17 HMR: The Story of a POWERFUL Cartridge

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A Brief History

By statute enacted on October 31, 1803, President Thomas Jefferson was authorized to take possession of various territories ceded by France to the United States of America in what is known as the Louisiana Purchase.  In the swamps of Louisiana, there roams, in the shallow depths, a modern-day dinosaur: the Louisiana Crocodile. For years, this beast plagued the lands of Louisiana, claiming a few noble Louisianan lives until a group of knights — the Cajuns — became fed up. They called themselves ‘Swamp People’. And with a group of fresh Cajun recruits, the Swamp People armed themselves with the latest and greatest weaponry, stocking up with 22 Magnums, .22 LRs, and even the nasty .30-06 caliber.

They were now armed, locked, and loaded. So, the Swamp People rallied their troops and embarked on their dangerous journey to the forbidden swamps of Louisiana. They fought hard, slaying countless beasts. A few soldiers were injured along the way until they discovered the crocodile’s kryptonite caliber: the .17 HMR. When they loaded that cartridge in a rifle and equipped it with the best 17 HMR scope, the Swamp People were able to reliably kill the crocodiles with only one bullet and no mess.

Out of three seasons, I can remember only one time when I had to shoot a gator twice with the .17,” says Jay Paul (a Swamp People soldier). And that’s not the only reason. “With the .17, it gives a small entry hole, but with other rifles the bullet can bounce off the gator’s head and injure somebody,” Jay continues. So, if the .17 HMR can kill armored crocodiles in the swamps of Louisiana, why is not it more popular?

Digging Deeper

.17 HMR’s Early History

In the wild gun country, a dedicated group of gun enthusiasts called Wildcatters were on a mission: to revive a dead, golden bullet called the 5mm Remington Rimfire Magnum.

At the time, it was the fastest rimfire cartridge ever developed. Then, almost out of the blue, the 5mm Remington Rimfire Magnum went extinct. For years, the Wildcatters wondered what caused the mass extinction event until the secret was leaked: The RMR barrels and ammo were impossible to find. So, Remington discontinued it. And for more than twenty years, there was not a SINGLE 5mm round on the market until…

The 5mm Ammo Came Back In-Style

And it returned HARD.

The world could not wait — they needed the ballistics of the 5mm RMR. So, it was up to the Wildcatters to craft their own solution. In their dirty, makeshift workshops, the Wildcatters went to work, testing various calibers, chemicals, and guns. They failed A LOT until they discovered a breakthrough:

What if they put the 5mm RMR into a .17 caliber shell? The shell was stronger, fit in most guns, and most of all — it may actually work. So, they tested it and the results were so astonishing that it spawned…

The .17 HMR Cartridge

This did not happen by accident.

Matter of fact, no ammo manufacturer would have even considered the .17 HMR cartridge had it not been for the breathtaking results from the Wildcatters. When the Wildcatters went to fire it, almost expecting it to fail, they beat a record:

Their makeshift .17 HMR OUTPERFORMED the original ‘dream’ 5mm RMR in velocity and flat trajectory. That is weird because their only goal was to recreate the 5mm RMR. Instead, the Wildcatters improved the original 5mm RMR’s design. The design and power were so impressive that it opened up a new opportunity…

The First Commercial .17 HMR Cartridge

Soon huge ammunition manufacturers like Hornady started researching the makeshift 5mm RMR and tried to commercialize it. The results? The .17 HMR.

And here is the thing: it was a HUGE success. Matter of fact, the .17 HMR was so successful that nearly everyone started manufacturing it, ranging from the Remington to CCI. It became popular; however, there was a problem:

The .17 HMR was too expensive. Due to the .17 HMR’s high-performance, the .17 HMR is more expensive than other cartridges. Because of this, the .17 HMR didn’t ‘explode’ in sales. But that’s about to turn around as…

.17 HMR Rifles Grow In Popularity

The .17 HMR ammo is spreading throughout the nation because of one thing: It’s cheaper than most centerfire ammo. Sure, the .17 HMR is more expensive than other cartridges, but it’s also one of the cheapest centerfire ammunition on the market. And because of this, it’s now becoming normal to see .17 HMR rifles being used on the hunting fields all around the country — especially with .17 hmr scopes.

.17 HMR Is The Hunter’s Choice

The .17 HMR is accurate, powerful, and clean. It also solved the biggest problem with a lot of calibers: no unwanted bullet fragments ricochet. Could you ask for a better weapon? It’s no wonder the ‘Swamp People’ use the .17 HMR to slay dinosaurs in Louisiana — the caliber is just so darn good.

(Note by Major Dan: After finding the venerable .22 long rifle cartridge disappointing in making quick, clean kills on varmints such as ground hogs, I wanted to find something more effective without having to overkill the process, such as by acquiring a 22-250 or .243 Winchester chambered rifle.  I found a nice, inexpensive Savage rifle chambered in .17 HMR and was assured by the local gun dealer that this cartridge would provide the accuracy and humane kills I sought.  topping the rifle with a fairly cheap, but nice clear 4X scope, I found the little .17 bullets went right where I aimed them.  The whole set up was around $200, and the ammo is quite affordable at around $10 for a box of 50.  I have used only Hornady ammunition so far, since they are the ones that invented the cartridge.  Recoil is minimal, but the report is much louder than .22LR so be sure to wear hearing protection when shooting.  Out to 100 yards is as far as I shoot, and accuracy matches center fire cartridges at that range.  This is a great cartridge!)

Question for students (and subscribers): Have you ever fired a .17 HMR cartridge? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Thompson, Alec. A Beginner’s Guide To The 17HMR. 2019.

The featured image in this article, a photograph by commons:user:Malis of a .17 HMR cartridge, is licensed under the Creative Commons public domain license.


About Author

Richard Douglas

Richard Douglas is a firearms expert and educator. His work has appeared on large gun publications like The National Interest, Daily Caller, ODU Magazine, American Shooting Journal, SOFREP, and more. In his free time, he reviews various optics and guns on his Scopes Field blog.