Hornady's .17 Hornet

By Chuck Hawks

.17 Hornet
Illustration courtesy of Hornady Mfg. Co.

Hornady introduced the .17 Hornet for 2012, building on their success with previous 17 calibers, notably the .17 HMR and .17 Mach 2 rimfire cartridges. The .17 Hornet is based on a blown-out and necked-down .22 Hornet case, which was the first "high velocity" .22 varmint caliber.

Designed in the 1920's, the .22 Hornet was built on a rimmed case intended for use in single shot rifles and featured a long neck, a lot of body taper and a sloping 5-degree, 38-minute shoulder. None of these features would be state of the art for modern repeating rifles, but the Hornet was based on the earlier, black powder .22 WCF.

Hornady's new .17 Hornet does not resemble the old .22 caliber version, except that it still headspaces on its rim and its maximum cartridge overall length (COL) remains the same at 1.723". Rimmed cases can be a hassle to load in repeating rifles, but otherwise the .17 Hornet looks like a modern cartridge, with minimal body taper, sharp shoulder and a much shorter neck than the original. To increase performance, the .17 Hornet is fueled with Superformance powder that gives a 20 grain V-Max bullet (BC .185, SD .097) a muzzle velocity (MV) of 3650 fps. Recoil is claimed to be less than the .223 Remington and about like a .22 WMR rimfire rifle. Here are the .17 Hornet's features claimed by Hornady:

  • 3650 fps MV with a 20 grain V-Max bullet
  • The same COL as the .22 Hornet and uses the same actions
  • Trajectory comparable to a traditional 55 grain .223 Rem., but the felt recoil of a .22 WMR
  • Less fouling, barrel wear, powder and pressure than the .17 Rem.
  • Lower cost and comparable quality to the .17 Fireball and .223 Rem.

Since Hornady substantially altered the .22 Hornet case for the .17 Hornet, I hope they increased the wall thickness to benefit reloaders at the same time. The .22 Hornet is a notoriously thin walled case that does not last for as many reloads as modern .22 cases.

Lower recoil than the .223 Remington is really not a significant feature, as I've never met a shooter who was bothered by .223 recoil. However, the .17's reduced muzzle blast will make it more suitable for use in semi-populated areas.

Identical trajectory to the standard 55 grain .223 is fine, but at $25.27 MSRP per box, I can buy .223 ammo cheaper over the counter. Therefore, the price for Hornady's new .17 may be a drawback, particularly since the .17 Hornet is less versatile than the .223 for shooting animals larger than varmints, such as coyotes or javelina.

In their list of features, Hornady compares the fouling, barrel wear, powder and pressure to the .17 Remington, but the two are not really comparable cartridges. The .17 Remington is based on a necked-down .223 case and offers much higher velocity, launching the same weight bullet about 600 fps faster than the .17 Hornet.

The .17 Hornet is more nearly comparable to Remington's .17 Fireball. The .17 Fireball is based on a necked-down .221 Fireball case, which is a superior rimless case. As factory loaded by Remington, it launches a 20 grain bullet at a MV of 4000 fps, still about 350 fps faster than the .17 Hornet. However, .17 Hornet factory loads are supposed to cost less than .17 Fireball factory loads, which might level the playing field for prospective buyers.

In reality, the .17 Hornet is about the smallest practical .17 centerfire, at least until someone designs an entirely new case. It represents a new performance level in the .17 caliber sweepstakes, below the .17 Fireball, but way above the .17 HMR.

Here are the velocity/energy figures for the .17 Hornet, measured in a 24" test barrel:

3650 fps/592 ft. lbs. at muzzle, 3358 fps/501 ft. lbs. at 50 yards, 3084 fps/422 ft. lbs. at 100 yards, 2826 fps/355 ft. lbs. at 150 yards, 2583 fps/296 ft. lbs. at 200 yards, 2353 fps/246 ft. lbs. at 250 yards, 2136 fps/203 ft. lbs. at 300 yards.

Without question, 3650 fps at the muzzle is traveling right along. This high MV allows the .17 Hornet, despite its minimal recoil and muzzle blast, to be a very flat shooting cartridge. Zero your rifle at 213 yards (or 1.3" high at 100 yards) to take advantage of the cartridge's maximum point blank range (+/- 1.5") for varmint shooting. The bullet is then within 1.5" of the line of sight from the muzzle to 245 yards. The trajectory figures for a rifle with a scope mounted 1.5" over the line of bore look like this:

-1.5" at muzzle, +0.3" at 50 yards, +1.3" at 100 yards, +1.4" at 150 yards, +0.5" at 200 yards, -1.8" at 250 yards, -5.7" at 300 yards.

As you can see, the .17 Hornet has plenty of power for killing all common varmints at 300 yards, but its trajectory limits its usefulness (without holding over) to about 250 yards on the smaller varmints. This puts it in the same general trajectory class, depending on the specific load, as the .222 Rem. / 40-50 grain, .223 Rem. / 50-55 grain and .243 Win. / 75-80 grain. This is good company, to be sure! The .17 Hornet does not shoot as flat as the extreme velocity numbers, such as the .17 Rem., 204 Ruger, .22-250 and .220 Swift, but most shooters are not good enough to take full advantage of such cartridges and the .17 Hornet is quieter and more pleasant to shoot. I have a feeling it is going to make some friends!

Hornady has not published any .17 Hornet reloading data at the time of this writing. Hodgdon provides reloading data for the .17 Ackley Hornet, which is a similar cartridge also based on the .22 Hornet case. With a 20 grain V-Max bullet, Hodgdon Lil' Gun, H4198 and H4227 are the recommended powders and I expect that will also be true for the .17 Hornet.

All in all, the .17 Hornet is a cute little cartridge. For a shooter like myself, who already has .17 HMR, .223 Rem. and .220 Swift varmint rifles, I'm not sure where the .17 Hornet would fit into my rifle battery, or that it does anything I can't already do. However, for a shooter contemplating his first varmint rifle, or moving up from a .17 HMR, it may be quite appealing. We shall have to wait and see. I imagine the ultimate popularity of the various centerfire .17 cartridges will come down to their perceived "bang for the buck" compared to each other and the ubiquitous .223 Remington, which is the most popular varmint cartridge on the planet.

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Copyright 2012 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.