The development of the .17 Hornady Magnum Rimfire (HMR) load was the first innovation in rimfire ammunition for over thirty years. The last ‘new’ production rimfire cartridge was the very short lived 5mm Remington Rimfire Magnum developed by Remington. The 5mm was developed in 1969 and after poor uptake was discontinued in 1982.
While ‘wildcat’ cartridges had been derived from various other rimfire cartridges there were no new commercial offerings until the HMR was released in 2002. Wildcat cartridges are generally derived from existing commercially available cartridges which are then refined by keen shooters to gain maximum performance. These refinements might include necking down a case for smaller bullets for faster flatter shooting.
While no commercially manufactured ammunition or firearms are available for most wildcat cartridges some have become incredibly popular and been adopted by major manufacturers and factory firearms and ammunition can now be purchased in those calibres. Examples include the .22-250, 7mm-08 and .204 Ruger.
Wildcatters tinkered with rim fire cartridges just as they did with centre fire cartridges often trying to produce results similar to the discontinued 5mm Remington Rimfire Magnum. With the 5mm cartridges almost impossible to obtain the .22 WMR cartridge became the basis of wildcat rimfires.
The .22 WMR was introduced in 1959 as a step up from the tried and tested long rifle cartridge, it can handle heavier bullets than the long rifle round and produces improved velocity and energy for flatter shooting and improved stopping power on small game. The .17HMR improved significantly on the velocity and trajectory of the .22WMR and marks a pinnacle in the obsession with so called ‘micro calibres’.
The .17HMR was developed by Hornady and released in 2002, it is a necked down WMR case loaded with a tiny .17 calibre bullet normally weighing 17 grains, although it is also available in a 20 grain version. Although hollow point bullets are available for the .17HMR the vast majority of loads feature so called ‘ballistic tips’ with a polymer tip which maximises expansion and energy transfer to ensure humane kills with such a light weight bullet.
The super lightweight bullet combined with the carefully developed load produces velocities of almost 3000 feet per second and a flat trajectory that makes this round effective out to 200 meters. While it is impressive in some respects the light bullet doesn’t cut through wind all that well so when you select the best scope for 17 HMR, you might want to consider something which makes judging and compensating for windage corrections easy.
If you’re in a hurry and don't have time for the details, here are our best picks for 17 HMR Scopes:
Table of Contents
- How a Rimfire Works?
- The Dangers of Dry Firing
- Other .17 Rimfires
- Obsolete Rimfires
- Picking the Best Scope for .17 HMR on the Market
- Choosing Scope Mounts
How a Rimfire Works?
Just as the name suggests centre fire cartridges feature a primer located in a pocket in the centre of the cartridges base, a rimfire is a more basic design which does not feature a separate primer. This does mean that they can’t be reloaded like centre fire cartridges can but they are incredibly cheap to produce.
The rim of a rimfire cartridge contains a priming compound which is ignited when the rim of the cartridge is struck by a rectangular firing pin. This then ignites the charge of powder in the cartridge, while larger calibre rim fires did once exist these have been obsolete and out of production for many years and have been superseded by centre fires.
The Dangers of Dry Firing
There is an oft perpetuated myth that dry firing damages firing pins, now this isn’t necessarily true of centre fire firearms but it is true of rim fires. When a rim fire weapon is fired without a cartridge in the brief the firing pin will strike the steel of the breech face instead of the soft brass cartridge rim.
This will eventually damage the firing pin blunting and peening over the tip of the firing pin leading to misfires and potentially a broken firing pin which might even pierce the base of the cartridge. DO NOT DRY FIRE YOUR .17 HMR.
Other .17 Rimfires
After the release of the .17 HMR in 2002 it was soon followed by the Hornady Mach 2 and in 2012 by a bigger brother the .17 Winchester Super Magnum. While the HMR is based on the .22WMR cartridge the Mach 2 is based on the .22 long rifle cartridge. The Super Magnum is a particularly interesting round as rather than being based on a traditional load for a firearm is derived from the blank .27 cartridges for use in nail guns.
While the .17 rimfires are the ‘new kids on the block’ rim fires have been around for a long time. The .22 long rifle has stood the test of time since its development in 1887 but while we tend to use centre fire firearms and ammunition for anything much larger than a .22 there were once many large rim fire cartridges.
The rim fire design is effectively just a massive, strengthened percussion cap with a charge of powder inside and a bullet in the end and before centre fires caught on they were available in .30, .32, .38, .41, .44 and even up to the.58 Miller.
The .44 Henry Flat Cartridge was manufactured up until the 1930’s and despite looking like a .22lr cartridge when you see the two side by side it’s clear that the .44 is significantly larger.
Centre fire technology took over from the larger rim fires though and the release of the .17HMR marked the first innovation in rim fire loads for a very long time.
Picking the Best Scope for .17 HMR on the Market
In this article though we will focus on picking an optic suitable for the .17HMR rather than the other .17 rimfire calibres. The HMR is by far the most popular of the three.
If someone is picking a new .22 lr rimfire I will often ask them whether they really need an optic or not, plinking is great fun over open sights and as a training aid open sights are a great idea. I think everyone should learn to shoot over open sights first before graduating onto optics.
However with the .17 HMR you would be missing out on it’s incredible potential if you didn’t use an optic. It shoots almost completely flat out to 200 meters and is effective a little over that range, while it is possible to shoot over open sights at that range you won’t get the pinpoint accuracy that this round offers without a good quality optic.
I would avoid red dot and reflex sights for a .17HMR, while this are great for firearms designed for tactical purposes and plinking with a .22 rimfire they lend themselves to fast target acquisition, general accuracy and dynamic shooting they do not offer the same precision as proper telescopic sights with good levels of magnification and light gathering capabilities which allows you to stretch your vermin shooting into the early, or late hours, in minimal daylight.
The .17HMR excels at long range shooting of small vermin up to the size of foxes, the tiny bullets won’t give a humane kill on larger species and you will need to be careful if shooting foxes to go for a headshot, but the flat shooting characteristics of the .17 make headshots relatively simple if you combine your rifle with a good optic.
1 Bushnell Engage 4-16x44mm
A .22 lr rimfire rifle wouldn’t benefit from a 16 power scope but as the .17HMR can shoot at twice the effective range of the .22lr the extra magnification is really worthwhile. This product from Bushnell offers not only variable zoom but a 44mm objective lens offering excellent light gathering capabilities and a good field of view.
The finger adjustable turrets are a nice touch but you won’t need to use them often with the .17 shooting as flat as it does. This great quality scope is built to last with coated optics for good light transfer as well as protection from dust and dirt.
The excellent lifetime warranty from Bushnell is also worth considering when choosing a scope that might have to put up with bad weather and rough treatment in the field.
2 Barska 6-24x50mm Blackhawk Rifle Scope
I’ve been using Barska binoculars for several years and have been really impressed by the quality and affordability of their products. Their scopes are the same; excellent products for the money and built to a really good standard.
As well as a fantastic 50mm front end for maximising light gathering and field of view at range this scope features an illuminated reticle in red or green allowing you to easily pick out targets in low light and not lose your sight picture in glare from the sun or reflections off water. Finger adjustable turrets and parallax adjustment
3 BSA Sweet 17 6-18x40mm
The sweet 17 scope by BSA has been specifically designed for the .17HMR cartridge and has finger adjustable turrets which can be used to easily make adjustments. The adjustable focus allows you to easily judge range and then any adjustment you require can be dialled in on the turrets.
These scopes are made for the .22 rimfire as well and you will get far more use from the adjustable turrets, the flat shooting .17 won’t require a lot of adjusting up to 200 yards. The scope does allow you to make adjustments out to 300 yards though and even the .17 might need some adjustment and hold over for elevation at that range.
4 TASCO Varmint 6-24x42mm
The .17 is a fantastic varmint round and this scope from TASCO is specifically designed for varminting. The mil dot reticle and high magnification are great for shooting at range and making corrections for windage and elevation without having to dial adjustments into the scope.
You may not need to make many corrections for elevation due to the .17’s flat trajectory but the light weight bullets don’t ride the wind very well so the mil-dots might be useful for making windage corrections.
5 Leupold VX-3I 4.5-14x50mm Duplex
I have a Leupold scope on my Tikka T3 in .243 and have had for over ten years, mine is a fixed six power scope with a 42mm objective lens and I am very impressed by its performance. Any Lepould scope would be a good choice for your .17 but do be aware that they are more expensive than some of the other scopes listed here.
The zoom settings on this model are perfect for getting the most out of a .17 and the standard duplex reticle, while it doesn’t offer any mil-dots for corrections it is a reticle which everyone recognises and is perfect for vermin shooting at moderate ranges.
6 Pulsar N750 Digisight
The .17 is as suitable for shooting at night as it is in the day time to make the most of that capability is to use a night vision scope with an IR illuminator. This does away with the need to use lamps to illuminate targets at night and allows you to be stealthier in your pursuit of game and vermin. This Pulsar scope offers the very latest technology to aid the shooter.
7 Simmons .44 Mag Truplex Side Focus
This product from Simmons zooms from 4-12 offering great flexibility and the ability to view targets in detail at range. Simmons have a fantastic reputation and this scope will not let you down. I’ve been using Simmons scopes on airguns and rimfire rifles for years and they offer a perfect balance of quality and affordability that is hard to beat.
8 Nikon Buskmaster II 3-9x40
Really designed as a scope for deer hunters this scope will perform equally well on your .17HMR. Nikon are known for the quality of their lens glass and coatings and this scope offers an excellent clear picture of your target.
Choosing Scope Mounts
The vital link between your rifle and scope are the mounts, a sporting rifle like a .17hmr will generaly have dove tail’s milled into the action rather than the picatinny and weaver mounting systems you will see on tactical rifles so you will need to select your mounts accordingly.
You will also need to ensure you select mounts that will accommodate the objective lens of your scope; scopes with particularly large objective lenses will require higher mounts and you may need to consider how you will achieve a good cheek weld for accurate shooting.
If your rifle has an adjustable stock there is nothing to worry about but you may have to consider adding a foam and neoprene riser to your stock to achieve the proper alignment between your eye and the scope and a comfortable, consistent cheek weld.
Optilok mounts aren’t cheap but are fantastic, maybe even the best on the market. They come in two pieces; bases and rings which you will need to assemble to mount the scope to the rifle. This allows you to change rings without changing the whole mount if you wanted to use a scope with a larger diameter tube.
Any of these scopes will serve you well on a .17 HMR rifle with the right mounts and with the proper consideration for mounting and setting up your rifle. You will thoroughly enjoy the flat shooting capability of the .17HM and will find yourself hardly ever needing to make adjustments to your aim as the round shoots so flat.
It’s because of this flat shooting consistency, combined with the fact that the normal quarry with a .17 tends to be small that I would recommend the best scope for 17 HMR with a capability to zoom quite powerfully. I would never normally recommend this as high zoom is never as effective a good field craft for getting close to your quarry and there just isn’t a need for them outside of target shooting.
If I was forced to choose one of these scopes for my rifle I would choose the Leupold at no extra cost.