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17 HMR vs 22: Not Your Grandfather's Rimfire

Written by Sam Jacobs Subject: Gun Rights

From the late 1950s to the early 2000s, two of the most popular rimfire cartridges on the planet were the 22 Long Rifle and the 22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire, otherwise known as the 22 WMR or 22 Mag. Generations of shooters (myself included) were taught how to shoot using a 22 LR bolt-action rifle before hunting varmints like coyotes and groundhogs with a 22 WMR.

But then in 2002, Hornady changed the rimfire landscape when they introduced the 17 Hornady Magnum Rimfire (17 HMR). Varmint hunters clambered to acquire the new rimfire cartridge that sported muzzle velocities nearly double that of 22 LR for standard velocity loads.

But does the flatter 17HMR trajectory and longer effective range mean you should sell your grandfather's stalwart 22LR rifle?

In this article, we will examine the differences between 17 HMR and 22LR to help you select the best rimfire cartridge for your needs.

What is the Difference Between 17 HMR and 22LR?

The difference between 17HMR vs 22LR is that the 17 HMR fires a 0.172" diameter bullet while the 22 LR fires a 0.2255" diameter bullet. The 17 HMR case is also larger, meaning it can hold more powder and therefore achieve higher muzzle velocity than a 22 LR.

Cartridge Specs

When evaluating rimfire cartridges, it's a good idea to analyze the cartridge specs to gain more knowledge of each.

The first, and most obvious, difference between 22LR vs 17HMR is the diameter bullet each rimfire cartridge fires. The 22 Long Rifle fires the larger 0.2255" diameter bullet compared to 0.172" for the 17 HMR.

This difference correlates with the bullet weight each cartridge fires. The 17 HMR typically fires lighter 17 grain projectiles, although 20 grain options are available, while the 22LR heavier bullets between 20 and 60 grains, with a 40-grain bullet being the most common.

The second major difference between 17 HMR compared to 22 is their case length. The 22LR measures a diminutive 0.613" long, compared to 1.058" for the 17 HMR. This means that the 17 HMR will have a larger case capacity, which in turn will increase muzzle velocity.

The final noticeable difference 17 HMR vs 22 is their listed max pressures. The 17 HMR can handle higher pressures at 26,000 psi compared to 24,000 psi for .22LR.

Recoil



One of the greatest qualities of rimfire ammo is their low recoil impulse, making them ideal for training new shooters. This low felt recoil is a result of the design of the rimfire cartridge itself. A rimfire cartridge has the priming compound located in the rim of the cartridge that is ignited when the firing pin pinches the case rim. This means that the case rim must be thin enough to be pinched to ensure ignition.

This, in turn, requires that rimfire ammo have lower pressure than centerfire cartridges so as not to breach the rim of the cartridge. Take for example, the 223 Remington, which is another common varmint round. The 223 Rem has a max pressure of 55,000 psi whereas the 22 LR and 17 HMR both have a max pressure close to 24,000 and 26,000 psi, respectively.

Therefore, rimfire ammo will always have a lower recoil impulse than centerfire ammo.

To learn more about the differences, read our article on rimfire vs centerfire.

When it comes to shooting a rimfire cartridge, typically recoil is nothing more of an afterthought as it is so low. This virtually non-existent recoil impulse allows new shooters to focus on the fundamentals of marksmanship without developing a recoil-anticipation flinch.

Despite the differences in case capacity, neither rimfire cartridge has oppressive recoil. The 22LR measures around 0.2 ft-lbs of felt recoil compared to 0.3 ft-lbs for 17 HMR.

The 22 LR technically has less felt recoil than the 17 HMR, but the difference is so slight that most shooters will not be able to tell the difference.

Muzzle Velocity and Kinetic Energy

Muzzle velocity, measured in feet per second (fps) is the speed at which the bullet leaves the barrel of the firearm. Generally, a longer barrel length will generate a higher muzzle velocity because it allows for a more complete powder burn.

Muzzle energy is measured in foot-pounds (ft-lbs) and is a measurement of how much force a bullet delivers to its target at a given range.

Although there is very little difference in terms of recoil, the 17 HMR clearly dominates in terms of muzzle velocity and energy.

The 17 HMR was designed to be nothing short of a speed demon, and its light weight 17 grain bullets comes screaming out of the muzzle at 2,550 fps compared to 1,070 for CCI standard velocity 22 LR.

In terms of muzzle energy, the 17 HMR continues its domination with 245 foot-pounds of stopping power compared to 100 for 22LR.

The 17 HMR clearly dominates in both velocity and energy with its lighter bullets.

Trajectory

Trajectory is how we quantify a bullet's flight path as it travels downrange measured in inches of bullet drop.

Obviously, a flatter shooting cartridge is preferred for long range shooting, as a shooter will require fewer adjustments to their optics to compensate for bullet drop. Having a flatter trajectory also means that a cartridge will be more forgiving of ranging mistakes.

The 17 HMR was specifically designed as a high velocity long range target shooting and varmint hunting rimfire cartridge, as such it has a flatter trajectory than 22 LR.

The high muzzle velocity of the 17 HMR is the main reason for its flat trajectory, as it can remain supersonic out to nearly 250 yards. Compare that to the fastest 22 LR loads, like the CCI Stinger traveling at 1,640 fps, that can only remain supersonic to about 100 yards.

At 150 yards, the 17 HMR has experienced -3" of bullet drop compared to -11" of bullet drop for the 22 LR.

The 17 HMR is the clear winner in terms of trajectory.

Ballistic Coefficient

Ballistic coefficient (BC) is a measure of how well a bullet resists wind drift and air resistance. Put another way, it's a numeric representation of how aerodynamic a bullet is. A high BC is preferred as this means the bullet will buck the wind easier.

Generally, heavy bullets will have a higher ballistic coefficient as it takes more force to disrupt the flight of a heavier bullet than a lighter one. Ballistic coefficient varies from bullet to bullet based on design, weight, and other factors that are beyond the scope of this article.

This is one category where the heavier bullet weight of the 22LR gives it a slight edge over the 17 HMR. On average, BC for 22 LR measures around 0.13 compared to 0.11 for 17 HMR.

However, that does not mean that the 22 LR in more effective at resisting wind drift. On the contrary, the low muzzle velocity of the 22 LR makes it more susceptible to being tossed around in a breeze than the 17 HMR.

Assuming a 10-mph cross wind, at 150 yards the 22 LR will have drifted an average of 12" compared to 8" for 17 HMR. The high velocity of the 17 HMR means that its bullet will reach the target faster, meaning the wind will have less time to affect its flight path.

Accuracy



When it comes to accuracy for any rifle cartridge, ammo consistency is one of the key factors to consider. Normally this is a non-issue for centerfire cartridges as they can be reloaded, but for rimfire you are at the mercy of factory loads since they cannot be reloaded.

As the 22 LR is one of the most mass-produced rounds on the planet, accuracy can be variable between lots and manufacturers. With match grade ammo and a well-tuned match grade bolt-action rifle, 22 LR can achieve 1 MOA level accuracy. However, for most off the shelf bulk ammo, you should expect no better than 1.5 MOA accuracy. On the other hand, 17 HMR ammo seems to consistently achieve 1 MOA results or better with less expensive, off-the-rack rifles.

There are differing opinions as to why 17 HMR ammo seems to be more accurate than 22 LR. Some theorize ammunition companies initially wanted to offer extremely high quality 17 HMR ammo to boost sales, and they simply never stopped this process.

Regardless of the reason, the 17 HMR is consistently rated as one of the most accurate and consistent rimfire cartridges on the market, making it a great choice for target shooting.

Hunting

If there's one thing that rimfire ammo excels at, it's pest control and varmint hunting. Regardless of what critters plague your property, there's a rimfire cartridge ready to take care of it for you. From squirrels, raccoons, groundhogs, prairie dogs, and coyotes, rimfire ammo gives you the versatility to take care of them all.

Based on the superior ballistic performance and effective range, some shooters might think that the 17 HMR is the perfect pest control cartridge. The 17 HMR is an amazing rimfire cartridge on paper, however it does have some drawbacks that don't necessarily show up on ballistics tables.

For small game hunting, the 22 Long Rifle is typically all that you need. For short range shots (50 yards or less) like those taken when sniping squirrels, raccoons, or even groundhogs, a hollow point 40-grain bullet is hard to beat. It has the penetration and expansion you want for a clean kill, and it also won't destroy all the meat.

The high velocity and lighter bullets the 17 HMR fires will generally fragment violently on impact. This is great if you want to cause the most damage possible, but bad if you are looking to use the meat or hide of the varmint. Listen, I like exploding critters just as much as the next varmint hunter, but if you are wanting to preserve anything, then the 22 LR is the better option for small game hunting.

When we step it up a little to larger game or longer distances, the 17 HMR starts to shine. For taking on prairie dogs, groundhogs at distance, or woodchucks, the 200+ yard effective range and flat trajectory of the 17 HMR really gives hunters a longer reach than they can every hope to get with a 22 LR.

There is some scholarly debate among varmint hunters about the effectiveness of either cartridge on coyotes. It's true that you can take a coyote with either cartridge, provided that your shot placement is good. However, as an ethical hunter, using either the 22LR or 17HMR is probably not the best choice for coyotes. For these larger varmints, I'd rather utilize something more powerful like a 22 WMR, 17 WSM, or a centerfire rifle cartridge like a 223 Remington or 22-250. Just because the 22 LR and 17 HMR can be used for these canines, it doesn't mean that either is the best choice.

Continue reading about the differences between 17 HMR vs 22 LR ammo here.

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