After emptying the Savage’s four-shot magazine, I stepped back to let other journalists have a play with the new .17 Hornet. In conjunction with Hornady and Savage, Edgar Brothers had brought the very first .17 Hornet into the country, and everyone was eager to see how it performed at its launch.
Even without a moderator, the recoil was almost non-existent. It certainly was sweet to fire. Essentially we were looking at a necked-down .22 Hornet case, accepting the same V-Max bullet used in the formidable .17 HMR, only three grains heavier. With about 14 grains of Superformance blend, the 20-grain bullet achieves a muzzle velocity of around 3,600fps – some 1,000fps more than the rimfire. Doing the numbers on muzzle energy produces 600ft/lb, just over twice that of the HMR.
Speaking to Hornady’s representative, we were informed that the trajectory was comparable to a 55-grain .223 Rem. Looking at the factory numbers certainly reflects this. Obviously the big drawback with any light bullet is wind drift, which will be in the region of 6in at 200 yards with a 10mph wind. This is about double a .204 Ruger (39-grain) but only a third of the drift on a .22 Hornet (30-grain). The same is also true of the improved wind drift in comparison to a .17 HMR: 5.8in versus 15.5in over 200 yards.
I was unable to complete any kind of accuracy tests at the launch, but I am informed they are readily achieving ¾in groups at 100 yards with factory ammo. We can assume, then, that the .17 Hornet will be as accurate as you can shoot it.
This is a calibre that has really been designed with the American market in mind. Their love of long-range prairie dog and rock chuck hunting makes this an interesting competitor. There is little doubt that the performance on these small mammals will be explosive, and of course the smaller bullets and minimal powder charge will make reloading as cheap as possible.
Where it will fit into the British market is an interesting question. There are plenty of varmint enthusiasts who see the HMR as acceptable for foxing, although I would have to disagree with this (though if used sensibly it makes an excellent back-up if the opportunity arises on a night out rabbit shooting). The step up in velocity offered by the Hornet may make it wholly more suitable for our vulpine nemesis. Indeed, tests at the launch showed considerably greater cavity damage when shooting into ballistic soap. We were unable to compare volumes, but the picture gives a reasonable idea. Only field tests will tell, and I will withhold judgement until then.
For handloaders it may indeed prove on par with or cheaper than .17 HMR ammo, although final prices have not been confirmed as yet. However, I can’t see it being used as a serious rabbit controlling calibre for anything other than extended range shooting. I say this as I can’t picture many people wanting to reload 200 rounds a night. The flipside to that, though, is that it is bound to be serious fun. I am very much looking forward to the first test rifle. BP