Saturday, February 18, 2006

H&R Model 158 Topper .22 Hornet/20 Gauge

I've wanted a rifle in .22 Hornet for a long, long time, and finally picked one up today. It's an old H&R Model 158 Topper single shot. It came with an interchangeable 20 gauge shotgun barrel and a Weaver K-4, 4x scope in Weaver rings. I found it at Seneca Arms (116 Gravel Pike, Green Lane, PA 18054). Along with the rifle I bought two boxes of Winchester Super-X 45 grain JSP cartridges.

The Topper rifles were built on the same action design as the H&R single barrel shotguns, which were produced in the millions. If I remember correctly, though, receivers meant for rifles were made from steel instead of the cast iron used for shotguns. They were intended as simple, low cost working firearms, e.g. for whacking woodchucks tearing up your cow pasture. Harrington & Richardson went belly up in the late 80s/early 90s and was reincarnated as H&R 1871 and New England Firearms. Marlin currently owns both the H&R 1871 and NEF brands, and you can buy newly made guns from them as the "Handi Rifle."

This is my second Weaver scope. My Savage Mark IIGL .22 LR wears a Weaver 4x28mm rimfire scope. The K-4 is intended for centerfire rifles, and as an older one, is all steel. Weavers optics and mounts have never been fancy but they are good glass and hardware.

The .22 Hornet is a neat little cartridge. It was created in the 1920s by a few employees of the US Army's Springfield Armory, including Grosvenor Watkins and Townsend Whelen. They took the black powder .22 Winchester Centerfire round dating from 1885, loaded it with smokeless powder and jacketed bullets. In 1930 Winchester started offering the .22 Hornet as a factory cartridge.

The Hercules powder company developed a new powder to allow 45 grain bullets to reach 2400 feet per second from a Hornet's muzzle. The name of the powder: "2400," and it's still made today by Alliant. From what I've been reading lately, the powder to use for best accuracy in .22 Hornet rifles nowadays is Hogdon's L'il Gun.

Because early rifles used rechambered .22 LR barrels, they had .223" groove diameters instead of the .224" diameter used in most other .22 centerfires. Sometime in the 30s or 40s gunmakers changed to .224" barrels for Hornets.

.22 Hornet rifles are suitable for small game and varmints up to about coyote size. I plan to use it for some target shooting and maybe some varminting. With good loads and assuming the gun shoots well, it should be fine out to about 200 yards.

Shotguns have never been a big interest of mine. I've had a few but the only one I still had up until today was an H&R Topper 12 gauge I got while in high school, and I haven't shot it in years. Before H&R went bankrupt, their quality control went downhill and my 12 bore is an example. When shooting it one time, the barrel lug into which you screw the forearm retaining screw sheared off. So, the forearm is now held on with duct tape. Anyway, while the 20 gauge barrel is good to have on hand -- it has a 3" chamber and modified choke -- I don't expect to use it a lot. However, I am planning to see how well I can shoot Foster slugs out of it. If I can do "minute of deer" out to 50 yards, I may take use it for deer hunting on a friend's property out in Chester County.

12 comments: said...

Dave, I have been looking for a 158 topper 22 hornet for some time. You are blessed to find one. Could you take a picture of the gun and breach of the barrel. I collect these little single shots. I have heard that they made the hornet in the "profiled" barrel but I have never seen one.

My address is


Anonymous said...

I was given a single barrel H&R topper model when i was about 10yrs old. I am not sure of the model # B/C i am currently at relatives house for Thanksgiving. But it has interchangeable barrels in 20gauge, 14 gauge, 30-30 rifle, and 22 Jet or Hornet. I think it is a 22 Jet but maybe a hornet i have 1 bullet and it looks like a short mag bullet w/ a 22cal bullet. The 22 Jet barrel has never had a bullet shot through it. I would like to know if any one else has this gun & what other barrels I could get for it. My stepdad gave the gun to me along w/ many other old guns and i have the same Topper Model single shot w/ only a 410 gauge barrel. I would like to get a 30-30 caliber barrel for it and let my wife hunt w/ it. The first Topper model gun i spoke about is in flawless condition and out of respect it will stay that way, he told me to try to get a used barrel for the other topper to hunt w/ b/c the one w/ all the barrels could be worth some money some day. So if any one has a barrel i would like to buy or trade for it. And I have never met someone who is familiar w/ this gun w/ iterchagable barrels so i would like to here from someone who is. I do not use the cpu much and some said to look for and sell some of my guns on e-bay but ihave never done that.

Andrew Lewis

mike j said...

i have a beautifull 22 hornet harrington& richardson it has a ted williams sears scope the guy i got it from said it was made in 1956 and the scope in 1957 i took it out yesterday and shot a 8 point buck i think its more than enough gun what some call a varmit gun hunting is easally doable,
my hornet is definatley accurate,not a problem to shoot a quater at 75 to 100 yards ,anyone else out there hunted with a hornet,also considered for sale

mike j said...

mike j with the 22 hornet


RICK said...

my name is Rick an i have a H&R 20 ga iv owned a lot of these single shot shotguns an this on is the best one iv found yet i use myn for about everything an hasn't let me down yet im just wondering how many barrels can i get fore it an what do they cost?? Rick @RSDDJ3@AOL.COM

Anonymous said...

I was just given a 158 Topper 20 Ga. 3" chamber an I would like to know how long the original barrell should be.


Anonymous said...

This is in response to Andrew Lewis on his 158 Topper and what one might be worth. I recently purchased a 158 Topper set at an estate auction with 30/30, 20ga, 410ga, and 22 Remington Jet. Price was $230. Collectors price in excellent/good condition is around $300+-.

Dave Markowitz said...

$230 sounds like a great price for a Topper with 4 barrels. I paid about $200 for mine with two barrels and a Weaver K-4 scope.

Oliversdaddy said...

I would give $400.00 for a 158 Topper set with 30/30, 20ga, 410ga, and 22 Remington Jet.

I would also like to purchase barrels for a topper as well. Email me


Tracy said...

Dave; I have a 058 Topper with .22 Hornet and 20 gauge barrels, in excellent condition, that I bought at a gunshow awhile back. In fact, it was either never fired or only fired a few times; it required a bit of a break-in period before it worked out the new-gun glitches.
I shoot it primarily with cast bullets. I had wanted a Hornet for quite awhile, specifically for shooting cast bullets.

Anonymous said...

i just baught a topper 158 with 20ga and 30-30 but i dont know how to change the barrels. does anyone know how. thanks

Dave Markowitz said...

To switch the barrels, first verify the gun is unloaded and close the action back up.

Then remove the screw securing the forearm to the barrel. Pull off the forearm. Finally, open the action again, which will allow you to lever the barrel off the receiver.

Reassemble in the reverse order.