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Reaching Into the Past - The 219 Donaldson Wasp

Reaching Into the Past - The 219 Donaldson Wasp

© By Glenn Burroughs

It’s hard to believe that some of the varmint cartridges that originated in the early part of the last century are still doing an excellent job on small game. As far back as 1912, Savage offered the 22 Hi Power cartridge in their Model 99, and it delivered a 70 grain bullet at 2790 feet per second. This cartridge is no longer available in the US but is still somewhat popular in Europe, and known as the 5.6×52mmR. The 22 Hornet and 218 Bee, first offered in the 1930s, are still in use for targets out to two hundred yards. But the varmint cartridge that set the benchmark for high velocity shooting was Winchester’s 220 Swift, introduced in 1935. Over eighty years ago this round was delivering a 48-grain bullet at a velocity of 4110 feet per second. Ammo for the venerable Swift is still available today… and not many 22-caliber cartridges can top its performance.

As one might suspect, there were numerous wildcats based on these oldies. The popular ones had names like 22 K-Hornet, 218 Mashburn Bee and 219 Donaldson Wasp. These wildcats had a larger case volume than their parent, providing room for more powder and resulting in higher velocities… and more often, better accuracy. I have had many enjoyable outings with some of the old factory varmint cartridges and their offspring wildcats… and my favorite of the lot is the 219 Donaldson Wasp. The Wasp was considered by many to be the most accurate cartridge from the mid-1930s into the 1950s, and held this honor until the 222 Remington came on the scene.

In his excellent book, The Ultimate in Rifle Accuracy, Glenn Newick provides this account of the Wasp: “The 219 Donaldson Wasp’s first variant saw the light of day about 1933. Harvey Donaldson tested several styles before settling on a case formed from 219 Winchester Zipper brass. Harvey had produced a balanced case which achieved better accuracy with six grains less powder than the parent case. In the early years hundreds of shooters, using hundreds of rifles, all found the combination to be extremely accurate. The classic Wasp case used from 27 to 31 grains of 4320, and from 26 to 29 grains of 3031. The top loads are now recognized to be over the safe pressure limit. Muzzle velocity with a 55-grain bullet approached 3600 fps.”

Since the 219 Zipper was not yet on the market in 1933 Harvey probably used 25-35 Winchester brass for the first couple of years, and when Winchester announced the 219 Zipper in 1935 he settled on making the Wasp cases with Zipper brass.

When I was much younger, owning a Wasp was one of my fervent goals but it was at a time when money was not easy to come by, and purchasing a custom-built wildcat rifle was not in the cards. Even when I reached an age where it was affordable it seemed the rifle I selected would always be chambered in a modern caliber. So this time, when I found myself with a spare Savage Model 10 action that needed to become a rifle, the decision was made to satisfy that old yearning and have the rifle chambered for the 219 Donaldson Wasp.

I figured that modifying the Savage action to handle the 219 Donaldson Wasp case should be simple, basically just replacing the Savage 308 bolt-face with a 30-30 Winchester. But to my surprise Savage never made this action with a 30-30 bolt face. So I searched for other options and, with a dash of luck, made contact with a retired engineer from Savage Arms. He advised me wisely: “Some time ago I built a Donaldson Wasp and used 225 Winchester cases to eliminate the problem you have. If you did this you could use a 308 bolt. Of course the barrel would be head-spaced on the shoulder, not the rim.”

What a simple solution; this would require no changes to the Savage action and the 219 Wasp cases would be made from 225 Winchester brass. And Winchester is still making runs for this brass so it is not too difficult to locate.

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