The 22 long rifle is the most popular cartridge ever invented by a huge margin, but in comparison to the power of the .22 Hornet, the ballistics don’t even come close.
The .22 long rifle is a rimfire cartridge that shoots a similar-sized bullet to the centerfire .22 Hornet.
Because of the vast energy increase possible with a centerfire over a rimfire cartridge, ballistic comparisons will be lopsided in favor of the .22 Hornet, but there are many more considerations in choosing a cartridge than simple ballistics.
Which Is the Better Choice: a .22 Hornet or a .22 Long Rifle?
To answer this question we’ll have to ask at least one more pertinent question first. Better for what? A .22 Hornet shoots farther, faster, and with more energy, no question.
But, the .22 long rifle is inexpensive, an excellent choice for small game and varmints closer than 200-yards and so widespread that supermarkets and service stations once carried the ammunition on their shelves.
There are more single-shot, bolt-action, semi-automatic, pump, lever-action, revolver, and semi-automatic handgun versions in .22 long rifle than any other caliber.
No other gun comes close to the incredible varieties of .22 long rifle weapons. No ammunition has as many different loads, bullet sizes, and ballistic properties as the .22 long rifle either. It is an amazing, small caliber, light energy creation.
When Was the 22 Long Rifle Invented?
Imagine a parlor game where you shot live rounds indoors at targets set against the bar. Whisky and gunpowder never make a good mix, but the .22 long rifle began in bars back in 1845.
The Florbert .22 BB cap was the first .22. They took a primer, widened the opening, inserted a .22 caliber bullet, and fired it indoors at targets.
In 1857 the first .22 short was made by Smith and Wesson for their Model 1 revolver. In 1871 the black powder version of the long rifle arrived to be used with the Model 1. It contained seven grains of black powder and fired a 45-grain bullet.
The big boys of the ammunition world, Remington and Winchester introduced the modern .22 long rifle with their smokeless powder versions of the round in 1890 with the Winchester WRF and the Remington Special.
The rest is the steady advancement of the round to the incredible varieties it is available in today, along with the bewildering number of rifles and handguns to shoot it with.
When Was the .22 Hornet Invented?
The .22 Hornet has been around a long time, not as long as the .22 long rifle, but still almost a century. It began as an offshoot of the black powder .222 centerfire cartridge.
They modified the existing .22 black powder cartridge in looking for a way to speed up muzzle velocity to expand the .22 bullet into small game, and varmint hunting.
They succeed in developing a fast cartridge that sent a bullet flying out of the barrel at 2400 feet per second, a true speed demon in its day.
There was no competition for a round like this initially, and no gun to fire it from either.
A modified Springfield bolt-action rifle was the first platform developed to fire it in a 45-grain configuration.
It proved to be amazingly accurate, the most accurate round Winchester technicians found in tests conducted in the 1920s.
A modified Martini-Cadet was also able to fire the .22 Hornet but it wasn’t until 1933 when Winchester produced Model 54 in .22 Hornet that the cartridge took off.
It was popular, replacing the .22 long rifle in many applications. It shot farther, faster, and didn’t drop as much.
The .22 long rifle was effective to 200-yards, the .22 Hornet came close to doubling that range.
The .22 Hornet was the caliber of choice along with the .218 Bee, and .219 Wasp until the .223 hit the market in the early 1950s.
Which Applications Are These Two Cartridges Best At?
Gun control was once referred to as “hitting what you shoot at.” With that in mind, the .22 long rifle has taken more small game, including illegal harvesting of whitetail deer, than any other cartridge since its arrival back in the 1890s.
The .22 long rifle is the caliber most young hunters begin with. It has almost no recoil, doesn’t make a lot of noise, and is an effective cartridge up to 200-yards when hunting small game and varmints.
It is the hands-down leader in target shooting as well. The ammunition is inexpensive (when it’s available) easy to load, clean-burning, and can be fired from literally thousands of different rifles and handguns.
There are even fully automatic .22 long rifle sub-machine guns available in Eastern European markets.
The Henry Golden Boy often considered such a stylish lever-action rifle that many people buy one and then never fire it, is very popular in .22 long rifle.
The .22 long rifle gets a lot of praise, but it is short-distance, low-power praise. The .22 Hornet is a much faster, higher energy round, which has almost twice the recommended shooting distance in varmint hunting, and the .22 Hornet does not drop as fast as the .22 long rifle.
As a centerfire cartridge, you can reload the .22 Hornet. Ammunition is much more expensive, but not such a deal-breaker if you reload your own spent .22 Hornet cases.
The .22 long rifle as a rimfire cartridge is “one and done” they can’t be reloaded.
The price lends itself to the .22 long rifle, but the distance and flatter shooting at 200-yards of the .22 Hornet make it a better choice for long-distance varmint hunting.
Which Round Shoots Faster?
The magic of the .22 long rifle is in the variety of cartridges you can purchase. In the chart below we’ve selected three of the more popular long rifle cartridges to compare with the 35-grain and 45-grain versions of the .22 Hornet.
You’ll notice right away that ballistic charts end at a distance of 200-yards with all .22 long rifle ammunition. The .22 Hornet in contrast often extends its ballistic information to 500-yards.
The Yellowjacket is a fast .22 long rifle choice in 33-grain bullets. Its velocity at 1500 feet per second (FPS) at the muzzle is 500 FPS slower than the 35-grain Hornet round and almost 1200 FPS slower than the 45-grain cartridge.
The biggest change you’ll notice is the drop in speed at 100 and 200-yards by all three long rifle cartridges compared to the two .22 Hornet rounds.
At 200-yards the 45-grain .22 Hornet has three times the speed of the .22 RCMBA long rifle.
For speed, the .22 Hornet wins easily.
Which Has More Energy?
Energy is the measurement in foot-pounds that determines the destructive power of a cartridge. The .22 Hornet has more than four times the energy of the most powerful .22 long rifle cartridge, the Yellowjacket at the muzzle. By 200-yards it is approaching six times the power as the .22 long-rifle energy becomes non-viable.
Which Round Shoots Flatter?
The .22 Hornet has zero bullet drop at 200-yards, making it a very flat shooting platform for varmints and small game.
The best .22 long rifle cartridge in terms of bullet drop, the .22 Thunderbolt still drops 43 inches at the same 200-yard distance. All three .22 long rifle cartridges are accurate at 50-yards, but at 100-yards the drop is 14 inches with the RCMBA, 7.5 with the Yellowjacket, and still 5.5 with the Thunderbolt.
It’s not a fair comparison to put the rimfire .22 long rifle into a contest with the .22 Hornet in terms of simple ballistics. The centerfire .22 Hornet wins every time.
There are more concerns than simple ballistics in a rifle, as indicated by the incredible popularity of the .22 long rifle.
The inexpensive cost of both rifle and cartridge, combined with the pleasure of target shooting a rifle that won’t kick your arm off are two important considerations.
The availability of ammunition is another, the .22 Hornet has become a niche caliber, with high prices attached to the ammo. The .22 long rifle is so popular it is often hoarded, creating artificial shortages.
The .22 long rifle is offered in more styles and actions than any other caliber. The variety of finishes, barrel lengths, actions, and modifications from a single shot to a fast semi-automatic Ruger variety make it the darling of the weekend hunter, and target shooting world.