.219 Donaldson Wasp, Mild Mannered Accuracy

By Dave Thornblom

In 1995, I once again did some bartering with Mr. Fred Smith of Bullberry. This time he turned me on to a 24" stainless bull barrel for my T/C Contender rifle. I also bought one of his custom stocks and fore ends in fancy black walnut, Redding reloading dies and case form die, plus Burris scope mounts and rings. A stainless Burris 3x9 scope now rests in the rings forming an extremely accurate varminter.

Forming cases for this 1930's vintage cartridge is time consuming, but well worth the trouble if you like shooting tiny 100 yard groups. I do.

When Harvey Donaldson designed this cartridge, he really knew what he was doing. This little number, based on a shortened and blown-out .219 Zipper case (itself based on the .30-30 WCF case), took the bench rest world by storm when it was introduced in 1937, not long after Winchester had introduced the .219 Zipper parent case.

If you read some of late 1930's and 1940's match reviews, you will find that Mr. Donaldson's brain child was in the winner's circle more times than not. Depending on the individual match, fully 70 to 80% of the contestants were shooting rifles chambered for the .219 Wasp.

In recent years, some custom rifle makers have been having their chamber reamers made to cut .219 DW chambers with a shorter neck. This may be OK if you plan to shoot the same bullet all the time. Since cartridges like the .22 PPC, 6mm PPC and .22 Remington BR are dominating the bench rest game these days, the .219 DW is now more of a varmint cartridge. The original longer neck makes this cartridge more versatile as longer, heavier bullets do not intrude on the powder space.

Fred Smith has his chamber reamers made to original Donaldson dimensions by Clymer. Redding works very closely with Clymer when they make dies for the .219 DW so that loading this round becomes very easy after cases are properly formed. The correct trimmed to length after all case forming is completed is 1.813 inches. After cases are fired, they should be cleaned, de-primed, full length re-sized in the Redding die and reloaded. This cartridge really benefits from bench rest or match grade primers, either CCI-Br2 or Federal 210-GM. I have been having excellent results with seating bullets .030" short of touching the lands.

Remember that with the Bullberry chamber for this cartridge, chamber and full length size die dimensions are so close that full length sizing is required. If you do not full length size your cases, the Contender will not fire. Contender frames have a "safety feature" built in that "senses" a situation where the cartridge may be a fraction too long and will only let the hammer fall to the safety notch, not all the way to the firing pin.

With this cartridge in this rifle, forget partial re-sizing or neck sizing. It simply won't work. I would suggest the use of a tungsten carbide expander button and thorough cleaning inside the case necks.

Old loading information for the .219 DW can run very high pressures, in some cases up 60,000 psi. This is partly because chronographs and pressure guns were few and far between in those days, and partly because many of the older bench rest or match rifles were based on Mauser 98 actions or Winchester 1885 High Walls, both of which could handle that kind of pressure. Also, barrels on these old bench rest rifles were 27 to 29 inches in length. The Contender cannot handle that kind of pressure, at least not for very long.

I have used bullets weighing from 52 grains to 60 grains with very good accuracy. Even fire-forming loads shoot small groups. One in particular, the 60 grain Hornady Hollow Spire Point bullet with 26 grains of IMR-4064 and CCI-Br2 primers posted a 5 shot group at 100 yards measuring 3/8 of an inch, center to center.

With 52 and 55 grain bullets, I use 28 grains of IMR-4064 for approximately 3300 fps from a 24 inch barrel. With 60 grain bullets I use 26.5 grains of IMR-4064 for approximately 3200 fps.

These velocities are similar to what you can expect from the .223 Remington or the .222 Remington Magnum from barrels of similar length. The introduction of these two Remington cartridges is what stymied the popularity of the .219 DW. Shooters could now have the performance and accuracy of the Wasp without the attendant case forming chore. More time to spend shooting.

I have tried other powders in the .219 DW with similar results, but IMR-4064 seems to be very consistent in this rifle. 52 to 55 grain bullets shoot 3/8 to 1/2 inch groups and 60 grain bullets shoot 1/2 to 5/8 inch groups. As my friend James Wooton says, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

On occasion, when the wind is still, the sun not in my eyes, which are focusing better than normal, and when my coffee consumption somehow co-ordinates my flinch with my trigger jerk, any of these loads can and have posted 1/4 inch groups. Not bad for a break-in-the-middle rifle.

Because of the case forming chores, the .219 Donaldson Wasp is not for everybody. But, if you don't mind piddling around with making you own cases and enjoy shooting tiny groups with a cartridge designed 66 years ago, this cartridge and rifle may fit nicely into your arsenal. The recoil is negligible. Mild mannered accuracy is a surety if you do your part.

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Copyright 2003 by Dave Thornblom. All rights reserved.