Rimfire Shootout: Savage B Series .17 HMR vs. .17 WSM

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In our 17 HMR vs .22LR shootout, .17 HMR was the clear winner. So the obvious question is, why not go to .17 WSM ( Winchester Super Magnum) instead of .17 HMR?

Savage B Series

The author shot two Savage B Series rifles during testing.

Savage once again stepped up to support the rimfire circus my life has become this month. Our test model chambered in 17 WSM was the Savage B.Mag with a heavy barrel and a laminate stock. Out of the box, I liked this gun a lot. The laminate stock feels better than the synthetic of the B-17, and not just because I tend to prefer wood stocks anyway. It is longer which offers a more natural length of pull for grown-ups and has a better comb. Both models could have used a bit of a McGuyver cheek pad to match the rings I used, but ergonomically I liked the B.Mag. The B Mag features the same legendary Savage Accutrigger as the other rimfires and a slightly longer barrel at 22 inches. The rotary magazine holds eight rounds and functioned flawlessly. In short, the B.Mag is beautiful and functional. I only had two problems with the gun. One, due to the way the bolt cams, it is very easy to short stroke. The .17 WSM is derived from blank firing 27 caliber nail gun. I have done a little construction in my day, and nail guns don’t have nice triggers.

For this shootout, the author used American Eagle and CCI ammunition.

I only had two problems with the gun. One, due to the way the bolt cams, it is very easy to short stroke. The .17 WSM is derived from a blank firing .27 caliber nail gun. I have done a little construction in my day, and nail guns aren’t known for their triggers. The basic problem is that .17 WSM has a very hard primer, and thus requires a very hard strike of the firing pin. The way the bolt closes is a design feature that takes some of the muscle required out of cocking the firing pin. It takes a little getting use to. It’s something shooters should be aware of. The second problem is that the gun comes with Weaver bases, and I despise Weaver bases. Again, not an issue on Savage’s part, but a matter of my own personal preference. There is an aftermarket solution to make it Picatinny for $36, but I couldn’t get one in time for the review.

The Skinny on the .17 HMR & .17 WSM

So, rifle problem solved, what exactly is the difference between .17 HMR and .17 WSM? The .17 HMR was developed in 2002, and is essentially a .22 Magnum necked down to .17 caliber. It was an overnight success, despite its relatively high price. Most common loadings are 17-grain and 20-grain projectiles, with a speed of about 2,550 and 2,350 feet per second (fps) respectively. Average price now is about 18 cents per round, if bought in sufficient quantities.

The Savage B Series features the legendary AccuTrigger.

The .17 WSM seems to be the Muscle Car thought process applied to rimfires. Developed in 2012, it is a hemi put in your mom’s station wagon. As mentioned, it is descended from a 27 cal nail gun and the brass is 50-percent thicker than the HMR. This capability gives the WSM another 7,000 psi of internal pressure rating, nothing to sneeze at. It will launch a 20-grain projectile at 3,000 fps, or a 25-grain at 2,600.  Super Magnum is an appropriate name, that is a blistering speed for a rimfire. Ammunition currently sits at about 24 cents per round.

For testing, the place to start was 100 meters on paper. Due to the Weaver bases, the gun in .17 HMR had an obvious advantage in glass. The .17 HMR was wearing a Steiner T5Xi for the first part of the test, and a Vortex Razor Gen II 4.5-27 for the second half. The .17 WSM was stuck with an older generation Vortex 4-16X, since my only Weaver compatible rings are 30mm. Not that this mattered at 100 meters. In a twist I wasn’t anticipating, the .17 WSM turned in a 1-inch group. Normally that would be epic for a rimfire, but it was twice the size of the group from the HMR.

This made the test more interesting in my mind. Now we had a rifle with less inherent accuracy, but better external ballistics, against a very accurate rifle with so-so external ballistics. In the gun community at large, we tend to get very excited about small groups. I am as guilty as anyone. I tend to think of a tiny grouping gun as the best option. But as long range guys all know, it only matters up to a point. A man that can call the wind will always beat a man that can’t. It doesn’t matter if it is a Mosin Nagat against a Surgeon. This shoot off wasn’t so much about my ability to call wind. I don’t have a wind formula for .17 anything, so I was using Applied Ballistics for a bracket. I was also using an overgrown chunk of steel, freshly painted, for my sighter shots. It was about how precise the wind call needed to be to hit the target. The bullets from these two cartridges are basically identical, with the WSM adding 500 feet per second of speed. How much that was going to matter in the wind at the relatively short range is what we set out to find.

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Test No. 1 — .17 HMR: 0  .17 WSM: 1

The Savage B.Mag made hitting these tomatoes at 150 meters a breeze.

Test number one was tomatoes at 150 meters. The wind was over 11 mph, and this was a relatively small target. I was able to get hits with the .17 HMR, but the .17 WSM was much easier.  I needed 3/10th mil elevation on the HMR, with the WSM still being point of aim, point of impact. Both proved very reliable, with the WSM needing only about 2/3rds the windage.

Test No. 2 — .17 HMR: 0  .17 WSM: 2

Test number two was5.5-ounce juice cans at 250 meters. The 150 proved so easy, it was time to step it out a bit. The wind was blowing stronger, at an average of 14mph. Not what I was anticipating, but this was the range that stopped the test. I was not able to score any hits with the HMR, despite hitting steel to confirm elevation. The 3 mph variation in the wind was just too much for the little rimfire that could. I would have scored eventually, I did have a pile of ammo. But it wouldn’t have been reliable. The WSM had no problems here. After a couple of sighter rounds, it mopped up not only its own set of targets but all the leftovers from HMR. The wind was not an issue, the Super Magnum carried the day.

Test No. 3 — .17 HMR: 0  .17 WSM: 3

Because the testing in the wind had been so short, I decided to come back another day and see just how far out I could push these rounds in calm conditions. Calm, however, was not to be. With a forecast of wind for the next two weeks, I opted for the best I could get, 6mph and steady. I moved straight to 450 meters, the longest distance I could get with an area of sand around my target. To keep the shooting realistic, I used a 10-inch MGM Hex gong. That target is a little over 2 MOA at that range, and light enough I could actually see it move if I hit it. It’s not much movement, but a little wiggle of acknowledgment is enough.

The WSM scored only two hits and needed 3.5 mils of elevation to achieve that. The wind wasn’t terrible, but it was enough to make this range sporty. It took a few misses to dial in, but I could see a splash in the sand when I guessed wrong. This is probably right on the ragged edge of reach for this bullet. A bigger target and no wind might expand that range a little, but ideal conditions around here are few and far between.

Unfortunately, those two hits were two more than I got with the HSM. At 6.5 mils of elevation, this .17 was falling out of the sky. The impact was very difficult to see. In order to confirm my elevation was even close to correct, I ended up shooting at a patch of sand closer to me that was as big as a house. The puff of impact was nearly invisible, even with a 27X scope. Despite its advantage in its glass, the .17 HMR could no longer hang at this range.

Lasting Impressions

So, clearly, the WSM ballistically runs away from the HMR. So is it the winner? Well, not to sound like a politician, but I think they are both winners. It just depends on your needs. The cost differential goes to the HMR, as does availability, both of guns and ammo. I was looking at these rounds primarily as a short range training solution, so I can always work within the effective zone of the HMR. I might just have to shrink my targets even further. No problem. The WSM is awesome and fills a training void all the way out to 450 at least. If you are hunting with a rimfire, the WSM brings a heavier bullet, faster, and that is hard to argue with. We are living in the golden age of rifles, and both of these platforms are proof of that.

Comment below with what rimfire cartridge shootout you’d like to see Clay test next.

For more information about Savage rifles, click here.

For more information about Vortex glass, click here.

For more information about Steiner glass, click here.

To purchase a Savage B series rifle on GunsAmerica, click here.


{ 15 comments… add one }
  • Reed Bracken September 19, 2017, 5:45 pm

    In my mind, the .17 HMR vs the .17 WSM has never been a match-up worth debating. Choosing between .17 HMR vs a .22 Mag would be a lively debate – probably with no clear winner. However, I have always wondered why someone would choose a .17WSM and not just go ahead and step up to a .223 Rem. What does a rim fire really give you in that package? What would a .17WSM give you that a .223 could not? It just never made sense to me.

    • Wendell September 19, 2017, 8:42 pm

      Not everyone reloads. Why set up a complete reloading system for just another 200 f.p.s.velocity for small varmints?

      • Reed Bracken September 20, 2017, 12:03 pm

        You can reload the .223 but you don’t have to. You obviously can’t reload the .17WSM. If you are deciding between the .223 and the .17 WSM, I still say go with the .223 – even if you don’t reload now it still gives you the ability to reload in the future if you ever decide you want to and until then you can buy off the shelf ammo that is easier to get and has more load options than what you will find in the .17 WSM.

        To me the debate between the .17HMR and the .17WSM makes about as much sense as debating the .17HRM vs the .223 Remington. The .17WSM tried to carve out a space that is ballistically between the two and landed closer to the .223 than it did the .17HMR. As such I feel like you should compare those two cartridges and when you do I think the .223 wins by any objective measure except for a tiny advantage to the flatness of the trajectory for ranges under about 150 yards.

        I really want to love the .17WSM but I just don’t see the point.

  • MIKE September 19, 2017, 10:49 am

    If you want to get RICH, Create a 22 Caliber or 22 Magnum that will shoot a flat Trajectory like the 17 caliber!

  • Vic vapor September 18, 2017, 9:04 pm

    neat article, Clay.
    I’ve had my eye on a nice long barrel accurate 22 mag and scope. Around here in Florida, for our distances and vermin, it would suffice. If I lived out there with some range, your highlight of that 17 wsm would make me say, hey, give me one of those for a time.

  • Larry September 18, 2017, 3:47 pm

    Neither of my 17’s are for sale. Nuff said!

  • ken September 18, 2017, 12:11 pm

    30mm 16X and 27X Hubbles on rimfires? ROTFLMAO!!
    20 gr pills at 3000 fps? ROTFLMAO!!
    17 cal. MAGNUMS?? ROTFLMAO!!
    Better hope the hearing protection act passes in congress because this 27 WSM thingy is putting out some decibels which coupled with two plus lbs of optics certainly turns these rifles into one more useless addition to the concrete bench crowd.
    Give me a 5-6 lb 22 LR or 22 WMR and you can keep your 17 whoopie doopies.
    Intelligent people never left the 22 WMR. Half intelligent people are finally tiring of the 17 HMR and returning to the 22 WMR.

  • Paul Ruffle September 18, 2017, 10:47 am

    I have an Anschutz Model 1717 (Bolt-action repeater) chambered for .17HMR that I have used for prairie dog hunting. That tiny 17 grain bullet is surprising effective on prairie dogs at 100 yards. The cartridge is very accurate, inexpensive, relatively quiet and has very low recoil so it’s easy to see the bullet impact through the riflescope. I’ve found the .17HMR to be a great squirrel round also, as it’s more accurate and has much better terminal ballistics than any .22LR round. You can hit the squirrel just about anywhere with the .17 and you’re guaranteed an instant one shot kill. The above test results of the .17 Win Super Mag are impressive and if I was still hunting prairie dogs in South Dakota I would certainly give it a try.

  • Jeffrey L. Frischkorn September 18, 2017, 10:18 am

    The .17 caliber is a solution in search of a use.. Too much for squirrels and rabbits but generally too little for woodchucks and coyotes…

  • Tom September 18, 2017, 8:24 am

    I read it. Somehow I missed the part where the .17 HMR is the clear winner.

  • Blasted Cap September 18, 2017, 6:57 am

    Rimfire shootout I’d like to see next? 32 vs 41.

  • Mark Wynn September 18, 2017, 6:23 am

    Did I miss the (more valid) .17HMR vs. the .22WMR comparison?
    Still don’t know why you’re ignoring the .22WMR.
    I feel it’s the more useful caliber for practical situations.

    • JCitizen September 18, 2017, 5:16 pm

      For me there is just no comparison – I’ve never been able to hit anything with the 22 magnum, and I’ve tried several brands of rifles, but the Savage in .17 HMR is just fantastic for prairie dogs! The report is the primary reason I like it – because of course a .223 would do better, but once you shoot the little critters just don’t come backup. With the .17, they got confused, and even a little curious. It was like they thought the bullets were pesky bugs, and they wave their paws at them when they heard them fly buy. Must have thought they were gonna get stung. Well they did eventually – I was hitting them over 75% of the time at 175 to 200 meters; so I always got out the .22 LR first, then the .17 then the .223 for later in the day, when it was about time to quit anyway.

  • Wendell September 18, 2017, 6:11 am

    It would seem that if the WSM were brought out in a .22 caliber, using the 45 grain bullet, we might not have to reload the old .22 Hornet anymore. Why not?

    • Frank September 18, 2017, 7:05 pm

      Wendell, I love that idea!!!

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