17 HMR vs 223: What’s the Difference?

Small caliber rifles have been a firm favorite amongst young hunters, small game hunters, plinkers, and those targeting varmints for a long time. Ask any hunter they will likely tell you they learned their hunting skills with a small-caliber rifle such as .22LR.

The choice of calibers is almost endless but their capabilities and uses are just as long. But we will look at two of the more popular small calibers and compare them.

The .17HMR

The .17 Hornady Magnum Rimfire’s most obvious feature is stated in the title, it’s a rimfire cartridge and not a centerfire like similar cartridges. Essentially the .17HMR is a .22Magnum necked down to .17 caliber projectile.
The .17 caliber projectile has a serious pace with a velocity in excess of 2,300 feet per second while being extremely light at only 17 to 20-grains.

Specifications

  • Bullet Diameter: 0.172 in (4.4 mm)
  • Neck Diameter: 0.190 in (4.8 mm)
  • Shoulder Diameter: 0.238 in (6.0 mm)
  • Base Diameter: 0.238 in (6.0 mm)
  • Case Length: 1.058 in (26.9 mm)
  • Overall Length: 1.349 in (34.3 mm)
  • Maximum Pressure (C.I.P): 26,107 psi

Ballistics – From Three Recommended Hunting Brands

Velocity (Feet Per Second)

AmmoMuzzle50 yds100 yds150 yds
Hornady 17 Gr. V-MAX2550221219011621
Winchester Super-X 20 Gr. XTP2375206717841532
Federal 17 Gr. V-MAX2530219318841606

Energy (Ft. Pounds)

AmmoMuzzle50 yds100 yds150 yds
Hornady 17 Gr. V-MAX24518513699
Winchester Super-X 20 Gr. XTP251190141104
Federal 17 Gr. V-MAX24218213497

Trajectory (Bullet Drop in Inches)

AmmoMuzzle50 yds100 yds150 yds
Hornady 17 Gr. V-MAX-1.50.20-2.6
Winchester Super-X 20 Gr. XTP-1.50.30-3.0
Federal 17 Gr. V-MAX-1.50.20-2.6

The .223 Remington

More known for its popularity amongst owners of AR-15s, the .223 Remington is an extremely versatile round from hunting, sport shooting to military use. It’s a firm favorite amongst varmint hunters and for good reason.

Specifications

  • Bullet Diameter: 0.224 in (5.7 mm)
  • Neck Diameter: 0.253 in (6.4 mm)
  • Shoulder Diameter: 0.354 in (9.0 mm)
  • Base Diameter: 0.376 in (9.6 mm)
  • Case Length: 1.76 in (45 mm)
  • Overall Length: 2.26 in (57 mm)
  • Maximum Pressure (C.I.P): 62,366 psi

Ballistics – From Three Recommended Hunting Brands

Velocity (Feet Per Second)

AmmoMuzzle100 yds200 yds300 yds
Winchester Super-X 53 Gr. HP3330288224772106
Winchester Super-X 55 Gr. PSP3240274723041905
Remington 55 Gr. PSP3240274723041905

Energy (Ft. Pounds)

AmmoMuzzle100 yds200 yds300 yds
Winchester Super-X 53 Gr. HP1305978722522
Winchester Super-X 55 Gr. PSP1282921648443
Remington 55 Gr. PSP1282921468443

Trajectory (Bullet Drop in Inches)

Ammo50 yds100 yds150 yds200 yds
Winchester Super-X 53 Gr. HP0.30.70-1.9
Winchester Super-X 55 Gr. PSP-0.10.60-2.0
Remington 55 Gr. PSP-0.40.80-2.2

Direct Comparison

When it comes to stats of the .17HMR vs .223, the .223 Remington dominates in all departments. Holding a higher velocity and energy than the .17HMR, the .223 Remington is a more powerful and capable cartridge. It should, however, be noted that the .223 is firing a bullet almost twice the weight of the .17HMR.

The .223 has bullet weights ranging from 35 to 85 grains, with the most common being 55 grains, while the .17HMR ranges from 15 to 20 grains. Even with a heavier weight, the .223 holds better trajectory figures than the .17HMR, this may be down to the greater velocity but what it really offers the hunter is confidence at longer distances, while still holding enough energy upon impact.

Target Animals

The first thought that comes to mind when looking at both calibers is that they are ideal for small game and hunting varmints, but is that really the case?

In this scenario, we will take small game as being anything less than or equal to 40lbs in weight.

  • Rabbits and hares
  • Squirrels
  • Prairie dogs, marmots, groundhogs, and woodchucks
  • Beavers and muskrats
  • Coyotes, bobcats, lynx, and foxes

With regards to the .17HMR it certainly carries enough energy and velocity to handle all the small game animals listed, but it lacks sufficient power at distances above 150-yards. Unless presented with a very close shot of less than 50-yards, the very nature of coyote and fox hunting through calling them in over distance, would in my opinion, make the .17HMR unsuitable to use.
Rabbits, hares, squirrels, would all be well within the capabilities of the .17HMR and in fact, it would be the ideal caliber.

The .17HMR has the upper hand over the .223 Remington in that it causes less damage to small game, which is especially important to those hunters who use small game as a food source.

Noise is another factor in small game hunting and the .17HMR is a lot quieter, with less recoil. This makes it a great option for young hunters just getting started out.

With the .223 Remington, however, the hunter is provided with more versatility and can not only target small game but with a heavier weighted bullet and closer distance can target larger game animals such as Whitetail, hogs or Pronghorn. It also carries the energy at a longer distance making it suitable for predator control on coyotes and bobcats.

Ideal Conditions

If open flat country is where you hunt, then the .223 Remington is the choice for you. Where a long shot is needed, the sheer velocity and energy will make the .223 ideal. The same can be said if you are hunting in hilly or mountainous terrain for small to medium game and the chance at closing the distance is not available.

In heavily wooded areas where shots are at close distance and the amount of noise needs to be kept to a minimum then the .17HMR will certainly be the better option. A lightweight rifle, which is generally the case of a .17HMR when compared to the .223, makes for easier maneuverability.

Conclusion

There really shouldn’t be a conversation on the .17HMR vs .223 because there are too many differences and obvious ones at that between these calibers. Comparing a rimfire with a centrefire cartridge is always going to be difficult, while the distance between the two in the ballistics category is too large a gap.

There can however be recommendations made on each caliber and they are these:

.17HMR
The ideal caliber for a young hunter targeting rabbits and hares. With minimal recoil, low noise impact, and generally a lighter rifle it will help any young shooter to develop their skills. Ammunition is not overly expensive, so firing away rounds at steel targets for fun makes it another great choice.

.223 Remington
The perfect caliber for anyone wanting to get serious about predator control. The .223 was designed for speed and flat shooting. A well-trained hunter with a .223 can pick off coyotes at 300-yards with ease. The range in grain weights that the .223 can be loaded at also allows for the reloading enthusiasts to tinker around with powders and bullet tips to create the ideal varmint round for their rifle.

Let us not forget the most obvious of benefits. The majority of AR-15s are chambered in .223 and the capabilities and versatility of the AR-15s rifles are well known and respected amongst many shooting enthusiasts.

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