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The .218 Bee Daffodil Gun

By Craig Maylam

I doubt I will ever forget the day my wife Tanya and I sat in the oncologist’s room. He explained that he had some bad news for us and that Tanya had cancer in her throat and while it might be curable the prognosis was not great. I looked at her and I think we were both equally shocked.

 

He reached for a box of tissues and she must have pulled a good 10 out and dried her eyes. I just sat there stunned. The oncologist was very good and went through and explained our options and how they would proceed. I wasn’t listening at all. I have climbed a heap of hills in my time but this was by far the worst I had ever encountered.

 

“I needed a project, something to take my mind off everything that was going on around me even if it was for just a couple of hours a day.”

 

In due time the treatment started and we both managed to balance surgery, holding down a job, and raising two young children. The local community wrapped around all of us and helped us through the difficult times we encountered; I’m still not sure how to repay all the kindness we received.

 

I needed a project, something to take my mind off everything that was going on around me even if it was for just a couple of hours a day. I decided to build a rifle, and by build I mean build not just buy a stock and find a donor action and screw a barrel onto it - I wanted to build the lot.

 

Cartridges for comparison: .32-20, .25-20, .218 Bee, .22 Hornet, and .222 Rem.

 

I bought a book by Frank and Mark de Haas called “MR Single Shots Book of Rifle Plans”. I decided to build a F.D.H CHICOPEE C.F action and rifle.

 

After some deliberation I decided to chamber it in .218 Bee. I chose the Bee because I had always wanted one. For many years I had hunted with a .22 Hornet and was always left wondering if the little Bee was really any better.

 

During a visit to the late Robbie Tiffen’s workshop in Wharenui Road in Riccarton I spied a barrel in the rack made by Tony Hawken. It was in a very heavy contour, in .22 calibre, and rifled at a rate of 1 in 16. The mists of time have made me forget how much I paid for it but I remember thanking Robbie for the generous discount he applied to the transaction.

 

CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT: A view of the breech block showing the extractor tensioning plungers; details of the breech block and lever; the devil is in the detail - here’s the hammer spring in place; made with pride! Craig put his own stamp on the project.

 

The next purchase was the chamber reamer which was made by Clymer and ordered from Brownells in the USA. At the same time I ordered some Redding dies and Winchester brass from Sinclair International.

 

The instructions in the book are quite good and I made steady progress each night. My routine was tuck the kids into bed, settle Tanya into a comfortable chair or bed then head out for exactly two hours to make at least something. It was very much like a school metalwork session where you only had a limited amount of time to achieve a result.

 

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The frames took a week to file and shape and the trigger guard and breech block took even longer. The idea for me was to get everything as close to perfection as possible. The action came together quickly once the larger components were made, however after all the easy bits were done then the small parts and hand fitting had to be manufactured.

 

In three months Tanya’s treatment was well on its way and I had most of the small parts in hand. Now there was the stock to think about.

 

At a family Christmas party at my Uncle Barry’s place he asked me what my latest project was. I need to explain that Uncle Barry could build anything and had already made a pair of flintlock pistols that were excellent in every way. In anticipation of this (he always asked me the same question every year) I brought my half-finished rifle in from the boot of my car and showed it to him. He was speechless and immediately wanted to help.

 

I didn’t want any help but I explained I could do with some timber for the stock, so where would be the best place to get some? It turned out his woodshed roof was just the place! He reached up into the ceiling and pulled a small slab of walnut out and presented it to me. The best bit of woodworking advice ever given to me was then offered.

  

Craig fashioned the buttstock from a piece of fine walnut gifted to him by his uncle.

 

He said, ‘Take the wood seriously. Make purposeful cuts, take your time, stop and think before shaping anything.’ Following his advice I made the stock over a period of two weeks and got it right the first time.

 

I am still pleased with the result. Originally the fore-end was a bit longer but there was a knot in the timber there that I decided to chop out so I had to lop an inch off the front. I didn’t have enough timber to make another and I don’t care. The stock for me is irreplaceable.

 

I’ll never get another blank from Uncle Barry as he passed away a short time after the rifle was finished. After Barry passed away I sent the off-cut timber from the stock to my friend Alan Hammond to see if he could make me a duck call. Unfortunately the walnut was too soft and spilt when he pushed it onto the mandrel.

 

A .218 Bee cartridge sits on the loading ramp.

 

With the barrel finally chambered and the stock finished and fitted, I “proof-tested” the action. Proof testing was done with an overload - I fired five rounds and the action held up well (better than the primer pockets in the cases I might add) with no problems.

 

Following this I developed a load for the rifle using the excellent Hornady V-Max projectiles, and chose 40 grain weight.

 

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Excellent hunting accuracy from Craig’s 40 grain Hornady V-Max projectiles and Hodgdon Lil-Gun loads. Designed as a varmint round by Winchester in 1938, the .218 Bee is based on the .32-20 cartridge. Sales never compared with the .22 Hornet however, although the .218 has a higher velocity and a slightly longer effective range. The .218 Bee is considered accurate up to 200 yards for small game.

 

These projectiles are my first choice for any small case varmint load. The propellant I selected was Hodgdon Lil-Gun as it promised low pressure and high velocity. I decided fairly quickly on the load and final chronographing revealed it was running at 3120fps.

 

The rig shot very well with ½ to ¾ inch groups being the norm, however when I took the rifle down to the lake to sight it in I could not manage any better than a 7/8- inch group on the day.

 

“I managed to eliminate one of these very vocal pests at around 150 yards using the deck of an old Bedford truck as a rest.”

 

In the field the rifle performs well and for a start I shot it quite a bit. I must admit though, that up until writing this article I hadn’t put a shot through it for many years. Now, having pulled it out of the rack recently to both shoot it and photograph it I’ve decided to start using it again!

 

Recently I took the Bee out on one of our wallaby hunts. The property owner also requested that we remove some of his resident plover population. I managed to eliminate one of these very vocal pests for him at around 150 yards using the deck of an old Bedford truck as a rest.

 

The plover fell to a 150 yard shot from the home-built .218 rifle.

 

With a one shot one kill ratio I decided to quit while I was ahead but I will take the rifle rabbit shooting over Christmas. The label on the cartridge box confirmed that the ammunition was loaded in February 2008. It’s amazing how time marches along!

 

The rifle is not quite finished however, I want to have a small yellow daffodil engraved on the receiver and the flower is to be filled in gold leaf.

 

Roll on 15 odd years the cancer that started this whole thing off still hangs above us, but at present it is still in remission. This article was written for the express reason that given all the events and bad press our sport has attracted lately, I felt the need to write a personal story about my family’s battle and how a rifle helped me through it.

 

Craig

 

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