It seems crazy to think about it, but at one time rimfire cartridges were real competitors to centerfire cartridges. From large calibers to small, rimfire cartridges were available in numerous different sizes and for numerous different types of firearms.
Over time, however, the benefits of centerfire cartridges became more and more apparent, and rimfire cartridges began to die away, eventually leaving only the .22LR and a couple of others that remain with us today. While attempts have been made to introduce new rimfire cartridges over the past several decades, most have faded away as well, with one notable exception: the .17 Hornady Magnum Rimfire.
The .17 HMR is, as the name would suggest, based on the .22 WMR cartridge, necked down to accept .17-caliber bullets. While the .22 WMR is certainly no slouch, the lighter .17-caliber bullets can be pushed to pretty amazing velocities from a rimfire cartridge. With bullet weights ranging from 15 to 20 grains, the cartridge pushes 17-grain bullets at up to 2,600 feet per second and 20-grain bullets at about 2,300 feet per second.
Muzzle energy is about 250 foot-pounds, notably less than the .22 WMR’s 300+ foot-pounds of muzzle energy. But with pointed spitzer bullets and high velocity, the .17 HMR can shoot flatter and farther, making it a fun and effective round for varmints and small to medium-sized fur-bearers.
Most firearms chambered in .17 HMR are bolt action or lever action rifles, as would be fitting for a varmint cartridge. Some semiautomatic rifles are available, from manufacturers such as Savage and Alexander Arms. Alexander Arms offers both complete AR-15 rifles as well as upper receivers, magazines, and parts for the .17 HMR.
As with its .22 WMR parent cartridge, the major drawbacks to the .17 HMR are ammunition availability and price. You can walk into any gun store in the country and find .22 LR on the shelves (at least during normal times), but .17 HMR is going to be a little more difficult to find. And when you can find it, it will cost you. While .22 LR can currently be found for about 9 cents a round, .17 HMR starts at around 36 cents per round, quadruple the price. That makes it hard to justify from the standpoint of economy.
While the advantages of the .17 HMR over the .22 LR are many, do you really need that kind of performance from a rimfire firearm? Couldn’t you be better served by something like a .204 Ruger AR-15 upper that offers superior performance, the ability to handload, and lower cost of entry? If you have a .17 HMR, there’s nothing wrong with it and you’ll be well served in a survival scenario as long as you have enough ammunition stockpiled. But if you’re looking for a cartridge to fill this kind of niche in your armory, you might be better served with other choices.