Marlin CL 218 Bee, (Classic)

When Winchester introduced the .218 Bee in 1938, they probably figured that varmint shooters would buy any rifle as long as it was chambered for a new twenty two calibre center fire cartridge. Obviously, their crystal ball was operating at less than full voltage, less than 6,000 Model 65 lever action rifles were produced in this calibre. Had the .218 Bee been introduced in the great Model 70 bolt action rifle, it's fate might have taken a different twist.

In 1949 and 1950, the .218 Bee had it's second chance at fame and fortune when it became available in the Winchester Model 43 and the Sako L-46, both bolt action rifles. But the introduction of the .222 Remington cartridge in 1950 swept the Bee even farther under the rug, along with a number of other factory made and wildcat cartridges of like calibre. Until Marlin pulled it from the grave in 1990 by chambering Model 82 rifles for it, the Bee was a dead cartridge. Remington had stopped loading the Bee and Winchester was down to a single load.

Despite the dark cloud that seems to have always trailed the .218 Bee, it is an excellent cartridge, one quite capable of clean kills on varmints up to the size of groundhogs out to 200 yards or so. Due to it's relatively low velocities, 40 and 45 grain bullets made with soft lead cores and thin jackets for the .22 Hornet should be used when varminting with the Bee.

Thanks to Zac for letting me use his Marlin for this review


Best accuracy was recently squeezed from a Marlin Model 1894CL with a Speer 46 grain flat nose bullet pushed along in the neighbourhood of 2700 fps by H110, 2400, and W-680 powders.Source:

Hodgdon Data Manual, 26th Edition

IMR 4198 is listed as being the choice powder for this round.

Left: The Marlin 218 Bee Classic and Winchester factory ammo 46 GR Hollow Point. Bellow: The 46 GR HP has a thin jacket, making it an explosive little round.



Historical Notes

The 218 Bee, introduced by Winchester in 1938, was originally chambered in the Model 65 lever action rifle, a modernized version of the Model 1892. Considerable enthusiasm greeted the announcement of this cartridge, and many magazine articles were devoted to comparing its superior killing power and range to the 22 Hornet. Although criticized as being inaccurate, some Model 65's were capable of minute of angle accuracy. After WWII, Winchester brought out the Model 43 bolt action rifle in the 218 Bee. Mechanical troubles developed in some early models, and the rifle was discontinued. For a time, one or two European manufacturers, such as Sako, and Krico, furnished small Mauser type rifles in 218 Bee. At the present time, Ruger, Marlin, Thompson/Centre and Browning chamber guns for the 218 Bee. Cases can be made by necking down a 25-20 or 32-20 brass, then fire forming.

General Comments

The 218 Bee has a larger case and somewhat greater powder capacity then the
22 Hornet. It provides higher velocity and a greater effective range than the 22 Hornet, and in a good quality rifle, its just as accurate. It is one of the most economical small game or varmint cartridges available. On small varmints it can be counted on out to 200 metres, with kills on rabbit in excess of 300 meters, but on fox it cannot be depended on for one shot kills farther then 150 metres. On rabbits or other edible game it is necessary to use full metal jacketed bullets or reduced loads, otherwise it ruins much of the meat.

The Bee is easy to reload, and one can duplicate anything from the 22 Short up to and exceeding the
22 Hornet. With modern powders, the factory performance can be improved safely. By using heavier bullets of 50 and 55 grains, its killing power and range can be increased.

Although still a fine cartridge and useful for many purposes, the 218 Bee has been largely displaced by the 233 Remington and 22-250 Remington. The 218 Bee, like the 22 Hornet, has a relatively mild report compared to the more powerful 22 center fires and can be used under circumstances in which the larger cartridges would not be acceptable. It is a better performer than the 22 Hornet and its lack of popularity has always been a mystery. The Bee is the basis of several useful wildcats. Ackley's version approximately equals the  222 Remington performance. The 17 Bee Improved offers impressive short barrel performance. Factory loaded ammunition is available from Winchester.

Source: Cartridges of the World

I love this little cartridge, it is great fun to shoot. I shall certainly be on the look out for another for my own “Classic” collection, I have the 25-20, but would love to have the 218 Bee and 32-20. So if you are reading this an own either and want to sell please contact me.

 I hope to be able to include some home-loads shortly that should improve on the accuracy.