The Wonderful World of .17 Caliber Rimfires

Author:  Michael T. Huff, CoyoteLight Pro Staff
Owner: masterpredatorhunting.com
October 1st, 2014

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

If you think back to only the year 2000, very few hunters even knew about the existence of .17 caliber rifle cartridges.   There were a very small group who discovered the mighty .17 Remington centerfire.  However, although being around commercially since 1971, it did not achieve the following it deserved.  The other very small group of individuals familiar with .17 caliber cartridges were wildcat reloaders who experimented with creating noncommercial configurations in the .17 caliber.  However, the mere thought of a .17 caliber rimfire cartridge…absolute heresy!

In 2002, the innovative team at Hornady set the shooting world upside down with the introduction of the .17 Hornady Magnum (rimfire) Rifle cartridge!  Hornady created this new round by necking down a .22 Winchester Magnum Rifle case to .17 caliber.  We owe the explosion of .17 caliber offerings in the last decade to the .17 HMR.  It was the spark that unleashed the magnificence of the .17 caliber to the masses.

So, why exactly did the .17 HMR become such a successful offering?  First, ammunition was reasonably priced and remains so today.  Also, there is the usual bandwagon crowd of buyers who enjoys trying out the newest innovations on the market.  The caliber was also appealing to those living in our rapidly expanding urban and suburban populations.  It offered these folks a relatively quiet round compared to centerfire offerings.  Also, raccoon and fox hunters were drawn to the fur friendliness of using this caliber when seeking to preserve pelt values.  Next, prairie dog and groundhog hunters appreciated the mild recoil which enabled them to see their bullet strike the animal while watching through the scope.  Finally, the .17 HMR turned out to be a very accurate round.

Probably the most significant of all the factors contributing to the unbelievable success of the .17 HMR was its inherent accuracy.  Small calibers are used on small animals with tiny kill zones requiring precise bullet placement for ethical hunting.  If small calibers are not accurate, the market loses interest quickly.

As a word of caution, both gun and ammunition manufacturers have warned that .17 HMR cartridges should not be shot in semi-automatic rifles or injury or death could result.  However, in bolt action rifles this round remains fairly popular.

Since the .17 HMR was such a great commercial success, Hornady wasted no time and only two years later in 2004, introduced a second .17 caliber rimfire cartridge.   Rather than being built on the .22 Winchester Magnum case, this new offering named the .17 Mach 2 rimfire was built on the smaller .22 long rifle case.  Lacking in speed and power compared to its older brother the .17 HMR, the .17 Mach 2 has never achieved the success of the .17 HMR.

The last .17 rimfire to be discussed is my absolute favorite and I feel is the most exciting development in rimfires, the mighty .17 Winchester Super Magnum! This caliber is still an infant having only hit the market a mere two years ago in 2012.  In order to contain the pressure of this round a nail gun blank was used to build the case.  The mighty .17 WSM can boast speeds of 3,000 fps with a 20 grain bullet.   If you ask me, that is pretty impressive for a rimfire rifle!

I used a .17 WSM on a few hunts last groundhog and predator season.  In my limited experience with this caliber, it proved ideal for groundhog, fox, and raccoon within 200 yards.  It was lethal and very pelt friendly.  My gun preferred the 25 grain bullets but never quite achieved the accuracy I demanded so we parted ways.  However, like all new products, ammunition and rifles continue to be refined and improved.

As evidence of continued advances, a new 20 grain caliber hollow point round is anticipated to hit the market in the very near future.  This is new ammunition which will join the existing offerings of 20 and 25 grain polymer rounds currently being sold on the market.

In a dozen years we have experienced a historically unprecedented surge in .17 caliber rimfire offerings.  This great tiny caliber offers many favorable attributes at an affordable price.  Let’s hope that the current .17 caliber offerings continue to hit the market.  One can only imagine what might be the next exciting new .17 caliber rimfire offering!

CaliberBulletWeightMuzzle Velocity (fps)Trajectory 100 YardsTrajectory 200 YardsTrajectory 300 YardsEnergy (ft/lbs.) 100 YardsEnergy (ft/lbs.) 200 YardsCost per Round
17 Mach 21721000-14-52884918 cents
17 HMR2023750-9.9-421407528 cents
17 WSM203000+1.90-1027919032 cents
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