Man, I love the .218 Bee. I can’t even tell you how much I love this round. It is one of my favorites of all time. It’s fun, it’s accurate and its versatile depending on the rifle. I hold it right up there with the .243 WC in my personal top 5 list of favorite rifle rounds.
Winchester developed the round in 1937 for the growing popularity of varmint shooting with high velocity rounds. The Bee is was made from necking down the .25-20 to .22cal. The case is rimmed as most were at the time. Everything about it should have been a winner in it’s day. Where they messed up was introducing it in a lever action. Sine it was a lever gun, the bullets were the blunt nosed type used in lever guns due to the magazine requiring projectile tips to be touching the primer of the round in front of them. Those bullets didn’t ,and really still don’t, usually equal very accurate performance. Winchester eventually brought out the excellent Winchester model 43 bolt action in the Bee, but by then it was too late. The .22 hornet had won the popularity race by then. The Hornet could be had in the excellent Model 54 and Model 70 and was promoted by the big name gun writers of the day, Townsend Whelan having Springfield 1903 sporters made in .22 hornet. The Bee found a home in single shot rifles like the Winchester 1885 or the Sako L46 later on.
I would walk over 100 rifles in 22 hornet for one good .218 Bee . You may talk to some old timer who will say its not as accurate as other rounds. This isn’t the case when handloading and using something other than the original bullet styles. I don’t recommend the lighter bullet weights either, even though the velocity is slowed. I found the 50 and 55 grain nosler ballistic tip varmint bullets give accuracy very much like a .223 within the Bee’s range. The most accurate one I ever fired being a custom Martini Cadet converted to centerfire and chambered in .218.
|35 gr (2 g) VMax||3,205 ft/s (977 m/s)||799 ft⋅lbf (1,083 J)|
|40 gr (3 g) BT||3,130 ft/s (950 m/s)||870 ft⋅lbf (1,180 J)|
|46 gr (3 g) JFP||2,708 ft/s (825 m/s)||749 ft⋅lbf (1,016 J)|
|50 gr (3 g) BT||2,654 ft/s (809 m/s)||782 ft⋅lbf (1,060 J)|
The rimmed case shines more in a single shot action than a bolt gun. That’s what I would always recommend getting if you wanted to try the Bee. Something like the Winchester high wall or low wall. Above is a classic example of a vintage varmint rifle used by a serious rifleman of the day.
The downsides or limits of the Bee are range. It’s not a long range round, But you should be able to deduce that just by looking at it. Within 300 yards it a pure joy. The other downside is case life. You don’t get many reloading from .218 Bee cases. The parent case was originally a blackpowder cartridge. It was never intended to take shot after shot of modern propellants and be reused dozens of times.