It's hard to believe that 16 years have gone by since Hornady released the .17 Hornady Magnum Rimfire in 2002. The release of the 17HMR was received with excitement by some shooters. Other shooters viewed it as a total joke. Even today there is a large segment of the population that views the cartridge as entirely worthless. If you want to generate a over 10+ pages of heated argument and fierce debate on a shooting forum, start a thread asking about using a 17HMR on coyotes. As someone who's killed hundreds of coyotes, reading these threads is both comical and infuriating. You'd think that a decade and a half would be long enough for the dust to settle regarding a cartridge, but the 17HMR still creates debate wherever it's mentioned. Some shooters still love it. Others still hate it.
I've been shooting 17HMR since around 2005, and it keeps its place among my rifles. It is a truly unique cartridge that fills its niche quite effectively. My issue has never been with the cartridge itself, but rather with the available rifle selection. If you're unfamiliar with the 17HMR and it's capabilities, or simply enjoy the cartridge, this article is for you!
We might as well get this out of the way first. The segment of the shooting population that despises the 17HMR hates the 17HM2 (mach 2) even more. Most of these folks are traditionalists that will talk bad about anything new. They will have a great many justifications and rationalizations for their angry dispositions, but the fact remains that only the intellectually inferior can get so worked up over things no one is forcing them to buy. More options in the marketplace doesn't mean you have to buy them all. It simply means that if you ever need to buy one, it's available. I don't have to justify the existence of the 17HMR in this article. It justifies its own existence quite well, as this article will demonstrate. The 17HMR does not render the 22Mag obsolete, nor does it render the 22LR obsolete. Even the largely ignored 17 mach 2 has very unique capabilities. The "why" can be as simple as wanting a specific shooting experience. A 22 Magnum can provide a shooting experience entirely unlike that of a 22LR, and a 17HMR can provide a shooting experience totally unlike that of a 22 Magnum. It all comes down to what experience you want to have and understanding what the true capabilities of each cartridge actually are in relation to your specific desires. You won't find that information on the internet. You must discover it for yourself.
Here we get into the meat of the subject when discussing 17HMR. How does it actually compare to the other popular rimfire offerings? Real world testing tells the tale better than anything, but some numbers can help too. Generating data on rimfires can be pretty daunting. The variables of bullet offerings are almost unlimited and the different rifle configurations even more vast. Complicating things even more is the lack of solid published ballistic coefficients. As if that didn't make things hard enough, even when ballistic coefficients are available and most variables known, there's the fact that most ballistic solvers are not very reliable when you get into computing firing solutions for low BC subsonic projectiles. This shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone, simply because ballistic coefficients and accurate firing solutions are most important when considering distant shots... and rimfires are not suppose to be making distant shots. Then lets not forget that rimfire ammo is notoriously inaccurate and unreliable. A situation that can not be remedied, as we can not handload for rimfires. At least not in any practical sense. As a result, you just don't see much money or time in R&D being spent on determining flight paths for rimfire cartridge. Despite that, us rimfire enthusiasts have been able to manage. So, while I will provide some data here... it is not to be considered the holy grail of rimfire trajectory comparisons. It is simply a good faith effort to demonstrate where these rimfire cartridges sit in relation to one another. Real world testing of all available ammo types for each cartridge is simply not in the scope of this article.
Changing bullets, BC's, and launch velocities can change the data on these cartridges wildly. Knowing that, I'm going to select some "average" BC's for our calculations which are widely accepted. On the 22lr we will use a BC of .150, representing Lapua Center-X type ammo. The 22WMR (22mag) has infinite bullet offerings, so we'll use a BC of .110 representing a typical 40-45gr offering. Then for the .17HMR we'll use .125 as that is typically accepted for the 17gr to 20gr offerings. All calculations are done with atmospheric conditions set to 70 degrees F, 27.5 inHg station pressure, and 50% humidity. Wind is set at 9:00 10mph. It should be noted that given the fact the 22LR is totally outmatched here, the zero is set to 40yds at its trajectory apex, while both the 22mag and 17HMR are zeroed at 100yds.
It's a given that you can find faster variants of all of the above cartridges, however it should be noted that it doesn't really change their relationship to one another much. If you go with the hottest available loadings, their trajectory differences are roughly the same percentage value. The above numbers track quite well with my own real world experiences. You can see some distinct differences among them. The red box indicates where they have fallen subsonic. The 22lr is not anywhere near or even close to the kind of performance seen by the 22mag or 17HMR. Considering elevation by itself, the 22lr is worst, followed by the 22mag and with the 17HMR leading the pack. Keep in mind that the 22lr is zeroed at 40yds, while the 22mag and 17 are zeroed at 100yds. When we come to wind drift, the story changes a bit. Here you see the ballistic coefficient show its strengths. Despite the significantly slower launch velocity of the 22lr, its wind numbers are actually quite impressive compared to its dismal elevation drop. The low BC of the 22mag definitely shows, while the low BC of the 17HMR is given a hand up by its significantly higher launch velocity.
Given that all the above cartridges are rimfire, we are reliant upon strictly factory sources for ammo. There are nearly limitless ammunition options available for the 22LR. Literally dozens of bullets, velocities, and configurations. The 22WMR has a solid three to four dozen different offerings available, and the 17HMR having the fewest options with only just over a dozen or so available types. Each cartridge has its staples however. Popular offerings which have proven to capture shooters attention year after year. In 22lr you'll find CCI, Lapua, Eley, and RWS with most of the high end market. The 22mag shooters gravitate toward CCI and Hornady offerings. In 17HMR the favorites are much harder to identify due to the fact that so much of the "options" are simply re-boxed identical ammo from the exact same root manufacturer. Trying to discover who "actually" makes what is an interesting exercise. CCI dominates 17HMR production presently. Does winchester make their own? Does Remington? Does Hornady? Some say yes, while others will claim not. It's nearly impossible to get a straight answer from the various companies directly, as they all want to portray an image to be bigger and more self sufficient than they actually are.
Regardless of the debate regarding who makes what, it's very clear there are lots of options available, with more being introduced as time progresses. Those seemingly endless ammunition options are part of what makes these rimfire cartridges unique in their capabilities. You can get 22lr ammo which will approach 22mag performance. You can get 22mag ammo which will provide near identical 17HMR performance. You can get 17HMR ammo which will start getting into 17WSM performance. However, these various "hot" types of ammo are rarely reliably precise. I find it is best to simply embrace the most reliable and precise performance you can get with any cartridge rather than to push the limits. The truly important aspect of choosing a rimfire cartridge is realizing their limitations. Just because you "can" shoot coyotes with them, doesn't mean you should. Raccoon sized animals can be stopped abruptly with a 17HMR or 22Mag, but a 22lr typically takes multiple shots. I've seen coyotes get hit squarely in the shoulder with a 22-243 wildcat and run off. These cartridges are for varmints, period.
I hope that gives you some perspective regarding the 17HMR as it compares to 22lr and 22mag. Your own situation and desires will dictate what direction you should go. I find they are all fun and all have their uses. Though if I could only have one, I'd stick with the 22lr. Subsonic suppressed match grade 22lr out of a highly tuned custom Remington 40X is unlike anything else. Yet I'm not restricted to only having one. I can have them all! I find myself very happy with the 17HMR and don't feel as if I'm missing anything by not having a 22mag. Others may feel differently, and that's OK. Everyone should get to have what they want!
With all the different types of ammo available, choosing which one to use can cause some confusion for shooters. Essentially you'll want to determine your intended goal or application first. Are you planning to shoot for score on paper, shoot raccoon sized animals, or going after starlings and gophers? In my experience, one type of ammo can do all of the above but certain types will produce different effects. For instance, you can shoot starlings and gophers with a 20gr soft point, but it typically will not produce the spectacular explosive effects of the 17gr polymer tipped projectiles. Conversely, the 17gr poly tipped bullets tend to not anchor a big South Dakota badger as effectively as the 17gr jacketed hollow points or 20gr soft points. So you'll want to give some thought to your intended target when deciding on which ammo to use.
Accuracy and precision lead my choices. I'll save you a lot of trouble right now and simply say that the CCI TNT 17gr JHP and CCI 20gr Gamepoint has produced the best accuracy I've seen in any of my 17HMR rifles I've owned. Despite this fact, there is another important aspect of rimfire ammo selection which centerfire shooters or casual rimfire shooters may not be aware of. That aspect is lot number testing. Each rimfire rifle will shoot best with certain types and lot numbers of ammo. Just because you go and buy a brick of CCI TNT 17gr and it shoots wonderful, doesn't mean the next one from a different lot number will. The golden rule is this: If you find a lot number of ammo that shoots exceptionally well, you buy all they have in stock. Several online ammo sources will send you small quantities of certain lot numbers to try. You can test in your own rifles and then buy out the remaining lot number that shoots best... or at least buy all you can afford.
Since testing and availability are important, I buy my 17HMR ammo at SoDak Sports in Aberdeen, South Dakota. If you're in the the market for anything shooting related, they are worth checking out. They carry a wide range of most things outdoors! Great selection of rifles, shotguns, binoculars, handguns, ammo, and accessories. They have a good variety of 17HMR ammo and they keep an excellent quantity on hand. So if you find something your 17HMR likes, they will likely have plenty of it in stock for you to come back and buy! The staff are always professional and helpful. They also recently purchased Leader outdoors store in Mitchell, SD.
Just about every major rifle manufacturer produces a 17HMR. I've owned Marlin, Sako, Savage, CZ, Ruger, and NEF 17HMR rifles. Most of you know me well enough to be aware that I own some very high end centerfire rifles as well as 22lr rifles. I expect solid components in a rifle built to exacting tolerances that operates without any mechanical issues and shoots extremely well. None, and I repeat, NONE of the previously mentioned rifles would deliver on all of those requirements out of the box. Even with significant modifications, most could not ever demonstrate they belonged among my other rifles. The savage and marlin actions were some of the worst I had experienced. Prone to failure to fire, failure to eject, and failure to feed. Everything felt small and cheap, because it was. $300-$500 for those rifles. The CZ was a bit of a step up, but not much, requiring a pile of aftermarket parts to even start feeling right. Yet I could never get happy with the safety location or bolt operation. The Ruger was quite nice, but never did shoot very well. The NEF was a break action single shot. I got tired of that quickly. Other than the Ruger, they all seemed to shoot fairly well, but nothing was super impressive. They could produce a nice group or two, but could not do it very consistently. I do not fault the Marlin, Savage, or NEF rifles for not being able to satisfy me. They are simply cheap guns and I just do not have cheap gun tastes. The CZ, Sako, and Ruger on the other hand demand a significantly higher price, being between $800 and $1400. While not full custom rifle prices, I still felt a bit let down in their out-of-the-box performance.
The closest I came to 17HMR happiness was a Sako Quad with aftermarket trigger guard, rail, and bolt handle/knob. The factory trigger guard and bolt handle on the Sako Quad is plastic. Sako should literally be embarrassed to ship those $1200 rifles in that condition. The factory barrel was replaced with a Lilja drop in. I had it cut at 20" and threaded 1/2x28. I also had them bed the stock and give all the metal a black Cerakote job while it was there. That Sako Quad is the one pictured above. By all accounts, it's all the 17HMR that most people would ever need. The base rifle was $1200. Another $200 in aftermarket trigger guard, bolt handle, and scope rail. Lilja barrel was $400, and another wad of hundred dollar bills to the smith for the cut/thread, bed job, and Cerakote. After all was said and done I had turned that $1200 Sako Quad into an over $2500 Sako Quad. I added a gemtech suppressor, set of Nightforce rings, and a Nightforce 2.5-10x42 scope too. Just as it's pictured above is how it has stayed since and how it sits now.
The safety on the Sako Quad is in the right place and operates just like a Rem 700 or clone centerfire. The stock is adult size with good length of pull and ergo's. It is made of a nice cut of european walnut too, so it looks quite good with lots of character. It feels mostly like a normal centerfire rifle. Sako Quads ship from the factory with an excellent adjustable trigger. They can be set to break crisply at 1.5 to 2lbs without issue. The action is lightweight and is definitely the weak link in the rifle. It is just too light and too tin can feeling as compared to a centerfire. The Lilja drop-in barrel certainly increased the rifles accuracy as compared to the original factory barrel. I've dispatched a massive number of starlings and gophers with this setup. Simple, but effective repeater that offers a good experience for the dollar. However, if you're like me and are fond of custom rifles, you're likely to find this rifle lacking. You'll come away with the bolt manipulation feeling hollow like a cheap tin pot. Fragile... in a word. Though by this standard, you're likely to find most rifles lacking.
When only a full custom rifle will do, Nothing else will work. This rifle started its life as a cobbled together Remington 40XR in 22lr. It had a mismatched bolt, dinged up stock, and barrel that wasn't anything special. Perfect candidate for a tear down rebuild project like this. I have owned more than a dozen Remington 40X 22lr rifles, so I knew exactly what I was going to end up with on this build. Big rifle feel is what I was after and that's exactly what this rifle delivers. We went through the action, truing it up, tuning it, timing it, and making all the necessary modifications for it to accept the larger rimfire cartridge. A nice bolt knob to finish the job. They installed my favorite Timney 517 trigger which is in nearly all my other centerfire and custom rimfire rifles. We selected a Lilja 4-groove 9 twist Rem Varmint contour barrel and finished it with 1/2x28 threads at 26". I opted for a nice long barrel on this rifle, as my Sako Quad has a 20" barrel, and I'd had plenty of experience with 16", 18", and 22" 17HMR's. I wanted something new and different to work with. The barreled action was then masterfully bedded into a McMillan A3A stock with Anschutz accessory rail and adjustable recoil pad.
This 17HMR has no equal. The robust and heavy 40X action exudes strength and rigidity you can feel with every bolt cycle and every impact of the firing pin. It doesn't feel flimsy or sound hollow and fragile like all the other 17HMR's I've fired. No sir, this one here stands so far apart from the pack that it isn't even the same species. A 17HMR shooting experience unlike any other, at least for now. If one of you want one just like this... you can have one. How awesome is that? Go buy you a smacked up rusty Remington 40X 22lr for under a thousand bucks. Send that thing to TS Customs with a check between $2500 and $3500 (depending on what hardware choices you make) and they'll send you back the most impressive 17HMR money can buy. Simple as that.
Don't ask me why. If you need to ask, you wouldn't understand anyway. That's not me being cynical or cute, that's me being honest. This isn't the kind of thing you justify to someone else. I'm not the kind of person that feels like justifying myself anyway. I've just never felt the need for that kind of outside approval. This is the kind of thing you either understand or you don't. If you understand, well then chances are that you and I could talk about anything and mostly agree. If you don't, I don't think less of you, but I doubt we'd have much to talk about. I simply "needed" this rifle, and thanks to TS Customs and the options in this world... I have it. You may not need one like it, and in that event, all the gun shops are slammed full of little cheap rimfires made just for you, 1000 at a time.
I left it as a single shot rather than converting it to a repeater. Reason one being, it's easier. Reason two, and the most important reason being: There's something quite special about shooting one shot at a time. Mentally, it does something different than when you're sitting atop a full magazine. I have plenty of repeaters. This rifle serves a different mantra.
Is the barrel length worth it? I tested the 8 different types of ammo I had on hand in this 17HMR with 26" barrel as well as my Sako Quad with 20" barrel and collected the average velocity.
|Listed Box FPS
|Sako Quad 20" Lilja
|Custom 17HMR 26" Lilja
|Savage A17 17gr
|CCI TNT Green 16gr Lead Free HP
|CCI TNT 17gr JHP
|CCI Gamepoint 20gr JHP
|CCI V-max 17gr
|Remington Accutip-V 17gr
|Hornady V-max 17gr
|Winchester Varmint HV 17gr
The quality control among 17HMR ammo is certainly not very good. It's not uncommon to see FPS extreme spreads of more than 150fps when testing. For this reason, firing a statistically significant number of rounds meant at least 50 to 100 rounds of each type. I felt that was unnecessary, given that the longer barrel shows to provide faster velocities in most ammo tested. If I were to fire more of the ammo which showed slightly slower in the longer barrel, its very likely the results would have been reversed. It's also important to remember that each and every barrel will be different. Some barrels will be slow, and others fast. While it is true the longer barrel on this rifle provides faster velocities than the 20" on the Sako, is the length penalty worth the velocity gained? When you plug a specific bullet and velocity gain into a ballistic solver, you see that there is not much benefit to having a barrel over 20". You might pick up one or two tenths of a mil of wind drift at 200yds. If I did it over again, I'd stay with 20" and save that extra length for the Thunderbeast 22 Takedown suppressor. This 26" barrel is awful long with the TBAC can on the end. I've had 16" 17HMR rifles before, and can tell you first hand that there is definitely a performance penalty when going that short. I've had 4 different 17HMR's which were cut/threaded to 16" and learned the hard way that you often give up quite a bit of performance when compared to 20" barrels. If the majority of your shooting is inside100yds, then barrel length is likely not going to matter. Though I do believe the longer barrels help stretch this cartridge out a bit.
One thing that I have noticed is that not only do you tend to have a slower velocity from the shorter barrels, the ES/SD is typically higher in the shorter barrels. The ES/SD of this 26" Lilja is the lowest I've seen in any 17HMR I've tested thus far. This rifle was built with a very specific purpose in mind which does not require portability. Maximum ballistic advantage and shootability were the requirements. In that capacity the longer barrel seems only to provide benefits without any drawbacks, if handling is ignored. So for a general purpose 17HMR rifle, I think 20" is the perfect length.
This rifle is the most precise 17HMR I've ever owned. Despite that, the ammo limitations of the 17HMR can be very apparent. Above you'll see several 5-shot groups which were fired at 50yds. The large group on the left is Savage A17. That is a good example of what it looks like when a specific type of ammo or lot number doesn't agree with the rifle you're shooting. The tiny little bug holes are CCI TNT 17gr jacketed hollow point and CCI Gamepoint 20gr soft points. Though even when using ammo the rifle really gets along with, you'll often have a flyer that will open up a tiny group to twice its original size. The other factor here is wind. The 17 bullets are pushed around in the wind pretty good, and the above groups were shot in a 10mph+ wind. There just isn't an abundance of calm days here in South Dakota. I can tell the rifle can produce groups in the .2's real easy with ammo it likes during calm conditions. This is just the kind of exceptional performance I was looking for when I decided to have this rifle built.
When testing at 100yds, the rifle was consistently sub-MOA with CCI Gamepoint 20gr and CCI TNT 17gr, but the rest of the pack just couldn't hold in there. Groups were almost always less than 1.5" with the various poly-tipped bullets, but the jacketed hollow point and soft point variety simply performed better. Five shot groups around 1/2 MOA showed up from time to time when there was a steady wind, with even a few 1/4 MOA groups presenting themselves, but 3/4 MOA was far more frequent. You can really see the limitations of the ammo when working on paper at 100yds. While this is clearly very precise for a rimfire, accuracy can suffer greatly at distance when the wind is blowing at all. Aerodynamic jump introduces as much as 2 to 3 tenths of elevation variance at 100yds, and the wind can cause a group with 1/2" of vertical to string 1.5" horizontally with frustrating ease. The 17HMR is just not a centerfire and those little bullets are blown around a lot. If the wind is blowing even 5mph, a 17HMR would be an extremely poor choice to attempt to clean a 1/2" dot drill at 100yds.
Happiness with the 17HMR cartridge is all about understanding its strengths and weaknesses. Many people make grand claims of the capabilities of the 17HMR which are not based in reality. This sets the stage for people placing their expectations too high and subsequently being disappointed, or joining the crowd making false claims. I'll try to do my part to set your expectations of the 17HMR correctly.
The 17HMR is not a coyote cartridge. I don't care what people claim to the contrary. I've shot coyotes squarely in the chest with a 55gr 22cal bullet going 4100fps and had them get up and take off running, only to die several hundred yards later. It's not about bullet placement or bullet selection or any of that. The 17HMR is not a coyote cartridge. I've shot and killed several coyotes with 17HMR, but that doesn't mean its the correct choice. It's simply what I had at the time. Just because it "can," doesn't qualify it as being capable. Fox, skunks, chucks, and rodents such as rats, gophers, and starlings are perfect sized targets for the 17HMR. Larger critters such as raccoon and badgers can also be targeted quite effectively. Though you'll often feel under-gunned if you encounter large specimens of those types. I've had to put 5 well placed rounds into a badgers lungs before it expired. The 17HMR just does not have the same kinetic energy transfer as a centerfire and should never be confused with them. Even a 17 Hornet will put the 17HMR to shame. The 17 HMR carries approximately 250 ft/lbs of force at the muzzle, while even the lowly 17 Hornet with at typical load carries nearly 600 ft/lbs. When compared to something like a .223 remington, the 17HMR is further embarrassed by the .223's over 1,100 ft/lbs of energy with even the lightest of loads.
I recently spent a few hours with my new custom 17HMR in a prairie dog town. The wind was blowing 5-8mph which would be considered fantastic conditions for centerfire sod-puppy shooting. However, the 17HMR demonstrated its weakness very quickly. When shooting prairie dogs, most shots will present themselves from 200yds and beyond. Yet the 17HMR is almost entirely ineffective at 200yds and beyond. I was able to kill several prairie dogs in a single shot from 90yds to 180yds, but the shots past that distance were very difficult. There was one particularly active mound at 350yds which had significant numbers of prairie dogs repeatedly popping up. I fired over 25rnds there before scoring a hit, and that hit did not convincingly kill the prairie dog. One-shot instant death hits on the critters were the norm out to 150 to 175yds, but beyond that the prairie dogs routinely crawled off... regardless of shot placement. This mirrors my past experiences with 17HMR as simply not being very effective past 150yds. All of that culminates with the 17HMR not being a great choice in a prairie dog town.
A 17HMR is not a competition cartridge. The lack of any match grade ammunition offering is the single greatest limiting factor to this cartridge and it's future. Despite the fact that some very impressive groups can be turned in, there is no excuse for the quantity of flyers produced by even the very best lot-tested ammo available for the 17HMR. If this custom rifle build proves anything, it's that the cartridge is certainly capable of outstanding accuracy. If the ammunition were up to par from a quality control standpoint, the 17HMR would become a whole other class of cartridge entirely. The ability to shoot a fly at 50yds on command from a capable rifle would really be something. I hope some ammo manufacturers take notice here, as the market is absolutely desperate for truly match-grade 17HMR ammunition. We want it, and we'd pay for it. It's time they realize that there are enough $300 17HMR rifles and there is already far too much trash ammo.
When it comes to rodent and varmint eradication inside of 150yds, the 17HMR is quite possibly the most fun you can have with a rimfire of any variety. Shooting a starling squarely in the center with a 17HMR borders on the comical. An extremely loud and pronounced "pop!" as the winged vermin explodes into a glorious puff of feathers. Shooting mice and rats produces a similar effect as the terrible little vermin simply detonate in place as if a small explosive charge were set off inside their bodies. Virtually zero recoil ensures you get to watch it all transpire in all its glorious definition through your chosen optic. If you have a sparrow infestation, or pigeon problem, or starling trespassers... the 17HMR is one of the safest and most enjoyable cartridges you can choose. No handloading means an effortless and endless supply of ammo, and when you can find it easily for $8 to $15 per box of 50, it isn't overly expensive to shoot when considering the level of performance it provides. Match grade 22lr ammo is no cheaper, and a 22lr of the best pedigree won't make easy work of a 100yd starling shot in the way a 17HMR does. I've shot more pigeons off the top of my barn at 70yds with a 17HMR than I can possibly remember. Striped gophers wrecking my yard have paid with hundreds of their lives at the hands of 17HMR's over the years. There is just something infinitely special about this little cartridge and what it can do. Having shot it for over a decade has demonstrated it's worth to me and countless other shooters.
If you have never owned a 17HMR, this is just the excuse you're needing to try it out. If you'd rather just dip a toe in the water to see what it's about, then you have a plethora of cheap options at your disposal. One thing is absolutely certain: No one but you can decide whether a 17HMR is something you need to keep around! You owe it to yourself to give one a try.
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