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
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.
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 .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
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.
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.
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