Handloader|December - January 2020
Layne Simpson

During searches for a better varmint cartridge, gunsmiths and tinkerers of the 1920s took a close look at what could be done to improve the performance of the .22 Winchester Centerfire (.22 WCF) introduced in 1885. First available in the Winchester 1885 rifle, it was sometimes also cataloged as the Winchester .22 Single Shot and the 22-13-45, with the latter two numbers indicating the charge weight of black powder and the weight of the lead bullet. Beginning during the 1920s and until its discontinuance in 1935, the .22 WCF was loaded with a charge of smokeless powder that duplicated the original black-powder velocity of 1,300 fps. According to some sources, bullet diameter was .228 inch, but the bullets in my 1920s Winchester factory ammunition measured .226 inch. Winchester’s “200-yard small game cartridge” promotion was overly optimistic to say the least.

Those who began loading the .22 WCF case with smokeless powder needed jacketed bullets capable of withstanding the increased velocity. Some were made by forming jackets from fired .22 Short cases, inserting a lead core and swaging to the desired shape. Others pushed 43-grain bullets made by Remington for the 5.7mm Velo Dog revolver cartridge through an annular draw die. Barrels used were originally chambered for the .22 Long Rifle and had a 1:16 twist with a groove diameter of .223 inch. Bullets were sized accordingly. Winchester waited until others had done all the work, and since the .22 WCF was still being produced, stamping .22 Hornet on the heads of .22 WCF cases made the job easy. Factory ammunition loaded with 45-grain soft-point and 46-grain hollowpoint bullets at 2,600 fps was introduced in 1930. The barrels of early factory rifles in .22 Hornet, including my wonderfully accurate Winchester Model 54, have a groove diameter of .223 inch and a 1:16 twist rate.

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