.218 Bee

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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.

but first off, ignore all factory loads

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) VMax3,205 ft/s (977 m/s)799 ft⋅lbf (1,083 J)
40 gr (3 g) BT3,130 ft/s (950 m/s)870 ft⋅lbf (1,180 J)
46 gr (3 g) JFP2,708 ft/s (825 m/s)749 ft⋅lbf (1,016 J)
50 gr (3 g) BT2,654 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.

7 COMMENTS

  1. I have seen a total of one .218 Bee rifle outside of gun shows, it was built on a Martini”Cadet” action.
    I had a chance to handle it briefly and recall it had a nice scope ( This would have been in 1970 or so) but I don’t recall the make.
    and a Douglas premium barrel.

  2. Sean, you keep posting pics of your buddy’s old rifle and I keep drooling on my keyboard. This is not a complaint!

    There was one roughly similar to it at a local auction recently. But the condition had some issues and I passed.

  3. You’ll probably ban me from the site or something for saying this, but I love my Hornet. It’s the most accurate of all my rifles. Is that as bad as shooting an M14? 🙂

    • I have heard a lot of people say that but I just never could get them to perform, Which is frustrating because I really wanted a good one.

      • Loading for the hornet requires a few tricks that most don’t know but I’m happy to share.

        1. Use a small pistol primer. This is critical. The thin Hornet case necks don’t have enough tension, so a rifle primer has too much brisance and unseats the projectile from the neck and wedges it into the rifling before the border starts burning. The result is poor accuracy.

        2. Use a factory crimp die to give the case maximum tension on the projectile for reasons related to point 1. This and the primer trick are most important.

        3. Use modern projectiles, not those crappy round nose things. I use 40gn Hornady Vmax.

        3. Use a stout charge of Hodgdon L’il Gun. This powder is a match made in Heaven for the Hornet and will give you safe velocities around 2800 fps. Would probably work well in the Bee too.

        I spent a frustrating year trying to find a load that would work in my Hornet, and the best I could manage was about 2 moa and I was going to sell the gun. Once someone gave me the scoop above it became a 0.5 moa gun, and regularly shoots around 0.3 moa which is just one ragged hole at 100m.

        The rifle is a Browning A-bolt micro–hunter. I hunt rabbits and foxes with it, and I can confidently head shoot rabbits out to 180m without much fuss.

        • Thank you for the details, I’ma gonna try all that. I have a nice little BRNO Hornet that does a little better than an inch at a hundred which is about all I expected for the little gun, but “better” is always better. It likes the VMax.

        • great tips. If I ever was to get another hornet, I will try that. I had already tried the 40 grain ballistic tip. Those BT modern light bullets are the best thing to ever happen to the old smaller capacity .22 centerfires like the Bee and the Hornet

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