The Wonderful World of 17 Caliber Centerfires

Author:  Michael T. Huff, CoyoteLight Pro Staff
Owner: masterpredatorhunting.com
October 7th, 2014

Author’s Note:  This is the second of two articles about the Wonderful World of commercial .17 caliber cartridges!  In this article we explore .17 caliber centerfire cartridges.  In the previous article, we examined .17 caliber rimfire cartridges. 

If you are a predator or varmint hunter pursuing bobcat, fox, coyote, raccoon, prairie dog, ground hog, or a host of similar sized critters, the .17 centerfire calibers are just for you!  In fact, there is just so very much to love about these fast, flat shooting, accurate offerings.  If you have not experienced one for yourself, you are missing something great!

My introduction to the .17 centerfire world occurred in 2008 when I purchased a Remington Model 700 CDL SFLE chambered in .17 Remington Fireball.  I decided to try a .17 centerfire after speaking with another CoyoteLight Prostaff as spectators at a predator calling contest.  He gave his wildcat .17 Mach IV high praise.  Essentially, the .17 Rem. Fireball is a near ballistic twin to the .17 Mach IV.

Since jumping into the .17 centerfire world, I have been absolutely hooked ever since!  In fact, I have probably spent more time hunting with my .17 Rem. Fireball than any other caliber over the past seven years.  I would venture to guess that I put 200 rounds down the pipe each year hunting varmints and predators.  It is a good thing I love to reload, sure saves a lot of money.

Today it is relatively easy to obtain commercial .17 caliber centerfire rifles.  You need not purchase an expensive custom .17 wildcat chambering.   Commercial variants including the .17 Hornet, .17 Fireball, and .17 Rem. are available on the market.  If you need a reason to add another gun to the safe, consider giving one of the three calibers serious consideration.  However, if you are an experienced reloader seeking something unique, many wildcat offerings exists from custom gun makers (.17 Javelina, .17-222, .17 PPC, .17 Ackley Bee, .17 Jet, .17 Squirrel, .17 Tactical, etc.).

Anyone wishing to study .17 caliber centerfire rifles in greater depth might consider picking up a copy of Todd Kindler’s publication, The Sensational Seventeens.   It has a wealth of information on this tiny caliber from a true expert in the field.  Kindler is a small caliber expert and owns and operates The Woodchuck Den in Ohio.  His business offers an assortment of quality custom handmade .17 caliber bullets ranging from 21 to 30 grains, and many other items of interest to the small caliber shooter.  (Author’s Note:  I have no personal or professional affiliation with Todd Kindler).

Why am I so positive about .17 caliber centerfires for varmint and predator hunters?  Probably my first reason is because are very flat shooting calibers.  If you consider the data in the table below on the mid powered .17 Rem. Fireball, the ballistics are very, very, very good.  Sighted in at 200 yards and shooting a 20 grain bullet, the bullet drops less than five inches at 300 yards, yet remains less than one inch high at 100 yards!  Another positive feature of the .17 calibers is their potential to be pelt friendly.  Bullets are small and typically range from 20 to 30 grains.  With the proper bullet selection and shot placement, they are frequently very fur friendly.  In addition, cartridges such as the .17 Hornet and .17 Fireball use very little powder, are inexpensive to reload, and they are relatively quiet to shoot.

Having humanely harvested hundreds of predators with my .17 Rem. Fireball, I would be remiss not to point out some disadvantages of the .17 centerfires.  Keep in mind that some of my perceptions are based only upon my own individual hunting, shooting, reloading, and research.  Your results may vary and that is to be expected.

First, tiny .17 caliber bullets are not ideal for long range on windy days or nights.  The small bullets can drift significantly in high wind making it very difficult to shoot precisely at long ranges under such conditions.   If you hunt predators at long range in windy conditions, consider larger flat shooting calibers such as the .220 Swift, .22-.250 Rem. or the .243 Win.

Second, commercial ammunition is relatively expensive and is not available in a wide selection of bullet types outside polymer / plastic tipped, thin skinned, highly explosive varmint bullets.  While I have found this style of bullet to highly accurate, they are not the bullet I use for predators.  Given their thin skin and rapidly exploding design, when shot from the super high velocity .17 caliber centerfires, hitting bone can result in bullet splash.  When this occurs you typically hear a fox or coyote bark or yelp and may not recover the animal due to inadequate penetration.  However, if you have highly refined shooting skills with sniper precise field accuracy, this may be of no concern to you.

Given the outstanding performance results of the three outstanding commercial calibers in the table below, which one is a predator hunter to choose?   Actually, they are all good choices depending upon what you hunt, whether you reload or buy commercial ammunition, and how far you need to reach.  If I were exclusively a fox hunter, I would opt for the .17 Hornet with a 20 to 24 grain bullet.  If fox, raccoon and coyote were all on the menu, I would opt for the .17 Fireball with a bullet from 25 to 27 grains.  However, if I was strictly a bobcat or coyote hunter, I would choose the .17 Remington and a 30 grain bullet.

Once you begin shooting and hunting with .17 caliber centerfire rifles, you may find it very hard not to fall in love with these mighty mites of the centerfire world!    If you use one of these calibers for night hunting, they are capable of precise long range shots.  In such situations, you will appreciate having the best long range gun light, the CoyoteLight!


CaliberBulletWeightMuzzle Velocity (fps)Trajectory 100 YardsTrajectory 200 YardsTrajectory 300 YardsEnergy (ft/lbs.) 100 YardsEnergy (ft/lbs.) 200 YardsCost per Round
17 Hornet203650+1.10-6.4420294$.75
17 Fireball204000+ .700-4.9507358$1.47
17 Remington204250+ .540-4.25574470$1.55

Author’s Email Contact Information: [email protected]

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