.22 Hornet is Still Going Strong

.22 Hornet is Still Going Strong
Created in the late 1920s, the .22 Hornet pushes a 45-grain bullet at a muzzle velocity of 2,650 fps. It has survived the test of time and is still an excellent small-game round.
Unlike many of my cohorts in this racket, my father was never much of a mentor when it came to guns. He was a fisherman, although he did own a .22 and a 12 gauge, both single shots, which he passed on to me when I was 14. He also told me, more than once, that when he was a teenager in the 1930s what he really wanted was a .22 Hornet.

Even by the 1960s, the .22 Hornet was passé, eclipsed by the .222 Remington and the like. Sophisticated teenager that I was, studying the gospel in Shooting Times, I considered the Hornet to be in a class with the Model T while the .222 Remington Magnum was the Ford Mustang of the shooting world.

It seems odd, then, that 55 years later the .22 Hornet is very much still with us, whereas the .222 Rem. Mag. is nearly obsolete and the revered .222 Rem. is on the endangered list.



The answer lies in the essential nature of the .22 Hornet. It’s not a woodchuck-blasting hotshot, nor a benchrest ace. Its effective range is about 175 yards on a good day. Typically loaded with a 45-grain bullet at a velocity of 2,650 fps, it is hardly a coyote cartridge. Its virtues are that it is relatively quiet, has little if any recoil, lends itself to every kind of rifle from a break-action single shot to an exquisite Ferlach double, and affords anyone the opportunity to learn to handload with a cartridge that repays the effort in spades. It is, paradoxically, both a beginner’s gun and a connoisseur’s rifle. And most important, it is probably the most fun to shoot of any centerfire .22.


The .22 Hornet was born at an unlikely time in the most unlikely way: the brainchild of Capt. Grosvenor Wotkyns at Springfield Arsenal in the late 1920s. Captain Wotkyns started with the old blackpowder .22 WCF, loaded the case with smokeless powder, and built an experimental rifle using a converted Martini rimfire action fitted with a Springfield 1922 training-rifle barrel rechambered from .22 Long Rifle. Thus was born the very first high-velocity .22 for varmint shooting. (The .22 Savage Hi-Power, from 1911, was primarily a big-game cartridge.)


Highly unusual at the time, Winchester adopted the .22 Hornet and began producing ammunition before any commercial rifle was chambered for it. That was not the Hornet’s only “first.” In 1940 Lysle Kilbourn had the bright idea of reaming out the chamber and fireforming brass to provide greater powder capacity and higher velocity. The result was the .22 K-Hornet, the first so-called “improved” cartridge to really make a mark.

Hercules 2400 powder, introduced in 1933, was so named because it delivered 2,400 fps in the Hornet with a 45-grain bullet. It is still with us and still a good Hornet powder.


At various times, factory-made .22 Hornet ammunition has been hard to come by, and during those times, it has been a purely handloading proposition with new empty cases only available from Europe (5.56x36R). In handloading for it, there are a couple of anomalies to keep in mind. One is that many older .22 Hornet rifles have bores that are 0.223 inch rather than 0.224, stemming from the first rechambered .22 LR barrels. Also, around 1950, .22 Hornet brass was redesigned to make it stronger, with thicker walls, less powder capacity, and, hence, higher pressures. Great care should be taken with any loading data from the 1940s and before; it can cause serious pressure spikes with modern brass. Combine those two factors and you’re asking for trouble.

Modern rifles available include the on-again off-again Ruger 77/22, the CZ-USA 527, and the Savage Lightweight Varminter. As it approaches its 100th birthday, the .22 Hornet is more vibrant today than it was in 1963 and is still just about the best centerfire around for taking the heads off fat squirrels intended for the stew pot or armadillos invading the back lot.

It’s a bit belated, perhaps, but it appears my father knew something I didn’t. Can you imagine?

Recommended for You

You don't have to spend a fortune to make Rifles

Accurize It

Greg Rodriguez - March 11, 2011

You don't have to spend a fortune to make "Ole Betsy" shoot better.

Browning, Ruger, Brownells and more have new rifles from long-range precision rifles through cool autoloaders and lever actions to inline muzzleloaders this year. Rifles

22 New Rifles for 2019

Joseph von Benedikt

Browning, Ruger, Brownells and more have new rifles from long-range precision rifles through...

The new striker-fired STR-9 9mm semiautomatic pistol from Stoeger Industries is reliable, ergonomic, accurate, and priced right. Handguns

Stoeger STR-9 Review

Joel J. Hutchcroft - May 17, 2019

The new striker-fired STR-9 9mm semiautomatic pistol from Stoeger Industries is reliable,...

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

The Glock 21

The Glock 21

Frank and Tony from Gallery of Guns spice up the Glock test using their non-dominant hands.

The Future Of Special Operations Small Arms

The Future Of Special Operations Small Arms

We're taking a look at what the Army's Elite Units are using for service rifles and what the future of SOCOM sniping looks like.

All About .300 Blackout

All About .300 Blackout

The .300 Blackout is here to stay, and we take some time to look at new technology surrounding this cartridge. Next, we pit subsonic rivals against each other before stretching the legs of this CQB round out to 600 yards from a short 9-inch barrel.

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories

Cutting-edge projectiles provide unprecedented performance in the venerable old workhorse, the .30-06. Ammo

Get the Most Out of the .30-06

Joseph von Benedikt - April 01, 2019

Cutting-edge projectiles provide unprecedented performance in the venerable old workhorse, the...

The new striker-fired STR-9 9mm semiautomatic pistol from Stoeger Industries is reliable, ergonomic, accurate, and priced right. Handguns

Stoeger STR-9 Review

Joel J. Hutchcroft - May 17, 2019

The new striker-fired STR-9 9mm semiautomatic pistol from Stoeger Industries is reliable,...

Harvey A. Donaldson may be best known for his .219 Donaldson Wasp wildcat cartridge, but during his lifetime he was popularly called the “pioneer benchrester.”  Gunsmithing

Harvey Donaldson: Pioneer Benchrester

Joel J. Hutchcroft - May 07, 2019

Harvey A. Donaldson may be best known for his .219 Donaldson Wasp wildcat cartridge, but...

See More Stories

More Ammo

Created in 1958, the .338 Winchester Magnum vastly outperformed any previous commercial medium-caliber cartridge. Ammo

The .338 Winchester Magnum

Allan Jones - February 20, 2019

Created in 1958, the .338 Winchester Magnum vastly outperformed any previous commercial...

Considering how popular the .270 Winchester has become, it's a great mystery why more cartridges of its caliber have not been introduced. Ammo

Five Great .270 Cartridges

Layne Simpson - May 28, 2019

Considering how popular the .270 Winchester has become, it's a great mystery why more...

This great, old foreign military 6.5mm rifle cartridge is the one that opened the door. Ammo

6.5x55 Swedish Mauser Rifle Ammo

Allan Jones - April 04, 2019

This great, old foreign military 6.5mm rifle cartridge is the one that opened the door.

See More Ammo

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

×