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Wildcatting: Mighty Midget

Wildcatting: Mighty Midget

Some calibres refuse to retire despite their age and that is usually because they were designed right in the first place and still have a relevance today. This includes the 6.5x55 Swedish that is now fashionable again, the .220 Swift, which is still a stonking varmint calibre and the small understated .22 centrefire with a sting in its name, the Hornet.

Old timer

Despite its mild velocity figures by today`s standards and out dated, rimmed and long and tapered case design, the Hornet still has its followers and even more so since the newer .17 Hornet! It was first chambered by Winchester in 1930. But its lineage can be traced back to 1885 when the same case dimensions were charged with 13-grains of black powder under a 45-grain lead bullet and called the .22 W.C.F. (Winchester Centre Fire).

This load gave about 1600 fps with the 45-grain bullet producing an uninspiring 261 ft/lbs. However the inception of smokeless powder gave it a new lease of life and it rose to new heights ballistically speaking. The Germans wasted no time in converting to the new powder and named the round the 5.6x35R. This increased velocity to 2600fps and with the same bullet weight you could now expect near treble the energy at 686 ft/lbs.

Now you had a very useable little round that was economical to shoot/reload, had little felt recoil and would not annoy your neighbours with its mild muzzle report. It won a lot of favour for rebarreling shot out Rook rifles or single barrelled European rifles due to its sizeable rimmed case for positive ejection.

Neither fish nor fowl

Pigeon holing the Hornet was always the problem, as it was above rimfire velocities, yet not as pokey as most other .22 centrefires. For example, as a rabbit gun it had too much energy, whilst for any thing larger you could be forgiven in passing up the Hornet in favour for say the larger.222 Rem.

But realistically do you really need a more powerful round if the ranges are short? Let’s take the .17 HMR rimfire now entrenched into the British shooting scene, at the same ranges the Hornet shoots a heavier bullet with more authority without going over the top, so one shot humane kills were far more predictable. More importantly, it’s reloadable enabling a variety of handloads to be utilised.

The effective range however is about 200 yds, 250 yds is stretching things, so if game is encountered more often at these longer ranges then sure, go for the larger .22 centre fires. The Hornet fits into a very tight niche as a very effective short range fox gun or vermin rifle that is relatively cheap to run and quiet to shoot.

Into its own

This is where the Hornet really comes into its own, as if you look at the velocity figures I obtained from the test gun, the factory loaded ammo actually ambled along whereas a good handload can really get that Hornet stinging. Because of the very slow 1 in 16” twist rate it’s unable to stabilise heavier bullets very well, such as the 55 or even 60-grain slugs. Best to stick to the 35, 40 and 45 grainers, as these give the best compromise between velocity and energy figures combined with flattest trajectories.

With the Hornet being a small case and bore you have to be careful with seating depth of the bullet as 0.1” changes can make a big difference in pressure. Also, some maximum loads will require a long drop tube or swirling reload technique to settle the powder in the case, otherwise compressed loads will result.

The Hornet is a darling to to reload for; frugal on powder but a bit fiddly to seat bullets, so de-burr and chamfer the necks well.

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The calibre was usually loaded with special Hornet bullets of 45-grains weight but their G1 form was pretty shoddy in the low 0.100 ballistic coefficient (BC) range. Today, we are blessed with better designs and more choice and even lead-free options that turn this old timer into an even better round and more relevant to today’s shooting needs.

Weights and type

The Hornady 35-grain V-MAX, either reloaded or used as a factory loaded Varmint Extreme ammunition, offers the highest velocity and for short range, dependable, highly frangible results where a ricochet would be undesirable. The only draw back is the lighter stubbier bullet has a low BC of just 0.109 and thus is blown about more by the wind at longer range. The 35-grainV-MAX can be sent flying at 3000 fps but that’s from a 24” barrel. However the Venom custom TC Contender spat them out at nearly 2800 fps.

The new NTX 35-grain bullet is a different proposition, as this has a boat tail design that increases the BC to 0.177 over the same weight V-MAX. A load of 10-grains of Vit N110 worked well for 2724 fps and 577 ft/lbs energy. I really like this bullet, it has lots of applications. The Barnes Varmint Grenades are available in 30-grain Hornet weights but I could only source the 36-grain bullets I have used successfully in .222 and .223 loads.

The 40-grain bullets are good, here the V-MAX is king and BCs of 0.200 increase down range efficiency, here the best load was the 11-grains of Lil’Gun powder for 2703 fps, this is a great crow or fox medicine.

Skip it

I skipped the 45gr weight bullets in favour of the better 50 grain V-MAXs, which offer a good, hard-hitting bullet despite its slower velocity. Its BC of 0.242 ensures good retained velocity and energy down range and the accuracy is always good from these slim line boat tail pills. Take care here, as compressed loads increase the pressure quickly, start low and work up slowly. The 10-grains of Lil`Gun gave 2537 fps and 715 ft/lbs and good accuracy, if safe you can up that by ½-grain!

Factory fodder

I had a smattering of factory ammo, left over from older tests with most being the 45-grain variety but the new Hornady 35-grain V-MAX is certainly the best bet. It was accurate with pleasingly consistent 0.50-0.75” groups at 100 yards. Remington offer the same weight in their Accu-Tip V load, it is listed at 3100 fps, so should produced 3000 fps from the Venom’s 22” barrel; still waiting for some! The RWS load too was very accurate and ½” groups were the norm and the brass is excellent for reloading too.

Field performance

Everything in ballistics is a trade off, fast velocities usually mean light bullets that shoot flatter and expand rapidly but lose their energy quicker and are more wind sensitive. Whilst slower heavier types give good energy figures yet have a curved trajectory, less violent expansion on target and are prone to ricochets.

You have to decide what load suits your style of shooting and at what maximum range you intend to engage your quarry. In and around stable farm yards and paddocks with small ajacent fields means to me that the faster lighter bullets with a hollow point construction would be a lot safer than shooting the slower and less fragile types.

Therefore the Hornady 35-grain factory loads if you do not reload were accurate, gave good velocity figure of 2974fps and had enough knockdown clout with that quick expanding bullet to dispatch any fox up to 150 yds in a safe and controlled way. The 35-grain NTX is even better with slightly higher BC value but expands rapidly and in the TC Contender was very accurate. Probably best all-round as a reload is the 40-grain V-MAX!

Conclusions

I have a real soft spot for the Hornet as I converted a .22 Sako M78 Hornet, well Venom Arms did, into a .17 Hornet but I had fun with it in .22 Hornet calibre first. I am now thinking of a .22 Ackley Hornet also. The TC Contender barrel on the maple stocked rifle is a keeper. In all the humble little Hornet still has a place in the British shooting scene and achieves great results both quietly and effectively with small powder charges and achieves humane results with the element of safety, which is always comforting to know. It’s one of those cartridges you keep coming back too, and really when you think about it, for foxes out to 250 yds the .22 Hornet still gives a mean sting.

Contacts

Quickload/Quicktarget JMS Arms 07771 962121, www.quickload.co.uk
Reload supplies Norman Clark, 01788 579651
RWS RUAG 01579 362319
Hornady, Alliant Edgar Brothers, 01625 613177
Vihtavuori powder Hannam’s Reloading, 01977 681639
Sierra Henry Krank, 0113 256 9163

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