In America, it’s often said that bigger is always better. That might be true in pickup trucks and fast food burgers, but it doesn’t ring true when comparing the .17 Hornet and the .22 Hornet cartridges.
The .17 Hornet is a superior round compared to the .22 Hornet in nearly every aspect.
In velocity, energy, and drop over distance measurements, the .17 gets the nod. It also maintains a flatter trajectory over distance than its older rival.
When Was the .22 Hornet Invented?
The .22 Hornet has been around a long time, now approaching a century. It began as a black powder .222 centerfire cartridge in the early 1920s. Designers and experimenters began to modify Winchester’s older .22 black powder cartridge in search of a fast predator gun.
The work produced a cartridge with a muzzle velocity of 2400 feet per second, a real speed demon in its day.
There was nothing like it on the market, and very few rifles chambered to shoot it.
A modified Springfield was the first rifle to test the 45-grain, high-speed bullet, and the technicians testing it were impressed. It was the most accurate round to that time ever tested at the Winchester lab.
A handful of bolt-action Springfield rifles were designed to take the .22 Hornet, and the single-shot Martini-Cadet was modified to fire the new cartridge but use was sparing until Winchester broke open the market on small caliber, high speed, varmint rifles with the 1933 introduction of the Model 54.
It was a huge hit in the pre-World War II period and emerged after wartime manufacturing moved back to civilian arms from the post-war period to the early 1950s.
Until the advent of the .223, the .22 Hornet was the third most popular rifle in America in sales.
How Is the .17 Hornet Related to the .22 Hornet?
The .22 Hornet faced stiff competition initially from the .223, a caliber introduced in the late 1950s. The .218 Bee, the Ruger .204, and the Remington .222 all carved into the market once owned exclusively by the .22 Hornet.
That was the centerfire competition, in rimfire configuration, the .17, .22 long rifle, and .22 magnum cartridges also edged in on the venerable .22 Hornet.
A custom version of the .17 Hornet was produced by P.O. Ackley as a “wildcat” cartridge in the 1950s. A wildcat is a privately modified commercial round that is then reloaded.
Ackley fire-formed a .22 Hornet case necked down the shell to hold a .17 caliber bullet and sold the cartridges to custom gun owners on a limited scale.
In 2011, a new challenge entered the market in a familiar case, but decidedly different ballistics.
The Remington .17 Fireball and the Hornady .17 took the .22 Hornet case, forged it down to handle a .17 caliber bullet, and kept the powder charge almost identical.
The result was a much faster round, that produced much more energy, in spite of the smaller-grained bulled, and had an effective range against coyotes, fox, prairie dogs, and other varmints almost twice the distance of the .22 Hornet.
A .17 Hornet is regarded by coyote hunters to be an effective round out to 350-yards.
Which Is Faster the .17 Hornet or the .22 Hornet?
Take a close look at the ballistic chart below. Some of the numbers won’t make sense initially but remember you’re working with very small bullets.
As a comparison, a standard 12-gauge shotgun shell, a shell most readers are familiar with, contains approximately one ounce of lead pellets.
Some have a little more, some a little less. That means a 12-gauge delivers about 480-grains of lead on the business end of the barrel.
Put into perspective, that’s 31 times the size of the smallest 15.5-grain .17 Hornet bullet, and still 11 times larger than the biggest .22 Hornet bullet at 45-grains.
The 15.5-grain .17 Hornet has an incredibly high muzzle velocity, almost as fast as a Ruger .204, but it drops substantially over distance.
The slightly larger 20-grain .17 Hornet is about 200 feet per second slower out of the barrel but maintains a solid velocity of over 2000 feet per second to 300-yards. At 500-yards it’s still moving at 1383 feet per second.
The .35-grain .22 Hornet starts slow and naturally stays that way, dropping to only 802 feet per second at 500-yards, the slowest of the five bullets in this chart.
Which Has More Energy?
In terms of energy, the .17 Hornet in the larger 25-grain size is the best of the class.
The 20-grain .17 Hornet has more energy at the muzzle, but at 100-yards and farther, the 25-grain .17 delivers more punch than the other pair of .17 Hornet rounds and both .22 Hornet loads.
The energy drops with all five rounds dramatically after 200-yards, but the 20 and 25-grain .17 bullets maintain enough power beyond 300-yards to take coyotes, fox, and prairie dogs easily.
Which Round Shoots Flatter?
The one characteristic all five cartridges share is flat shooting at 200-yards. They all start a little high at 100-yards but are spot on at 200. The .17 flies flatter long but still drops at 300-yards slightly.
The 35-grain .22 Hornet falls 17.5 inches at 300-yards, and the 45-grain bullet drops 13 inches, by 400 –yards you’re measuring the drop in feet.
By contrast, the 15.5, 20, and 25-grain .17 Hornet bullets only dropped 9.1, 6.4, and 4.3 at 300 yards and were still adjustable enough to stay on target at 400-yards in the hands of a knowledgeable shooter.
Time marches on in the world of ammunition and firearm design. The .22 Hornet was a pacesetting cartridge a century ago that gathered a huge following in the first quarter-century it was introduced.
But competition and improved design took most of the .22 Hornet’s market share.
A new cartridge, mass-produced for the consumer market by Remington and Hornady, two of the giants in the industry, entered the market a decade ago with the .17 Hornet.
The .17 Hornet meets or exceeds the performance of the .22 Hornet in almost every aspect.
The small diameter wound produced by the .17 Hornet is favored by fur hunters since it has the energy to drop a coyote in one shot but leaves almost no mark on the hide.
The .22 Hornet had its day, but its descendent, the .17 Hornet has taken much of the market.