|By Don Lewis
photo by Helen Lewis
. 19 Calhoon rifle, built by JAMES CALHOON on a CZ 527 Mini Mauser action. Lewis's rifle, topped with a 4-16x Sightron scope, is extremely accurate.
THE CHUCK was moving through a patch along
the edge of a woods 180 yards away, according to my Bushnell Yardage
Pro rangefinder. While the shooter waited patiently for an open
shot, gusting winds rippled the new growth of clover in the hayfield.
When the chuck bolted upright along the edge of the field, the
rifle cracked and a 32-grain bullet ended the hole digger's career.
Although it was a long shot, another 50 yards wouldn't have made
much difference for the 19 Calhoon.
The 19 Calhoon is simply a 22 Hornet necked down to a 19 caliber and fire-formed to a straight wall case with a 30 degree shoulder angle. The result is a case that has a bit more powder capacity. Admittedly, the increase is no more than 1 1/4 grains, but in a case the size of the Hornet, an extra grain or so of powder does make a major difference.
The .22 Hornet made its debut around 1930 when experimenters at the Springfield Armory, including Colonel Townsend Whelen and Captain G.L. Wotkyns, used the old Winchester blackpowder .22 Centerfire (WCF) case to build the first American high velocity small bore cartridge designed primarily for varmint hunting. For the most part, the hunting crowd accepted the Hornet with open arms.
It's somewhat of a paradox that the Savage .22 Hi-Power, which was introduced in 1912, had all the requisites to play a key role in the varmint hunting realm. With maximum loads of several brands of powder, the .22 Hi-Power could generate muzzle velocities more than 3,000 fps. Although it was an excellent varmint cartridge, it was lacking somewhat in accuracy in the Savage Model 99 lever action rifle. It was touted that the .22 Hi-Power was adequate for varmints and medium size big game, but that was not exactly true. The Savage Hi-Power has a .228" bore diameter, instead of .224, and even with a 70 grain bullet at 2,900 fps, it's not a deer stopper. It fell into a moribund stage, and the advent of the .222 Remington in 1950 more or less sounded the death knell for the .228 bore. The old cartridge has been relegated to the ranks of the unwanted, but it's worth noting that in a strong single-shot action, the .22 Savage Hi-Power is no slouch for long range shooting in the pasture fields.
With all the hoopla the .22 Hornet received, it was not a super accurate cartridge compared to the .222 Remington, .22-250 Remington and even the Winchester .220 Swift. When Winchester introduced the .218 Bee in 1938, the .22 Hornet's 2,650 fps was no match for the Bee's higher velocities. In 1940, a New York gunsmith by the name of Lyle Kilbourn decided to give the Hornet a boost by improving it. Kilbourn took some of the long taper out of the Hornet case and sharpened the shoulder angle to 40 degrees. Fire-forming then pushed the case out to the new chamber's dimension. The new design permitted several more grains of powder, which increased the muzzle velocity by several hundred feet per second, putting it on equal terms with Winchester's .218 Bee. However, one nagging problem still remained. The improved case didn't enhance the Hornet's questionable long range accuracy
To suggest why the .22 Hornet wasn't accurate
much beyond 150 yards would be only speculation. Some Hornet fans
feel the .224 bullet might be too large for such a small case.
The Hornet's 2,650 fps muzzle velocity is enough to easily make
a 45 grain bullet effective on varmints well beyond 200 yards,
yet the Hornet has been labeled a 150-yard cartridge. Recently,
a 35-grain .224 bullet appeared that pushed the Hornet's muzzle
velocity to around 3,000 fps. Because the diameter remained unchanged,
the 35 grain slug is a bit shorter. Range tests
proved the 35 grain was similar to the 40 grain in accuracy at short ranges, but the extra velocity didn't make the 35 grain bullet a 250-yard varmint stopper. The .222 Remington's less-than-an-inch group potential caused a lot of Hornets to be traded, sold or retired.
James Calhoon - 4343 U.S. Highway 87, Havre, Montana 59501 - basically traced the steps of Lyle Kilbourn, but then took an extra step: Calhoon reduced the caliber from .224 to .197. This resulted in longer, thinner bullets, which are more accurate. For the 19 caliber, Calhoon offers a good weight selection, including 27, 32, 36, and 40 grain bullets. The 27 grain slug can be pushed out of the muzzle at around 3,600 fps, and the 32 grain bullet (which produced the most accurate groups) exits at slightly more than 3,300 fps.
While velocity is important for long range shooting, it has no value whatsoever if accuracy suffers.
It appears from several years of range testing that the 19 caliber Calhoon bullet is more suited for the Hornet's small case than a .224 bullet. Although I didn't shoot any one-hole five shot groups, many were in the half-inch category, and that's more than adequate for long range varmint shooting.
The .19 Calhoon began life as a true wildcat, and unlike the improved K-Hornet, which is made from simply firing a .22 Hornet case in an improved chamber to fire-form it to the new chamber's dimensions, the .19 Calhoon is a pure wildcat. The parent cartridge connot be fired in the new chamber.
Calhoon offers two rebarrel kits for the 19 caliber. One is the 19-223 Calhoon based on the .223 Remington cartridge, and the other is the 19 Calhoon. The rebarrel kit consists of a chambered barrel (stainless or chrome moly steel), a set of forming/reloading dies, 100 bullets, several 19 caliber brass brushes, reloading data and complete instructions for threading the barrel, which must be done by a gunsmith. It's safe to say that any .22 Hornet action can be used, except for the old Savage 23D, which has a one piece receiver and barrel. It's also possible to use some .22 rimfire actions, such as the old Remington 581 and 591 series. That might sound impossible, because the .22 Hornet case is a centerfire, but the bolt can be altered to a centerfire.
If you're interested, master gunsmith Dennis Olsen, Box 334, 500 First Street, Plains, Montana 59859, has been converting 581 and 591 actions to centerfire for many years. Because 5mm Rimfire ammunition is no longer available, converting a 591 to the 19 Calhoon is a viable outlet for owners of the discontinued 591. Like the 581 Remington series, the 591 bolt incorporates six strong locking lugs, making it strong enough for the 19 Calhoon centerfire.
In a step towards becoming a factory offering, shooters may now obtain 19 Calhoon rifles directly fron Calhoon. Rifles are being built on two actions. One is the Ruger 77 VHZ and the other on a CZ 527 Mini Mauser. The rifle tested for this article is built on the CZ 527 action. The barrel is a heavy Pac-Nor Super Match stainless steel varmint version. The receiver is bedded with a free-floated barrel in a target vented walnut stock. The rifle comes with a crisp, 2-pound trigger pull. The detachable magazine holds five rounds. The CZ 527 Mini Mauser action is smooth working with a rocker-type safety that pulls back to the firing position.
Ammunition is available too, although transforming a .22 Hornet case to a .19 Calhoon is relatively simple. Use the full length resizing die to neck the Hornet case down to the 19 Caliber. Select a medium powder charge for the bullet weight used and fire-form. Fire-forming can be accomplished while hunting, so there's no need to waste bullets and powder making new cases. Once the case is fireformed, it can be loaded with a heavier powder charge. As mentioned, the chambered barrel must be threaded by a gunsmith for the action being used. If a .22-rimfire action will be used, it's wise to first check with either Calhoon or Olsen to nake sure the action is suitable, and to get some idea of the costs involved.
There's no danger the new 19 Calhoon cartridge will relegate the old .22 Hornet to the ranks of the unwanted. The Hornet has survived numerous challenges from other superior cartridges over the years. In the hearts of many older varmint hunters, the .22 Hornet represents the golden years of varmint hunting. Back then, the epitome of a varmint rig was the Savage 23D topped off with a 3x Weaver 29S scope. Such an outfit is a far cry from what today's varmint shooters have to choose from.
The 19 Calhoon cartridge has basically the same low noise level produced by the .22 Hornet, but offers an additional hundred yards of accurate shooting. The 19 Calhoon is an ideal starting varmint rifle for young hunters. It's a high quality product assembled with painstaking care that will give years of dependable service. The 19 Calhoon is proof that wildcatting continues to make a major contribution to the shooting world.