A Swarm of Hornets

Mike Powell tests old against new, with CZ’s 527 rifle chambered in .17 Hornet going up against the tried-and-tested .22 Hornet version of the rifle

have a long love affair with the .22 Hornet. Air rifles apart, the first rifle that I ever saw used was a Hornet. It was always a fairly standard, no-frills rifle, but it did a more than respectable job. In times gone by it would be used by keepers to deal with rabbit, fox and deer. Even today some are still in use hunting plains game in Africa. Today in this country the Hornet is no longer legal to use on deer, but despite this it is staging a resurgence. The reasons for this are difficult to understand; we are deluged by small-calibre, high-performance rifles that will outperform the venerable Hornet in more or less all departments, yet still I hear reports of shooters old and new looking seriously at getting one.

Stimulated by the success of the .17 HMR. there has been recent interest in small, fast, flat-shooting calibres, so it was no great surprise when Hornady bought out the .17 Hornet in 2012. I reviewed the two available rifles in that calibre, the Savage 25 and the CZ 527. Both did the job, but to my surprise the CZ came out on top. I originally only had the rifle for a short time, but later on, Edgar Brothers kindly returned it for comparison with its big brother, the .22 Hornet.

Zeroing the CZ .17 Hornet with Hardy mod

I still think the .223 is the best fox calibre, but dedicated Hornet users will possibly disagree. In any case, comparing calibres other than the two Hornets was never the object of this exercise. I wanted to find out how the two Hornet calibres compared for fox control.

Zeroing the rifles was easy. I used the Hornady ammo first and it shot excellently. Both the .22 and the .17 consistently shot one-inch groups at 100 yards.

The .22 Hornet is certainly good to 200 yards, but I decided to zero both rifles at 175 yards, as I thought the .17’s load was probably a little light for much more than that. The trajectories were markedly different, as you would expect. The .17 Hornet zeroed at 175 yards was only 0.75in high at 100 yards and 0.75in low at 200 yards. The figures for the .22 were 2.25in high at 100 yards and 2in low at 200 yards.

Hidden away: The fox was discovered buried amid the bracken

Having dealt with the basics, the next thing was to take the rifles out after a fox. It wasn’t the ideal time to be doing this. The first silage cut was still to be made, making both emerging cubs and older foxes difficult to spot.

First up was the good old .22 Hornet. I waited for a goose stealing fox for a couple of days. Eventually on the second day, just as the light was going, it turned up. I was waiting in an upstairs room of a farmhouse and had a perfect view into the field. The shot rang out and the fox just disappeared. The light was almost gone, so I used the HD38S thermal to look for it, but there was not a trace. I feared the worst, but said I would come back the next morning.

When I returned, my old dog found the fox just 15 feet from where I had shot it. It was completely buried in bracken and grass, which explains the inability of the thermal to locate it. The shot was good. Only adrenaline had allowed the fox to travel.

.22 Hornets are a foxing classic for a good reason

Next up was the .17 Hornet. This was going to turn out to be more of a challenge. It normally works out that when you really do need a fox to turn up, it doesn’t. I had been using the .17 Hornet for a couple of months, but whenever I had it with me, no foxes would appear. Finally, I saw one.

I was out doing some rabbit control in a spot where you couldn’t get closer to them than 150 yards. I was settling down to wait for the rabbits to reappear after my arrival, when I spotted a fox working the hedge towards an empty release pen. It stopped and sat, watching a couple of young rabbits that had ventured out into the late evening sunshine. A quick look through the rangefinder showed it to be 185 yards away. Settling down for the shot, I lined up just behind the shoulder. I sent the little Hornady 20-grain on its way and the fox just rolled over – impressive for such a small round.

Examination showed surprisingly little damage, which seems to be the way with small, high-velocity bullets. Sometimes, depending on where the bullet strikes, there is virtually no damage. At other times the reverse is the case.

My overall assessment is that the .22 Hornet is the better all-round cartridge, and a solid option for the foxer specifically. The .17 version is an exciting little round to use, but not an all-rounder, and it won’t replace the .223 as the go-to fox round. As a long-range option for rabbit or corvid control however, it’s a winner.

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