In 2002, Hornady introduced the .17 Hornady Magnum Rimfire, which we lovingly call the .17 HMR. Usually, rimfire cartridges that are not in .22 caliber do not sell well, but this one caught on like a wildfire. There has never been a hugely successful rimfire caliber smaller than .22, until now.
When Hornady was developing the .17 HMR, they were looking for a cartridge with extremely high velocity, flat trajectory, high accuracy, and reasonable manufacturing economy. With the help of Ruger and Marlin, they took a .22 WMR case and necked down the end 25 degrees into a .172 diameter bullet, making a smaller, faster projectile. The bullet weighed just 17 grains, which is 0.038 ounces. The result was the highest velocity rimfire round in history. The bullet has an extremely low sectional density as well. Over penetration is highly unlikely with this cartridge.
As far as actual performance goes, the Hornady V-Max bullet touts a muzzle velocity of 2,550 feet per second and muzzle energy of 245 foot-pounds. At 100 yards, the .17 HMR travels at 1,900 feet per second and hits with 136 foot-pounds of energy. This .17 HMR shoots so flat, the bullet hits just 0.1 inches high at 50 yards when zeroed at 100 yards. Inside of 150 yards, this is the best large rodent killer on the market. The bullet drops just 2.6 inches at that distance, making hits easier than its larger cousin, the .22 Magnum.
Cost of ammunition is always a factor for me, as well as for most shooters. Owners of guns using more affordable calibers tend to shoot more often, which is why .500 Nitro Express loads don’t exactly fly off the shelf for plinking purposes. Hornady, in keeping the rimfire design, was able to create the .17 HMR at a very reasonable price. The difference in price between the .17 HMR and the .22 Magnum ammunition is nominal.
One downside to having a light projectile is wind interference. A 10 mile per hour crosswind will throw a .17 HMR almost 8 inches off course at 150 yards, so waiting for a lull in the breeze will have a huge impact on your aim.
Part of what makes a cartridge successful is availability, not just with the cartridge, but also with the firearms themselves. Many major manufacturers stepped up and chambered their existing rimfire models for the new varmint round. Mossberg, Marlin, Ruger, Stevens, Savage, CZ and Browning all make bolt action .17 HMR guns. Henry brought us some lever action versions and Remington adapted their 597 for those who want an autoloader.
Outside of Hornady, CCI, Federal, Winchester and Remington all mass-produce the .17 HMR cartridge so actually buying the ammunition is no longer an issue. It is inexpensive and widely available across the country.
With high performance, availability, and cost effectiveness, the .17 HMR fills the role of a short to medium range varmint round perfectly. Shooters will enjoy not having to make adjustments for slightly longer distances and the lack of recoil makes shooting all day a breeze. Ironically, like the prairie dogs Hornady designed.17 HMR to kill—this round has burrowed in and here to stay.