17 Hornet
Ruger/CZ-USA/Savage Arms

17 Hornet: The Fast, Centerfire Varmint Hunting Alternative to 17 HMR


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The 17 Hornet is capable of some blazing fast speeds.

These days, more hunters than ever are taking to the fields to pursue coyotes, prairie dogs, and other small varmints. There's a bevy of rifle cartridges on the market suited for just these purposes like the .17 HMR, 17 WSM, 22-250 Remington, 204 Ruger, and of course, the iconic 223 Remington and 243 Winchester.

One varmint cartridge that's been around since the early 1950s but has only recently been widely available is in the same family as the 17 HMR, but is faster, harder hitting, and much more accurate. We're talking of course about the 17 Hornet.

The biggest difference between this and other 17-caliber cartridges is that it's a centerfire round instead of rimfire. That gives it a distinct speed advantage over those other rounds. It also opens the possibility of some extremely hot handloads for reloading enthusiasts, but we're getting ahead of ourselves. Let's go over the history of this round first.

History and specs of the 17 Hornet

Legendary wildcat cartridge developer P.O. Ackley is the man who developed this unique round sometime in the 1950s. The parent case is a 22 Hornet, but Ackley necked it down to .17 caliber and created a speedy round that out-performed other 17 caliber cartridges in almost every aspect. However, the .17 Hornet didn't get much farther than custom round status used by the most dedicated of shooters for a very long time. In fact, it wasn't until around 2010 that Hornady looked at Ackley's design and decided it was something that needed to be resurrected on the modern commercial market.

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Hornady did make one small change to the design. The engineers gave it a 25-degree shoulder instead of Ackley's 30-degree shoulder. The case is also just a hair longer. It's important to note that modern 17 Hornet rounds may not fit an older custom rifle from the 1950s because of these tweaks.

As for performance, the 17 Hornet performs extremely well at ranges between 100 and 400 yards. Hornady's 20-grain V-Max Superformance Varmint rounds have a blistering 3,540 fps muzzle velocity and put out about 592-foot pounds of energy. It's still doing 3,078 fps at 100 yards and 2,574 fps at 200 yards. Hornady's specs put the round at zero drop at 200 yards.

Federal Premium makes a 20-grain tipped varmint round in their American Eagle line of ammo that has very similar ballistics. Expect 3,610 fps at the muzzle and 3,048 fps at 100 yards. You're looking at about 411 foot-pounds of energy at 100 yards.

There are some real pros and cons to 17 Hornet ammo. On the one hand, centerfire is always going to be more reliable, more accurate, and offer more power than rimfire. On the flip side, 17 Hornet factory loads are extremely expensive. Where you're looking at maybe .50 cents per round for 17 HMR, the Hornet sells for $1.50 to $2.00 a round. You can recoup some of those costs by reloading yourself. This does give the opportunity to create some seriously hot handloads. Some hunters have even taken the opportunity to load up slightly larger 25-grain bullets to give the Hornet a bit more stopping power for larger varmints.

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Now, let's look at some of the current rifles on the market in this round.

Ruger 77/17

This bolt-action rifle features an 18.50-inch cold hammer forged barrel with a 1:9 rate of twist, and a matte stainless steel finish. Ruger built this rifle to feed through rotary magazines and it comes with integral scope mounts ready for the optics of your choice. This rifle comes in at about seven pounds which will help soak up the already extremely manageable recoil of the 17 Hornet. A three-position safety allows the locking of the bolt with the safety on while loading and unloading for extra peace of mind on the range or while hunting.

Savage 25 Lightweight Varminter

Savage Arms makes a few different variants of 17 Hornet. The Lightweight Varminter comes in two variants. The Varminter-T has a thumbhole wood laminated stock. The weight of these rifles comes in just over eight pounds. Savage gave these guns a 24-inch carbon steel barrel with a 1:9 twist rate. This rifle is built for reaching out for prairie dogs and other varmints at a distance. Savage also gave this rifle their signature AccuTrigger system so you can adjust the pull to your own personal sweet spot for even more accurate shooting.

CZ 527 Varmint

Unfortunately, CZ discontinued these rifles in 2021. However, there are still a lot of them floating around the market. This rifle has a Mauser-type claw extractor downsized to fit the tiny 17 Hornet case, plus a 24-inch cold hammer forged barrel with a 1:9 twist rate. It has a great classic hunting rifle look thanks to the Turkish walnut stock. We've heard this one can be a bit quirky to set up and break in, but once you've done that, most users report it's a tack driver.

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Savage Arms 25 Walking Varminter

This rifle has most of the same features as the Lightweight Varminter. The big difference here is that Savage built this rifle with a synthetic stock. That makes it approximately a pound lighter than the standard Varminter, ideal for the spot and stalk hunters who don't like to wait around in one place for their quarry. This gun has a slightly shorter 22-inch barrel with a 1:9 rate of twist. Savage builds it in simple black colorations or with a Realtree Max-1 camo pattern.

For more outdoor content from Travis Smola, be sure to follow him on Twitter and Instagram For original videos, check out his Geocaching and Outdoors with Travis YouTube channels

READ MORE: .17 HMR: 8 OF THE TOP RIFLES FOR PLINKING AND HUNTING

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