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Rimfire Rocket

Is the new .17 HMR a passing fad or is it here to stay?
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A new cartridge generally causes lots of comment, but I can't remember one that has created more hubbub than the .17 Hornady Magnum Rimfire (HMR). From the day it was announced, there was a flood of opinions from all points of the shooting compass ranging from "I can't wait to buy one" to "I wouldn't have one," with all temperatures of commentary in between. "What is it for?" was the question du jour for months after its arrival, along with "Do we need another caliber?" But the big question that still ricochets around gun shops and shooting ranges is, "Will it last
or is it just another flash in the pan, meant mainly to squeeze a few bucks from the pockets of gun buyers?"



I have my own opinion about the future of the .17 HMR and I think it's a good one.



Comparing Classics

But first, let's get a handle on why some cartridges succeed while others fail. Applying the genius of hindsight, let's take two cartridges introduced by the same big-name ammo-maker in the last four decades-the 7mm Rem. Mag. and the 6.5 Rem. Mag.-and consider how they fared on the playing field of public scrutiny.



The 7mm Mag., as everyone knows, is one of the most successful cartridges of the century. Its widespread acceptance may be accounted for by the simple fact that it is a damn fine hunting cartridge. But there are other, equally superb rounds that scarcely had a chance to boom across the meadows of autumn before their demise,
so we have to look for more factors to add into the equation of success.



Timing is one of them: The 7mm Rem. Mag. arrived just as magnum fever was at peak pitch in the early '60s. Thanks mainly to the promotional talents of Roy Weatherby, the "belted magnum" cartridge case had achieved icon status and hordes of hunters were convinced that everlasting joy and contentment would be achieved only when a magnum rifle was cradled in their gun racks.



Adding to the appeal of Remington's new magnum was the fact that it came in a relatively inexpensive Remington bolt-action rifle, which already had a loyal following because of its accuracy and dependability. The new magnum got a powerful boost from at least one prominent gun writer of that era and in time others followed suit. There is no guessing how many articles have been penned in its praise since then.
Since its introduction the 7mm Rem. Mag. has been offered by about every rifle-maker on the planet, in endless models and variations and even more custom versions. And anyone who makes ammunition loads for it. Keep these last two factors particularly in mind when we assess the future of
the .17 HMR.



Demise of the 6.5 Rem.

If the cartridge popularity scale were like a yardstick, with the 7mm Rem. Mag. on the 36-inch end, the 1-inch end would be owned by the tragic 6.5 Remington Magnum. There are few really bad cartridges and the 6.5 Rem. Mag. isn't one of them, but from the very beginning its existence was plagued by insurmountable handicaps. In human terms it was like the poor boy who had to walk 10 miles to school, uphill both ways, and always in the rain. In a couple of ways the
6.5 Rem. may have been too far ahead of its time. Only recently have experimenters begun to see the advantages of a 6.5 bullet in a short, high-capacity case. But the 6.5 Rem. was viewed differently back then and its marketing was nothing less than bizarre.



If the 6.5 Rem. had anything truly worthwhile to offer it was as a long-range, open-country hunting or varmint round best matched with accurate, long-barreled rifles. Instead it was matched, or rather mismatched, with the stubby-barreled M-600 carbine, which was born and bred for short-range, timber-type hunting. So few were sold that after a couple of years Remington threw in the towel and the few that were purchased are now collector's items. One or two other gunmakers also gave it a brief try and no one but Remington ever made ammo.
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Of course there are myriad other reasons why cartridges succeed or fail, and there are as many opinions for why either happens as there are people who buy guns, but if we compare the current state of the .17 HMR to the conditions that aided or beset the two aforementioned cartridges we can get a pretty clear view of its future.



The .17's Future

To begin with, in the short history of its existence the .17 HMR is already being offered in an astonishing number of makes and models of rifles and handguns. Considering the short time period, it has probably already set the record for numbers of gunmakers jumping on what they perceive as a surefire bandwagon. But even with this wealth of immediate selections, the gun retailers I've contacted tell me they can't get enough guns or ammunition to satisfy customer demand.



There can be little doubt that much of the demand has been created by the shooting press. In OL's 2002 test of new guns [BRACKET "June/July"], .17 HMR rifles by Marlin and Ruger earned high marks for accuracy. Another test series with the German-made Anschutz M-1717D (even the European makers were quick to recognize a hot item) further confirmed the accuracy of .17 HMR [BRACKET "Sporting Gear, November"]. I expect that other shooting and hunting publications have reported similar results. And that, by the way, brings up another factor that bodes well
for the future of the .17 HMR, and points up a basic but seldom mentioned difference between rimfire and centerfire rifles and handguns.



Centerfire rifles are what I call rifle-specific, whereas rimfires are ammunition-specific, which means that a good centerfire can be made to shoot its best by simply tinkering with the ammunition you feed it. In contrast, the accuracy of a rimfire rifle, no matter how good the rifle may be, is at the mercy of the ammo and there isn't much you can do about that since rimfire ammo isn't reloadable. Since there is but one maker of .17 HMR ammo, everyone's eggs are in a single basket.



Outstanding Ammo

Happily for the future of the .17 HMR and all the gunmakers who have eggs in that basket, the ammunition distributed by Hornady has been surprisingly accurate, especially for a rimfire. Typically, rimfire bullets are swaged lead, either plain or with a copper coating, but the tiny .17 grain HMR bullets are made the same as jacketed centerfire bullets, giving them a leg up on accuracy. If, in fact, early samples of .17 HMR had not been so uniformly accurate, the cartridge's future wouldn't be so bright. One has to wonder if this quality will be maintained by other manufacturers who try their hands at making .17 HMR ammo, as they most surely will. (At this writing, Remington has just announced that they will be marketing the .17 HMR ammo using the same Hornaday bullet and presumably an identical load.)



Unlike cartridges like the 7mm/08 Remington, which suffered endless comparisons with a well-established .308 Winchester, the .17 HMR is virtually the only player on the field. One might exhume the ill-fated 5mm Remington Rimfire Magnum for the sake of comparison (in fact, they are quite similar), but the Remington effort failed for rather peculiar reasons that so far do not apply to the .17 HMR.



What competition the .17 HMR might have came from its own daddy, the .22 Winchester Magnum. (The .17 HMR is the .22 WRM necked down to .17 caliber.) Even so, the differences between the two are so vast that comparisons must be generalized. Though the .22 WRM has achieved more popularity than I thought it would achieve-or deserved to achieve-it has done so despite a history of determinedly indifferent ammunition. Though makers
of .22 WRM ammo seem to have improved quality of late, I've tested only one offering that comes anywhere near equaling the accuracy of the .17 HMR. But even if accuracy were equal across the board, the big velocity advantage of the .17 HMR, with attendant trajectory superiority, puts it in quite a different league.



Now we come to the always delightful question: "What is the .17 HMR for?" Or, as it is sometimes phrased, "What does it do that existing calibers don't already do?" If we succumbed to the inherent illogic of this sort of question, we would eventually agree that the American shooting scene could get along quite well with only three calibers, with the .22 Rimfire at one end, the .30/06 at the other end and something else in between. This, of course, would be a catastrophe, leaving hunters and gun folk with little to argue about and forcing gun writers to look for
respectable jobs.



When the "what is it for?" query was put to one gun-industry executive, his tongue-in-cheek response was "to make money." But then he went on to describe the great fun he had been having with his .17 HMR. And fun is primarily what this new rimfire is about.



Just For Fun

Though I'd never name the .17 HMR my first choice as an all-around varmint cartridge, it is a great choice for small varmints such as digger squirrels and short-range (inside 200 yards) prairie dogs. What I wouldn't use it for is larger varmints such as coyotes, except at close range, and the explosive effect of the little .17 bullet wouldn't leave much meat on edible game such as squirrels.



Most of all, the .17 HMR is just plain fun to shoot and provides the great enjoyment of seeing an accurate rifle and cartridge perform, even if it's just poking holes in paper. My guess is that there will be similar cartridges in the not-too-distant future-rumors of this already abound-all of which we might call the "Cutesy Class." Which brings us to the future of the .17 HMR. Will it be a long-term success or a short-term fad? The evidence tells us that factors that make or break
other cartridges strongly favor the .17 HMR. My guess is that it will be around-and gaining popularity-for years to come.the .17 HMR, with attendant trajectory superiority, puts it in quite a different league.



Now we come to the always delightful question: "What is the .17 HMR for?" Or, as it is sometimes phrased, "What does it do that existing calibers don't already do?" If we succumbed to the inherent illogic of this sort of question, we would eventually agree that the American shooting scene could get along quite well with only three calibers, with the .22 Rimfire at one end, the .30/06 at the other end and something else in between. This, of course, would be a catastrophe, leaving hunters and gun folk with little to argue about and forcing gun writers to look for
respectable jobs.



When the "what is it for?" query was put to one gun-industry executive, his tongue-in-cheek response was "to make money." But then he went on to describe the great fun he had been having with his .17 HMR. And fun is primarily what this new rimfire is about.



Just For Fun

Though I'd never name the .17 HMR my first choice as an all-around varmint cartridge, it is a great choice for small varmints such as digger squirrels and short-range (inside 200 yards) prairie dogs. What I wouldn't use it for is larger varmints such as coyotes, except at close range, and the explosive effect of the little .17 bullet wouldn't leave much meat on edible game such as squirrels.



Most of all, the .17 HMR is just plain fun to shoot and provides the great enjoyment of seeing an accurate rifle and cartridge perform, even if it's just poking holes in paper. My guess is that there will be similar cartridges in the not-too-distant future-rumors of this already abound-all of which we might call the "Cutesy Class." Which brings us to the future of the .17 HMR. Will it be a long-term success or a short-term fad? The evidence tells us that factors that make or break
other cartridges strongly favor the .17 HMR. My guess is that it will be around-and gaining popularity-for years to come.

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