The .22 Hornet’s popularity has waned in the last decade. Will its direct descendant, the new .17 Hornet, prove more enticing?
With smaller and faster calibres very in fashion it seems like a recipe for success.
Unlike most centrefire cartridges used today, the .22 Hornet has a rimmed case. It started life as the black powder .22 WCF, developed in the 1920s at the Springfield armoury. A decade later the cartridge was standardised by Winchester, and within a few years most manufacturers were chambering it.
Although the .22 Hornet quivers in the shadows of modern high-velocity small-bores, in its day it was a pioneering king. This reign was, however, short-lived, as the introduction of the .218 Bee surpassed the Hornet’s ballistics as a result of greater case capacity.
With a reputation for superb accuracy, the .22 Hornet was seen in some parts as a ‘wonder bullet’. With negligible recoil but substantially greater energy than a .22LR, the Hornet allowed those who wielded it to push the boundaries of its capabilities. Filtering into Africa, it never really saw use as a major game calibre, but its manageable nature found favour with farmers, and it was used to hunt everything up to kudu.
Of course, when careful head shots, or well-placed engine room shots on plenty of open ground were employed, it was very effective. The problem was that there was almost zero room for error. The tiny amount of internal damage caused long bleed-out periods, allowing game to travel great distances before succumbing to the wound. So it was banned for use on larger game in Africa, across America and Europe.
It also suffered from later comparisons with the .223 Rem and .22-250 Rem, which of course shoot the same .224 bullets – and there is no questioning the fact that these bigger-cased cartridges are more effective in almost every way. The only things that are left going for the humble Hornet are reduced recoil, lighter rifles and a less greedy rate of powder consumption.
Thanks to the .17 HMR, the Hornet is unlikely to be used for longer-range rabbiting. With ME well below the required 1,000ft/lb for shooting deer, its only UK application would be the pursuit of foxes, but I’m not convinced. There’s no comparison with the higher velocity, larger cases – when it comes to down-range killing ability, the .22 Hornet is left dead in the water.
It seems that as far as the Hornet is concerned, times have moved on. Even compared with the .222 Rem, the Hornet lags some 350ft/lb behind in ME. Compare it with the .204 Ruger and it will punch almost 500ft/lb less. The trajectory issue is clear to see – the bullet drops at 200 yards what most cartridges will show at 300 yards. In its day the cartridge must have been a marvel, but in today’s hunting world I see little practical application. Could its newer .17 incarnation be the facelift this cartridge needs? Only time will tell. BP