22 hornet ammunition
Should you use the .22 Hornet for small game and varmint hunting?
22 hornet ammunition
I think you’ll agree with me that, at first glance anyway; it makes much more sense to use more modern cartridges like the .223 Remington or the .220 Swift instead of the .22 Hornet ammo for small game and varmint hunting. After all, those newer cartridges shoot heavier bullets at a higher velocity, translating into more kinetic energy, flatter trajectories, and better downrange performance.
However, even though the cartridge has been around for almost a century and can’t come anywhere close to the performance of those newer cartridges on paper, the .22 Hornet is still a very good varmint hunting cartridge.
In today’s post, I will show you why the .22 Hornet is so versatile and why you should consider hunting with it.
.22 Hornet History
Like with many older cartridges, the exact origins of the .22 Hornet are a little hazy. That said, Grosvenor Wotkyns is generally credited for developing it using the black powder .22 Winchester Centerfire (WCF) cartridge for inspiration in the 1920s. Intrigued by the new cartridge, Townsend Whelen tested it in a modified Springfield rifle a few years later.
To put it mildly, Whelen was impressed with the performance of the .22 Hornet.
First, the early .22 Hornet load he tested of a 45-grain soft point bullet at about 2,400 feet per second had no real peer at the time. Since it was the first small-bore, high-velocity cartridge designed for small game and varmint hunting, the .22 Hornet was truly an innovative development. Additionally, the cartridge had a very light recoil and a mild report, making it a true joy to shoot, especially when those early loads had such an impressive performance.
Finally, the cartridge was extremely accurate. Some accounts from that time state that the .22 Hornet was the most accurate centerfire cartridge the technicians at Winchester had ever encountered up until that point. Considering that Whelen is known for his quote, “Only accurate rifles are interesting,” he must have found the .22 Hornet fascinating.
Whelen was not the only person impressed with the cartridge, and it started to catch on with the hunting community.
However, widespread adoption of the .22 Hornet was hampered initially because no company produced rifles for the cartridge during the first few years it existed. For that reason, shooters during the early days of the Hornet primarily used customized rifles like the bolt-action Springfield Model 1922 or the single-shot Martini Cadet.
Since most of those rifles were converted from the rimfire .22 Long Rifle cartridge, they had a .223″ groove diameter (more on this in a minute).
However, after Winchester Model 54 rifles chambered in .22 Hornet went into large-scale production in 1933, the cartridge became mainstream use. Other companies soon began producing bolt-action and single-shot rifles for the cartridge to keep up with exploding demand. Indeed, the .22 Hornet was the third most produced caliber (behind only the .30-06 Springfield and .270 Winchester) in pre-World War II Winchester Model 70s, which should give you an idea of how popular the cartridge was with American hunters in the 1930s and early 1940s.
The .22 Hornet was also widely adopted in Europe, known as the 5.6x35mm. In addition to bolt-action and single-shot rifles, European gun makers have also produced a number of combination guns chambered in the cartridge.
After World War II, the .22 Hornet started to decline in popularity for several reasons, though.
For one thing, major U.S. gun manufacturers started producing the rifle with a .224″ diameter groove in line with the other centerfire .22 caliber cartridges in production. Changing the bore diameter of a cartridge already in mass production can present some challenges. The introduction of the high velocity .222 and .223 Remington cartridges in the 1950s and 1960s also stole some of the varmint hunting market shares away from the .22 Hornet.
Through all that, the .22 Hornet has refused to die and is still hanging around as a relatively popular varmint cartridge. Even though it doesn’t compare favorably on paper to many more modern cartridges, there is no denying that the .22 Hornet has quite the appeal to varmint hunters looking for an accurate cartridge with a tame recoil and a mild report.
.22 Hornet Ammo
While the .22 Hornet is not as popular as it used to be, it’s still not difficult to find factory loaded .22 Hornet ammo at gun stores worldwide. For instance, Federal, Hornady, Nosler, Prvi Partizan, Remington, Sellier & Bellot, and Winchester all manufacture at least one .22 Hornet load.
Most older .22 Hornet rifles (like the Winchester Model 54 and 70) have a relatively slow rifling twist rate of 1:16 inches. The bullet makes one full revolution every 16″ as it travels down the barrel. For comparison, it’s common to see 1:9 or even 1:7 rifling in an AR-15. Newer .22 Hornet rifles (like the Ruger 77/22) have a 1:14 twist rate.
Since they have a slower rifling twist, those older rifles often have trouble stabilizing bullets heavier than 45 grains. For that reason, 45-grain bullets are the most common, and 35-grain bullets are a close second in popularity. You’ll probably need to hand load if you want to use heavier 50gr and 55gr bullets.
Due to propellant advances, modern factory-loaded .22 Hornet ammo has slightly improved ballistics compared to the original loads from the 1920s and 1930s. Actual performance varies depending on barrel length. For instance, Hornady advertises a muzzle velocity of 3,100 feet per second for their 35gr Varmint Express ammunition and 2,665 feet per second for their 45gr Interlock ammo.
It’s also possible to improve the performance of the .22 Hornet by handloading. Consult a reputable handloading manual for details, but the cartridge resembles Hodgdon’s Lil’Gun and H110 powder.
Though the details are beyond the scope of this article, wildcatters also developed an “improved” cartridge known as the .22 K-Hornet with a larger case capacity. Built by fireforming the case in a different chamber, the .22 K-Hornet has a sharper shoulder that can accommodate more powder. As a result, it shoots at a slightly higher velocity than the original cartridge.
You have many options if you’re looking for a nice .22 hornet rifle. The Ruger M77/22, the Savage 25 Lightweight Varminter, and the Thompson/Center Contender are all in current production and are available in .22 Hornet.
Among other models, the Browning A-Bolt Micro Hunter, the Browning Model 1885 Low Wall, the CZ Model 527, the New England Handi-Rifle, the Ruger No. 1, the Savage Model 40, the Winchester Model 43, Winchester Model 54, and the Winchester Model 70 were all produced in .22 Hornet at some point over the years.
Interestingly, the US military also issued a couple of different.22 Hornet rifles as survival gear during the 1940s through the 1970s. These rifles were intended to assist the downed crew in hunting for food, not for self-defense against enemy troops.
The M4 Survival Rifle was a rudimentary bolt-action rifle chambered in the cartridge used by the Air Force in the 1940s. It was eventually replaced by the M6 Aircrew Survival Weapon, a double-barreled combination gun chambered in a .410 bore and either a .22 Long Rifle or .22 Hornet. Springfield Armory sold a replica of the M6 for several years, known commercially as the Springfield Armory M6 Scout, and there are still a few of those guns floating around.
Hunting With The .22 Hornet
One of the reasons why the .22 Hornet first became so popular was because it was so darn effective on small game and varmints like foxes, bobcats, and coyotes at short to moderate range. When the cartridge was first designed, scopes were nowhere near as common as they are now, so most hunters using the .22 Hornet in those early years were shooting with iron sights. With a maximum effective range of around 200 yards, the cartridge allowed hunters to hit small targets as far as was realistically possible for most people with iron sights.
Since it had a very flat trajectory and a well-deserved reputation for accuracy, the .22 Hornet performed marvelously in that role and had the bonus of keeping recoil to an absolute minimum. There’s no telling how many coyotes, foxes, and bobcats hunters have taken with the .22 Hornet.
The .22 Hornet is still great for varmints and small game out to 200 yards, and the light report of the cartridge also makes it easier on the ears than louder cartridges like the .220 Swift or .223 Remington. The lighter and slower .22 Hornet bullets are also less likely to backfire. These characteristics make the .22 Hornet a better choice for pest control in populated areas than those cartridges.
In terms of performance, the .22 Hornet is significantly more powerful than the rimfires like the .17 HMR, the .22 Long Rifle, and the .22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire (WMR). Still, it is clearly in a tier below other .22 caliber centerfires like the .219 Zipper and .223 Remington.
You can see this pretty clearly in the table below comparing Federal’s 36gr copper plated hollow point .22 Long Rifle, CCI 40gr Game Point .22 Magnum, Hornady 36gr V-Max .22 Hornet, and Winchester 55gr Varmint X .223 Remington ammunition.
Yes, the .223 Remington is a more powerful cartridge than the .22 Hornet. Like the 10mm vs. .45 ACP debate, the .223 Remington has more energy remaining at 200 yards than many .22 Hornet loads at the muzzle. However, the evidence also indicates that both cartridges are very effective on predators, small game, and creatures. So, the biggest advantage the .223 Remington has lies in its higher velocity and flatter trajectory, which make it easier to hit targets at longer ranges.
Deer Hunting With The .22 Hornet
Using the cartridge for deer hunting is a somewhat controversial subject. For one thing, it’s not legal in some states. However, assuming it’s legal to use on deer where you live, I still tend to agree with Mel Tappan’s assessment of the .22 Hornet for deer hunting in his book Survival Guns (p90-91):
It is not a reliable deer cartridge, even with hand loads, although it has been used for that purpose.
Is it possible to kill a deer with a .22 Hornet?
My grandfather killed his first deer with a Winchester Model 43 in .22 Hornet many years ago. Unfortunately, his experience pretty well sums up the two scenarios most likely to play out if you shoot a big game animal with the small cartridge.
He initially shot the buck in the shoulder and caused a nasty, but probably not immediately fatal, wound. The deer stopped, turned, and looked at him briefly. Fortunately, my grandfather had time to reload and shoot the deer again. He shot it in the head this time, and the deer dropped in its tracks.
My grandfather told me he always regretted shooting the deer with that cartridge. While he probably killed hundreds of coyotes and other creatures with that Winchester Model 43, he never took it deer hunting again.
He learned that those small, lightly constructed bullets often wouldn’t penetrate far enough to reach the vitals on a body shot. However, they will do a number on a deer, feral hog, or other big game animals (like an impala, springbok, or warthog) if you hit them in the neck or the head.
However, only take that shot if you know what you’re doing because it’s easy to screw up.
Best .22 Hornet Ammo For Hunting
The big ammunition manufacturers produce multiple varieties of .22 Hornet ammo specifically designed for hunting predators and varmints.
Learn more about the 22 Hornet ammunition options at the link below.
Can You Still Buy 22 Hornet Ammo?
The short answer is yes, you can still buy 22 Hornet ammo. While it may not be as widely available as other cartridges, many ammunition manufacturers still produce 22 Hornet rounds. You may have to do some searching to find it, and you may have to pay a premium for it, but it’s still out there.
Why Is 22 Hornet Ammo So Expensive?
There are a few reasons why 22 Hornet ammo is more expensive than some other cartridges. First, it’s not as popular as it once was, meaning there’s less demand for it. Hence, this makes it more expensive to produce, as manufacturers can’t take advantage of economies of scale.
Another factor is that 22 Hornet ammo is a relatively low-volume cartridge, so production runs are smaller than for more popular cartridges. This aspect can drive up the cost of manufacturing as fixed costs are spread over fewer rounds.
Finally, the 22 Hornet cartridge is a bottlenecked design, requiring more precision to manufacture than some other cartridges. This reason can also increase the cost of production.
222 vs. 22 Hornet
If you’re considering a rifle chambered in 222 or 22 Hornet, you may wonder which one to choose. Both cartridges are popular among varmint hunters and target shooters and have their strengths and weaknesses.
The 222 Remington is a more modern cartridge than the 22 Hornet, which was introduced in the 1950s. It’s capable of higher velocities and flatter trajectories than the 22 Hornet, making it better suited for longer-range shooting. The 222 Remington also has a reputation for being more accurate than the 222 vs 22 Hornet.
On the other hand, the 22 Hornet ammo has a larger diameter bullet (.224 vs. .224), making it more effective on small games and varmints. It’s also a more versatile cartridge, as it can be loaded with light and heavy bullets, making it suitable for a wide range of games.
Ultimately, the choice between the 222 Remington and the 22 Hornet comes down to personal preference and the rifle’s intended use. If you’re looking for a cartridge capable of longer-range shooting and has a reputation for accuracy, the 222 Remington may be the better choice. If you’re looking for a versatile cartridge effective on small games and creatures, and you don’t need to shoot at longer ranges, the 22 Hornet is a great option.
Final Thoughts On The .22 Hornet ammo
If you do a lot of long-range varmint hunting or just like high-velocity cartridges, you should get something like a .22-250 Remington or a .220 Swift because the .22 Hornet probably isn’t for you. On the other hand, if you do most of your varmint hunting inside 200 yards and want a sweet shooting cartridge with minimal recoil and muzzle blast, then the .22 Hornet is tough to beat.22 Hornet Ammo: Availability and Cost
The 22 Hornet cartridge has been around for almost a century, and while it’s not as popular as it once was, it still has a dedicated following. If you’re one of the many shooters who love this little cartridge, you may wonder whether it’s still possible to buy 22 Hornet ammo and why it’s so expensive.