September 2009

17 HMRs: Henry’s Lever Gun Vs. Savage and Ruger Bolt Actions

We often have the luxury of grading big winners and big losers. That’s not the case here; contingent on your budget and intended use, you could be happy with any of the tested rifles.

It has been said in the industry that "when all else fails, invent a caliber." Part and parcel of any highly new-product driven industry is the constant attempt to invent new lines of price and performance where none exist in a tangible, real-world sense. One fairly recent cartridge development that has gained traction and popularity is the Hornady 17 Magnum Rimfire introduced in 2002. It is remarkable in many respects, gaining distinction as the first successful rimfire cartridge to hit the market in over 40 years. The last rimfire considered to be a "successful" introduction was the 22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire in 1959.

Most all of the 17-caliber cartridges offered today are either 17- or 20-grain. With such flyweight bullets, as a practical matter they are most suited for ground squirrels, rabbits, and similarly fragile and small-sized game or varmints. CCI reportedly manufactures most all 17 HMR ammunition, though there are slight differences between the brands themselves. As far as we know, this is still the case. As for the case itself, it is the 22 WMR necked down to accept the 17 HMR’s 0.172-inch-diameter bullet.

Billed as the "world’s fastest rimfire," it appears to be just that, although there are a few caveats. The sectional density of the projectiles (about .084 for the 17 grain; .097 for the 20 grain) suggest it is not a great platform for penetration, and the ballistic coefficients of the respective bullets (about .123 for both) also promise that windage is a consideration at longer ranges. It clearly is, with just a 10-mph crosswind blowing either bullet horizontally 8 inches or so at 150 yards. Unless your shooting conditions are very calm and consistent, despite the 17 HMR’s high initial velocity, it remains a 100- to 125-yard gun for most small-game applications.

What this cartridge promises and delivers on is the fun factor. With negligible recoil and a reasonable cost per shot compared to most centerfires, the Hornady 17 HMR is easy on the shoulder and not especially damaging to the wallet, either. In our quest for value, performance, and fun, we loaded up three rifles chambered for this pipsqueak with pop: Henry Lever Action Frontier Model No. H001TV Octagon-Barrel 17 HMR, $550; the Ruger Model 77/17-RM 17 HMR, $754; and the Savage Model 93 R17 Classic 17 HMR, $566. After the requisite initial scoping of the rifles, it was off to the field.

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