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IHMSA News Feature Article
Published in The IHMSA News, the Official Publication of The International Handgun Metallic Silhouette Association
Published monthly except November/December - January/February
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The 22 Hornet - A  Haul'n  Hornet
  By Todd Spotti Load Data & Range Test Results
     One of the most fascinating things about the new 17 Hornady Rimfire Magnum is the fact that the tiny cartridge can produce velocities of 2500 fps out of a 10" barrel. Now, thatís what I really call hauling the mail. As a result, the little 17 shoots as flat as a pancake on a truck stop griddle.

     A cartridge that shoots that flat seems like a natural for Field Pistol competition. After all, thatís most likely the main reason why the 22 Hornet is the number one cartridge of choice of Field Pistol shooters today. It can shoot flat, thereís little recoil, and accuracy can be quite respectable.

The Challenge

     While marveling over the 17 Hornady, I began to wonder if the 22 Hornet could be loaded to match the little 17ís velocity. If it could, the Hornet might be able to offer many of the advantages of the 17 Hornady as well as provide all of the benefits of a heavier bullet and having a reload-able case to boot. However, I had no idea whether it was possible or not. I thought "You know this might be a fun challenge". Little did I know what I was getting into.

     Well the first stop would have to be at my firearms and reloading library. A quick check of the various reloading manuals would be a good start. The results of my research were kind of sparse, but I did run across a genuine 2500 fps pistol load using a 40 grain bullet in the 4th edition of the Sierra manual. So now I knew that it could be done, at least theoretically.

First Attempts

     Next stop was my reloading supply cabinet. I used to shoot a XP-100 in 223 in the unlimited half size category and a 22 Hornet for Field Pistol and so had an extensive supply of 22 bullets on hand. However, if I was going to meet the 2500 mark, I was sure itíd have to be with a 40 grain bullet. Unfortunately, the lightest bullets I had on hand were Noslerís excellent 45 grain Hornet model. (By the way, these are deadly on jackrabbits.) Well, Iíd have to send off for some lighter bullets, but while I was waiting, Iíd see what I could do with the 45ís.

     For powders, I used just about everything under the sun. They included N110, H110, Scot 4100, AA #9, Little Gun, H108, N105, H4227, AA1680, and Win 296. Almost all powders produced velocities ranging from the 2000ís to the 2200ís - well short of the mark. Initially, Scot 4100 however came the closest to meeting my 2500 fps goal by churning out 2468 fps with one load. So close and yet so far. After trying several different loads, it became very clear that I wasnít going to get there from here.


     However, this first phase with the 45 Nosler's, while unsuccessful, provided me with some very important lessons. The first lesson was to remind me just how twitchy reloading for the Hornet can be. This difficulty stems from the fact that the Hornet is a very small case, and itís also a very weak case - not a happy combination. Ordinarily with other cases, if you found that velocities were limited by the amount of powder you could stuff in, you always had the option of trying another powder with a faster burning rate. If you do so with the Hornet, pressures jump very quickly and case life becomes nonexistent. Abused Hornet cases will usually separate about a half inch above the rim, so when you open your TC, the rim will be extracted but the body of the case will be stuck in the chamber. An oversize bore brush will usually be sufficient to remove it however.

     Another similar lesson, is that you have to be extremely careful when loading the Hornet at the top end of its capacity. A single tenth of a grain of powder can send velocities and pressures through the roof. Indeed, there were several instances in which an additional tenth of a grain of powder would deliver a 100 fps and even more in velocities.

     This initial period of experimentation also taught me that if I were going to reach 2500 fps it would be with only four of the ten powders that I had originally tried i.e. H110, WW296, Lil Gun, and Scott 4100. The other powders were either too slow or too fast in their burning rates. Of these four powders, Hodgdonís LilGun and Scott 4100 were the most flexible.

     However, the most disconcerting thing that I observed during this period was that the Hornet could have a mind of its own even with careful attention to reloading technique. For example, Iíd be shooting a beautiful little group with one load or another, and then out of the blue, one shot would fly off as much as an inch and half or even two inches away. "Did I do that?" I would wonder. Iíd then look at the chronograph reading and the velocity would be as much as two hundred fps faster or even slower than the other four shots in the group. "What the heck was going on here" I wondered.

     When I first observed this situation, one thought that occurred to me was that I might simply be pushing the envelope way too far. Quite often with other cartridges, when you slip over the ragged edge of sanity into the realm of pressure madness, velocities will jump both up AND down radically before the case blows. However that was not the case in this situation. Iíd find these variations with loads straight out of the reloading manuals.

     Then I thought variations in the thickness of the cases might be the cause of the problem. (I used Winchester brass exclusively for this little experiment.) Variations in such a small case could theoretically affect velocities significantly. So I weighed the cases. I found that they weighed between 53.0 and 53.9 grains. The cases were then separated into identical lots and subsequent loads used only cases that weighed exactly the same. Result? No change. I still got the occasional radical variations in velocities. Nope. Canít blame the brass.

     I had a notion then to seat the bullets against the rifling on the theory that it would cause the powder to burn more uniformly and hopefully eliminate these strange swings in velocity. This turned out to be impossible as my TC was cursed with a chamber that was more suited to 69 grain bullets rather than 45ís. It was another case of the bottomless TC chamber, so no matter how far out I seated the bullets, there was no way they would ever come close to touching the lands.

     I then started weighing primers. I reasoned that the primer cups and anvils were probably very consistent in their construction and if there was any variation in weight, itíd be in the priming material itself. I found CCI BR primers weighed either 3.2 grains or 3.3 grains. Again they were separated into lots and were used with brass that weighed all the same as well. Result? No change.

     The last thing I thought that could be causing the problem was variations in the powder charge. This seemed very unlikely for two reasons. First, I use a Redding Bench Rest powder measure and it throws consistent charges with boring regularity. Indeed if someone asks me what powder measure that I recommend, this is the one. The other reason that I didnít think this was the problem was the fact that most of the powders used were ball types which meter through most measures extremely well. Never the less, I checked each powder charge on my RCBS electronic scale and found that the powder charges thrown by the Redding were all identical, and yet I still experienced the same goofy velocity variations from time to time. I finally pretty much gave up and just accepted the fact that this was a normal thing with the Hornet. However, loads with these radical jumps or drops in pressures are not included in the table below.

A Surprise from Winchester

     While I was waiting for my bullet orders to come in I decided to conduct another experiment. I happened to have on hand some Winchester factory 22 Hornet ammo loaded with 34 grain moly coated hollow points. These are dynamite on everything up to and including coyotes. I had never chronographed or grouped them on paper however. Five shots out of my 10" TC totally flabbergasted me. 2625 fps!! Even better, the shots went into a 100 yard half inch group. I was intensely impressed with this level of performance. Being instantly curious, I tore down one of the cases and discovered it was loaded with 12.6 grains of what appeared to be WW296. I vowed that if I was able to get some 35 grain bullets, Iíd have to try a similar amount of 296 with my own handloads.

Second Attempts

     After a couple of weeks, I finally accumulated a supply of 40 grain Nosler Ballistic Tips, 40 grain Sierra plastic tips, 40 grain Speer spitzer, and after some difficulty, Hornady 35 grain V-Maxís. Now I was ready to begin in earnest.

     You wouldnít think that a mere 5 grains in weight would make a huge difference in velocities, but with the tiny Hornet it does. I was routinely meeting my 2500 fps goal and even exceeding it by significant margins.

     Impressive accuracy was often achieved at these high velocities as well.

     The 35 grain bullets gave even more velocity.

Will It Work on Steel?

     Now that the intellectual goal had been achieved, the logical question to be asked is whether a 2500 fps load with a 40 grain bullet would be suitable to use in Field Pistol competition. I had been told been told flat out that it wouldnít take down the animals. Letís see.

     First, letís examine the question as to whether thereís enough impact momentum with these loads to reliably knock down the Field Pistol ram. In order to begin to address that question, we need to know just how much is enough. To the best of my knowledge, no one has ever examined this very fundamental question in the 25 years of IHMSAís existence. Our knowledge of whatís required to knock down the big bore targets is better known, but Field Pistol targets?

     Anyway, I started weighing our clubís commercial made full size T-1 steel rams. Interestingly they all weighed just about the same - 48 pounds. Good. While I was there, I also weighed our Field Pistol rams, also commercially made. 10.35 lbs.

     In my 20+ years of silhouette shooting, experimenting, and writing about winning loads, Iíve found that 1 pound second of momentum is the gold standard for reliably knocking down rams. Itís interesting to note that with some very successful silhouette cartridges such as the 7 TCU, achieving 1 pound second is difficult to almost impossible. So how can they be so successful if they canít deliver that level of performance? Actually, as little as .75 - .80 pound seconds works very well to kick over the rams. It would take some unusual situations such as mud on the rail etc. for .80 pound seconds not to work. So we donít really need as much momentum as one full pound second, but if we have it, we know with certainty that the ram is going down - hard.

     OK, so we know that 1 pound second will move the 48 pound ram off the rail. That equates to .0208 pound seconds of momentum per pound of steel ram. Therefore if a Field Pistol ram weighs 10.35 lbs, we multiply that by .0208 to get our momentum requirement to reliably take it down. Result? It will take .215 pound seconds to reliably knock down the Field Pistol ram.

     Now letís look at our 2500 fps load with a 40 grain bullet. At 100 yards itís still going approximately 2114 fps. Itís striking momentum is then .375 pound seconds, well over what it takes to punch down the ram. There should be no doubt then that our 2500 fps load will do the job.

     Well what about that 35 grain bullet? Letís assume that our 35 is going 2600 fps. This is actually a very conservative figure. When I duplicated the Winchester factory load I described earlier with the 35 grain bullet and slightly less powder, I actually recorded a velocity of over 2800 fps, which was absolutely incredible. But, letís go with 2600 fps just for the sake of the discussion. At 100 yards, the bullet will have a retained velocity of 2165 fps. Striking momentum is .336 pound seconds, still more than enough to take the ram every time.

     The only question mark I had at that time about target performance was bullet construction. Since there is little to no experience using very fast, light bullets on steel Field Pistol targets it was impossible to predict absolutely whether the jackets of these bullets would hang together long enough for the momentum to be fully delivered on the target. Only time and experience could completely answer that question. One thing we do know for certain is that thereís plenty of raw momentum available to do the job. More on this issue below.

Can I Take The Recoil?

     The next issue of concern to a Field Pistol shooter is recoil. Since most shooters who shoot Field Pistol with a scope use the taco hold, the gun is being held fairly close to their face and obviously, no one likes having a scope in their teeth when the gun goes off. There have been various schools of thought when it comes to loading for minimal recoil and adequate knockdown in Field Pistol. Some like fast middle weight 22 bullets, some like a slow heavy 22 bullet, and others like even slower bullets in larger diameter calibers like the 270 Ren, or the 30 carbine. No matter what school of thought they belong to, Iím sure there are folks reading this that are thinking that a 2500 fps load in the Hornet is going to generate way too much recoil to be practical for competition.

     Letís see by comparing recoil calculations for a couple of fairly typical Field Pistol loads and our 2500 fps load. Recoil is being expressed here in feet per second velocity back toward the shooter.

Cartridge Powder Bullet Velocity Recoil
22 Hornet 10.5 H4227 52 Speer 2259 7.6 fps
270 Ren 4.2 Bullseye 90 Sierra 1300 6.4 fps
30 Carbine 3.2 Bullseye 110 Sierra 1377 8.2 fps
22 Hornet 10.3 LilGun 40 Speer 2498 6.8 fps

     As you can see, the 2500 fps load, or in this case 2498 fps, has less recoil than three out of the four loads examined here and the difference between it and the lowest recoiling load is so small I doubt if the average shooter would ever notice. Why is that? Simple. Because when it comes to recoil, the weight of the bullet is the most important factor in the calculation and not velocity. Conclusion? The 2500 fps Hornet load actually has less recoil than many standard loads being currently used and is simply not going to rip off anyoneís face.

     Now in all fairness thereís also the issue of muzzle blast which is different than recoil. However the muzzle blast from the relatively small amount of powder in even a full Hornet case could hardly be characterized as being intimidating - just a brief orange flash and a puff of air. But thatís just my very biased opinion. Some shooters are more recoil tolerant than others. If this condition affects you to the point that your performance suffers, obviously itís not for you.

Range Results

     Back to the issue of whether the 2500 fps load will take down the targets reliably. While math calculations on paper are a good first step, the rubber meets the road at the range. I borrowed a couple of the clubís Field Pistol rams and put them out at 100 yards. The load used was 10.3 grains of Scott 4100 and the 40 grain Speer spire point.

     All shooting was off the bench using sand bags for a rest. To summarize, the little Speer slapped down the ram down hard every time. Even when I slipped and punched the ram low in the center of the belly line, it went over with only the briefest bit of hesitation.

     In fact, the targets were going over so well I wondered if there might be some damage on the targets. A quick check showed that the little Speer bullets were making only a very bright, but tiny pencil like mark on the steel. There was no absolutely no damage to the target.

     I also found these little round lead "buttons" laying on the ground right in front of the target. They were similar to the lead buttons you sometimes find in front of the full size swinger targets when using gas checked cast bullet. Obviously the base of the bullet was flattening itself against the steel and then dropping to the ground.

The Good News

     As we stated at the beginning of the article, this whole effort was just an casual experiment to see if the Hornet could match the 17 Hornady Rimfire in velocity. We learned that yes it can, and it can even exceed the Hornady by significant margins to boot. The other thing weíve learned from the experiment is that 2500 fps might be considered by some to be serious overkill for Field Pistol competition. (Itíd make a great hunting load though.)

     Indeed, at even 2300 fps, the Speer will still be going 1764 fps at 100 yards and will generate .313 foot seconds of momentum. At 2200 fps, itíll be going 1683 fps and will deliver .298 pound seconds of momentum at 100 yards. Achieving these velocities is easy with the Hornet. When we drop velocities, thereís also the added benefit of longer case life and even less recoil than before.

One Last Mystery

     The situation that I discussed previously concerning radical jumps in Hornet velocities must have been gnawing at me because just before I concluded the experiment, I did something truly desperate. I decided to turn the necks on some brass to see if the uniforming process would alleviate the situation.

     This turned out to be more difficult than I thought it would be. Iíve used a Sinclair neck turner for probably ten years and it works great. However the 22 Hornet case is way to small to fit into the tool that you use to hold the case while the trimming blade is rotated around the neck. Consequently, I placed the Hornetís rim in a padded vice and held the case with one hand to keep it from moving from side to side while I used the Sinclair turning tool with the other. Using just the right amount of pressure with the vice was necessary to avoid distorting the fragile rim. Here are the results.

Not Turned Turned Cases
Velocity Std Deviation Velocity Std Deviation
2477 68 fps 2545 21 fps

     Obviously, going through the considerable trouble of turning the case necks was worth the effort as velocity went up and shot to shot velocity variations went down. I can understand how the standard deviation numbers were reduced as this is not an unusual situation when necks are uniformed. However, why the velocity increased is indeed mysterious. Iíll have to think about that one for a while.


     The bottom line here is that fast 40 grain bullets are a legitimate option for the Field Pistol shooter. They shoot flat, generate very little recoil, and will take down the 100 yard rams with very straightforward results.

Good luck and good shooting. Todd

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Loads used in testing the 22 Hornet
< All Groups Fired At 100 Yards With A 10" T/C Barrel >
 Powder Bullet Primer Velocity SD Group
 10.2 gr. 4100 35 gr Hornady CCI BR 2469 8 .67  
 10.3 gr. 4100 40 gr Speer CCI BR 2498 17 1.17  
 10.5 gr. 4100 35 gr Hornady CCI BR 2581 47 1.5  
 10.5 gr. 4100 40 gr Nosler Win 2497 61 1.4  
 10.5 gr. 4100 40 gr Speer CCI BR 2761 52 0.9  
 10.6 gr. 4100 40 gr Sierra Win 2505 31 1.2  
 10.5 gr. LilGun 35 gr Hornady CCI BR 2519 33 1.88  
 10.6 gr. LilGun 40 gr Sierra Win 2498 54 2.2  
 10.7 gr. LilGun 40 gr Nosler Win 2578 13 1.51  
 10.8 gr. LilGun 40 gr Nosler CCI BR 2546 15 0.54  
 10.8 gr. LilGun 35 Hornady CCI BR 2573 38 1.75  
 10.8 gr. LilGun 40 gr Speer CCI BR 2624 20  0.51  
 11.0 gr. LilGun 35 gr Hornady CCI BR 2633 47 0.57  
 11.7 gr. LilGun 35 gr Hornady Win 2781 44 1.11  
 12.5 gr. 296 35 Horn Win 2849 20 0.59  

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Warning: All technical data mentioned, especially handloading, reflect the limited experience of individuals using specific tools, products, equipment and components under specific conditions and circumstances not necessarily reported in the article or on this web site and over which IHMSA, The Los Angeles Silhouette Club (LASC), this web site or the author has no control. The above has no control over the condition of your firearms or your methods, components, tools, techniques or circumstances and disclaims all and any responsibility for any person using any data mentioned. Always consult recognized reloading manuals.