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 caliber centerfire 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 caliber. Had the .218 Bee been introduced in the great Model 70 bolt action rifle, it's fate might have taken a different twist. But it never happened.
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 caliber. 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.
Best accuracy was recently squeezed from a Marlin Model 1894CL with a Speer 46 grain flat nose bullet pushed along in the neighborhood of 2700 fps by H110, 2400, and W-680 powders.
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/Center 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.
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 single shot or bolt action 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 yards, but on coyote, bobcat or the like, it cannot be depended on for one shot kills farther then 150 yards. 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 223 Remington and 22-250 Remington. The 218 Bee, like the 22 Hornet, has a relatively mild report compared to the more powerful 22 centerfires 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.