With most small game hunting seasons ending, you may be taking stock of what rifles worked best for you and what did not. Comparing and contrasting your work with that of others is how you can learn to increase your bag the following year. One comparison that can be made is the .22 LR versus the .17 HMR for hunting small game. Which is better? What are the pros and cons of each? Let us look and you can decide which is best for you.
.22 LR ammo is the oldest rimfire cartridge of the two. This means that it has beaten the test of time and has proven it can help you bag small game. It is low cost and has limited recoil, making it the poor man’s dream. You can get some extras for dinner without having to break the bank. The .22 LR is also great for having around the homestead, as it is quiet and easy to handle. This makes it great for pest control, recreational shooting, and teaching younger ones how to handle a weapon.
The .22 does not work well if you are planning to shoot long range, as the accuracy begins dropping around 75 yards. An accurate shot can still be made up to 100 yards out, though. It can also be easily manipulated by the wind, making it less than ideal in windier parts of the country or windier times of the year. All of this should be considered when choosing what you want to have for small game hunting.
If you look at the straight facts, here is what the .22 LR looks like: one .22 LR bullet weighs 32 grams, has 1640 muzzle velocity, and a 0.1 trajectory. The muzzle energy, measured in ft-lbs., is 191.
In comparison, the .17 Hornady Magnum Rimfire is a newer round on the market. You do not need to shy away from it, though, as the .17 HMR can hold its own when it comes to accuracy, faster flight path, flat trajectory, and ability to be shot at longer ranges. If you are wanting to do some plinking or are looking to make some practice shots, the .17 HMR is not going to be economically feasible for you. However, if you are looking to solely hunt small game, it will be your best choice since it can make more accurate long-range shots.
The straight facts for the .17 HMR are as follows: one .17 HMR bullet weighs 17 grams (you can already imagine the significant difference this makes in accuracy and recoil), has 2550 muzzle velocity, and a -0.4 trajectory. The muzzle energy, measured in ft-lbs., is 245.
Which is Better?
When deciding what is better to use when hunting small game, you want to focus on the muzzle energy of the bullets. Muzzle energy is what translates to killing power. It is the force that drives the bullet to its destination and completes your hunting goal. At 25 yards out, the .22 LR is at 191 whereas the .17 HMR is at 245. If you move out to 100 yards, the .22 LR comes in at 81 and the .17 HMR shows 116. As you can see, there is a significant difference in the killing power between the two calibers, especially when shooting at a farther distance.
When it comes to small game, you want to be sure you can clean the bullet out of your target, and you do not want your meat to be destroyed. The .22 LR will leave you better off eating your prey, as it will not destroy the meat surrounding the entrance wound. The .17 HMR has more killing power which makes it better to shoot larger prey or homestead varmint such as coyotes. The accuracy at long range is better as well, making it a good weapon to have to protect the homestead as prey runs away from you. Typically, you do not eat coyotes and the like. In this case, it is okay if the meat around the entrance wound is destroyed. So, you have less to worry about there, and can use the .17 HMR without hindrance.
Cost-wise, the .22 LR is going to be much less expensive than the .17 HMR. If you need to remain economical, add this to your list of pros for the .22! If you look online to buy a box of 50, you will typically find a box of .17 HMR costing about $15 (30 cents per bullet), and a box of .22 LR costing about $5 (10 cents per bullet). The .22 LR will obviously be more cost-effective. However, it can be important to know how each can be helpful to you in different scenarios.
Accuracy, range of reach, killing power, and cost all come into play when choosing the best caliber for you to use. It may behoove you to have both on hand for when you want to hunt small game, go plinking with the family, or chasing varmint off your property. Even in the situation where you may have more success using one over the other, the ultimate part of the puzzle that determines how well you do is the placement of the final shot. You cannot protect anything or enjoy any meat if you are not able to land a shot in the first place.
Ultimately, the choice is yours as to which caliber you prefer to keep at hand. Both can be useful, but the .22 LR seems to be the better choice for small game hunting. Do your research, shoot each caliber if you can, and decide what will work best for your unique situation. Have fun with it! Do not stress the process, or it will make it even harder to get the job done. If you are distracted and worried about the process, the enjoyment of hunting will evade you. Keep your head up, choose what caliber works best for you, and enjoy the hunt!
*I wish to thank Paul Barnett for writing this particular article and also thank our friends at Primary Arms.