BY TIM E. HOVEY
Up until the early 2000’s, the only real choice for plinking in a rimfire cartridge was the .22 round. First introduced by the American firearms manufacturer J. Stevens Arms and Tool Company in 1887, the .22 round is the most common ammunition in the world today. It is currently used in a wide range of rifles, semi-auto pistols and revolvers.
As a small game cartridge, it has probably killed more animals than any other cartridge in existence. Even in today’s outrageously priced ammo market, the .22 is still priced relatively low and somewhat affordable. The .22 cartridge is where most outdoor enthusiasts started their hunter’s journey.
In 2002, Hornaday, the innovative ammo company, introduced a new rimfire cartridge that would change the small game hunting world; the .17 HMR. The .17 HMR is a smaller, faster round, that delivers blistering muzzle velocity and superior accuracy out at distance. The aerodynamic projectile can also extend the hunting distance for small game hunters.
The standard 40 grain, .22 round has a muzzle velocity of 1;200 fps, delivering 130 ft-pounds of energy. In comparison, the smaller, faster .17 HMR has a muzzle velocity of between 2,550 and 2,650 fps and delivers 246 ft-pounds of energy, close to double that of the standard .22 round. Combined with the steam-line projectile profile, this increases accuracy and killing power out at distance.
A few years after the round appeared on the market, a good buddy of mine, Darrin Bergen purchased a Marlin in .17 HMR. Shooting it at a range for the fist time, he called me in the middle of his shooting session to simply state, “You’re going to want one of these!”
Within a month of Darrin’s statement, I purchased a Ruger, All-Weather Model 77 rifle chambered in .17 HMR. I mounted a Bushnell scope to the rifle, put it on paper, and headed out for a hunt. The very first thing I was impressed with was the accuracy. I was consistently hitting a golf ball-sized target out 100-yards off a set of shooting sticks.
The Hornaday round also had great knockdown power out at distance. Darrin and I would regularly kill large jack rabbits out at 125-150 yards, shots I’d be a little hesitant to take with the .22. Getting use to the new round, Darrin and I set a couple of personal bests in distance with the .17 HMR. I was able to kill a jackrabbit at 247-yards, and Darrin beat me out with an amazing shot at 290-yards.
It took a while, but Hornaday, and a couple of other ammunition manufacturers have come out with a California-compliant, lead-free ,17 HMR round that performs well. I have yet to extend the distance on the lead-free option, but the round will hit targets out at 150-yards consistently.
The innovation to improve on a cartridge that has been around for over 130-years, is impressive. As hunters, anything that will increase our accuracy out at distance and deliver superior muzzle velocity and downrange energy is definitely to be applauded. I currently have four rifles chambered in .17 HMR and thoroughly enjoy shooting them. The .17 HMR has been my go-to cartridge for all my small game hunting once I tried it.
The price for the .17 HMR ammo ranges from about $0.22 – $0.40 a round, a little more expensive than your standard .22 rounds, but in my opinion, you’re paying for increased accuracy and downrange performance. Attributes that should put more game in your cooler.
If you’re looking to spice up your rimfire plinking or small game hunting, squeeze the trigger on a .17 HMR. I’m betting you’ll be impressed with the performance of the round. The one downside is that you may not use your tried and true .22 rifle as often as you used to.