So for a while, I was an air rifle hunter and I found the step up to rimfire calibres an enormous leap, regularly taking rabbits cleanly to over 100 yards with the 22lr and over 200 yards with the 17HMR. I then was absolutely astounded by the amazing capabilities with my .243, but obviously, the .243 is a fair bit of overkill and an expensive option for the general vermin control duties on top of being loud and requiring a significant back stop. I then got a 17 Hornet and it was the perfect in between, for me, it is the perfect longer range vermin rifle and it's also an excellent fox stopper!
'...I was taking rabbits with headshots out to 260 yards and chest shooting bunnies out to a massive 352 yards!...'
I bought my Hornet second hand from a chap who had used it very little, but had shortened the barrel to just 16", I was skeptical about the performance of this short tube, but was convinced by a Magnetospeed chronograph when I went to purchase the rifle, it was clocking over 3800fps with 20 grain bullets. In anticipation of using it for mid range varmint sniping (Out to 300+ yards), I had bought 600 25 grain Hornady V-Max bullets. I duly loaded some up with a moderate charge and had immediate success with some very tight groups at 100 yards of 0.25-0.4", I was printing 2" groups with it at 300 yards!!!
5 shot group in wind using the 25 grain V-Max
2" group on a rock at 300 yards in wind
A typical 3 shot group
Following the success in the initial reloading, I stuck to the load I trialled and chronoed it at an average of 3260fps producing 590ftlbs. I worked on calibrating the ballistic calculator and went out in to the field following some plinking to check the data was sound. I was very impressed with the initial performance, I was taking rabbits with headshots out to 260 yards and chest shooting bunnies out to a massive 352 yards! The best to date is a 357 yard rabbit, all of these have been taken in mildish wind conditions and all of them have been clean kills. What you have to bear in mind, is that even at that range, it's impact energy is comparable to a .17 HMR impact at 50 yards range!
So what is the point of the Hornet? What advantages does it have over larger calibres like the .223 Remington or the .204 Ruger? My arguments for the 17 Hornet being the best small game/varminting calibre are based on it having a nice flat trajectory that Hornady liken to the .223 Rem with a 55 grain bullet, yet is much more quiet! It has great accuracy, similar to the likes of .223 and .204, yet has next-to-no recoil! The Hornet has a limited number of options when it comes to bullet choices, you pretty much are limited to 20 and 25 grain Hornady V-Max along with some offerings from Berger and Nosler, but these light bullets travelling at high velocities, are incredibly frangible and therefore, pose very little ricochet risk (Don't assume it won't ricochet though). The Hornet is an economical calibre to shoot, requiring less than 10 grains of powder, reasonably priced projectiles, uses small rifle primers and the brass life is great in this low pressure round.
These rounds dump all of their energy in to the target and do not overpenetrate, look at this 360 yard coke can, one of 6 that did the same thing. The 25 grain V-Max round fragmented on impact and the pressure generated blew out the front without piercing the back of the can at all, 6 times! The Hornet shows the same kind of performance on vermin, sometimes blowing out huge exit holes with the hydrostatic pressure, but only tiny fragments ever exit.
Above are 3 wound cavities created in ballistic gelatine, the 17 Hornet with a 25 grain V-Max is at the top, then a .223 53 grain V-Max and at the bottom is a .243 87 grain V-Max. As you can see, at 100 yards, the Hornet is incredibly destructive for its diminutive size.
17 Hornet vs. Cola Can
What is the niche filled by this fantastic little stinger I hear you ask? The Hornet is the perfect all round vermin calibre, dropping small varmints out at 300 yards is routine and taking fox or coyote sized animals will be a formality at sensible ranges, inside of 200 yards I would imagine. With a mere 2.5" of drop from my 100 yard zero and impact energy of over 300ftlbs, it will be virtually a point-and-shoot job on the foxes at that range! Cannot wait to try it next week down in Sussex, unfortunately it is very quiet on the fox front where I shoot.
The .17 Hornady Hornet next to a .17 Hornady Magnum Rimfire or .17 HMR
Reloading wise, I have shot 20 grain and 25 grain Hornady V-Max with Hornady brass, CCI 400 primers and Lil' Gun powder so far with excellent success. Both offerings will produce sub 1/2 MOA groups in my rifle and are the worst enemy of any vermin they encounter. I have had good success with 9.4 grains of Lil' Gun with the 20 grain bullets at around 3550fps in my abbreviated barrel and the 25 grain bullets do well propelled by 8.9 and 9.3 grain charges of Lil' Gun in my rifle. Do not copy these reload recipies directly, as it may produce dangerous results in your rifle, use caution and consult a reloading manual!