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Compared: .17 Mach 2 and .22 Long Rifle
By Chuck Hawks
The humble .22 LR is the most popular recreational shooting cartridge in the world. It has been a very long time since another cartridge even attempted to challenge the popularity of the .22 LR as a plinking and small game cartridge. (The last contender that I can remember was the now obsolete .22 WRF, which never came close to unseating the .22 LR.)
Now, however, a new challenger to the .22 LR has emerged in the form of Hornady's .17 Mach 2. The .17 Mach 2 is dimensionally the same as the .22, but is loaded with a 17 grain, .172" diameter bullet at much higher velocity. This is the same bullet used in the startlingly popular .17 HMR (Hornady Magnum Rimfire) cartridge. The .17 HMR transformed the almost ignored .17 caliber from a fringe centerfire caliber into a mainstream rimfire caliber and made the introduction of the .17 Mach 2 a commercially viable proposition.
This comparison article is worthwhile because both cartridges are chambered in the same types and models of rifles. The .17 Mach 2 was specifically designed to work in any firearm that can be chambered for the .22 LR and both cartridges are used for plinking, small game hunting and short to medium range varmint shooting. The cost of factory loaded ammunition is always important to shooters and these are the two least expensive small game/varmint hunting cartridges that are generally available.
.22 Long Rifle
The .22 LR that we all know and love was developed by Stevens Arms in 1887. It was based on the .22 Long case charged with the same 5 grains of black powder as the Long and loaded with a 40 grain bullet (instead of the Long's 29 grain bullet). The result was a cartridge that offered similar velocity to the Long, but hit small game much harder. The Long Rifle also proved to be more accurate than the Long and it has evolved into the worlds most sophisticated and popular match cartridge. After the arrival of smokeless powder, the .22 Long Rifle was adapted to the new propellant.
High Velocity .22 LR ammunition generally claims a muzzle velocity (MV) of 1235 fps from a rifle barrel with a 40 grain, copper-plated lead round nose (RN) bullet and a MV of 1260 fps with a 36-37 grain copper-plated lead hollow point (HP) bullet (CCI figures). In 1977, CCI introduced a "Hyper Velocity" version of the .22 LR. This used a lighter 32 grain HP bullet at an increased MV of 1640 fps without increasing the maximum average pressure (MAP) of the .22 LR. The shorter 32 grain bullet allowed the use of a slightly longer case to increase powder capacity. The Stinger was the original and has remained the best known of the .22 LR Hyper Velocity cartridges, although there are others. Hyper Velocity ammo generally retails for about 60-70% more than ordinary High Velocity ammunition.
The .22 LR cartridge is so popular that multiple loads are offered by every manufacturer of rimfire ammunition in the world. It is not only the most popular rifle cartridge in the world, it is also the most popular handgun cartridge. Its very light recoil and muzzle blast make it relatively easy to shoot in a pistol and its small charge of very fast burning powder means that it suffers less velocity loss than almost any other rifle cartridge when fired from the relatively short barrel of a handgun.
.17 Mach 2
The .17 Mach 2 (.17 M2) was introduced by Hornady in 2004, following on the heels of their successful .17 HMR cartridge. The .17 HMR is based on the .22 Magnum case, requires a rimfire magnum length/strength action and retails for a substantially higher price than the .22 Magnum. The .17 Mach 2 was intended to offer a less expensive .17 caliber rimfire cartridge with many of the ballistic advantages of the .17 HMR that would function in existing .22 LR actions.
The Mach 2 is based on a .22 LR Stinger case necked-down to accept the same 17 grain, polymer tipped, V-MAX bullet Hornady developed for the .17 HMR. One advantage of this projectile is its frangibility. This makes it safer than any of the .22 LR bullets for small game and varmint hunting in semi-populated areas. The lighter bullet and modern powders allow the .17 M2 to achieve a MV of 2100 fps (Hornady's figure--CCI claims 2010 fps) at the same SAAMI specified MAP as the High Velocity .22 LR. Among the major US ammo makers in 2008, the .17 Mach 2 cartridge is offered by CCI, Hornady and Remington.
For this article, we will select a representative load for each caliber. There are about a zillion .22 LR loads offered in match, standard velocity, high velocity and hyper velocity formats. The "hottest" .22 LR loads are the hyper velocity numbers, among which the CCI Stinger is the best known. Therefore, to represent a .22 LR Hyper Velocity load we will use the 32 grain CCI Stinger. On the .17 Mach 2 side we will use the CCI 17 grain V-MAX load, both for uniformity and because CCI provides the most complete rimfire ballistics tables.
Unlike the .22 LR, the .17 Mach 2 has not been widely adapted to handguns. It relies on high velocity for its terminal effectiveness and the relatively short barrel of a conventional revolver or autoloading pistol simply entails too much velocity loss to allow the .17 Mach 2 to achieve anything like its full potential. For that reason, this article will compare the .17 Mach 2 and .22 LR as rifle hunting cartridges.
We will compare these cartridges and loads in velocity, energy, trajectory, and bullet frontal area. Ammunition availability and price are also factors that will be addressed. Recoil and muzzle blast are minimal for both cartridges and therefore are not factors. At the end of the article will be a brief summary and conclusion. Let's begin!
Velocity is an important factor when comparing rifle cartridges, because velocity is the most important component in calculating kinetic energy. Higher velocity also means a flatter trajectory, given bullets of equal ballistic coefficient, which is another very good thing for the rifle shooter. Here are the velocity figures for our selected loads in feet per second, straight from the CCI 2008 ammunition catalog, taken at the muzzle, 50 yards and 100 yards.
Those numbers speak for themselves. The .17 Mach 2 is clearly much faster than the fastest .22 LR Hyper Velocity load.
Energy, a measure of the "work" of which the bullet is capable, is an important component in killing power. Energy powers bullet expansion and penetration. Mathematically, the key components in calculating kinetic energy are bullet mass and bullet velocity squared. Here are the energy figures for our two cartridges in foot-pounds.
As we can see from the numbers above, the extra bullet weight of the .22 has a significant impact in the energy delivered to the target. Not until both bullets have reached 100 yards does the higher retained velocity of the .17 M2 bullet allow it to equal the energy of the .22 Stinger. In terms of kinetic energy, there is little practical difference between our two cartridges as applied to hunting small game animals.
The trajectory of a bullet is important because the "flatter" a bullet shoots, the easier it is to hit with downrange. Both the .17 M2 and the .22 LR are short range cartridges in the greater context of rifle cartridges, but it must be remembered that they are used to shoot very small animals, so minimizing the rise and fall of the bullet from the line of sight remains important. Here are the trajectory figures for our cartridges, as supplied by CCI and based on a 1.5" sight height (a scoped rifle), measured in inches.
These figures reveal the .17 Mach 2's biggest advantage compared to the .22 LR. Its light, sleek bullet at higher velocity shoots significantly flatter than any .22 LR load, even the hyper velocity Stinger. The difference in trajectory is negligible out to about 85 yards; beyond that, the .17 M2 is clearly superior and it offers about a 25 yard practical range advantage over the hyper velocity .22 loads.
Bullet Cross-Sectional Area
Bullet cross-sectional area is important because (other factors such as bullet expansion rate being equal) the larger the diameter of the bullet, the greater the area of the wound it creates (given the 100% penetration typical on small game animals). Obviously, it is better to punch a bigger hole through a game animal. Here are the cross-sectional areas of our two bullets in square inches.
To no one's surprise, the .22 LR bullet makes a considerably larger hole than the .17 M2 bullet. It should be noted that the .17 M2's V-MAX bullet and the .22 Stinger's CPHP bullet are both noted for violent expansion and create wounds that are much larger than the bullet's original diameter, resulting in very quick kills.
Ammunition Availability and Price
This area is more subjective and will vary by geographical location. What can be said with certainty is that the .22 LR is the most widely available cartridge in the world; nothing else even comes close. Small rural general stores that sell no other caliber or cartridge sometimes stock .22 LR ammunition of one sort or another. In such areas, the .17 Mach 2 is probably almost unknown.
Generally, however, .17 Mach 2 ammunition is widely available from gun shops and sporting goods stores, at least in the United States. The sporting goods department of the local Bi-Mart discount department store at 18th and Chambers in Eugene, Oregon stocks a broad selection of .22 LR ammunition (including the CCI Stinger) and a single brand of .17 Mach 2 ammunition (Hornady). As I write these words, a 50 round box of .22 Stingers retails for $5.49 and a 50 round box of .17 Mach 2 runs $6.99. Less expensive .22 LR cartridges start at about $1.00/box. In both price and availability, the .22 LR has a big advantage.
Summary and Conclusion
In terms of killing power on small animals, there is not a lot of difference between the .22 LR Stinger and the .17 Mach 2. At ranges shorter than 100 yards, the Stinger is probably slightly superior to the .17 Mach 2. Beyond 100 yards, the Mach 2 is superior in killing power.
The .22 LR is a practical small game cartridge out to about 85 yards, limited primarily by its rainbow like trajectory. The .17 Mach 2 is perhaps a 125 yard cartridge. If you find that you are often "stretching" the range capability of your .22, it might be time to consider a .17 M2 rifle. For the same reason, the M2 would be the better choice for shooting small varmints (non-edible animals).
While both cartridges are reasonably available in much of the US, the number and diversity of .22 LR loads far out numbers the available .17 Mach 2 loads. Likewise, .22 LR ammo is markedly less expensive than .17 Mach 2 ammunition. This is a significant advantage for the .22 LR. The beginning shooter, who will of necessity burn large quantities of ammunition learning to shoot, will be better served by the .22 LR. It remains the cartridge of choice for target practice and plinking.
Although based on the same (Stinger) case and available in most of the same rifles, the .22 LR and the .17 Mach 2 fill slightly different niches as small game hunting cartridges. Both are accurate and effective for their intended purposes. Decide which factors are most important to you and choose wisely.
Copyright 2008, 2016 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.