Today, we’re going to take a look at a battle royale of featherweights: the classic .22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire (WMR), or 22 Magnum as it’s usually called, and its diminutive but spicy cousin, the .17 Hornady Magnum Rimfire.
A .17 caliber rimfire, you say? Of course. It’s been around for about 21 years now (almost 22). While it is a total lightweight (the projectiles weigh in around 15-20 grains, about half that of the typical .22 LR), it more than makes up for it in hot, nasty speed.
The .22 WMR is not new, having been around since the late 1950’s. It was initially loaded with the same 40-grain LRN slugs as the .22 long and long rifle but delivered them with a much flatter trajectory at around 2,000ft/s.
Let’s take a look at these two diminutive heroes and see how they punch way above their respective weights.
A History Of The 22 Magnum
The .22 Mag has been around for a long time. How long?
Well, Eisenhower was in office.
The. 22 WMR was introduced by industry monolith Winchester in 1959, although the first Winchester-brand rifle released for the cartridge would not be until the Winchester Model 61 in 1960. Iconic Marlin beat them to the punch on their own caliber with the release of their Levermatic rifle in 1959.
The moral of the story is that you should probably have your own rifle ready to drop if you are releasing a new caliber instead of letting your competition get the drop on you.
In fact, Marlin was not the only manufacturer already up and running with .22 Mag guns before Winchester had their own offering on the market. There’s a lesson in there.
Smith & Wesson and Sturm Ruger both already had revolvers rolling off production lines, and Savage had already released their Model 24, a combo over-under that had a rifle barrel married to a .410 shotgun barrel.
But on with the story. There was significant enough demand for an in-between .22 that Winchester decided to capitalize on it. The slew of .22 rimfires has been around forever, but the options were extremely limited between cheap .22 rimfires and high-powered .22 centerfires (.22 Hornet, .222 Remington, .223 Remington, etc.). Also, you needed to buy a rifle that used a full-sized action instead of the smaller rimfire actions. So, a hot rimfire was conceived, one that split that gap but could still be built on the actions of standard rimfire.
A History Of The .17 HMR
While the .22 Magnum has proven to be a reliable performer, and it shoots quite flat, it just wasn’t quite enough for a niche group of shooters. These shooters were looking for a micro-bullet that had the ballistics of a laser beam.
Well, the easier way to do that is to take a cartridge that already has good ballistics, neck it down, and put a smaller bullet in it. Over-simplification? Yes. But in essence, that’s what engineers in ammunition have done for decades.
So, the .17 HMR was dropped in 2002, using the .22 WMR as a starting point. And it does shoot really flat and goes really fast. From the muzzle, a 17-grain bullet is humming along at over 2,600ft/s.
17 HMR vs 22 Mag - Ballistics Comparison
Alright, so now it’s time to get down to the bread and butter of this debate: ballistics. We can talk about the history and origins all we want, but at the end of the day, the only thing that really matters is what these little hyperactive projectiles do.
.17 HMR Ballistics
The .17 HRM was designed to go really, really fast out of a rimfire action to produce a crazy-flat trajectory. Of course, there are drawbacks:
Any time you create a projectile this light (down to 15.5 grains), you are going to deal with wind drift. But the .17 HMR wasn’t designed to do long-range work in high winds.
Now, the .17 HMR was designed to fill a market hole created by the 5mm Remington Rimfire Magnum. This cartridge was an exceptional performer and actually outperformed both the .17 HMR and the .22 WMR. But it was never a widespread caliber; the .22 WMR has been very common and popular for decades, and unless you are a serious competitive shooter, you won’t ever notice the difference.
So, the .17 HMR was built on the common .22 WMR case because it was also the easiest option to adapt to current rifles.
So, what are the ballistics looking like?
Let’s go straight to the source and see what Hornady has to say:
The 15.5-grain NTX ® leaves the muzzle at 2,525 ft/s with 236 ft/lbs of energy.
- At 100 yards, muzzle energy is at 1,829 ft/s; energy is 119 ft/lbs.
- At 200 yards, muzzle energy is at 1,291 ft/s, and energy is 59 ft/lbs.
If we go a little heavier, we find the 20-grain XTP®. Muzzle energy is 2,375 ft/s and muzzle energy is 250 ft/lbs.
- At 100 yards, muzzle energy is at 1,776 ft/s; energy is 140 ft/lbs.
- At 200 yards, muzzle energy is at 1,304 ft/s; energy is 75 ft/lbs.
.22 WMR Ballistics
The .22 WMR is old, but it is not obsolete. In fact, far from obsolete: .22 WMRs are common and available in a wide range of both handguns and rifles from a slew of manufacturers.
Again, let’s take a look at industry leader Hornady:
The .22 WMR 30 gr V-MAX® Varmint Express® is a nice, light little speedster that takes varmints to task. Muzzle energy is 2,200 ft/s and muzzle energy is 322 ft/lbs.
- At 100 yards, muzzle energy is at 1,421 ft/s; energy is 134 ft/lbs.
- At 200 yards, muzzle energy is at 1,002 ft/s; energy is 67 ft/lbs.
How about the heavier, common 40-grain bullet? Here’s the CCI Maxi-Mag .22 WMR.
- The muzzle velocity is an admirable 1,875 ft/s and 312 ft/lbs of energy.
- At 100 yards, muzzle energy is at 1,319 ft/s; energy is 155 ft/lbs.
If you’re in the market for a varmint dispatcher, there are lots and lots of options. There are more centerfire options than you can shake a stick at, but sometimes, you don’t need that kind of reach or velocity (or cost). While rimfires have gone up a ton, they are still dirt cheap compared to even cheap .223 ammo (is there such a thing?).