22

Hornet
The author still has the original Owner's Manual for the blue 1940 Chrysler Windsor with the running boards. The six-cylinder classic served the family well for over 200,000 miles.

As a kid in my late single digits, I was fortunate enough to have contact with adults who liked to shoot high-powered rifles. Around 1950, most of the time this meant military rifles that were either original or close to original, or those that had been made into a somewhat lighter and trimmer rifle that was more pleasant to carry. I tagged along with my dad whenever I could, and especially on weekends he would go from one place to another while running errands or visiting with someone usually connected with his profession. It wasn't unusual that this would take us down country roads, because he was involved in the sales of manufactured products for agriculture. It was one of those sunny Saturday mornings that we pulled into a fine, all white painted farmstead in his blue 1940 Chrysler Windsor with the running boards that all cars should still have. (Of course, all cars should still be round, too. I don't know what happened here.)

As we walked toward the massive, enclosed front porch with all of its sparkling windows, there came the sound of a "bang!" from the direction of the main barn. We headed over there, and a few steps into it there was another "bang". We followed the noise, figuring it was the farmer. A cow kicking the milking stall has a different sound. At the same time, it didn't occur to us that it was a rifle. Rifles have a much louder "ka-boom."

We found Russ seated at a blanket-covered picnic table pulled into the end of the barn; all set up to do some serious shooting out of the two swung-open doors at the north end. The picnic table was at an angle to allow a comfortable shooting position for the right-hander, and there were three rifles laid on it. Right then, he was sighting in a brand new Model 70 Winchester in 22 Hornet. With a box of the little cartridges dumped out near his sandbag rest, it was easy to understand why there was only a "bang."

That was my first exposure to a 22 Hornet, and there have been many since. First reaction was that I had to have one. Russ had a lot of gray hair, so I knew he was old. Their family car was a Cadillac, so I knew he was rich. I just had to get old and rich, and I would be able to have a 22 Hornet. No problem; I've always been patient.

We're very fortunate to be living in the the United States. Even the people who aren't very fortunate are very fortunate. Everyone reading this knows that. As it turned out, I didn't have to get old or rich to have a 22 Hornet. By the time I was 20 or so, Savage Arms took care of the quest by providing a very inexpensive version that actually shot quite well. In years since, I've had that Model 70, as well as a Browning bolt action, a couple of Rugers, and several single shots. But the one, and only one that really shot extremely well was an Anschutz. I should say "two," because both of them shot well under an inch at 100 yards. For three shots, many groups would be under half an inch. Second closest to that was the Model 70.

The 22 Hornet is great fun, as it sends a bullet the weight of a 22 LR much farther and much flatter, while still not being nearly as loud as, say, a 223. On the minus side, the cartridge is a little fussy when it comes to reloading. Some of the easier powders to work with must be weighed perfectly rather than thrown from a measure, because even two-tenths of a grain difference will open the groups. Another minus, for the person not willing to be extra careful during the process, is the thin case neck. Move right along and see how many you can crush.

It takes a while to develop a load for each rifle. It took more than a while for the Ruger 77/22s. I gave up. The "varmint" weight rifle was able to be settled down to a little under an inch (we're talking averages here, not the occasional group that you keep to show your wife and friends), but only after some bedding tricks in the action area and forward portion of the forend. The 77/22 with the standard-weight barrel never came close to an inch, so I regarded it to be too inaccurate to keep. Actually, I sold them both.

I recently came full circle, back to Savage, this time a still relatively inexpensive 25 Lightweight Varminter Thumbhole, to have pleasing accuracy in a practical rifle. I chose the $52 higher priced thumbhole stock because it's comfortable from a rest; easier to get your trigger finger into the correct position. Any of the other three versions of the Model 25 are better for field carry, and those with the synthetic stocks are up to $200 less in price. The 25 is also chambered for the 204 Ruger, 222 Remington (Hallelujah!) and 223 Remington, so the action obviously provides a huge margin of safety for the mild Hornet. The 25 Savage is also chambered for the 17 Hornet, which is a absolute blast when it comes to shooting enjoyment. Hornady produces the ammo, which drives a 20-grain bullet at 3,650 fps; the trajectory of a 223 and recoil of a 22 WMR. Still, shooters who chose the 17 Hornet must remember that even that 17-caliber barrel needs regular attention regarding cleaning.

So there we have it; the Model 70 Winchester and the Anschutz are wonderful, and entirely too expensive for most folks. The single shots are classic, but vary in being finicky. The Savage 25 really makes sense these days. I see it as a rifle with three choices of chamber rather than five; the 22 Hornet, 17 Hornet, and 222 Remington. I believe the 22 Hornet is most comfortable and effective with 40- and 45-grain bullets, with maximum velocities of about 2900 and 2600 fps, respectively. Maximum effective range is about 225 yards, or maybe a little more, on small varmints like gophers. If this is enough, or if you're seeking nostalgic class and very pleasurable shooting, look no further.

JDC