The Savage Walking Varminter Model 25 in .17 Hornet has an MSRP of $585 to $635 for this Realtree camo version. Here we have mounted a 4-16 Leapers/UTG SWAT scope and a Caldwell long bipod for kneeling or sitting shots. She is a lean mean varmint machine.
The .17 Hornet is a centerfire cartridge, not a rimfire like the .17HMR. It was designed by Hornady after a wildcat of the same name that has been around for about 50 years, developed by famous wildcatter P. O. Ackley.
This is the .17 Hornet next to a .17HMR. It is not all that much bigger, and much smaller than the .223 based .17 Remington.
We clocked the 20 grain Hornady bullet at just under the box velocity of 3650, which makes sense out of a 22” barrel. This is part of the Hornady Superformance Varmint line.
A very unassuming but formidable varmint gun. Our resident hunting guide Dwayne Powell shot this large meat hog at 50 yards with the Savage and it went through both lungs and dropped her within yards.
But contrary to what you may read elsewhere, from people who didn’t actually hunt with the gun, there was an exit wound, and a significant one at that.
The accuracy of the Savage Model 25 with this ammo was phenomenal, and remember, this is with a cheap Chinese scope. At 100 yards all of our groups were inside 1/2”, and some groups were in the ¼ inch range like this one on the left, shown next to a dime. That’s 5 shots, not 3. 4 of the 5 went through a hole less than ¼ of an inch.
The trajectory of the .17 Hornet, bottom, matches the 55 grain Hornady Superformance .223 round almost exactly. If you have a .223 specific optic for your varmint rifle, you can use it on the .17 Hornet Savage Model 25 as well.
Not all gun enthusiasts are gun nuts, so when the firearms industry comes out with a new “official” caliber, a lot of us just shake our heads and ask “why?” The .17 Hornet is the latest caliber to come into primetime. It was designed by Hornady after more than five decades of the cartridge living in the “wildcat” world of those who design their own calibers. The Hornady version of the .17 Hornet is slightly different than the original .17 Hornet designed by P.O. Ackley which was a necked down .22 Hornet. This .17 Hornet pushes a 20 grain bullet at over 3600 feet per second, and early tests showed great potential for the round not only in downrange performance, but also in extreme accuracy. Savage Arms, the company known more than anything for affordable out of the box accuracy, has teamed up with Hornady to introduce the round with 4 models in their Model 25 line. We were able to test the $635 MSRP camo version of the Savage “Walking Varminter” Model 25 in .17 Hornet and it is an insanely accurate tack driver, as well as being deadly on game. The interesting thing about the .17 Hornet is that it has nearly the same trajectory as the 55 grain .223 Remington, so you can use caliber specific reticle scopes meant for the .223, for the .17 Hornet. This isn’t a rimfire like the .17HMR. You can reload the .17 Hornet and handload it to tune the round to your rifle. Good luck trying to find the rounds or brass right now, but by mid-summer we’ll probably be able to get it, and the rifles are out and available.
The .17 Hornet isn’t the first centerfire .17 to come out in a SAAMI approved cartridge, and it isn’t the fastest either. The .17 Remington, introduced in 1971, is based on the .223 Remington case and drives a 20 grain bullet at over 4000 feet per second. It has languished just outside of mainstream use because it tends to be dirty, and the accuracy on the cartridge is only fair to midlin with factory ammunition, which is only made by Remington …nuff said there. And though Hornady .172 bullets have always been preferred by handloaders for the caliber, Hornady doesn’t make a .17 Remington in their ammunition line. That left them with a gaping hole in .17 centerfire, while dominating the .17 rimfire market with .17HMR (Hornady Magnum Rimfire). Enter the .17 Hornet, but to go back to the original question, why do you need it?
One reason for the .17 Hornet is the same for any self respecting fishing enthusiast. It is funner to catch a 10 pound bass on 4 pound test line. If you are shooting prairie dogs, or crows or rats or raccoons, or dozens of other nuisance small animals, it is more fun to hit them with a tiny, fast little .17 caliber bullet fired from a small little elegant case than it is from a boring old .223, or a full fledged rifle cartridge like a .22-250. The other reason is for people who want to sell or mount the pelts of their animals. The .17 Hornet makes a clean little entry hole, and theoretically it doesn’t make an exit wound on coyote sized game, though we didn’t see this with the one large hog we shot with the Savage. As you can see in the pictures, our resident hunting guide Dwayne Powell from Kissimee River Hunt & Fish shot the hog at close range, 50 yards, and the bullet went through the hog, taking out both lungs and dropped her in her tracks with a significant exit wound. At under 200 yards the .17 Hornet will most likely explode a prairie dog like a can of soup, but it will run out of gas over 300 yards, and even a blade of grass will probably throw your shot off significantly. It is perfect for calm, open range shots under 300 yards at small to medium sized game.
For our test gun we paired the Savage Model 25 Walking Varminter with a Leapers/UTG 4-16 SWAT scope , mostly because of the base price of the rifle. Very few people are going to put a $2,000 Trijicon on a $500 rifle (Jeff), so we put a more realistic optic on it, and it still absolutely smoked all expectations. At 16 power, the rifle easily repeated 5 shot cold rifle groups in the .5 inch range, and we didn’t have enough ammo to test longer strings. Hopefully ammo will become more available soon, and by then we’ll have the new .17 WMR rimfire to test from Savage as well, so we’ll do some head to head tests to show you the differences in the calibers. Shooting a lot of shots in a row in this rifle is an important test because we have tested $300 Savage Axis rifles holding close to MOA at 20 shots. If this baby can do anything close that that at yardage it should take over the varmint/predator market in its class.
Our chronograph measured the speed of the .17 Hornet through the 22” barrel of the Walking Varminter at just under the 3650 fps on the box. That would figure about right because the box velocity is through a 24” barrel. As with most of the Hornady ammunition we test, the .17 Hornet Superformance Varmint 20gr load had standard deviation from shot to shot in the single digits, which is the second reason for the superb accuracy, next to the gun itself. If you are a careful handloader you should be able to get similar or even better accuracy with some tuning, but check with your powder company before you begin to reload. The old Ackley data was based on a cartidge with a slightly heavier bullet and a slightly different shoulder than the SAAMI .17 Hornet, and that data has not be pressure tested in the new guns.
The Savage Model 25s in .17 Hornet also have a slightly different twist than the old wildcat guns. They seem to all be 1:9, not 1:10. Our test gun weighs just under 7 lbs and the Savage AccuTrigger comes in at just under 3 lbs, and is adjustable. The Walking Varminter comes in both black and Realtree Extra camo, and two higher end guns have walnut stocks. The polymer magazine holds four rounds, and a completely irrelevant recoil pad is included. The guns also come with scope mounts pre-attached to the receiver. The barrels are free floated, and for now the guns only come in blued steel models, in right hand only.
With a trajectory almost exactly the same as a .223 and tack driving accuracy from an inexpensive bolt gun, the .17 Hornet probably has a bright future. The crazy ammo demand will eventually boil down to a simmer at least, hopefully soon, and we should be able to get .17 Hornet again. Expect to see our Model 25 on some coyote hunts with Dwayne in days ahead, if we can get ammo of course. If you are one of the early explorers with the .17 Hornet, on prairie dogs and what not, please share your experiences in the comments below. It sure looks like a nifty and useful addition to mainstream varmint hunters. Once we can get the ammo again, the only thing now is to get out there and try it.