Exploring the .17 HMR: Rifles and Handguns

There’s no way we gun writers can know everything. We are constantly learning and passing along the things we learn to you, our readers. It just so happens that I don’t live in prairie dog country. As a result, I never owned anything chambered in .17 HMR — until now, that is. It happened this way: At a writer’s conference I shot a suppressed .17 HMR rifle. I heard practically nothing when I squeezed the trigger. But almost magically, holes appeared in the target right where I was aiming.

I didn’t think much more about it until I was browsing the CheaperThanDirt online catalog one day and discovered a Chiappa 1873 revolver chambered in .17 HMR. It got me thinking about how I had never owned anything in .17 HMR. I had readers and grandchildren to educate, and this was a very reasonably priced gun, so I ordered one. Quickly, I wanted a rifle to go with it.

David Freeman shooting a Savage bolt-action rifle chambered in .17 HMR
The author says sighting in the Savage .17 HMR rifle and seeing the results at the range remind him very much of his experience with a Savage 110 in .243.

I have a good relationship with Savage when it comes to getting sample guns to write about, so I went to them for a rifle chambered in .17 HMR to go along with the revolver. The one I really wanted has a brush camouflage patterned stock and receiver plus a mounted and boresighted scope. It was out of stock and probably would be for a while according to my Savage contact. Looking through the offerings at CheaperThanDirt, I settled on a 93R17 which would give me the opportunity to mount and boresight a scope myself. My Savage rep was able to get one of those right out to me.

Why choose the .17 HMR?

Why the .17 HMR cartridge? Hornady created the .17 Hornady Magnum Rimfire cartridge by necking down a .22 Magnum case to accept a .17 caliber projectile. A 20-grain .17 HMR round can deliver muzzle velocities in excess of 2,650 fps. Hornady, in conjunction with Marlin and Ruger, introduced the first rifles and ammunition in 2002.

While the ammunition was relatively expensive due to the high-performance .17 caliber bullets used, it was still cheaper than most centerfire ammunition. By 2004, CCI, Federal Cartridge, and Remington had each introduced 17 HMR ammunition offerings. Remington apparently backed out of the market later expressing concerns about the ammunition being used in semi-automatic rather than bolt-action rifles.

In wondering what shooters like about the .17 HMR, I was reminded of words by our own Bob Campbell in an article he wrote back in February 2020 about having 20 years’ experience with the .17 HMR. “The advantage of the .17 for most of us is accuracy and flat shooting,” Bob wrote. This is great for hunting prairie dogs, but there are no prairie dog villages left around where I live, so for me it’s mostly for target shooting.

.17 HMR Handgun

I really enjoy target shooting with a handgun. The only other handgun options, besides the Chiappa I’ve found, are from Taurus and Ruger. Taurus makes the Tracker 17, and Ruger offers the Single Six in .17 HMR. Both guns are a little pricey and have limited availability. There was an Excel Arms Accelerator semi-automatic in .17 HMR at one time. Any of these I’ve seen on the secondary market were rather expensive. There was also a North American Arms mini revolver in .17 HMR, but I don’t see those listed now. So, I’m proud to have a Chiappa. Let’s look at it.

Chiappa revolver chambered in .17 HMR, right profile
The lines of the Chiappa are classic single-action army. It has a blued finish and black plastic checkered grips.

The lines of the Chiappa are classic single-action army. It has a blued finish and black plastic checkered grips. Cocking the hammer produces three clicks, the first one being half-cock. At half-cock and with the loading gate open, the cylinder can be rotated for loading or unloading. Capacity is six rounds. The gun cocks easily and the hammer falls with an easy 4-pound touch of the trigger. The frame is an aluminum alloy, the barrel and cylinder are steel. Total weight is just under 32 ounces.

.17 HMR Rifle

As I mentioned earlier, the Savage rifle I bought to round out my initial foray into the .17 HMR world is a Model 93R17. It has Savage’s AccuTrigger which can be adjusted to the shooter’s preference without having to send the gun to a gunsmith. An adjustment tool comes with the gun, but I didn’t see a need to use it, as the trigger is delightful right out of the box. Even when adjusted to its lowest setting, the AccuTrigger is completely safe and cannot accidentally discharge during normal use from being jarred or dropped. This rifle has a newly designed teardrop safety that is easily accessed and operates smoothly and quietly.

The rifle weighs just 5 pounds. It has a 21-inch free-floating, button-rifled barrel, 5-round detachable box magazine, and a black synthetic stock. A swivel stud and scope base are included. I added and boresighted a TruGlo Buckline 4×32 rifle scope. It reminds me in many ways of the Savage Axis II I have in .243.

Savage rifle weighing 5 pounds. It has a 21-inch free-floating, button-rifled barrel, 5-round detachable box magazine, and black synthetic stock
The rifle weighs just 5 pounds. It has a 21-inch free-floating, button-rifled barrel, 5-round detachable box magazine, and black synthetic stock.

Range Performance

The day I took the .17 HMR guns to the range, they were to be first in a series of four projects I had planned for that shooting outing. Unfortunately, as I was setting up, I was greeted with rain showers that were not in the forecast. Fortunately, the rain ended within a brief time leaving behind a bit of wind and an overcast sky. It was time to get down to business.

I fired the revolver first, finding it reasonably accurate with practically no recoil. That little .17 HMR is loud — like its cousin the .22 WMR — and it is a very straight shooter. I shot both guns from the 10-yard line, because I wanted to check my boresight accuracy with live rounds. The rifle put five holes, practically on top of one another, on paper.

When I moved the shooting table back to 30 yards, the revolver was not grouping in a particularly tight pattern, but it was shooting (more or less) where I was aiming. Very acceptable for a rimfire revolver fired offhand from that distance. I was surprised to find the rifle shooting high but still grouping tightly. With a few twists of the vertical adjustment on the scope, it was driving tacks at 30 yards. At 60 yards, the rifle was still performing admirably. If only I had some prairie dogs…

Savage rifle chambered in .17 HMR with a box of CCI ammunition and a paper target
After mounting a scope and sighting it in the Savage rifle turned out to be a real tack driver.

My takeaway from my initial .17 HMR adventure? The .17 HMR rifle a gun and caliber I will be using to constantly improve my rifle shooting accuracy and to enjoy with friends. The revolver will join me on .22 handgun adventures with friends and family. Just before moving on to the next project planned for my outing, I did manage to blast one Firebird exploding target with the .17 HMR revolver and one with the .17 HMR rifle. Man, that’s fun!

Have you fired the .17 HMR? Do you use it for hunting or target shooting? What about from a revolver? Share your .17 HMR story in the Comment section.

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