For some time now, I have owned and used an Anschütz 17/17 .17 HMR and a Weihrauch HW60J .22 Hornet. When I heard about the new Hornady .17 Hornet, I was intrigued. Where, I wondered, would this calibre fit in, and how would it compare with the two I already have?
The .17 calibre is certainly not new, having been around in one form or another for around 50 years. In 1971 Remington introduced the .17 Remington, an extremely fast cartridge with the ability to shift a 20-grain bullet at over 4,000fps. One of the advantages of these small, high-speed, frangible bullets is that they normally fragment within the quarry and cause very little hide damage. In 2002 Hornady introduced the .17 HMR and, despite some recent issues with ammunition, it has been successful overall. With its 17-grain bullet doing 2,550fps, it is in many ways the ideal vermin round. Hornady’s 2005 offering of the .17 Mach 2, which uses the necked down CCI Stinger case, has proved popular with a few shooters. Hornady has now completed its .17 hat-trick by bringing out the .17 Hornet round.
From the box, the rifle’s dark grey polymer stock looks businesslike and practical. The forend that houses the free-floating barrel is well-shaped and is comfortable to hold. The butt is finished with a comfortable butt pad and, apart from the three stippled inserts on the inside of the pistol grip, is unadorned. The four-shot polymer magazine, which has a forward release catch, is well concealed and springs out when the catch is operated. The whole unit is finished in a uniform dark grey and the 22in recessed crowned match grade barrel has a glare-reducing matt finish.
The three-lug bolt has a low lift, and with its polished finish provides a contrast to the overall spartan finish. The well tried M-25 action and its loose-fitting bolt has been well documented over the years; compared with some European makes it does feel a little sloppy but it does work very well, with feed, extraction and ejection well up to scratch. Bolt removal is done by releasing the trigger and simply sliding it out – perhaps not for the purist but easy to operate.
The rifle is fitted with the Savage AccuTrigger. Conventional two-stage systems can be tricky to get right, to say the least. The AccuTrigger has a spring-loaded front blade that advises when your finger is against the trigger itself. While doing this, the unit also acts as a safety mechanism, preventing the rifle from firing until the AccuTrigger blade is fully depressed. The trigger itself is easily adjustable from 1.5-6lb. For a relatively inexpensive rifle the trigger pull is good – crisp with no discernable creep.
For the test, I fitted an MTC Genesis scope. I really like this scope and always feel it is good value for money. It’s thought of primarily as a small bore or air rifle scope, but I have used it for test purposes up to .243 calibre and it really does the job on all of them. It’s a well-thought-out piece of kit, and in general use it sometimes makes you wonder why we spend large sums of money on more expensive scopes when something like the Genesis does everything asked of it.
Now to the round itself. It claims to have a muzzle velocity of 3,650fps with the 20-grain bullet from a 24in barrel. The 22in version I was using didn’t quite make that, but it did average around 3,545fps over the chrony, which is still pretty quick.
It also claims to have an effective range of 250 yards, which is about 100 yards better than the .17 HMR and probably 50 yards better than the.22 Hornet. While I have little doubt that this feisty little round is quite capable of these sort of ranges, common sense dictates that unless conditions are pretty much perfect, wind will certainly become a major factor over these distances.
Turning to the .17 HMR, much has been said about the effect wind has on this round. From my own experience, it hasn’t been much of a problem when shooting rabbits out to 100 yards – in fact, as I always chest shoot my rabbits with this round, I never make any allowance for wind. Similarly, I like the established .22 Hornet – it is good for many purposes and is more than good enough for foxed out to 200 yards. The downside is its loopy trajectory, which the .17 Hornet certainly doesn’t have. The .17 Hornet’s trajectory is almost identical to that of a 55-grain round from a .223 and is substantially flatter than both the .17 HMR and the .22 Hornet.
Like the .22 Hornet, the .17 Hornet can be reloaded and I have little doubt that once you have sorted out the best load it won’t be difficult to cut your costs. My estimate is that you should be able to load the .17 Hornet for around 40p – less than half the cost of the factory ammo.
So how did the rifle and ammo fare in the field? Firstly, I have to say I have never been the greatest fan of American rifles, preferring the European styling. This is not to say they don’t do the job because they certainly do. I always think American rifles are built firstly for purpose and secondly for appearance, and a part of me says this makes perfect sense. The M-25, however, is rather a nice rifle overall and I would have very little difficulty in being tempted.
Next, to try it out in the field. Everything worked well from the start, and it felt ‘right’ to me. Accuracy was not a problem and after a few rounds to get zero it was doing half to three-quarter-inch groups at 100 yards with monotonous regularity.
I was interested to see what effect it would have on rabbits, suspecting it would be pretty severe. I have to shoot a lot of rabbits, and while many people tell me to head-shoot them, I don’t do a lot of this for various reasons – mainly because at night, driving round, it is more effective and certainly quicker to chest shoot them. I know from experience that the .22 Hornet can be severe on a rabbit carcase, rendering some unusable, whereas the .17 HMR will only occasionally cause any damage.
Eventually, the weather eased enough for me to get out on the sodden land. The rabbits that are left at this time of year are well- trained, and close ranges are not often an option – not a problem with the .17 Hornet though. The first shot in anger dropped a rabbit at a measured 145 yards. Through the scope I could see it never moved. The dog picked it up with some reluctance and on bringing it back I could see why – the tiny round had done a demolition job, and paunching was unnecessary. After shooting several more, it was clear that unless you head-shot them, you should expect substantial carcase damage. Not a problem, of course, unless you need the rabbits for sale.
Over the next week I shot several rabbits and two foxes, both of which dropped at around 175 yards. The result on the foxes varied – one round exited, the other didn’t. Internal damage was quite substantial for such a small round.
So what were my conclusions? I thought the rifle was first-class – well-made, and although it might not appeal to the purists, there was absolutely no doubt that together with the .17 Hornet round designed for it, it was an extremely good vermin rifle.
Who would buy one? For the keeper needing a rifle for fox, rabbit and vermin in general it would be perfect. But it would be equally good for the shooter who wanted accuracy and just liked to get out and about after the odd rabbit and long-range crow or magpie.
Did it fit in neatly between the .17 HMR and the .22 Hornet? Not really. Personally, needing a lot of rabbits for sale, I wouldn’t take the .17 Hornet after them – not only would carcase damage preclude it, but also the sheer cost of the ammo would become an issue. Reloading would help but I can’t see myself loading the thick end of 75 rounds each week. For my fox control business I would stick to the .223.
My requirements are a bit different to most shooters, though, and if I had lots of money to spare I would really like to add the new Hornet to the collection. When I first saw the rifle and read up on ammo performance, I immediately thought I would get rid of the .17 HMR and the .22 Hornet and get one. After using it I wouldn’t, but that doesn’t detract from the rifle and ammo in any way whatsoever. I thoroughly enjoyed using it. MP
Model tested: M25 in .17 Hornet
Price range: Around £900
Contact: Edgar Brothers 01625 613177 www.edgarbrothers.com