The Best .17-Caliber Rifles Available Today

The Best .17-Caliber Rifles Available Today

Joseph von Benedikt looks at some of the best .17-caliber that are available.

Seventeen-caliber rifles are just a little bit magic. They shoot whisper-tiny projectiles the same diameter as the BBs we all loved to pop away with as kids. They produce almost no discernable recoil. Even the report of most .17-caliber guns is mild, particularly that of rimfire versions.

Yet the little pills zipped downrange from .17-caliber rifles shoot with lazer-like flatness and produce surprisingly impressive results on small game and predators. Depending on the size of the cartridge case housing the tiny bullets, performance ranges from mostly suitable for rodents inside 200 yards to deadly on bigger predators out to 400 yards.

Only a couple of characteristics plague .17-caliber firearms: tiny bullets require delicate rifling that is easily damaged by cleaning equipment; and tiny bores are, well, just plain aggravating to clean. True enthusiasts tend to advise infrequent cleaning of rimfire versions simply to avoid potentially damaging the rifling (and because the rimfire versions just don't leave much fouling) and extreme care in cleaning centerfire versions.

Two calibers stand out among those of .17-diameter ilk, although others — of newer design — may outstrip them in the future. Today's favorites are the .17 HMR and the .17 Remington.

Of the two, the .17 HMR is far and away the most popular. Of rimfire design, it's ideal for prairie dogs, potgut gophers and most of the smaller furbearers out to a couple of hundred yards. It shoots projectiles in the 17- to 20-grain range up to about 2,600 feet per second (fps).

The .17 Remington, on the other hand, is the darling of predator hunters protective over pelts. It typically kills even big-bodied coyotes cleanly, yet does minimal damage to the skin. Fast follow-up shots are easy, virtue of low recoil, and savvy shooters can spot their own impacts through their scope. Zippy 25-grain projectiles exit the muzzle in excess of a jaw-dropping 4,000 fps.

Up-and-comers in the .17 world are the recently introduced .17 WSM, which is the fastest rimfire-type seventeen in history and pushes a 20-grain bullet at 3,000 fps; and the .17 Hornet newly designed by Hornady (some term it the .17 Hornady Hornet to avoid confusing it with older, wildcat-type, necked-down versions of the .22 Hornet). It pushes 25-grain bullets up to 3,200 fps.

There are others, such as the excellent, mild-mannered .17 Mach 2, the accurate but short-lived .17 Remington Fireball and so on, but the cartridges detailed above are the main players on the current seventeen scene.

In some cases, the cartridge you want to shoot will dictate the type of rifle available. For instance, if you want to shoot the new .17 WSM, you're pretty much limited to Savage's B-Mag and perhaps one or two single-shot, novelty type rifles such as Taylor Firearms' little baby Sharps. Likewise, only a few models exist for Hornady's new .17 Hornet, and rare too are rifles currently chambered in the uncommon but long-lived .17 Remington.

On the other end of the stick, almost all firearm manufacturers offer rimfire rifles chambered in .17 HMR, so shooters can pick and choose.

Here, listed in alphabetical order, are several of the best .17-caliber rifles available today:

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