I am relatively new to the .17 HMR cartridge. When it debuted in 2002, I was guilty of downplaying its effectiveness. Most of my life, Uncle Sugar bought me all the centerfire rounds a growing boy could want, so I didn’t have to worry about training ammo. Now that I have to buy my own like a regular mortal, a cheaper training bullet is very much my cup of tea. Having also lived on the East Coast for a very long time, I feel the pain of all of you that don’t have access to a long-range facility.
The problem with .22 LR has been its consistency. Most .22 LR specific sports are shot at either 25 meters or 50 meters, which isn’t ideal for training on a rifle in field conditions. Past about 50 meters, every .22 LR I’ve shot starts really falling apart. This is in terms of accuracy. You need inherent mechanical accuracy at a decent range if you are going to replicate the types of shots your centerfire rifle is capable of.
Yes. You can hit a target with a .22 at 1,000 yards. But it better be the size of a barn door.
What I have been looking for is a cheap, accurate round with a projectile shape and ballistic coefficient that makes windy day shots valuable. After researching pellet guns, very expensive .22 LRs and electronic trainers. I have settled on the .17 HMR.
Savage B Series
To be fair in testing, I matched the .17 HMR against the .22 LR in identical rifles. The Savage B series offers a variety of rimfire rifles in various cartridges at an affordable price. I was very impressed with the Savage B22 when I reviewed it last month. Also, it turned in a most impressive ¾ inch group at 50 meters with Federal Hunter Match ammo. It might be a bit overkill, but I topped both rifles Steiner 3-15X variable power scopes, the T5Xi and M5Xi respectively. It’s probably uncommon to put a $3,000 scope on a $300 rifle, but it was one way of assuring it was a fair caliber-to-caliber test.
The only published ballistic coefficient (BC) I found was from Hornady, which lists both 40-grain .22 LR and 17-grain .17 HMR at a BC of .125. I am not sure that is correct, but at this point, a full BC extrapolation wasn’t really worth the effort. The shape of the .17 HMR is more like a modern rifle bullet, while the .22 LR is rounded. The .22 LR is more than twice the bullet weight. But The .22 LR moves out at 1,200 feet per second (fps), while the .17 HMR is at 2,550 fps at the barrel. The only way to find a verified answer to which one works better was to have a shoot off.
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To test accuracy, I first shot paper groups at both 50 and 100 yards. The .17 HMR blew the doors off the .22 LR. The B17 turned in extremely impressive ½ inch five-round groups at both ranges, which is better than most centerfire rifles will do. At 50 yards, the .22 LR started off well, but couldn’t replicate the ¾-inch group I shot last month. The wind was playing hell with it for certain. The B17 five-shot group remained at 1/2 inch at 100 yards.
- .17 HMR: 1 .22 LR: 0
Next, I moved on to field targets, specifically 9mm casings at 50 yards. That is a pretty small target, and a great test medium for these two rifles. The wind was blowing pretty strong during this test, 8 to 10 mph. The .22 LR left five of the 10 still standing, while the .17 HMR only left two. Considering the wind increased during the .17 HMR’s phase of the test, the winner is a pretty clear.
- .17 HMR: 2 .22 LR: 0
Then, I moved back to 150 yards, shooting 5½-ounce juice cans. These cans are 3½ inches tall, by 2¼ inches wide. The narrow shape should be ideal for testing wind calls, and they are reactive enough it’s hard to mistake a hit. Starting with the .22 LR, the test was to try for five hits with 10 rounds. The first can I hit with the .22 wasn’t the one I was aiming at, which told me a lot about wind drift. Out of the next eight rounds, I only managed one more strike. The .22 LR was really struggled to drive in the wind. Stepping up to the .17 HMR, it was an entirely different ball game. Not only did I shoot all five of the designated targets, I had enough ammo to clean up the .22 leftovers. The biggest difference I saw with the HMR is that it was predictable in the wind. I have yet to work out a wind formula exactly, but it is possible.
- .17 HMR: 3 .22 LR: 0
Here is where the .22LR beats the .17HMR, but that margin is not as big as you might think. If you are going to use .22 for precision training, you have to feed it premium ammo. The bulk bucket isn’t going to cut the mustard. I used Federal Hunter Match ammo, which is some of the best .22 LR around. That put me at a price point of about 12 cents per round. CCI .17 HMR, bought in bulk is between 18 and 22 cents per round, depending on the day. This is a close enough price point that while .22LR wins this round, I’m inclined to step into the 21st-century rimfire rifles.
- .17 HMR: 3 .22 LR: 1
The .22 LR isn’t dead, and given the sheer amount of rifles already chambered in this caliber, it’s around to stay. But it’s hard to argue with our testing results of the .17 HMR. It pulled away with a three to one lead in two accuracy tests and combatting wind. It’s the clear winner. There are tasks the .22 does better, but holes in paper or hits on steel isn’t one of them. The B-17 is a champion, and I have added it to my arsenal. But if .17 HMR is good, does that mean .17 Winchester Super Magnum is better? Fortunately for you, that is the question we will be addressed next week.
What’s your favorite rimfire cartridge?
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