The .22 Hornet traces its lineage back to the .22 WCF. Col. Townsend Whelen and Capt. G.L. Wotkyns—both of whom were working with Springfield Armory during the Roaring Twenties—helped finalize the centerfire cartridge’s design and chambered it in converted M1922 Springfield rifles, but it was Winchester that first legitimized the cartridge for the commercial market in 1930. The .22 Hornet was an immediate success, gaining ground as a light-recoiling centerfire cartridge that was thought to be ideal for moderate-range varmint and predator hunting.
The cartridge also became a popular silhouette competition round and even saw duty in World War II when it was chambered in the M4 Survival Rifle, which was carried as an emergency firearm by U.S. airmen. Velocities from a 24-inch barrel range from about 2,500 to 2,700 fps with 45-grain loads to more than 3,100 fps with 30-grain factory offerings. Because many .22 Hornet rifles feature 1:16 twist rates, 45 grains is the heaviest bullet weight offered in most factory loadings.
The .22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire (most often referred to as .22 Mag.) is a more modern cartridge, though it arrived on the scene nearly six decades ago. Winchester initially offered the round as a more potent rimfire alternative to the stalwart .22 Long Rifle and chambered the round in its Model 61 slide-action rifle. Savage also offered its Model 24 shotgun/rifle combo gun chambered in .22 WMR, and other companies have followed suit over the years. More recently, Savage has offered the A22 Magnum semiauto chambered for this round.
So how do these cartridges compare? While the .22 WMR is hot for a rimfire, it still can’t match the .22 Hornet’s velocities. With 30-grain bullets, factory .22 WMR loads can top 2,200 fps, which is still about 900 fps slower than Federal’s TNT .22 Hornet load with the same weight bullet. And while both rounds fall well short of the capabilities of the hotter .223 Rem., .22-250 Rem. and the like, the Hornet has an unmistakable advantage in terms of speed and energy.
If you’re shooting ground squirrels at 50 paces, both rounds will do nicely, but when the quarry is larger (specifically coyotes) and the range longer, the .22 Hornet begins to outshine its rimfire challenger. When comparing the Hornady 30-grain .22 WMR V-Max load with the brand’s 35-grain V-Max .22 Hornet load from rifles with equal-length barrels, the results are telling.
The Hornet load, when zeroed at 200 yards, drops 17.1 inches at 300 yards. When the V-Max .22 Mag load is zeroed at 100 yards it drops almost that same amount at just 200 yards. Additionally, the Hornet carries 130 more foot-pounds of energy at 200 yards than the .22 Mag. load (197 and 67 ft.-lbs., respectively).
But energy figures don’t tell the entire story. One major advantage for the .22 WMR is cost-per-round with factory ammo. Each trigger pull with the .22 Mag. is going to cost you about a third to a quarter of what you will pay when shooting .22 Hornet factory loads. There are more .22 Mag. load offerings, too. CCI, Fiocchi, Speer, Winchester, Federal, Aguila and Hornady all offer .22 Mag. ammo. Nosler, Hornady, Browning, Federal, American Eagle and other brands offer .22 Hornet loads, but they are less likely to be on the shelf at your local hardware store. Of course, because it is a centerfire the .22 Hornet can be reloaded, but case life is oftentimes lessened by thin neck walls.
In terms of rifle availability, the .22 Mag. wins hands-down. Browning’s T-Bolt, Savage A22 Magnum and B-Series rifles and Ruger’s American Rimfire are all available in .22 Mag. The selection of .22 Hornet rifles is narrower, although CZ offers its 527 bolt action chambered for this round.