We recently checked back in with James Gilliland about the .224 Valkyrie round, which last year, he said he believed to be “probably the best AR-15 cartridge that has ever been made.” We found out if James still believes that to be the case, what’s new for the cartridge, what he’d recommend for a deer hunting rifle in the caliber, and much more…
Q: James, thanks for taking the time to check back in with us. It’s been almost a year since we spoke about the .224 Valkyrie cartridge. Can you give us an update on what you’ve been up to, and an update of the cartridge from your point of view?
James Gilliland: Since we talked last time, I’ve been all over the place. I’ve hit about 28 states this year…the majority out west.
We’ve shot a few matches and did o.k., and I’ve been doing a lot of stuff with Federal, seeing all of the stuff they are offering with the .224 Valkyrie cartridge, as well as some of the hunting stuff they are coming out with in other calibers. So, I’ve been busy.
Q: Since we spoke last, I have not seen the interest in .224 Valkyrie taper off at all. If anything, we get more questions on it, and our last conversation did prove to be quite popular. Can you talk about the state of the .224 Valkyrie as it stands today in Fall 2019…from your perspective?
James Gilliland: Like any new anything, there’s always going to be people who, whether because they are traditionalists, or whatever their thing is, they’re going to stick with that. When the 6.5 Creedmoor came out, I really, really wish I had saved some of the screenshots of forums and conversations. I say that because everything that was said about the 6.5 Creedmoor was almost verbatim about what was being said about the .224 Valkyrie. It’s always going to perpetuate like that.
Federal has worked very hard in the last year and first part of this year to refine some things…there were some bullet issues that really, honestly were not Federal’s fault, but rather than point the finger, they ponied up and said “we’re going to do something about this.” They accepted the blame, have corrected the issues and now they are moving forward.
“Catching back up”
There was a lull in the 90-grain Gold Medal Match, and now it’s catching back up with new ammo that is very good. Actually, the first initial load that they came up with is what the current load now is. They had changed it a little bit right before it went to market to fix something that they thought might happen, but it actually made it a little worse…Anyway, they went back to the original load and it fixed all of the issues that could be a potential problem.
Since then, they’ve introduced three new loadings for the cartridge. They’ve got an 80.5 grain Berger bullet which in most 20-22” gas guns is shooting over 2,800 feet per second. It has really good BC and is a really great bullet. It’s going really, really well.
78-Grain Barnes TSX .224 Valkyrie
They have a new 78-grain Barnes Triple Shock hunting bullet that is doing phenomenally well. It’s accurate. Now, it is a solid bullet hunting cartridge but I am still getting at or less than an inch at 100 yards with 5-shot groups with it. It also has really good consistency for an off-the-shelf hunting cartridge. I’m really looking forward to getting into the woods this year and really seeing its performance.
The TSX bullets have performed flawlessly across-the-board in almost everything they have ever been loaded and shot in. With the 78-grain and the speed it is shooting, which is a little over 2,800 feet-per-second, it’s potentially a very awesome medium game cartridge.
I think it would be perfect for deer…especially whitetail deer down here in Georgia. It’s a low-recoil cartridge that’s ideal if you’re a young hunter, or if you have a shoulder injury or something like that and you cannot handle a heavy recoiling rifle. It’s a great, great offering for a hunting rifle.
60-Grain V-Max .224 Valkyrie
For the varminters, they have a third option….it’s a 60-grain V-Max bullet instead of a Nosler ballistic tip. These are doing great on prairie dogs, coyotes and things like that.
But in addition to these three new bullets, the old ones are also still out there as well. They still have the 90-grain Gold Medal Match. They still have the 90-grain Fusion, which is a bonded bullet that has already proved itself in the woods. Then, there is the original 60-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip from the initial offerings.
Q: Are there any other .224 Valkyrie offerings that you can talk about…or from your perspective, is there anything that you’re hoping to see?
James Gilliland: We’re working on doing some more things for .224 Valkyrie potentially next year. Me personally, I’ve been loading some 77-grain Sierra Match Kings and the speeds are great. The .22 caliber 77-grain is a very well-received bullet in the .22 market. A lot of people have been using it for a long time to shoot all kinds of different matches and things like that with.
It’s potentially something that could come out…but that’s information coming from me, not from Federal. But, I am trying to push them that way. That way, if a guy even has an 8-twist barrel because they want to shoot really light bullets in the .224 Valkyrie, this gives them an option to shoot a 77-grain in an 8-twist barrel and still have really, really good stabilization.
Like, I say…it’s a possibility. I’m advocating to Federal for it, but it’s completely up to them to figure out if that’s going to be a viable option.
“Shooters are starting to try it”
More gun manufacturers are coming out with rifles as well as barrels and parts. There are people out there that are just not going to shoot .224 Valkyrie, but for the people who are interested, they are seeing that the options are growing daily and more and more shooters are starting to try it.
Q: Where are you at on barrel length and twist these days on your .224 Valkyrie rifles?
James Gilliland: For me specifically in the AR platform, I really prefer a 20” .224 Valkyrie barrel. I’ve got a few 18” rifles and you really lose more speed than I’d want to out of the .224 Valkyrie. To me, the 20” is still the minimum. 24” is getting a little long. I’ve got one, but a 20” or a 22” is my personal favorite. Generally speaking, if you’ve got a true 7-twist barrel, you should be able to shoot everything that Federal loads…from the 60 all the way to the 90.
If you are doing something specific and you are doing hand-loading, then you can tailor what twist you want…there’s companies that are making everything from 12-twist all the way to a 6-twist for .224 Valkyrie. If you’re going to hand-load and you want to get into heavy bullets like a 95-grain Match King, which is a wonderful bullet, then you are probably going to want to go with a 6.5-twist or something like that.
Q: : If you were going to advise someone on building a general purpose rifle in .224 Valkyrie for something like hunting whitetail deer, what would that build look like?
James Gilliland: Some of my guns are general purpose, and I want to be able to shoot everything in it, and those guns are 7-twist. I’ve got a match gun that I only plan on shooting heavier stuff in, and it has a 6.8-twist barrel. That gives me a little bit more stability on the 90. I had that barrel custom made and I did that only because I had specific things that I knew I wanted to do with it.
For somebody that is doing a .224 Valkyrie build specifically for deer hunting, I really think they could do a 20 or 22 inch barrel and easily get all of the performance out of the cartridge that you could really want, and you’d still have it be maneuverable. Down here in the south, a lot of people hunt in blinds…and to be able to move into and get around inside a blind, you might not want your rifle to be so big and long to where you’re getting it snagged and caught on things.
If all you are going to do is long-range shooting and that’s what you got into .224 Valkyrie for, there is nothing wrong with a 24” barrel. You get all of the performance and you’re not concerned about getting it in and out of tight places.
Q: So, you’re not a fan of the 18” .224 Valkyrie?
On the other end of the spectrum, I do tend to shy away from the 18” barrels. I feel like you lose a lot of potential. Now, if you’re shooting coyotes with a 60-grain out to 300-500 yards, there’s nothing wrong with an 18” barrel. You do lose a little bit of velocity, but not so much that it’s detrimental.
Q: To wrap up, let’s say a builder is on the fence about .224 Valkyrie in 2019…what would you say to them?
James Gilliland: For me personally, I think it’s the best general purpose AR cartridge that has ever been made. The bullets that are out there, and even the off-the-shelf loaded ammunition gives you a huge variety of what you can do.
It’s the only way you can pick up an AR-15 and load up .224 Valkyrie 75-grain plinking ammo and shoot well at anything whether it be a carbine class, at a match or whatever else and burn it down…then go and put 90-grains in it and shoot 1,100 yards and fully intend to hit your target. Not just a “poke-and see”…but “I’m going to hit that target. I’m going to make a good wind call and it will happen.”
The .224 Valkyrie is here to stay. It’s been here for more than two years now. More people are making stuff for it. More manufacturers are making ammo for it. Federal is continuing to do more with the cartridge and is going to give you more offerings with it…so, .224 Valkyrie is going to be here.
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