17 HMR vs 17 Hornet: What’s the Difference?

The names are confusing since the first three letters and numbers are identical, but that’s where the similarities end. The .17 HMR and the .17 Hornet are vastly different calibers in terms of speed, energy, and perhaps most importantly, price and availability.

The .17 HMR

A relatively new arrival to the shooting world, the .17 HMR was introduced by Hornady in 2002. The Hornady engineers necked down a .22 magnum cartridge.

The cartridge was designed to outperform the standard .22 long rifle in accuracy, wind drift, and trajectory, meaning bullet drop over distance. The .17 HMR was also much quieter than its .22 long rifle ancestry.

As an added bonus, the .17 HMR has rarely suffered the ammunition shortages found with the .22 long rifle. As stocks of .22 long rifle ammunition disappeared from shelves, many varmint hunters and target shooters switched to the .17 HMR.

Youngsters just learning to target shoot at the range, were introduced to the .17 HMR by adults and the results were excellent. The novice shooters had great success with the flat shooting, easy to handle lighter cartridge.

The .17 Hornet

The most notable difference between the .17 HMR and the .17 Hornet comes in looking at the base of the cartridge. The .17 HMR is a rimfire cartridge, while the .17 Hornet uses a primer, making it one of the smallest centerfire cartridges ever invented.

Centerfire cartridges produce more energy, the rimfire design is less expensive to produce and purchase, but the performance is indicative of the price difference.

The .17 Hornet began life as a “wildcat” cartridge, meaning it was produced privately and reloaded by hand. The first .17 Hornet was made in the early 1950s by P.O. Ackley. Ackley took .22 Hornet cases and fire formed the shell down at the neck to seat a .17 caliber bullet. He sold the cartridges privately to custom gun owners.

The .17 Hornet entered the commercial market just a decade ago. Venerable ammunition manufacturers Hornady and Remington introduced cartridges in 2011.

Both designers began with the existing .22 Hornet cartridge and modified it to handle a .17 caliber bullet. The result was the Remington .17 Fireball and the Hornady .17.

They were immediate hits with varmint hunters, and extremely popular with fur hunters since the tiny cartridge packed a wallop, but didn’t damage coyote, fox, and bobcat pelts as badly as heavier traditional varmint cartridges like the .223 and .243.

Ballistics: The Raw Data

In the chart below you will immediately see the difference between the rimfire .17 HMR and the centerfire .17 Hornet.

In terms of muzzle velocity, the .17 Hornet screams out of the barrel much faster, over 1000 feet per second faster at the muzzle.

The speed differential grows over distance.

The one commonality between the two cartridges is that they both shoot flat at 200 yards. The 200-yard range is a standard distance for varmint hunters.

Coyote hunters prefer the .17 Hornet with its greater energy. Power, as measured in energy at the target, is the main difference between these two .17 caliber cartridges. The .17 Hornet in the popular 15.5-grain bullet packs five times the energy of its rimfire rival the .17 HMR at 200 yards.

Velocity (Feet Per Second)

CartridgeMuzzle100 yds200 yds
.17 Hornet 15.5 Gr.386029242159
.17 Hornet 20 Gr.365030772574
.17 Hornet 25 Gr.337528422368
.17 HMR 15.5 Gr.252518301291
.17 HMR 20 Gr.237517751274

Energy (Ft. Pounds)

Cartridge200 yds
.17 Hornet 15.5 Gr.294
.17 Hornet 20 Gr.420
.17 Hornet 25 Gr.448
.17 HMR 15.5 Gr.57
.17 HMR 20 Gr.72

Trajectory (Bullet Drop in Inches)

Cartridge100 yds200 yds
.17 Hornet 15.5 Gr.1.40
.17 Hornet 20 Gr.1.10
.17 Hornet 25 Gr.0.60
.17 HMR 15.5 Gr.1.40
.17 HMR 20 Gr.1.50

Good and Bad of .17 HMR and .17 Hornet

Ballistics are one measure of the worth of a cartridge. There are many other considerations as well. The .17 HMR can’t compete when it comes to raw power, and especially over distances longer than 200 yards.

Many ballistic charts don’t bother to include data on the .17 HMR since they become essentially a “spent” bullet after 250 yards. But within that 200-yard range, the .17 HRM is a great platform for target shooting and varmint hunting, and it comes at a substantially lower price.

For prairie dogs, rabbits, and squirrels, you can’t beat a .17 HMR. The distance in hunting these species and the power in the .17 HMR make it a great choice.

The .17 Hornet is a better cartridge over longer distances, there is no argument. It is also better with larger predators such as bobcats and coyotes. The stopping power of the .17 Hornet is impressive.

That’s one of the reasons the early smaller caliber centerfire cartridges of the 1950s carried the names Hornet, Wasp, and Bee. They were small but packed a big sting when they hit the target.

The biggest drawback to the .17 Hornet is the price of ammunition. If you’re target shooting at a range with 100-yard targets, you’ll save a lot of money with the .17 HMR and have just as much fun shooting. If you’re trying to take shots at coyotes or fox at 300 or 400 yards, your only choice is the .17 Hornet.

The .17 Hornet can reach those long distances and still retain the energy to deliver a kill shot up to a quarter mile away.

Conclusion

This is a fun cartridge to shoot, in both the .17 HMR and the .17 Hornet configuration. The .17 caliber bullet travels well on both platforms to distances of 200 yards. It’s flat shooting, handles the windy conditions that varmint hunters often experience on the Great Plains and in the Rocky Mountains well, and delivers the punch you need.

The drawback to both cartridges is the small bore of the rifle handling these tiny .17 caliber rounds. The smaller bore needs closer attention after shooting as few as 10 rounds.

The smaller area allows residue to build up quickly, so regular cleaning of the barrel is necessary for safety, and to ensure optimum performance.

Your decision on which rifle to purchase comes down to price, and performance. Weigh those factors and you’ll make the right choice.

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