What is the .17 HMR and what makes it exciting? We look at this tiny rimfire round, break down the features, and provide a selection of great .17 HMR rifles.
What to look for in a Quality .17 HMR Rifle
Rimfire rifles are easy to make. That’s why so many players are in that game, as it can be done at low cost and lightweight due to the low chamber pressures and short nature of the action required to cycle the rounds.
However, not all rimfire rifle makers are the same, and this is particularly true when looking for one chambered in .17 HMR as these guns are not your average plinker.
Try to steer clear of gun makers with a bad reputation or, worse, none at all. Think of the household names such as Browning, CZ, Henry, Ruger, Savage, Steyr, and Volquartsen, then try to keep in those, trusted, silos.
The whole point of the .17 HMR is precision hits on prairie dog-sized targets– akin to a tennis ball in diameter– to 100 and even 200 yards.
While the cartridge itself is designed from the outset to pull this off, you simply can’t have accuracy without a good barrel.
With that, be sure to look for a well-made barrel on a potential .17 HMR rifle, preferably with a match chamber and target crown. Heavy or semi-heavy barrels are desirable as they make for good harmonics, lending to perform well with a wide variety of loads, thus making them a more accurate platform for shooting targets or getting game.
The standard twist rate on most of the better .17 HMR barrels is 1-in-9-inches.
Bolt action is the key to a well-performing .17 HMR rifle intended for accuracy and most models on the market handle bolt action and semi auto in style.
Nonetheless, there are also a few very nice semi-autos that are available– particularly those made by Alexander Arms, Savage (A17), and Volquartsen– while Henry makes a couple of serious lever-action models that may look like “Cowboy guns” but can still deliver.
Today, gun makers know that savvy buyers are looking for a feature-rich experience.
Luckily, many .17 HMRs come with several tweaks that help a good rifle become a great rifle. Among the features on the menu to help ensure you get a tack driver include triggers that are user-adjustable for weight, creep, and over-travel; and, as optics are essential to get the most out of the platform, a decent top rail or mounting system on the receiver.
As the typical use of a .17 involves benchrest (or truck bed rest!) shooting, flat foreends that provide a shelf for the use of bags or rests, or forward slots/posts for detachable bipods are also nice to have.
The Best .17 HMR Rifles
1. Alexander Arms
Alexander Arms is one of the most trusted black rifle makers in the world and has innovated in that category, introducing the .50 Beowulf and other rounds.
While the .50 Beo is a stout piece of work, Alexander is also one of the few companies offering a semi-auto modern sporting rifle chambered for .17 HMR.
Available in their HMR Varmint Precision and HMR Tactical series, these guns offer everything from fluted 18-inch barrels to 3-pound single-stage triggers and Luth stocks. If you want a .17 HMR AR, Alexander is the way.
2. Bergara BMR
Bergara Micro Rimfire, or BMR, series rifles are some of the most accurate on the market and are designed from the ground up for match performance. They ship with Remington 700-compatible performance triggers, tactical stocks, and 4140 steel barrels with a No. 4 taper, match chamber, and 1:9 twist.
They also come standard with a 30MOA rail. For those looking to up their game, Bergara also offers the BMR in a variant complete with a carbon fiber-wrapped barrel.
3. Browning T-bolt
Using the company’s advanced Double Helix rotary box magazine — for 10-round capacity in a smaller overall mag — a receiver machined from steel bar stock, and free-floating barrels with a semi-match chamber and target crown muzzle, Browning’s T-bolt series rifles aren’t your average rimfire bolt action rifle pop can zappers.
Further, the series’ straight “T” bolt design loads and ejects with a simple pull back and push forward.
This system is billed as unequaled among rimfires for raw bolt action speed — nearly as fast as a semi-auto 22.
4. CZ 457 Varmint
Czech gunmaker CZ blends old-world craftsmanship with modern performance in everything they make. The CZ 457 Varmint is no exception.
Featuring a heavy .866-inch cylindrical barrel, this tack driver ships with a beautiful Turkish walnut stock that has an American-style comb for use with a scope and a wide, flat forend that makes it ideal for use in conjunction with a sandbag or rest.
To further allow the use of a large piece of glass, the 457V has a bolt with a 60-degree throw to accommodate larger ocular bell diameters with lower ring heights. It also comes standard with a user-adjustable trigger.
5. Henry Frontier
When you think of .17 HMR, you don’t immediately think of the time-honored lever-action design, but Henry changes that with their Octagon Frontier.
Using richly-grained American walnut furniture and a classic 20-inch barrel with an “old school” eight-sided profile– which delivers performance similar to a bull barrel– the Frontier looks good while having a few modern tricks such as the receiver being grooved so you can top off any rifle in this series with your choice of scopes.
6. Henry Golden Boy
Picking up its name from the rifle’s brass buttplate and gleaming Brasslite receiver, the lever-action Henry Golden Boy looks very sharp.
Going past the brightwork, it has a 20-inch octagonal barrel and American walnut furniture while incorporating an adjustable buckhorn-type rear sight.
Best yet, the Golden Boy has an 11-round capacity in its traditional underbarrel magazine tube.
7. Rossi RB17
One of the most economical options for a .17 HMR rifle that can still deliver hails from Brazil.
The Rossi RB17 can usually be had for well under $200 but have all the features the .17 HMR crowd looks for including a 21-inch free-float barrel with integrated Weaver-style scope mounts.
Plus, with its lightweight synthetic stock, the weight on the RB17 is well under 5-pounds.
8. Ruger American Rimfire
Ruger has been in the rimfire business since their very first model in the 1940s and, when it comes to the .17 HMR today, they are a huge player with lots of interesting models to offer.
In their American Rimfire series alone they have both 18- and 22-inch barrel models with black synthetic or GO Wild Camo stocks and options for threaded barrels.
Standard features across the line include an integral bedding block system that positively locates the receiver and free-floats the barrel for outstanding accuracy, Ruger’s detachable flush-mounted JMX-1 9-round rotary magazine, and the company’s Marksman-series adjustable trigger.
9. Ruger Precision Rimfire
While Ruger’s American Rimfire has a traditional rifle format, their Precision Rimfire moves solidly into the 21st century with an AR-style pistol grip and a Quick-Fit stock that is adjustable for height, length, and cant.
These guns earn their name honestly with a threaded cold hammer-forged target barrel with ultra-precise rifling, MOA Picatinny scope base, and externally adjustable trigger.
Using a 15-inch free-float handguard with M-LOK slots, they are accessory-friendly and have both an oversized bolt handle for positive bolt manipulation and detachable magazines.
10. Savage A17
Using a delayed-blowback action, Savage’s A17 is one of the few semi-auto .17 HMR rifles on the market and, importantly for traditionalists, doesn’t look like a “black rifle.”
Featuring a chromed bolt with an oversized bolt handle and a case-hardened receiver, the A17 uses a 22-inch button-rifled barrel and a user-adjustable AccuTrigger.
11. Savage B17 FV-SR
For those looking for a handy bolt-action carbine, Savage’s B17, with a 16.25-inch button-rifled, suppressor-ready 1:9 twist heavy barrel, and an ergonomic composite stock, is ready-made. Just 34.75-inches long, the B17 hits the scales at 5.6-pounds.
Like the A17, it uses a 10-shot rotary magazine and Savage’s AccuTrigger which can be personalized by the user.
12. Savage 93R17 GVXP
With a high-luster hardwood stock and deeply blued 21-inch heavy barrel, Savage’s 93R17 GVXP model looks kind of like your grandpa’s rimfire but this .17 HMR has modern features common to the company’s other .17s. This includes the adjustable AccuTrigger and 1:9 twist rate.
Often, this model can be found direct from Savage with a bore-sighted 3-9x40mm Bushnell scope installed.
13. Steyr Zephyr II
Austria’s Steyr Mannlicher has been a leader in making top-shelf rifles for over a century and their Zephyr series of rimfire guns, originally introduced in the 1950s, are capable classics.
Updated for the 21st Century, the Zephyr II line, which includes both .22 and .17 HMR models, has the same build quality as legacy offerings but is updated to current standards.
Complete with a European walnut stock with a Bavarian cheek piece and fine fish scale checkering, it also looks heirloom-quality beautiful.
14. Tikka T1x
Finland’s Tikka, currently part of the Sako/Beretta organization, is famous for well-built sporting rifles, and their rimfire T1x, available in .17 HMR, maintains that lineage.
Using a cold-hammer-forged barrel with a crossover profile that offers the benefits of a heavier barrel without the extra weight, the T1x is fully bedded and inlayed, all features that lead to accuracy.
Ready for hard use in field conditions, its modular synthetic stock, stainless steel bolt with a metallic shroud offer exceptional weather resistance.
15. Volquartsen Deluxe
Probably the most Gucci .17 HMR is the apt-named Deluxe from the rimfire experts at Volquartsen.
Using a .920-inch stainless steel bull barrel with straight fluting and a removable 32 hole compensator that helps to both remove weight and dissipate heat, this semi-auto offered with a choice of either a McMillan sporter, Hogue overmolded, or brown laminated sporter stocks.
While it may be a big lift to spent over $2K on an HMR, a close look at the Volquartsen Deluxe may have you breaking the piggy bank.
History of the .17 HMR round
Much of the unsung firearms innovation that has been seen in America in the past century came from hobbyist custom handloaders developing their own cartridges for a special purpose.
These “wildcatters” have given us commercially successful cartridges such as the 7mm-08, .22-250, .357 SIG, .429 Desert Eagle, 6.8mm SPC, and .454 Casull.
One favorite of rimfire wildcatters from the 1970s onward was the 5mm Remington Rimfire Magnum or RFM. With a case length of 26mm, the same as a .22 Magnum, the 5mm RFM was a bottlenecked round rather than a straight wall like other rimfires, with a neck that accepted a smaller .204-caliber bullet rather than the .224 caliber of the .22 Mag.
Using a stronger case, with the right bullet profile it could shoot exceptionally flat and higher velocity and energy downrange than the .22 Magnum.
Unfortunately, the 5mm RFM, which in its day was the fastest commercial rimfire round on the market, never caught on and, after 1982, all but disappeared, a victim of market saturation where it couldn’t make enough headway against the millions of .22s that were already in circulation.
Speaking of which, in much the same way that the bottlenecked 5mm RFM on a roughly .22 Magnum-length case delivered results, wildcatters turned to a smaller caliber bullet, .172, with good results.
Picking up the torch, Hornady’s Littleman Mitchell continued development on what would ultimately, in 2002, be submitted as the .17 Hornady Magnum Rimfire or .17 HMR cartridge.
.17 HMR Specifications
Using ultralight bullets ranging between 15- and 20-grains– notably bullet weighs that is roughly half that of common .22 Long Rifle loads– the .17 HMR can generate an average velocity of around 2,400 fps while just producing about 26,000 psi of chamber pressure.
So, what do all these numbers mean?
The round provides superb accuracy across a flat trajectory while yielding very low felt recoil to the shooter, outclassing your standard .22LR and .22WMR for most uses. But we’ll get into that a bit more in other sections.
What's the .17 HMR good for?
The .17 HMR excels at harvesting varmint/predators, as well as small game species and providing pest control on animals under 50 pounds at distances out to 200 yards, according to manufacturer’s specs, although the ethical rule of thumb on that should be halved to under 25 pounds and 100 yards.
It’s arguably one of the most accurate long-range rimfire rounds ever made, holding a zero at 100 yards in most loads while still having enough energy to be effective there.
These same attributes make it excellent for use in precision rifle marksmanship (although NRL22 and PRS Rimfire series matches are still .22LR only.)
The .17 HMR was hardly the first cartridge developed in that caliber. The famed wildcatter and firearms developer Parker Ackley invented first his .17 Bee in the 1940s and then his .17 Hornet in the 1950s, the latter in conjunction with Hornady.
These centerfire rimmed, bottleneck rounds were like today’s .17 HMR in the respect that they used a very light bullet, typically around 20 grains, that could hit scorching speeds, hovering around 3,500 fps or faster, all of which tended towards hyper accuracy. Other companies tried the same format over the years to emulate the Bee and Hornet.
This included the .17 Remington in the 1970s, based on the .223 Remington but necked down to carry a lighter, smaller caliber bullet; and its circa 2006 shorter and spicier cousin, the .17 Remington Fireball, a cartridge that earned its name because it was a necked down .221 Fireball round. Besides these, there are wildcat rounds that circulate among reloaders including the 17 Incinerator, .17 Mach III and Mach IV, and .17 VHA.
A big difference in the .17 HMR, as you may have guessed, is that, as a rimfire round, it is easier to produce and therefore both less expensive and more available than the above-mentioned .17-caliber centerfire rounds on the market.
.17 HMR Ballistics
Let’s look at one of the most successful and popular .17 HMR loads on the market when it comes to small game rounds, Hornady’s (the company that kicked off the cartridge two decades ago) 17-grain V-MAX Varmint Express (No. 83170). At the muzzle, it generates 2,550 fps in velocity, which translates to 245 ft./lbs. of energy.
It also shoots incredibly flat, being on target at 100 yards and dropping just 8.5-inches at 200 yards, at which point its velocity is halved and energy has dropped 70 percent.
To put that into perspective, that’s about twice the velocity (and about 50 percent more delivered energy) of just about every .22LR load.
Is the .17 HMR or .22 LR more powerful?
The .17 HMR, through the blend of its lighter bullet and longer case with greater volume, has much higher velocity and more power than the .22 LR while keeping roughly the same case pressure, and thus the same felt recoil.
The .22 Long Rifle, or .22LR cartridge is one of the oldest commercial small arms rounds still in production, dating back to the 1860s when it used black powder rather than smokeless.
With a case length of just 15.6mm (as opposed to the .17 HMR’s 26mm long case), it has less volume and fires a heavier bullet, typically in the 26- to 40-grain range.
As one would guess, less powder and a heavier bullet mean velocity on the .22LR is anemic, running between 1,100- to 1,400 fps while chamber pressure runs about 240 psi on spec.
Downrange, the average bulk pack multipurpose .22LR load, for instance, Winchester’s 36-grain CPHP (Copper Plated Hollow Point), which generates 1,280 fps in velocity at the muzzle, which coughs up 131 ft./lbs. of energy. At 100 yards, this drops to a near subsonic 975 fps.
At 200 yards, Winchester does not publish ballistics for the round, which tells you all you need to know.
.17 HMR vs. the .22 WMR
Debuted in the late 1950s, the .22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire, or .22WMR/.22 Mag has a case roughly the same length as the .17 HMR, as we have noted already.
A straight-walled cartridge rather than the bottlenecked .17, the .224-caliber bullets of the .22 Mag are heavier, starting at about 30-grains and moving up to 50-grain loads, while chamber pressures are comparable.
This means felt recoil is on par between the .22 Mag and .17 HMR but performance is different, especially downrange. For example, Hornady’s .22 WMR 30-grain V-MAX Varmint Express Rimfire generates 2,200 fps velocity at the muzzle, just slightly less than the same company’s .17 HMR load in the identical bullet line, but, as it is a heavier bullet than the 17-grain pill, has about 30 percent more energy, 322 ft./lbs. to be precise.
This load holds zero at 100 yards but drops 16.5-inches at 200 yards, which is twice the drop seen on the .17 HMR– and the .22 Mag has less energy at that range as well.
In short, the .22 Mag is going to have slightly more energy at close ranges than the .17 HMR, and they meet up at the 100-yard mark with about the same ballistics, but the smaller round surpasses it in both accuracy and energy out past 100 yards.
What about the 17 Winchester Super Magnum?
A decade after the .17 HMR hit the market, Winchester developed their .17 WSM, which uses a thicker case than its competitor thus allowing for a hotter charge.
The cartridge provides a bit more umpf than the .17 HMR and runs slightly heavier bullets.
For example, SAMMI’s specs on the .17 WSM have it with typically a 25-grain PT bullet generating 2,600 fps velocity and with a 20-grain PT hitting 3,000 fps. This comes with the tradeoff of gently higher chamber pressures (33,000 psi on .17 WSM over 26,000psi for the .17 HMR) which means a little more recoil.
Hornady’s .17 WSM 20 grain V-MAX Varmint Express Rimfire puts some serious ballistics data on the chart, generating 3,000 fps velocity at the muzzle, leading to 400 ft./lbs. of energy. Most importantly, it shoots flat at 100 yards and only drops 4.1 inches at 200 yards, where it still has 2,060 fps velocity and 188 ft./lbs. of energy.
In short, the .17 WSM outclasses the .17 HMR, however, has not proven to be more popular and both the ammo and rifles to use it are hard to find. Barring unforeseen developments, the .17 WSM is likely to go the way of the 5mm RPM and the dodo bird within a generation.
While cheaper and, especially these days, much more available than similar centerfire rounds such as the .17 Hornet, .218 Bee, and .204 Ruger, the .17 HMR suffers from some of the same inherent flaws that all the cartridges in this class.
For instance, these tiny bullets have poor ballistic coefficients and sectional densities, which means they are highly susceptible to crosswinds, especially at distances.
There just isn’t a way a 17-grain bullet is going to shrug off the heavy drift. In addition, they don’t pack much energy, even at velocities that would seemingly turn these light loads into dust.
As such, they don’t elevate to harvesting small to medium-sized game larger than prairie dogs, coyote, and fox and, while they perform better than other rimfires– which isn’t much to brag about– they are still handicapped by a 200-yard effective range, if the user can dope the rainbow.
However, the .17 HMR has not shaken off the competition from its older rimfire brothers, the .22LR and .22 Mag. Both can typically be found easier and cheaper than the .17 and, in the world of precision rimfire competition, match-grade .22LR is still king, with skilled marksmen taking shots out to 300 yards with PRS rifles in that old-school caliber.
At the end of the day, the .17 HMR shines for those who are looking for an incredibly accurate, low-recoiling rifle for either relaxed target practice or harvesting small game at ranges under 200 yards.
Surpassing legacy rimfire cartridges such as .22LR and .22 Mag, the .17 HMR yields better performance while being more affordable than specialty centerfire varmint rounds to allow users to spend a day in the field for less coin than, say a rifle chambered in .204 Ruger. In its class, the .17 HMR is hard to beat.
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