Choice of cartridge when shooting small-caliber rifles usually comes down to a shooter’s desired application for the firearm. Are you looking to plink all day on a shoestring budget? Are you doing some “landscaping” in terms of varmints on your property? Or, are you trying to put food on the table by harvesting small game? These are the questions you should be asking yourself before making such an important addition to your battery.
Inside the world of small caliber rifles today, the two most common cartridges used are the .22LR and the .17HMR. These rounds are often the topic of debate in circles of gun guys who love to split hairs. Many people swear by the trusty .22LR, and a steadily growing number of folks are die-hard .17HMR fans. Both calibers serve unique purposes, so, when choosing which one best fits your needs, the comparison should come down to a few specific factors:
When determining how far away you want to be engaging targets, the .17HMR is likely the best choice for longer shots. When compared to the .22LR the .17HMR has a faster flight path and a flatter trajectory that gives it the edge in terms of hitting targets that are further away. Keep in mind that the maximum effective range for the .17HMR is approximately 250 yards. After this distance, precision target shooting is a bit dicey (unless you are a pro) and an ethical kill-shot on an animal is hard to achieve.
While the .17HMR is incredibly destructive at close range, it carries less kinetic energy than the .22LR when it gets to where it needs to go. This is because the .17HMR is traveling so fast, it acts more like an icepick than a sledgehammer when it connects. This won’t matter if you are just looking to purchase a solid target gun, with almost no recoil, however if you are looking to put dinner on your plate, it can be an issue. Small game such as rabbit and squirrels make for great eating, but there isn’t a whole lot of them left to eat after the .17HMR finds them. Unless you are an expert who can guarantee headshots on all your small game, the .22LR will provide you more meat in the long run. That said, when it comes to accuracy, overall, the .17HMR takes the win.
If your pocketbook is heavy on your mind nowadays, then this department is something to pay attention to. The .22LR, given that it has been around longer and is available in more models, is far easier on your bank account. The ammunition for a .22LR is also a bit less expensive. But don’t let that detour you, because there is a catch. It is far easier to find .17HMR than it is to come by a brick of .22LR. This is because folks buy up .22LR the minute they find it on a shelf, and the lesser-known .17HMR rounds go overlooked.
While the .17HMR will cost more, both by the rifle and the cartridge, what you are paying for is a highly accurate specialty rifle with a flat trajectory and an incredibly fast flight path.
In a perfect world, you could just buy both and have them in your battery. But if you had to choose between the .22LR and the .17HMR, after assessing your needs, the choice is clear. For target shooters who enjoy shooting accurate rifles, and don’t mind spending a little bit more to do so, the .17HMR is a dream come true. For folks looking to take small game and consistently put meat on the table, sticking with the good ol’ fashioned .22LR is probably your best bet. But don’t take our word for it, do your homework and get out there in the field.
For more information on the two cartridges, see below:
Click here for 22lr Ballistic Chart for 27 different types of cartridges:
Click here for 17hmr Ballistics Charts