Harvey Donaldson: Pioneer Benchrester

Harvey Donaldson: Pioneer Benchrester
Harvey A. Donaldson (1883–1972) devoted his life to improving rifle shooting through dogged determination, innovative cartridge designs, and technical advances.

In response to my recent column on gunsmith and wildcatter P.O. Ackley, reader David Buck asked for information about another wildcatter named Harvey Donaldson. Shooting Times readers likely will associate that name with the .219 Donaldson Wasp cartridge. I’ll get to the cartridge in a few minutes, but here’s what I have learned about the man.

Harvey A. Donaldson was born on April 6, 1883, in Fultonville, New York. He attended public school in Fultonville, the Peekskill Military Academy, and the Albany Business College. He worked as a machinist and toolmaker, but shooting was his life.

Donaldson took up the exacting sport of Schuetzen target shooting in 1895 and pursued it diligently through 1915, focusing on 200-yard offhand shooting. He began handloading ammunition in about 1900 and handmade his own arbor press loading tool. Later he developed specific methods of benchrest shooting that were conducive to achieving the best results. For example, he discovered that resting the heavy, long barrel of a Schuetzen rifle on a shooting rest did not negatively affect accuracy and also discovered that fliers could be caused by uneven case neck thicknesses.

Donaldson was ahead of his time in wildcatting for accuracy and fathered at least 15 wildcat cartridges. He worked with cast bullets and also was swaging jacketed bullets by 1906. A proponent of 100 percent load density in the cartridges, he developed and pioneered using a funnel with a long stem in order to load more powder into a cartridge case. He also worked on primers and ignition.

Donaldson developed the rimmed .219 Donaldson Wasp cartridge during the late 1930s, and it became quite popular among match shooters in the 1940s. It is based on the .219 Zipper, which is a .22-caliber wildcat formed by necking down the .25-35 Winchester case. The .219 Donaldson Wasp is considered by many to be the grandfather of benchrest cartridges.

Winchester introduced the .219 Zipper in 1937, and Donaldson quickly modified the body of the case to increase its powder capacity from about 24 grains to 28 grains of IMR 3031. Donaldson’s cartridge provided higher velocity and improved accuracy. He later lengthened the case neck by about 0.03 inch, with the resulting case length being 1.750 inches. The .219 Donaldson Wasp typically pushes a 45-grain 0.224-inch-diameter bullet at a muzzle velocity of 3,560 fps, and it has generally been chambered in falling-block single-shot rifles. At least two other versions of the .219 Donaldson Wasp came to be, both created by wildcatters other than Donaldson.

Donaldson was a good scientist in his study of rifle shooting, but he was subjective at times. He started writing about what he was learning before 1900, and eventually he wrote many articles for American Rifleman and Handloader magazines.

A person of great energy, Donaldson enjoyed driving sports cars and racing motorcycles. He collected fine firearms. And he loved hunting upland birds with shotguns as well as hunting woodchucks with high-powered .22-caliber rifles.

Donaldson passed away on November 6, 1972, at the ripe old age of 89. He was a great shooter. He was a creative innovator. But most importantly, he never stopped searching for ways to improve his shooting equipment and his shooting skills. Harvey A. Donaldson stopped shooting only when he could no longer sit at a benchrest and concentrate on a target’s bullseye for long hours.

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