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The .218 BEE: although commercially eclipsed by the .22 hornet, this ultra-cool varmint round has plenty of sting to go around.

THE POOR .218 BEE EVER HAD A HANCE. IT WAS INTRODUCED IN 1939 in the Winchester Model 65, which was basically the Model 92 with a pistol-grip stock, 22-inch barrel and button magazine. As all Winchesters were in those days, quality was excellent and accuracy was as good as a lever action could possibly be, but varmint shooters had too many other options. About a year before the Bee emerged from its hive, Winchester had introduced a faster cartridge called the .219 Zipper in the Model 64 lever action. Even earlier, the .22 Hornet had become available in the super-accurate Model 54 bolt gun, and in 1937 the Hornet and the new .220 Swift were offered in an equally new rifle called the Model 70. During all the interest in cartridges of higher velocities, the .218 Bee got swatted in the shuffle, and the Model 65 was discontinued in 1947 with less than 6,000 built, the majority in .25-20 and .32-20.



In 1949 Winchester made a final attempt at keeping the .218 Bee buzzing over the varmint fields by offering it along with the .25-20 and .32-20 in the Model 43, an economy-grade bolt action often described as "the poor man's Model 70." Through the years, I have owned Model 43s in all the chamberings, and while the one in .218 Bee was accurate enough for bumping off a crow at 200 long paces, it was not as accurate as my Model 54 and Model 70 rifles in .22 Hornet. It's a darned pity that the Bee was never available in those higher-priced rifles.


Then in 1949 came a superbly accurate little bolt-action rifle from Finland called the Sako L46. Most sold in the United States were in .222 Remington, but a few were also chambered in .22 Hornet and .218 Bee. The L46 and the Model 82 offered by Kimber of Oregon during the 1980s are the two most accurate Bees I have ever shot.

Not many other rifles have been available in .218 Bee. Ruger chambered a few No. 1 rifles for it during the 1990s, and for a while the Thompson/Center custom shop offered rifle and pistol barrels for the Contender. Then there was the Browning Model 65, which was a Japanese copy of the Winchester Model 65, and an excellent one at that. Marlin also offered the Bee in the Model 1894 lever action. (I still have one of those.)

One of the more interesting firearms chambered in .218 Bee was the Marlin Model 90, which was introduced in 1937 and initially sold only through the department store chain of Sears-Roebuck & Company. It started out as an over/under shotgun in 12,16 and 20 gauges and was eventually offered with its lower barrel chambered for the .410 shotshell and the upper in .22 Long Rifle, .22 Hornet or .218 Bee. One of those guns was used in verifying velocities for .218 Bee data in the Sierra reloading manual. If I were to buy a Bee today, it would be the Cooper Model 38.

There was a time when the .218 Bee was loaded by both Remington and Winchester with 46-grain hollowpoints at 2,860 fps, but Remington dropped the cartridge during the 1970s, leaving Winchester as the only source. Unprimed cases are not always easy to come by, but the good news is that they are easily formed by necking down .25-20 and .32-20 brass. Both are available from Remington. Starline also offers .32-20 cases.

A trip through a .218 Bee full-lengthresizing die does it for the .25-20 case, but the .32-20 must first be resized in a .25-20 die to avoid case loss due to collapsing at the shoulder. Bee brass formed from either of those cases will emerge from the die with a secondary shoulder just forward of the original shoulder. Simply reduce the amount of powder by 10 percent below a recommended starting charge, fire the cartridge and out pops a fully formed .218 Bee case. The neck will be a tad short but not enough to matter. Some of the leveraction rifles I have shot through the years had chamber diameters reamed on the maximum side, and in them the neck sizer in my set of RCBS dies extended case life enough to notice.

Due to low-impact velocities compared with bigger cartridges, thin-jacketed bullets made specifically for loading in the Hornet and Bee are the most effective on varmints. Like the .22 Hornet, the barrels of rifles in .218 Bee almost always have a rifling twist rate of 1:16, and for this reason bullets measuring no more than .560 inch long are usually the best choices for accuracy. They include the Sierra 40-and 45-grain Hornet, Nosler 40-grain Solid Base, 33-grain Hornet, 40-grain Spire Point and 46-grain FN from Speer and three bullets from Hornady: the 35-grain V-Max, 45-grain Hornet and 45-grain Bee.


The 40-grain Hornady V-Max and Nosier Ballistic Tip of the same weight border on the brink of instability in the slow twist, and for this reason they seldom deliver the best accuracy. Bullets of all styles are suitable for use in bolt actions and single-shots, but those with sharply pointed tips should not be loaded into a tubular magazine. Maximum overall cartridge length for lever-action rifles is 1.680 inches.

Optimal powders for top velocities are 2400, W296, H110, Lil'Gun, H4227, IMR 4227, VV N120 and A-1680. Lil'Gun combined with the Sierra 45-grain Hornet and Hornady 35-grain V-Max has proven to be the most accurate in my 1950s-vintage Sako. Due to the miserly powder charges, a mild primer such as the Remington 6.5 will often deliver the lowest velocity spreads.


I like to zero a rifle in .218 Bee two inches high at 100 yards. This puts its bullet about an inch above point of aim at 150 yards and a couple inches low at 200. As versatility goes, the Bee is small enough to use on chipmunks and flickertails and big enough to handle a called-in coyote standing 100 yards from the muzzle.

Recoil is almost nonexistent, and a rifle barrel lasts practically forever. So does a pound of powder. But when all is said and done, the biggest thing the little cartridge has going for it is a soft bark compared with bigger cartridges. This is becoming increasingly important in the more settled areas of our country where shooting a .226 "Loudenboomer" may cause the fellow who owns the land to forget to invite you back.

WARNING: The loads shown here are safe only in the guns for Which they were developed. Neither the author nor InterMedia Outdoors Inc. assumes any liability for accidents or injury resulting from the use or misuse of this data.

 (CR - (CR.) (FPS) (ft - (IN.)
 ) lbs)

SPEER TNT 33 VV N120 15.0 1.660 3,055 683 1.28

HORNADYV - 35 H110 13.0 1.650 2,954 677 0.71S

HORNADY V 35 Lil'Gun 14.0 1.650 3,071 732 0.69

HORNADY V 35 VV N120 14.5* 1.650 2,982 690 0.97

HORNADY V 40 H110 11.5 1.770 2,922 758 1.54

HORNADYV - 40 VV296 11.5 1.770 2,811 701 1.86

NOSLER 40 Lil'Gun 14.0 1.765 2,868 730 1.41

NOSLER 40 VVN120 14.5 1.765 2,884 738 1.26

SIERRA 40 2400 12.5 1.700 3,014 806 0.87

SIERRA 40 IMR4227 13.5* 1.700 2,967 781 0.93

HORNADY 45 RL - 7 14.5* 1.640 2,721 739 0.91

HORNADY 45 A - 14.0 1.640 2,830 799 1.33
HP/BEE 1680

NOSLER SB 45 IMR4198 .2* 1.735 2,718 737 1.38

NOSLER SB 45 VVN120 14.0 1.735 2,840 805 1.29

SIERRA 45 H4198 15.0* 1.735 2,772 767 0.61

SIERRA 45 Lil'Gun 10.2 1.735 2,711 734 0.46


SIERRA 40 2400 12.0 1.680 2,798 695 2.12

SIERRA 45 SR - 4 0** 1.680 1,331 177 1.65

SIERRA 45 SR - 11.0*** 1.680 2,488 618 1.84

SIERRA 45 2400 11.5 1.680 2,724 791 1.71

* Powder charge dispensed through a six-inch drop tube.
** Reduced-velocity samall-game load.
*** Reduced. velocity turkey load (where legal). All loads are maximum
and should be reducedby 10 percent for starling loads. Winchester cases
and WSR primers were used. Accuracy shown shown for each load is an
average of two five-shot, 100-yard ground fired from the bench. The
Sako L46 was topped with a Bushnell Elite 4-16X scope; the Marlin M1894
was scoped with a Burris 4-12X Mini.
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Title Annotation:G&A RELOADS
Author:Simpson, Layne
Publication:Guns & Ammo
Date:May 19, 2012
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