The Hornet Still Stings
January 04, 2011
My story last month on FN's 5.7x28mm cartridge got me to reminiscing about my beloved .22 Hornet. It also made me wonder why, with all the Hornet has going for it, this fine cartridge has become lost in the wake of newer, hotter small-bore speedsters. After all, the Hornet is more deadly than the .17 rimfires, and it's considerably easier on the ears and the wallet than hotrods like the .220 Swift or .22-250 Remington. So why has its popularity waned?
Clearly, the .22 Hornet can't compare to the .220 Swift or .22-250 in the trajectory department. But I don't use it for long-range prairie dog work. Instead, I reserve it for calling coyotes and busting jackrabbits where the majority of my shots are less than 100 yards.
I try to limit my shots with the .22 Hornet to inside 175 yards. Its low downrange energy is one reason; another is its problematic trajectory beyond 150 yards. For example, Winchester's 45-grain softpoint load drops a hair more than 2 inches at 150 yards with a 100-yard zero. By the time it reaches the 200-yard mark, it drops almost 8 inches. Hitting a ground-hog, crow, or jackrabbit beyond 200 yards with the Hornet is hardly a sure thing.
Though Winchester's 45-grain softpoint factory load has been around a long time and isn't as sleek or sexy as some newer offerings, it is the load I still feed my Hornet rifle. With a velocity of 2,690 fps and muzzle energy of 723 ft-lbs, it's deadly on coyotes, crows, and even javelinas. I must confess that it is not quite as accurate in my Browning Micro Hunter as Hornady's 35-grain V-Max load, but it's accurate enough, and I believe it's more lethal on bigger game like coyotes and javelinas.
The author's Browning Micro Hunter really likes Hornady's 35-grain V-Max load. Groups like this 0.48-inch one (top) are the norm on calm days, but the wind is hard on those lightweight bullets. The 1.22-inch group (bottom) was fired from the same Micro Hunter with the same load on a windy day.
That 35-grain Hornady load is my favorite for smaller game like jackrabbits and prairie dogs. It launches that pointy V-Max bullet at 3,100 fps. With a 200-yard zero, it hits just 2.8 inches high at 100 yards and drops 17.1 inches at 300 yards. It won't even pretend to keep up with the .204 Ruger or .22-250 in a busy prairie dog town, but it's a lot more fun to use on close-in prairie dogs.
Perhaps the Hornet's most endearing traits are its mild recoil and low report. It has so little recoil that just about anyone can shoot it, and its minimal muzzle blast isn't likely to induce a flinch either. It's also the perfect tool for calling predators at night, where its mild report isn't likely to spook game for the morning hunt. That quiet report also means shots at the second or third coyote or fox to come to the call happen more frequently than with a bigger round.
Hornet detractors say the .22 Hornet is not an accurate cartridge. Truth be told, they're right...sort of.
The Hornet's long neck and gently sloping shoulder are not traits I would design into any cartridge. But in my opinion, the biggest problem is that the difference between the minimum and maximum SAAMI spec for the .22 Hornet is too great.
A tight chamber is essential for accuracy in a Hornet, so the difference between a tight chamber and ammunition on the maximum side of SAAMI spec can be a real problem. For example, fired brass from my buddy's rifle will not chamber in my Browning Micro Hunter. My gun is a real shooter, whereas his, for obvious reasons, isn't.
The .22 Hornet can definitely sting small game at reasonable distances. And it does it without much recoil or noise.
Handloading is the best way to wring the most accuracy out of your Hornet. My favorite powder is Hodgdon's Lil'Gun. Originally designed for .410 shotguns, Lil'Gun is a mild powder that's magic in the Hornet. My pet load is the 45-grain Sierra Hornet bullet over 12.8 grains of Lil'Gun. That's just below the listed maximum charge, but my Browning shoots it so well that I've never bothered to add more powder.
Regardless of which powder you choose, work up your Hornet loads slowly. As with all small-cased cartridges, the difference between minimum and maximum loads is small. Work your way up in 0.1-grain increments for safety's sake.
I use standard Small Rifle primers, but some shooters claim excellent results with benchrest primers, and other .22 Hornet fans swear by Small Pistol primers. The theory is that the smaller primer ignites the powder more efficiently than the larger benchrest and Small Rifle primers. Don't hesitate to experiment if you aren't getting the accuracy you want from your Hornet.
The .22 Hornet is more lethal than the .17 HMR, and it's easier on the ears and the wallet than the .223 Remington.
I prefer 45-grain bullets for all-around use. Lighter bullets are not as effective on coyotes, and they lack punch beyond 200 yards, while heavier bullets must be seated so deeply that velocity suffers. My rifle likes Sierra's 45-grain Hornet bullet, although I have used 40-grain bullets by Hornady, Nosler, and Speer with great success. Be sure to choose bullets designed with the Hornet in mind. Their thinner jackets will ensure maximum energy transfer on small game at Hornet velocities.
I never run my fired .22 Hornet cases through a full-length resizing die unless I have to because, in my experience, neck sizing produces the best accuracy. And fireforming that long neck to your chamber can greatly improve accuracy.
Finally, finish off your Hornet loads with a good crimp because the Hornet's thin neck doesn't have a strong enough purchase on the bullet. A good crimp will ensure that bullet is nice and tight for consistent shot-to-shot velocities and better accuracy.
If you're a velocity nut or a long-range prairie-poodle shooter, the .22 Hornet probably is
n't for you. But if you want to smoke varmints at reasonable ranges with a minimum of muzzle blast and recoil, the .22 Hornet is tough to beat.