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22 Hornet


Standardized as the 22 Hornet in 1930, folks in Europe first experimented with what became the 22 Hornet about 1900. The Hornet resulted from that and later work done in the U. S. by luminaries at Springfield Armory in the 1920s. Everyone involved was working with the 22 WCF case, introduced along with the 1885 Winchester single-shot, falling-block rifle and originally loaded with blackpowder and a bullet of 0.228-inch diameter. The goal was to create a modern, smokeless round suitable for varminting and target use.

The original version used 22 Rimfire barrels. Because of this, bullet diameter was 0.222-inch and twist rate was 16-inch. Until quite recently, SAAMI and CIP specifications called for that bore size and that twist rate.

After many decades, specifications were changed and new Hornet rifles feature conventional 0.224-inch groove-diameter barrels. Still many newer guns have the original 16-twist, which prevents accurate use with pointed bullets heavier than 40 grains.



With the limited usable case capacity and pressure of the Hornet case, it would seem limiting pointed bullets to 40-grains is not much of a restriction. However, I happen to be building a 22 K-Hornet that will have a 30-inch barrel with a faster twist so I can take advantage of the approximately 100% higher BC offered by Hornady 62-grain varminting bullet. At the longest feasible Hornet varminting distances, such a load will deliver significantly better results, at least that is my theory. We will see.

When it comes to nostalgia, it is hard to surpass the Hornet. As a dedicated varmint hunter, I can attest that very few serious fellow varminters who do not own a Hornet have not wanted to own one. When loaded with the best modern components, the Hornet can do far more than most shooters would believe and it often offers far more performance than the average shooter can take advantage of.

In the Improved, K-Hornet configuration, it is even better because that design allows the handloader to move headspace control to the case shoulder and eliminates the need for full-length case resizing when reusing the same cases in the same rifle. By using a custom Lee Collet Neck Die (CND), I have never had to full-length resize or trim a case and I have never lost a case to a head separation.

My 527, from the CZ Custom Shop, has a 28-inch barrel and shoots better than half-MOA while launching the 40-grain Hornady V-Max faster than most folks would believe. As of this writing, while it took me two wasted shots to get on target, my last two witnessed shots with it accounted for two instant kills on prairie dogs at 506 yards. So, if the question is: what can the Hornet do? The answer is: far more than most shooters would believe.

One final note, while the Hornet has been unfortunately neglected in the U. S., with both ammunition and guns often built with dismal quality, in Europe, the Hornet has always been considered a Target-Chambering and both guns and ammunition are built to accordingly high standards. In Europe, the Hornet is still one of the most commonly used centerfire target cartridges.

The poor opinion of the Hornet held by many folks who have owned and shot Hornet rifles and factory ammunition made in the U. S. stems from the almost total lack of quality control that was formerly common for Hornet-chambered rifles and was ubiquitous for Hornet ammunition. As serious European marksmen well know, things are different on that side of the pond; rifle and ammunition makers there use utmost care in production of those items.

Lee Precision customers have seen startling improvements in accuracy with Hornet loads when they use the Lee Factory Crimp Die (FCD) to correctly apply a crimp after bullet seating. My belief is: this result occurs because such a crimp can limit how far the primer blast moves the bullet before charge ignition begins.

The text associated with the cartridge description reflects opinions and conclusions of the author, M.L. (Mic) McPherson. Lee Precision and its employees do not necessarily either agree or disagree with any of his comments. We present these with due deference to his recognized expertise in the firearms field. His acumen extends to handloading and all aspects of ballistics - internal, external, and terminal.
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