The New .17 Hornady Magnum Rimfire in Rugerís Model 77/17
by Jeff Quinn

photography by Jeff Quinn & Boge Quinn

 

 

 

The past few months have been filled with rumors of a new .17 caliber rimfire cartridge and a new Ruger rifle in which to fire it. Now that the smoke has cleared, and production guns and ammunition are available, we have been testing the new rifle and ammo here at Gunblast.com.

The cartridge is a new development of Hornady Ammunition. Hornady has been the leader among ammo manufacturers lately in developing new cartridges such as the .450 Marlin, .480 Ruger, and now the .17 Hornady Magnum Rimfire. Guns are being produced, or are in development, from Marlin, H&R, Anschutz, Rogue Rifle Co., Taurus, and Sturm, Ruger and Company. Ruger chambers both their lever action model 96/17 and their bolt action model 77/17 for the new cartridge. The model 77/17 is the subject of this article. We will look at this new rifle and cartridge on the merits of each separately, and as the combination of the whole package.

The Rifle

Ruger introduced the rimfire version of their excellent model 77 rifle in 1983 as the model 77/22. This rifle is the basis for the model 77/17, the difference being the bore diameter and chambering.  The 77/17 has a big rifle feel to it, without being overweight or bulky. The 77/17 weighs only six and one-quarter pounds, and has a twenty-two inch barrel. The overall feel of the rifle is one of quality. The wood is an attractive walnut, with a nice satin finish and real hand-cut checkering. This rifle is built like a big-game center fire rifle. Most rimfire rifles built today lack the refinements built into quality center fires. The 77/17, and all of Rugerís bolt-action rimfire rifles, are built with the same high quality and craftsmanship as their larger caliber rifles.

The 77/17 has the excellent three-position safety which allows the gun to be carried with the bolt locked, but still permits the trigger to be blocked while unloading the chamber. Another fine feature of this rifle is the patented rotary magazine, which allows for a nine-shot capacity while not protruding below the bottom of the action. Many box-magazine rimfire rifles have a magazine that protrudes below the action, resulting in a cumbersome carry and looks more like an afterthought than anything else. The 77/17 action is built around that rotary magazine, resulting in a superior cartridge capacity, easy carrying, and improved aesthetics.

The 77/17 has a nice rubber butt pad, not really needed for the minimal recoil of the cartridge, but a welcome touch on the classic walnut stock. The trigger guard is made of genuine, honest-to-goodness blued steel; a feature hardly ever found on a rimfire rifle these days. Many gun makers, even on their center fire rifles, have gone to either plastic or aluminum on their trigger guards. The 77/17 is also supplied with sling swivel studs.  These blued steel parts are a touch of class on the Ruger rifle, and complement the overall quality of the product.

One of the best features of the 77/17, and one that should be found on all rifles, is the included scope rings. Ruger is one of a very few gun makers that provide scope mounts and rings with their rifles. The fact that anyone would ship a rifle that doesnít have open sights without at least a rudimentary scope mount is ludicrous. The receiver on the 77/17 has built-in mounts to accept the excellent Ruger rings, which are furnished with the rifle. Other rifle manufacturers should take a lesson from Ruger, and ship their rifles with a scope mount.

The 77/17 action has dual extractors which pick up the cartridge from the magazine and guide it into the chamber much like a controlled-feed center fire action. The bolt locks into the receiver with two opposed locking lugs; another nice touch. The trigger pull on the Ruger is smooth and crisp, breaking at four pounds. The twenty-two inch barrel tapers to slightly over one-half inch diameter at the muzzle, which is finished in a recessed crown.

The Cartridge

The .17 Hornady Magnum Rimfire (HMR) cartridge was conceived to offer the rimfire shooter a flatter shooting, farther reaching, and harder hitting cartridge for small pests and vermin. The basic case for the new .17 is the same as the .22 Magnum. This offers many advantages in both the manufacture of ammunition and firearms. The .22 Magnum case is readily available, and was a natural choice for necking down to .17 caliber. From the rifle makerís viewpoint, all that is needed is a different barrel, and their .22 Magnum becomes their .17 Hornady Magnum.

Hornady advertises their .17 with a muzzle velocity of 2550 feet-per-second (fps).  Over the screens of my PACT chronograph, the .17 ammo clocked 2448 fps at a distance of 12 feet from the muzzle, so the ballistics information from Hornady is very accurate. While the .17 HMR was not invented to compete with the .22 Rimfire Magnum, comparisons are inevitable. 2550 fps places the .17 HMR about 700 fps faster than the .22 Magnum with a forty grain bullet. The shape of the 17 grain .17 caliber bullet also has a much sharper profile than any of the .22 rimfire bullets on the market. The .17 HMR is loaded with Hornadyís polymer-tipped .172 inch diameter spitzer shaped projectile, which is ballistically superior to any other rimfire bullet.

The initial starting speed and superior ballistic coefficient result in a shorter time-of-flight advantage for the .17, decreasing the effects of a crosswind and flattening the arc of trajectory. Comparing the .17 HMR with the 40 grain .22 Magnum, both sighted to point-of-aim at 100 yards, the .17 drops less than eight inches at 200 yards, while the .22 Magnum drops almost 21 inches at the same range. Wind drift of the .17 HMR is roughly half that of the .22 Magnum at any given range. Any way you cut it, the .17 HMR is the flattest shooting and fastest rimfire cartridge available.

The Combination

For the shooting of the Ruger 77/17, I mounted a Tasco 6 to 24 power Varmint/Tactical scope with the illuminated MilDot reticle (see Jeff's article at Tasco's Varmint / Tactical Riflescope). This Tasco scope has superb optics and precise target adjustment knobs in addition to the range finding abilities of the reticule. It has proven itself to be capable of fine accuracy, and thus was chosen for the accuracy portion of the tests.

Accuracy testing was done on an overcast day with temperatures in the mid forties, and a slight wind from the left of the shooting position. All accuracy testing was done from the bench, using the Accuracy Systems rest. After bore sighting and getting on paper at forty yards, all targets were fired upon at a distance of 110 yards. The rifle and ammo turned in a fine performance, with groups of five shots shooting under one inch, and three-shot groups doing somewhat better. Average groups were seven-eighths of an inch, for five shots, at 110 yards. The best three-shot group went into a one-half inch cluster. With no breeze, and a better shooter, I am confident that the groups would be even tighter.

To test the structural integrity of the bullet in a very non-scientific manner, I fired the bullet into a can of lard at a distance of 100 yards. The bullet left a half-inch entrance hole for the first three-quarters of an inch into the lard. Immediately past that, the channel opened to over four inches, splitting the can lengthwise, and cratering the lard for a distance of six inches. The only remnant of the bullet was the red polymer tip. The explosive action of the bullet hitting the can sprayed chunks of lard as far as twenty feet to the side of the can. Shooting cans of lard proves nothing except as a comparison of different bullets. The medium is readily available, cheap, and quite consistent between 35 and 85 degrees. The quick opening and short penetration of the .17 HMR should prove ideal on small pests and vermin such as rodents and crows. Where legal, this new rifle and cartridge should be great for head shots on turkey. It is not as prone to ricochet as the .22 rimfires, but is flat-shooting and plenty powerful for the task.

Throughout the tests, the Ruger 77/17 functioned perfectly; feeding, firing, and ejecting without a hitch. Will the .17 HMR replace the .22 Magnum? No way. It was never meant to. The .22 Magnum is a very useful and efficient cartridge, but the .17 HMR excels in a few areas. The .17 is flatter shooting, better at bucking the wind, and less prone to ricochet. It is both accurate and powerful, within its niche. I believe that the .17 HMR will fulfill the promise of the 5mm Remington of a few decades ago. It has all that the 5mm promised, and much more. The 5mm was just a shrunken .22. The .17 HMR is a totally new bullet design, with much greater velocity.

The Ruger 77/17 is a fine rifle chambered for a fast, accurate, efficient new cartridge; the .17 HMR. I predict that they will both meet with success.

Check out the Ruger product line here, and Hornadyís complete line of ammunition and components at: www.hornady.com.

Jeff Quinn


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Click pictures for a larger version.

 

Hornady's new .17 Hornady Magnum Rimfire cartridge, based on the .22 Magnum, is an excellent cartridge that fills a long-standing performance niche. The .17 HMR performs as advertised, and then some!

 

 

Ruger's Model 77/17 bolt rifle chambered for the .17 HMR exhibits features usually found on centerfire rifles, such as the excellent three-position safety, stainless bolt, steel receiver, integral scope mounting system with rings supplied, and attractive walnut stock with hand-cut checkering. Ruger obviously envisions this gun as a serious tool for serious hunters and shooters!

 

 

While many companies use plastic or aluminum for such parts as trigger guards on their rimfire (and even centerfire) offerings, the Ruger 77/17 is equipped with a polished steel unit, adding to the ruggedness and beauty of the rifle.

 

 

In the spirit of their centerfire rifles, the Ruger 77/17 utilizes a controlled-feed system with dual extractors, maintaining control of the cartridge at all times and guiding the feeding cycle. This results in much greater reliability, and there were no feeding, extraction, or ejection irregularities of any kind during our testing.

 

 

Ruger has adapted their famous rotary magazine design for the Model 77/17, resulting in a nine-shot magazine that offers perfect function and supreme reliability without protruding below the action. This allows for proper balance and carry, and does not detract from the gun's appearance.

 

 

For accuracy testing, author mounted the excellent Tasco 6-24x variable Varmint/Tactical illuminated reticle scope. This scope is a supremely well-made unit that maximizes the practical capability of a well-made rifle such as the Ruger 77/17.

 

 

Author bench-testing the Ruger 77/17. Jeff was very favorably impressed both by the gun and the .17 Hornady Magnum Rimfire cartridge.

 

 

The .17 Hornady Magnum Rimfire (left) along with its parent cartridge, the .22 Magnum (right). While comparisons between the two excellent cartridges are inevitable, the .17 HMR was designed to fill a performance niche not met by any rimfire cartridge.

 

 

The combination of the .17 HMR in Ruger's 77/17 proved to be a very accurate package, with 7/8" 5-shot groups at 110 yards being the norm. The .17 HMR is a fine performer with great accuracy potential, flat trajectory, and excellent wind deflection characteristics.

 

 

Author tested the .17 HMR in cans of lard. While not a scientific gauge of real-world terminal performance, lard cans are a consistent medium for comparison, having a hard outer shell (the can) with a consistently-soft center. Fired at a distance of 100 yards, the bullet left a 1/2-inch "entrance wound" in the can and the first 3/4-inch of lard. 

 

 

"Exit wound" in lard can shows the explosive performance of the .17 HMR. After initial penetration, the "wound channel" opened to over four inches, splitting the can lengthwise and cratering the lard for a distance of six inches. Such explosive performance would be devastating to predators and varmints at reasonable distances!