When it comes to small game hunting and varmint shooting, two of the most popular cartridges on the market are the .17 HMR and the .22 LR. While both cartridges are designed for similar purposes, they offer different ballistic characteristics and performance.
In this article, we’ll compare the .17 HMR and the .22 LR and see how they stack up against each other in real-world hunting and shooting scenarios. Whether you’re a seasoned hunter or a beginner, this article will help you choose the right cartridge for your needs.
.17 HMR – A Quick Review
The .17 HMR, or Hornady Magnum Rimfire, is a relatively new cartridge that was introduced in 2002 by (you guessed it) Hornady. It’s a rimfire cartridge built off a necked-down .22 Magnum case, and it’s primarily designed for varmint hunting and small game shooting.
The .17 HMR is known for its high velocity and flat trajectory, making it an excellent choice for shooting at small targets at long ranges.
History & Purpose
The .17 HMR was developed by Hornady in collaboration with Marlin Firearms and Sturm, Ruger & Co.
The idea behind the .17 HMR was to get something in a similarly-sized package that could reliably hit what you were aiming at a little further out. The .22 LR and the .22 Magnum both drop hilariously fast, and tend to tumble easily, so if you’re aiming at a varmint more than a hundred yards out, your shots aren’t likely to land on him.
Ballistics & Performance
The .17 HMR was a success, and as a result, it’s known for its excellent ballistics and performance.
The cartridge fires a 17-grain bullet at velocities of up to 2,550 feet per second, which results in a flat trajectory and minimal bullet drop. Most places you read will say the .17 HMR has a maximum effective range of around 200 yards. In my experience, though, it’s more like 300.
At 200 yards you can still make sub-MOA groupings with a quality barrel, and at 300, you can still reliably pick off 4-inch clay pigeons if you compensate for the drop properly. At 300 yards, the bullet has “only” dropped ~36 inches, making it an excellent choice for shooting at small targets at that distance.
In terms of energy, the .17 HMR delivers around 245 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle, which is more than enough to take down small game and varmints such as rabbits, squirrels, and prairie dogs. The cartridge also produces minimal recoil and noise, making it an excellent choice for young or inexperienced shooters.
It’s louder than the .22LR, of course, being supersonic, but it’s much quieter than most (if not all) unsuppressed centerfire rounds. One of the main advantages of the .17 HMR is its accuracy. The .17 HMR also produces minimal meat damage, which is another advantage when hunting small game.
.22 LR – A Quick Review
The .22 LR, or Long Rifle, is one of the most popular cartridges in the world. It’s a rimfire cartridge that’s used for a wide variety of purposes, including target shooting, plinking, hunting small game, and even self-defense. The .22 LR is known for its low recoil, low cost, and wide availability.
I would rarely recommend .22 LR for self-defense, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is indeed used for it sometimes.
1. History & Purpose
The .22 LR is an old round and was designed as a low-powered cartridge for use in target shooting and small game hunting, and it quickly became popular among hunters and shooters.
The .22 LR was also used extensively during World War II for training purposes, and it’s still used today by many military and law enforcement agencies for training and practice.
2. Ballistics & Performance
.22LR is not so widely used because it’s such an amazing round – it’s so widely used because it’s dirt cheap, even compared to other rimfire cartridges, and has barely enough power to kill something.
Suffice it to say, the .22 LR is a relatively low-powered cartridge, firing a 40-grain bullet at velocities of up to 1,655 feet per second (stingers). While it doesn’t offer the same flat trajectory or long-range capabilities as the .17 HMR, the .22 LR is still an excellent choice for shooting at small targets at shorter ranges.
The cartridge has a maximum effective range of around 200 yards, making it suitable for hunting small game such as rabbits, squirrels, and raccoons. 200 yards is really stretching things for the LR, though, and the drop starts to get pretty hard to get a handle on that far out. Starting at about 150 yards, the .22 LR starts to drop like a rock.
In terms of energy, the .22 LR delivers around 140 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle, which is enough to take down small game but not powerful enough for larger animals. The round is so quiet that if you’re behind the firing line you may not even need ear protection, and has so little recoil that even my 6-year old can shoot one (albeit inaccurately) without help.
.17 HMR vs. .22LR – Caliber Comparison
.17 HMR is not, relatively speaking, that expensive, but it doesn’t even come close to how affordable the .22LR is. The .22 is going to be much cheaper than the .17HMR, anywhere you can find both for sale. Part of this is supply & demand based – not nearly as many companies make .17 as make .22 – and part of this is how simple the components are.
The projectiles of the .17 HMR, where much of its performance cred comes from, are more expensive than the unformed lump of pure lead they blob onto the end of a .22LR cartridge.
2. Long Range Performance
The .17 HMR does much better at longer ranges than the .22 LR, partly due to the projectile design, but also due to the necked down .22 Mag cartridge. Granted, neither one would be my go-to for any serious long range shooting, but in the small pond of rimfire cartridges, the .17 HMR is much the bigger fish in this regard.
You should be able to functionally get up to 300 yards with the HMR, and with practice you can stretch that much further.
The .22LR, on the other hand, has already experienced roughly 6 feet of drop by the time you get to 300 yards, so good luck pushing it any farther than that.
3. For Home Defense
With the caveat that again, neither of these would be my personal go-to for home defense, when choosing between these two rounds, I would say the .17 HMR is a better round for home defense.
The first reason is that the projectile expands more reliably and devastatingly than the .22LR (or the .22 mag for that matter), so your target will feel a lot more of the energy that blasts into them when they get hit.
The second, and less important, reason is that the .17 HMR is much louder because it’s supersonic. In most situations, I would argue this is a non-factor, but the .17 will sound much more intimidating indoors with the sound reverberating off the walls than a .22 LR will.
4. For Concealed Carry
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I would like to reiterate that I would not consider either of these calibers the best choice for concealed carry, but if you’re choosing between the two, then in my opinion you should probably stick with the .22LR for carrying concealed.
The reason is fairly simple: there are no good auto-loading handguns small enough to comfortably conceal chambered in .17 HMR. The .17 is notoriously difficult to get to operate smoothly in a semi-automatic firearm, and the handgun world has yet to bring a lot of good options to the table.
If you’re OK with a revolver, than a .17 HMR would likely be better for the increased velocity and better expansion when it hits the target, but otherwise you’re sacrificing too much capacity to justify it in my opinion.
5. For Ranch Use & Pest Control
This is where these two calibers really shine. They are both fantastic choices for pest control around the property and for varmint hunting. Which one is superior depends on what your priorities are.
If you find yourself needing to shoot out pretty far, then the .17 HMR is the clear winner. If, however, you’re always within 100 yards, the .22 LR is probably an overall better option. The rounds are cheaper, and it’s literally so quiet that the animal may not even run away after hearing the noise if you’re far enough away. Add a suppressor and it’ll be even better.
As much as I enjoy the .17 HMR, I would say for most varmint hunting the .22 will give you exactly what you need in a cheaper package.
6. Training & Practice
This is a hard one to find a clear winner in. On the one hand, the .22 LR will give you a lot more rounds for each dollar you spend on ammo. On the other hand, .22 LR projectiles just don’t behave the same way as centerfire rifle rounds, whereas the .17 HMR is much closer.
If you’re training at 100 yards or closer, then .22 LR is the clear choice. Beyond 100 yards, though, I’ve found myself frustrated when trying to use .22 LR for practice because the limitations of the round start to rear their ugly heads pretty quickly. In other words, you don’t have to get very good at rifle shooting before .22 starts affecting your shot placement as much as your skills do.
Allow me to elaborate. When the round itself behaves unpredictably beyond 100 yards, how do you know whether your grouping is the result of poor shooting or just .22 rounds doing .22 things?
I’ve found the .17 HMR to be much better for that reason, but only if you’re practicing further out than 100 yards.
7. Enter the .22 Magnum
If instead of the .22 LR, you’re comparing the .22 Magnum, the calculus changes on some of these items. The .22 Mag is a much more powerful round than the .22 LR, and it behaves a lot more like a hammer. You won’t get much better long-range performance with the Mag than with the LR, despite the extra power, but it will hit a lot harder and penetrate a lot deeper at every distance than the LR.
The relationship between the .17 HMR and the .22 Mag are essentially the same as between the .17 HMR and the .22 LR. The .22 Mag is just better at all the things that the .22 LR does.
A .17 HMR has the velocity to be potentially lethal up to about 2 miles, but it could be a little more or less. That said, if you’re asking at what range you can acquire, aim at, and kill an animal at, I’d say you max out at about 300 yards, and even that far you will have trouble hitting any animal that’s small enough to humanely kill with a .17.
Yes. It will shoot much further than that, but you’ll run into issues before then. If I recall correctly, the .17 HMR slows down to under the speed of sound between 200 and 300 yards, so you’ll start to see the effects of the tumbling from that as early as 300 yards, and it will get substantially worse the further out you shoot.
Yes, and no. A .22 LR is a lethal round and you should never point it at something you don’t intend to destroy, let alone actually pull the trigger. That said, in a defensive scenario, you shouldn’t count on a .22 LR round to kill someone quickly, which is a more important implication of stopping power.
These are two of the most basic rifle (and handgun) rounds in existence. They’re both fairly cheap, easy to shoot, and perform their intended roles very well. Whether you choose the .22 LR or the .17 HMR depends on what you’re using the rounds for and your own sense of which one you like better than the other.
If you’re doing pest control or varmint hunting, either of these rounds will do a lot for you, and if you’re just looking for a way to practice your skills without breaking the bank, same story.