectile’s weight for years, but in the case of the .223 Remington and the AR-15 it typically came at a cost. In particular, maximizing a power charge generally meant incompatibility with standard AR magazines, due to increased case overall length. Conversely, if the bullet was seated deeper in the case powder was displaced, resulting in less velocity. Not exactly what shooters signed up for with the platform.
Federal had an elegant solution, keeping specs in line with the rifle, without compromising capacity. Enter the 6.8 SPC. The child of the old, rimless .30-30 (the .30 Remington) had already shown a smooth operator out of the AR-15, requiring minimal modification from the mil-spec formula. Federal just continued to neck the case down to hold a .224-diameter bullet to produce a cartridge that functioned in the platform and sent its rounds way downrange.
Even better, the cartridge required little muddling with the AR itself to make the jump. A bolt upgrade to handle the .224 Valkyrie’s 422-inch case head and a new set of mags specific to the rotund cartridge were in order. Other than that it was off to the races.
For their efforts to embrace the new long flier how were shooters repaid? From Federal’s initially ballyhoo with performance that rivaled the 6.5 Creedmoor. There didn’t stretch the truth about it either. From a 24-inch barrel, with a 90-grain bullet moving 2,700 fps at the muzzle, the Valkyrie easily reaches 1,300-yard supersonic making it a legitimate long-range threat. But like all things in life, to achieve those results there are tradeoffs.
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.224 Valkyrie Ballistics
If you were paying attention to the above numbers, you might have caught a little something odd. Barrel length. Whichever way you slice it, a 24-inch barrel on an AR-15 is mighty long. But to get the Valkyrie singing, plenty of bore is required. Even a small deviation has consequences. An example.
Take 24-inch barrel and 18-inch barrel rifles shooting the same .224 Valkyrie load, in this case Hornaday’s 88-grain Match round topped with its excellent ELD bullet (.545 BC G1). From the longer barrel, the bullet leaves the muzzle at around 2,675 fps and the shorter somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,555 fps. As expected, the extra 125 fps out of the 24-inch barrel shoots much flatter. With a 100-yard zero, the two are nearly neck and neck at 500-yards, but by 1,000 yards the 24-inch barreled rifle drops somewhere around 60-inches less than its compatriot. Additionally, the 18-inch barrel goes sub-sonic at 1,200 yards, while the 24-inch barrel nearly makes it to 1,300 yards.
To be sure, there is some hair-splitting in this comparison. Nevertheless, for those who take weight and wieldiness of a rifle into account, it’s worth keeping in mind. Plus, there’s a little matter of where the .224 Valkyrie falls out at pedestrian ranges, especially for those who might apply the cartridge to more than shooting a country mile. Let’s parse that out with another example.
Match the same Hornady load as before against the 5.56 NATO 62-grain M855 Green Tip (.305 BC G1, roughly). Here we’ll launch the 5.56 from a 16-inch carbine, which pushes the bullet out around 2,946 fps and the Valkyrie from the 24-inch barrel, with its previous performance standards. It goes without saying, the .224 Valkyrie outperforms at long-range, expected given the lighter 5.56 goes sub-sonic at 800 yards. Before then, we observe something interesting. The 5.56 has a marginally flatter trajectory than its heavier compatriot at intermediate ranges. It’s only surpassed by the Valkyrie beyond the 400-yard mark and tracks the heavier bullet’s trajectory closely until 500 yards. Salient, especially since the 5.56 accomplishes this feat from a rifle boasting a barrel 8-inches shorter and presumably much lighter than the Valkyrie gun.
For dedicated long-range shooters, the concern about barrel length probably falls on deaf ears. For many, large rifles are not an issue and, given the extra weight, are perhaps desirable in ensuring accurate follow-up shots on the quick. But for a hunter who has to shimmy up to a tree during deer season or hump more than a mile to a coyote stand—both of which won’t likely take a shot over 400 yards—the extra burden becomes questionable.
Who’s It For?
Federal cooked up the .224 Valkyrie as a long-range option fit to compete against some of the most popular precision cartridges on the market. All in all, the cartridge hits this nail on the head. The AR-15 shooter looking to compete in the Precision Rifle Series gas-gun section or reach out to the rifle’s limits would do well investing in a complete build or an upper.
More practical-minded shooters might have to give the cartridge more thought. The .224 Valkyrie is a lights-out hunter and more than capable of owning middle ranges. But shooters must realize the cartridge mirrors more common AR-15 cartridges in those roles—at least in respect to trajectory—and does so from a much larger rifle. All in all, expect most .224 Valkyrie rifles and uppers to boast 18-plus-inch barrels—the majority greater than 20 inches.
There’s also a little matter of ammunition costs. Certainly, 2021 (when this article was written) has seen inflated ammunition costs, no matter the cartridge. In saner times, however, the 5.56 can be shot for penny’s on the dollar, while the .224 Valkyrie will command more than $1 per trigger pull with anything but the lightest range ammo.
The .224 Valkyrie rounded out the AR-15, legitimately getting it on par with other popular long-range platforms. But like everything pertaining to guns (and life) getting the most out of the specialist required tradeoffs—some of them not in line with every shooter. Similar to any other gun or cartridge conversation, only you can evaluate if those tradeoffs make sense.
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