Friday, 1 August 2014

.17 HMR cartridge profile and field tests

Since its introduction some four years ago no other cartridge has courted such admirers and detractors alike. Originally designed as a flat shooting varmint round to compensate for the .22 rimfires failings in terms of rainbow trajectory and ricochet problems. The .17 HMR never was really intended for quarry species up to fox size yet after all the dust has settled and now there is a greater choice of bullet types...

17 HMR and 20gr GamePoints are good Hare loads


Since its introduction some four years ago no other cartridge has courted such admirers and detractors alike. Originally designed as a flat shooting varmint round to compensate for the .22 rimfires failings in terms of rainbow trajectory and ricochet problems. The .17 HMR never was really intended for quarry species up to fox size yet after all the dust has settled and now there is a greater choice of bullet types and weights available, that little 17 grain bullet has found a unique place in the shooting community of Great Britain.

This article is written as a guide to field usage and limitations, regarding maximum range and down range trajectory and performance with a selection of the bullet types available. To this end it should give a realistic “in the field” guide to the .17 HMR as a varmint/fox round. The test rifle was supplied by GMK in the form of excellent Sako Quad Hunter and fitted with a 3.5-10x42 Leupold scope and Light Stream 4.5-14x44 variable for good measure.

Bullet weights and Manufacturers

As of today the only bullet weights available to the shooter are 17 grain and 20 grains either in polymer tip or hollow point construction. The 17 grainer was introduced first but was soon thought of as marginal on fox sized game so a tougher 20 grain hollow point was introduced.

Manufacturers are Hornady, CCI, Remington and Federal, all of whom produce a 17 grain bullet but only CCI and Hornady also provide the shooter with a 20 grain projectile.

Velocities/energy and trajectory performance

When fed into a ballistics program such as the excellent Quickload and Quicktarget you find that a factory stated 2550 fps velocity delivers from the muzzle an energy of 245.5ft/lbs which has reduced to 1902fps and 136ft/lbs at 100 yds, whilst at 150 yards it have dropped to 1621fps and 99ft/lbs and finally at 200 yards the maximum range, in manufacturers eyes, for the .17HMR the velocity is 1380fps and the energy would be a diminutive 72ft/lbs. 

However these were factory quoted figures so I choose as much differing ammunition types as possible and started to test in the Sako Quad .17 HMR rifle. Quoting a representative tested Hornady 17 grain ammunition at 2578 fps and 251 ft/lbs energy with a 100yd dead on zero I had a 50 yd trajectory of only a rise in 0.22 inches above the sight line, at 100yds the zero was dead on with a remaining velocity of 1901fps and 136ft/lbs energy figure. At 150 yards the 17 grain bullet had dropped –2.5 inches and was speeding along at 1598fps with an energy figure of 96ft/lbs whilst out at 200 yds the trajectory had dropped down –7.25 inches from the 100yds zero and only had 1411fps and 75ft/lbs energy remaining. As an interim, at 175 yards there was a –4.75-inch drop and at extreme range at 250 yards, the drop was –11.5 inches.

What does this tell you? well indeed out to 150 yards this round is a flat shooting little number with little need for much trajectory compensation which is always useful in a quick situation where time negates lengthy considerations. However out to 200 yards it does fall off markedly and in a windy situation I would be dubious in connecting with a target on the first shot. Indeed accuracy was also tested at these ranges and at 50 yards unsurprisingly one hole groups were the norm, at 100 yards 0.5 to 1.0 inch groups were recorded whilst at 150 yards 1.5 inch groups were not out of the question, yet at 200 yards I was struggling to achieve two inch groups and this was under perfect weather conditions.

The 20 grain bullets however started out with less velocity as expected (heavier) and so with a muzzle velocity of 2344 fps and 244 ft/lbs energy which drops to 1720 fps and 132 ft/lbs at the 100 yard way mark and has dropped off to below 1300 fps at 200 yards with only 75 ft/lbs remaining. There is also a larger trajectory drop at 200 yards if the initial zero is 100 yards. The 20 grain bullet drops nearly 9.5 inches at this range (200 yds) whilst the 17 grain bullet drops only 7.25 inches.

More importantly is windage adjustment and just how much does the wind affect the 17 and 20 grain bullet.

The 17 grain bullet can be pushed off course at 50 yards by nearly an inch with a stiff 10 mph wind whilst at 100 yards a similar breeze offsets the bullets path by up to 3 inches. At 150 and 200 yards you have 7-8 inch adjustment and 14 inches respectively which is why 150 yards in my eyes is absolute max range.

The 20 grain bullet fares a tad better due to its weight advantage but there is little in practical terms to discern between the two.

Short Barrels

Due to the small powder charge of 5.5 grains of a fast burning powder such as Hodgdons Lil-Gun, all the powder is burnt very quickly and in a short length of the barrel. This is why having a 22 inch HMR rifle is actually not gaining you any advantage with respect to velocity and only actually adding weight. Add to this the bullet is effectively free flighting in the bore the last six to eight inches of the barrel which explains why it can become fouled by the bullets copper jacket more readily as frictional forces increase. I have several friends that own .17 HMR rifles with 16 inch and 14 inch barrels and still achieve 2450 fps velocity and have the bonus that with the excess barrel removed a sound moderator can be fitted keeping the weight and balance the same.

Live Field tests and Quarry Suitability

Ballistics and trajectory charts are all well and good but how will the Sako Quad actually fare out where it counts, in the field.

With it established that 150 yards was absolute max for rabbits and corvids on less windy days and 100 yards for foxes, preferably using the 20 grain bullets I headed off to the woods for a real world test scenario.

Crows and Magpies offer abundant and challenging quarry and the .17 HMR is ideally suited in controlling these pests. Due to the flat shooting nature of the HMR round zeroed at 100 yards it allows a point and shoot attitude with compensation for wind being the secondary consideration. The 17 grain V-Max bullets were more than capable for even the biggest Hooded crow in Scotland and marauding Surrey Maggy, their highly frangible nature was a bonus for instant clean results. More often than not their would be a large exit hole with fragmented copper jacket and lead traces. There is no advantage in using the 20 grain bullets as their heavier construction would not reliably cause the rapid expansion seen in the 17 grain V-Max bullet. This is also true when squirrels are encountered, they are tough wee fellows but the .17 HMR delivers a humane dose of ballistics at ranges up to 100 yards. 

Rabbits being probably the main stay for the HMR shooter with Hares as an option where available and can easily be engaged beyond 100 yards in no wind situations and the 17 grain V-max expands well up to these ranges. The 17 grain CCI Speer TNT bullet compared to the 17 grain V-Max has a thicker copper jacket wall and smaller hollow point and thus expands less rapidly. On a small game animals such as rabbits you will encounter pass throughs where the bullet failed to exert any real terminal energy and resulting in non instantaneous kills, most definitely a no no. However if used as a head/neck shot only bullet on rabbits or Hares you will find there is a lot less meat damage.

Foxes can be cleanly taken with the HMR but only if accurate shots at sensible ranges are adhered by. To me 100 yards is maximum and only where a head/neck or side on chest shot is available and most definitely not at the shoulder. The 17 grain V-maxes work fine and 20 grain CCI Game Points which is designed to expand more like a deer bullet with controlled expansion rather than a fragmenting varmint type does seem to hit harder up to 100 yards. However they do not reliably expand much beyond this range, certainly better than the TNT 17 grain bullet though.

Conclusions and Future

As a flat shooting varmint calibre for restricted ranges on small game the .17 HMR has a lot to offer. There is no hassle of reloading ammunition, the noise levels are low, rifles are light, and it is relatively safe to shoot due to the fragmenting ammunition. Foxes are certainly HMR quarry but you have to keep the ranges short and aim very carefully, personally I would prefer a bigger calibre but it does work. The only real down side is ammunition availability and prices which are still relatively high but with more and more rifles being chambered in this diminutive round its existence on the shooting scene is assured.

Bullet Type
Bullet Weight
Muzzle Velocity
Muzzle Energy
Accuracy at 100 yards (inch)
2563 fps
248 ft/lbs
Hollow Point
2551 fps
246 ft/lbs
2584 fps
252 ft.lbs
2578 fps
251 ft/lbs
Game Point
2344 fps
244 ft/lbs

17 HMR Browning T Bolt

CCI 17gr, Federal 17gr, Hornady 17gr, Remington 17gr, CCI 20 gr Game Point.

 CZ 455 17 HMR is a great value and accurate rifle

hmr 5 


 Hooded crow medicine

 Hooded crow medicine

New  Hornady NTX is very impressive 

Performance differs between bullet weight and style 

 Sako Quad and Remington 17 grain bullets and Fox

 Sako Quad, MAE sound moderatoris an excellent and accurate small game calibre rifle

The 17 HMR round is inherently accurate

By Bruce Potts


QuickLoad Ballistics Program       JMS                                07771 962121

Article and images by Bruce Potts

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