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The .22 Hornet
By Tim Siewert
For those who are interested in expanding their personal arsenal I have this recommendation: There is a solution to the continued scarcity of .22 rimfire ammo; the 22 Hornet. The 22 Hornet cartridge was created by Col. Townshend Whelen in 1920. Whelen originally intended it to be a survival cartridge. After WWII, the predecessor of the AR-15, the AR-7, was first chambered for the 22 Hornet and not the .22lr.
As a matter of fact, the 22 Hornet cartridge is far more versatile than having a .22lr and a .22 mag. Most of the time you have to find a specific brand and load that shoots well in any rimfire rifle; and then hope you can find the same later when you need more ammo; unless you stock-up. Sometimes, small-bore shooters go to significant lengths to stock up on ammo that shoots well in their match rifles. I have a good friend, like me he started shooting in high school .22 small-bore. Before the 22 ammo situation got stupid, he went by what he called “the five dollar rule”; if a box of 50 .22lr match ammo sold for $5.00 or more, it was good enough for him for shooting. Now, I would raise that to about $8.00 to $8.50 for a box of 50 quality cartridges. As far as .22 mag ammo is concerned, and match quality .22 mag ammo is not made, I would go by $10.00 or up to be assured that you are getting quality ammo.
There are several rifle makers that presently chamber rifles in 22 Hornet: NEF, Savage, Ruger, and CZ to name a few. The NEF rifles are break-open, single-shot rifles and the others are bolt guns. Unfortunately, the NEF guns are not known for great accuracy; generally one can expect 4” groups at 100 yards. The others though should all be capable of M.O.A. accuracy with the right ammo.
Most 22 Hornet rifles have barrels with a 1 in 16 twist. This is the same twist rate of rimfire barrels. This also means that the Hornet can be loaded with cast bullets to .22lr standard velocity specs and it can be also loaded with jacketed bullets to specs that exceed .22mag specs by 500fps. I have a CZ in 22 Hornet, it shoots sub inch groups at 100 yards with factory ammo and I haven't even done any load testing yet. At one time, the 22 Hornet was even used for bench-rest shooting. There is one other point that shooters of the 22 Hornet should be aware of; rifles made prior to WWII and chambered for the Hornet had either a .222 or .223 bore diameter. Rifles made after WWII almost always have a .224 bore diameter. Since all .22 caliber bullets available for handloading are .224 diameter, you can use .224 diameter bullets in the older rifles but the powder charge should be backed off by at least 10% to avoid dangerous pressures. It is NOT RECOMMENDED to shoot current manufacture factory 22 Hornet ammo in rifles made prior to WWII chambered for the 22 Hornet because this ammo is loaded with .224 bullets and most likely loaded to max or near max pressure levels.
Here are some loads I plan on testing in my rifle:
45 gr. gas-checked cast bullet loads: 2.0 gr. of Red Dot or 700x; 3.2 gr. of Unique; 6.2 gr. of Reloader #7. If you have one of the older rifles in 22 Hornet; you should slug the bore of your rifle and size the bullet accordingly. These loads should yield velocities equal to standard velocity .22lr ammo. You can up the powder charge by 1.5-3.0 grains, depending on powder, to get 1650fps - 2100+fps velocities. Sizing the bullets .0005” oversize may also increase accuracy potential.
40 gr. jacketed with 9.0- 11.0 gr. of WW 296, 2400, or H110; 8.0- 10.0 VVN110.
45 gr. jacketed with 8.5- 10.5 gr. 296, etc.
50 gr. jacketed with 8.0- 10.0 gr. 296, etc.
52-55 gr. jacketed with 8.0- 9.5 gr. 296, etc.
All of the jacketed loads should yield 1800 - 2200+ fps. With a little judicious load testing, it is possible to get 2500+fps with the 45 gr. bullet which far exceeds .22 mag specs.
There are a few things to remember when loading the 22 Hornet or any small capacity case. Any magnum pistol or shotshell powder has the potential for good performance in the Hornet; and any very fast rifle powder such as IMR 4198, AA1680, or VVN110 are also worth a try. I recommend using small rifle match primers; they may be a little more expensive than standard primers but uniformity is the key to accuracy and with such small powder charges this is an even greater issue. The cast bullet loads may fill less than 50% of the case capacity; if this is the situation then I recommend using some light weight filler to fill the resulting void; kapok is best for this if you can find it. Doing this will keep the powder charge in the bottom of the case insuring uniform ignition. The only negative issue with the Hornet is the fact that the case headspaces on the rim. Sometimes this is a hindrance for accuracy. Therefore, I recommend using one brand of case to mitigate variations in head size thereby maximizing uniformity; the secret to accuracy.
I hope that this article has been enlightening. I plan on featuring more articles on specific cartridges in the future. Also, after I do some load testing I will update this one.
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