Ammo & Gear Reviews

The .22 Hornet

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By Sam Fadala, GUNS Magazine

Still Buzzing 80 Years Later!

My grandparents lived in the “filet mignon” part of the city. We resided in the “hamburger/hotdog” section. I enjoyed sleepovers with the old folks because, although foreigners, today they would be called cool. Grandpa, a blue-ribbon chef, prepared special fare for me on request. I could order up a rack of lamb followed by Baked Alaska at any time. Down on the corner lived Jim Martin, older than I, and tolerant of my incessant and often ill-designed shooting questions. Jim allowed me to tag along on jackrabbit safaris.

One morning he showed up with a Winchester Model 43 bolt-action .22 Hornet. The Hornet was a ray gun compared to the rimfire I carried. Factory ammo blipped a jack right off of the radar screen—one shot. I had to have one. But practical overcame desire, and I got a Sako .222 instead. It would be a long time before I owned a Hornet.

There’s no question about it, whatever the little slope-shouldered pipsqueak accomplishes, the .222/.223 duplicates on Monday and improves on Tuesday. While the .223 flies high, the .222 and .222 Magnum tumble winglessly in near-disuse. All the while the little Hornet buzzes merrily along. The fact that this 1930 baby falls well behind the scintillating .22 centerfires is exactly why the cartridge has never died. The reason is simple but profound: the .22 Hornet fills a niche perfectly between the excellent .22 WMR and the hot-rock two-twos. It’s been chambered for over 80 years by numerous arms factories, and is available in pistol, revolver, sporting rifle, and even “survival” and multibarrel guns.

Having lavished praise on the little rascal, I admit it was not the cartridge that lured me. It was Lyman’s delightful Ideal Model on a scaled-down Sharps falling block design: 26″ barrel, 6 pounds, 42″ overall length, double-set triggers, 1:16″ twist, and a Custom Lyman Tang sight mated to the Lyman Globe up front with inserts, laser engraving, nice wood, making it easy to clean — historical aura. It’s slender as a serpent, light as a sparrow, and so keenly balanced I tote it without a sling, and I like slings. But what would I do with it? Plenty.

It would be my “front yard” rifle with cast bullets at ultra-low velocity. Consider, of course, that my front yard faces thousands of acres of uninhabited territory. But it’s still nice to have the relative quiet of the Hornet compared to the boom/crack! of the super-speed .22 centerfires. Add in pure shooting fun plinking with cast bullets and you’ve got a winner. Even when the lead is not “scrounged,” the Hornet is gentle on the wallet with handloads. But wait, there’s more.


The Hornet is perfect for mid-range varmints of all stripes. Small game can be taken with light ammo, and a wild turkey’s perfect as a great camp meat-maker. Informal target practice is fun. The Hornet continues to be superior for javelina, the pig-like musk hog. After all, Arizona allows the .22 WMR on peccaries, as does Texas, and one of my African outfitters has a cousin in Australia who relies on the Hornet for wild pigs and goats.

Across the highway from my Wyoming home, the little rifle will be on antelope scouting treks. Not antelope hunting, just scouting. The rancher who turns his spread over to me every year appreciates a decrease in livestock-eating coyotes. Since I scout on foot, I often get a close jump shot. At the same time, I’ll be ready for a cottontail supper by slipping out the “hot” load and installing a mild one, especially with a low-V cast bullet. Mountain birds, such as blue grouse, are also legal with rifle where I hunt. Light Hornet loads will turn these birds into delicious campfire fare. My other Hornet rifles (coming up) broaden the horizon of .22 Hornet application.

History of the Hornet

From whence came the Hornet (know as the 5.6x36mmR in Europe)? Puddlefoot wrote, “History is a lie agreed to.” My research of shooting history is never one of lies, but often of vast differences in information. The Hornet seems less victim of this problem than some cartridges. The literature across the board has Captain Grove Wotkyns, G.A. Woody, Al Woodworth and the legendary Colonel Townsend Whelen experimenting with the black powder .22 WCF (.22-13-45: .22-caliber/13-grain FFFg/45-grain lead bullet at 1,500 fps) at the Springfield Armory in the late 1920s.

Hornet Is Born

Winchester sees the result as feasible and begins building ammo in 1930 chambered for the—nothing. There was ammo, but no commercial Hornet rifle until 1932. Re-chambered Springfield 1922 .22 Long Rifles and newly barreled Martini single shots were the first Hornets (as far as I can tell). When Winchester brought the round out in its fine Model 54 bolt-action rifle, and later the Model 70, the Hornet had a real chance to shine. It also did well in the Model 23-D Savage showing in the1932 Stoeger catalog for $32.95.

For perspective, consider the exceptional 1932 Luna Single Shot Target rifle in .22 rimfire, Model 980 falling-block action, fitted with micrometer wind gauge rear sight, disc front sight, plus “perfectly adjustable rear sight,” with both sights removable with a key. This special rifle spawned a companion as the Luna 981 chambered for the “new Winchester .22 C.F. ‘Hornet’ cartridge.” Both rifles went for $120. Mucho dinero for 1932.

The same year, a Number 956 lightweight bolt action (4 pounds, 14 ounces) “especially made for the new ‘Hornet’ cartridge,” priced out at $18.50, with .22 Hornet ammunition costing $3.35 per 100 rounds with 45-grain bullet. So the Hornet was well represented in 1932. By 1939, the Stoeger catalog boasted the Model 70 Winchester in .22 Hornet for $61.25. I was surprised to see the sought-after Super Grade Model 70 also in .22 Hornet for $84.85.

The military recognized the Hornet in its M4 Survival Rifle at about 4 pounds with telescoping stock, an H&R development based on the Model 265. There was also the M6 Scout Aircrew Survival Weapon issued by the USAF as an over/under .22 Hornet/410 shotgun combo. Ponder a few Hornet rifles and handguns: Anschutz Model 1432D Classic and 1730, the questionable Herter’s Model Plinker Rifle, Krico 300, Walther 4120 KKJ-HO, Sako L46, Brno ZBK-110, Ruger 77/22H, Kimber 84, Winchesters (Model 43 on beefed-up Model 69 action, the 54 and the 70), Savage Model 25 plus 40 and 24-F, Ballard 1885, Browning Low Wall and A-Bolt, New England Handi-Rifle, CZs, T/C Contender Carbine and the Cooper Model 21. Let’s also look at some handguns: Thompson/Center and Anschutz pistols, Taurus DA Raging Hornet 8-shot, double-action revolver and MRI’s SA BFR 6-shot single-action. This list is far from inclusive.


The thin-walled Hornet case presented no handloading problem following one collapsed neck, suggesting the following regimen:

1. Fully chamfer case mouth;

2. Lube case;

3. Extend de-capping pin well beyond base of FL die;

4. Install resizing die off of ram head;

5. De-prime case with extended de-capping pin;

6.  Removed de-capping pin assembly entirely;

7. Screw Fl resizing die to full contact with ram head

8. Full-length resize case

9. Prime with standard small rifle primer ( I use my faithful RCBS hand priming tool. )

10. Install charge with a tap of funnel to settle powder ( 13-grain Lil’ Gun fills the case

11. Seat bullet

The result is a zero case loss, with perfect chamber fit. I found the Frankford Arsenal Powder Funnel from Battenfeld Technologies with its specific No. 22 funnel nozzle ideal for installing powder. Case length is controlled with an RCBS trim die. Something to keep in mind is the Savage magazine demands deep seating of high-profile bullets.

I made no attempt to turn the .22 Hornet into anything but the Hornet in deference to recoil too gentle to knock a hibernating anopheles mosquito off of the barrel. Handloaded versatility ran from low-velocity plinking and small game to wild turkey to javelina (and yes, even deer for the expert hunter) with bullets ranging from 30- to 55-grain weight.

Two powders — Hodgdon’s Lil’ Gun for superb balance between velocity, pressure, and good case life (such as 13 grains pushing a 45-grain bullet at 2,878 fps at 31,000 CUP), and Red Dot for cast-bullet plinking, small game and mountain birds — is all you’ll need

The range of performance in my loads ran from a 50-grain Barnes TTSXFB at 2,832 fps with a full cargo of Lil’ Gun, to a 55-grain 1:20 tin/lead cast from Lyman mold 225415 sized .225″, Lee Liquid Alox, Herter’s gas check at 1,300-plus fps with only 2 grains of Red Dot. There are many other powders useful in the Hornet: Green Dot, Unique, H-110, SR7625, IMR-4227, N-110, AA1680 and W296, but Lil’ Gun is ideal.

A vast array of projectiles serves the Hornet. There are highly frangible bullets as well as missiles of substantial construction. Barnes, as a single example, has a 36-grain Varmint Grenade for bust-up, but also a 50-grain X-style for penetration. Although heavier bullets can be launched from the little Hornet case with respect to rate of twist, I stopped at 55 grains, which stabilized a bullet cast from 1:16 mix in the Lyman Ideal rifle at 100 yards, which is as far as I tested.

For small game and furbearers, there are full metal jackets (where allowed by law), such as the fine Sierra 55-grain GameKing boattail. Sierra even offers a .223 45-grain Hornet bullet suited for some older rifles. Target-type bullets also prevail. The Ideal rifle achieved 25¢-piece groups at 50 yards using Sierra’s 52-grain match bullet… and with Yr. Obt. Svt. (me!) at the trigger. Many 1-holers occurred with the scoped Savage. The only 10-shot group fired fell below an inch, center to center.

Speer’s TNT 50-grain .224 bullet pushed by 13-grain Lil’ Gun retains sufficient pasta, even at 300 yards, to make Rancher Harry happy with a reduction of livestock-tripping prairie dog holes. The Speer 40-grain Spire Point is another interesting Hornet bullet, along with Speer’s 50-grain Spitzer. Winchester has a FMJ boattail at 55 grains, a 55-grain Pointed Soft Point, a 50-grain Pointed Soft Point in spire-point design with considerable shank, plus 34- and 40-grain bullets.

Remington’s 55-grain Pointed Soft Point has a cannelure, as does the company’s 55-grain FMJ. Hornady’s V-Max 55-grain Moly bullet, 35-grain NTX, and 50-grain V-Max are fine choices. Nosler comes in with 35-, 40-, 50- and 52-grain Solid Base Ballistic Tips, plus a 50-grain CT ballistic Silvertip and 52-grain Custom Competition HPBT.

Factory Ammo

Plentiful factory ammo also validates the present status of this old-timer. Nosler offers its fine Custom, with 35-grain bullet (which the Ideal loved). There’s Prvi Partizan with a 45-grain Hornet bullet, Sellier and Bellot carrying a 45-grain special Hornet bullet and Hornady ammo with a screaming 35-grain V-Max ready for handy business in the varmint field. But there’s much more. Norma offers ammo with 2.9-gram bullet (44.7 grains), RWS touts a 3-gram bullet (46 grains) and Winchester’s standard Hornet factory load did very well in both rifles with its 45-grain bullet in Super-X softpoint.

Federal’s 45-grain Hornet load scoots the 45-grain bullet from the muzzle at 2,690 fps, while Remington’s Hornet load offers the same performance with a 45-grain softpoint bullet and splendid accuracy. Sectional density and ballistic coefficient are anemic in .22-caliber bullets. However at only .142 sectional density for a 50-grain Spitzer with a “C” of merely .175, these bullets do what they were designed for.

The Hornet is efficient too, with an anthill of powder producing a mountain of results. Lyman mold 225438, .225″ diameter, 44-grain gas check, provided 159 bullets for 1 pound of lead. I inherited a supply of galena some time ago, making my bullets very cheap indeed. Purchased lead is still a bargain. I found Pb at 55 pounds for $85. Primers go for about 2.5¢ a shot. My Red Dot load of only 2 grains for low-velocity loads yields 3,500 shots per pound. Even my King Kong Hornet load with 50-grain bullet and 13 grains of Lil’ Gun for coyotes, badgers, fox, bobcats and other furbearers (with proper license), up to javelina and even deer, is comparatively cheap. Wild turkeys are table-bound with cast-lead bullets and a pinch of powder for 2,000 fps.


I was in for a surprise. Having been stung by the Hornet, I had to have two more rifles. I bought a Savage Model 25 LV laminated thumbhole stock, with a 24″ barrel, AccuTrigger, and added a Bushnell Legend 4.5-14x30mm scope. Jack the rabbit at 300 yards is in the bag with a 35-grain bullet starting at over 3,000 fps and this rifle’s 1/2″-MOA accuracy.

A third jewel in the .22 Hornet crown is on order: a CZ Model 527 I will double-scope when it arrives. A Bushnell Banner straight 4X with Circle-X reticule will match the lines of this handsome rifle, perfect for mountain birds and small game. A Brunton Eterna 3-9X with BDC reticule will handle the varmints. Javelina and wild turkey: either scope will do. I label 50 yards an average shot on the pseudo pig. Called-in wild turkeys vary from the hot tom throwing caution to the wind to that cautious bird lingering at the century mark. Sighted to strike 2″ high at 100 yards, a 50-grain bullet starting at 2,700 to 2,800 fps drops about 2″ at 200 yards.

A word on the K-Hornet, one of the first blown-out, fire-formed cartridges. There is no doubt Lysle Kilbourn’s invention will better the standard Hornet velocity-wise. But having solid information on a K-Hornet owned by my friend Colonel Russell Harriger, the facts are in. Accuracy did not improve in the colonel’s custom rifle over previous standard Hornet loads, and velocity across the board added about 100 fps bullet-for-bullet.

But Colonel Harriger did not have Lil’ Gun. He got 2,846 fps on his chronograph with his hottest 50-grain bullet K-Hornet load. With Lil’ Gun powder, the K version will no doubt do better. Maybe a lot better. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the K version go commercial. But I think I’ll hang with the everyday .22 Hornet. It does the job for me.

Editor’s Notes: After further die adjustments, Sam was able to combine de-capping and full-length resizing into one step with no case-loss. Sam also ran a primer test for the Hornet. He found standard small rifle primers proved the best choice.


Ideal Rifle

Lyman Products Group, 475 Smith St., Middletown, CT 06457

(800) 225-9626

Price: $1,595

Model 25 Rifle

Savage Arms, 100 Springdale Rd., Westfield, MA 01085

(413) 642-4262

Price: $745


Test Rifles: Lyman Ideal 26″ barrel

All Velocity Results from 26″ barrel

45 degrees F

Elevation: 8,000′

Nosler 35-grain Ballistic Tip Lead Free Bullet

13.0-grain Lil’ Gun

3,158 fps

Standard Deviation: 2 fps

Comment: Long-range varmint

Nosler 35-grain Ballistic Tip Lead Free Bullet

12.5-grain Lil’ Gun

3,035 fps

Standard Deviation: 27 fps

Comment: Run to test .5-grain reduction

Nosler 35-grain Ballistic Tip Lead Free Bullet

12.7-grain Lil’ Gun

3,012 fps

Standard Deviation: 12 fps

Comment: Run as test between 13.0 and 12.5

(V difference considered a normal variable)

Barnes 50-grain TTSX FB Bullet

10.0-grain Lil’ Gun

2,421 fps

Standard Deviation: 17 fps

Comment: Penetration with accuracy

Barnes 50-grain TTSX FB Bullet

11.0-grain Lil’ Gun

2,559 fps

Standard Deviation: 21 fps

Comment: Penetration with accuracy

Barnes 50-grain TTSX FB Bullet

13.0-grain Lil’ Gun

2,832 fps

Standard Deviation: 33 fps

Comment: Larger game

Barnes 50-grainTSX FB

13.0-grain Lil’ Gun

2,800 fps

Standard Deviation: 28 fps

Comment: Larger game

Sierra 52-grain HPBT Match Bullet

13.0-grain Lil’ Gun

2,924 fps

Standard Deviation: 16 fps

Comment: High accuracy

Sierra 53-grain HP Match Bullet

13.0-grain Lil’ Gun

2,901 fps

Standard Deviation: 19 fps

Comment: Fine accuracy

Nosler 55-grain Combined Technology Ballistic Silvertip

10.0-grain Lil’ Gun

2,566 fps

Standard Deviation: 14 fps

Comment: All-around load—excellent in Ideal

Speer 33-grain TNT

13.0-grain Lil’ Gun

3,181 fps

Standard Deviation: 19 fps

Comment: Explosive!

35-grain Hornady V-Max

13.0-grain Lil’ Gun

3,161 fps

Standard Deviation: 13 fps

Comment: Explosive!

Cast 55-grain Lyman mold No. 225415 Gas Check

2.0-grains Red Dot

1,361 fps

Standard Deviation: 28 fps

Comment: Small-game/plinker load

Winchester 45-grain SP

2,701 fps

Standard Deviation: 14 fps

Comment: Very accurate

Remington Express Rifle 45-grain PSP

2,720 fps

Standard Deviation: 16 fps

Comment: Very accurate

Nosler Custom .22 Hornet

Custom Load for Sam Fadala

40-grain Ballistic Tip

Capable of 4,020 fps; 2,850 fps for milder load

Standard Deviation: 17 fps

Comment: Retained velocity at 300 yards and 1,738 fps

Accuracy: 1-holers at 50 yards

NOTES: Surprising results with 13-grain Hodgdon Lil’ Gun in 33- to 55-grain bullets: higher velocity than anticipated. Accuracy at 50 yards with tang aperture sight and “globe” front sight well within normal applications of the cartridge. Accuracy with scoped rifle under 1″ center to center for 10 shots/100 yards. Chronographing results clearly place the .22 Hornet in its promised niche between the .22 WMR and the .222/.223 clan. The loads also verify the versatility of the .22 Hornet for small game, varmints, turkeys, javelina, and close-range deer in the hands of an expert hunter/marksman.

Cast lead bullets workable for small game and wild turkey at velocities ranging from 1,300 fps to 2,000 fps and harder bullets at up to 2,500 fps for wild turkey. A 50-grain bullet of “big-game” design at 2,800+ fps is an ideal larger game load with 871 foot-pounds at the muzzle.


Accuracy runs were conducted with the Savage Model 25 LV rifle scoped with a Bushnell 4.5-14X scope set at 14X. Groups with Sierra match bullets ranged from .143″ (only once) to .164″ for three shots at 50 yards. Best 100-yard group: .345″ for four shots (reason for four instead of five shots due to capacity of Savage magazine). One 10-shot, 100-yard group: .836″ with Remington factory ammo (only 10-shot group tested).

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