.22 LR or .17 HMR?

Two great rabbit rifles, the .22 LR (left) and the .17 hmr (right). The kids are OK too.

Open any popular hunting magazine and you will invariably find a number of new firearm reviews. This, of course, is a good thing and a popular addition to any hunting magazine.

It is a win win for all concerned, it gives hunters the opportunity to read a review from a reputable gun writer, which is bound to assist a hunter when looking for a new firearm to purchase.

In return it gives the magazine advertising dollars and, of course, firearm manufacturers the scope to reach as many hunters as possible.

However you do not see many reviews ofhunting firearms that are taken into the field for long extended use. A number of firearms are taken into the field for a hunt or two but that is usually as far as it goes.

Obviously there are a number of reasons for this, time restrictions probably being the main one. But nothing will bring out faults in a hunting rifle more than extended field use.

Sometime back I got caught when I bought a .17HMR, the newest rabbit rifle on the market. I read all the reviews and thought it would suit my needs, so I bought one, a left-handed CZ. When I picked up the rifle I noticed that it was well made but a bit on the light side for my liking.

I also got a bit of a shock when I was hit around $25 for a packet of 50 bullets. I attached a Bushnell 3-9x variable scope to it and quickly headed out to sight it in.

It didn’t take long to realise that the accuracy of the rifle lived up to the gun review and any rabbit around the 100 mmark was in deep trouble.

At the time I was using it to shoot rabbits around a friend’s farm where rabbits had taken up residence in their garden and under nearby sheds. The rifle’s performance was flawless but after about 50 shots its accuracy started going haywire.

Suspecting a dirty barrel was the cause of the problem I gave it a good clean and sure enough the accuracy improved but after a similar number of shots were fired it started to stray again. This was a bit concerning as I hate wasting ammo and at around 50 cents a shot I wasn’t happy about it.

I have to admit I am not that excited about having to continually clean a rifle, especially while out hunting, I consider it a waste of valuable hunting time and having to keep cleaning the .17HMR regularly reminded me of my old rabbit hunting days when varminting was a popular pastime for many rabbit hunters.

The .17 Remington was popular with a lot of hunters for its superb accuracy and mild recoil. If you used one, part of the equipment you carried on a hunt was a cleaning kit, as similar to the .17HMR, accuracy was affected after a number of rounds were fired.

I was prepared to put up with it then but I wasn’t now and the .17 was quickly traded in on another CZ, this one a heavy barrel .22 rimfire.

Surprisingly my long time hunting mate fronted up on one of our numerous rabbit hunting trips with a brand new Anschutz in .17HMR. With each of us using a new rifle, mine being a .22 rimfire and his a .17HMR I thought it would be a good time to see which would make the better rabbit rifle.

We were lucky enough to have access to a number of properties all in close proximity to each other and it didn’t take us long to realise that the 100 rounds of bullets each of us were carrying weren’t going to last long, the rabbits were there in their thousands.

I quickly stepped up to buying the .22 ammo by the brick of 500 which started out at around $70 each, but after a while I sourced a cheaper supply and was getting a brick of 500 for $30, which is cheap shooting in anybody’s language.

I damn near choked when my mate told me he was paying out $200 for a brick of 500. Hell, we were going through at least a brick of ammo each a night and were rabbit hunting at least one night a week.

We would start shooting late afternoon and it didn’t take long to realise the .22 rimfire was no match for the .17HMR when taking shots at extended ranges, by this I mean around 100 metres. When the ranges were around the 60 mmark the .22 rimfire held its own with head-shots, but while my mate was still taking head-shots out to 100 metres I was down to taking chest shots at 70 m.

As the afternoon wore on more and more rabbits were emerging from the numerous warrens that littered the area we were hunting over and, as expected, the ranges started getting closer, probably around the 25-50 mrange. This was the perfect distance for the .22 rimfire and I hardly missed a shot.

It was about this time of day, with the rabbits really thick on the ground, that we started lamenting the passing of our self-loaders. Precious time was wasted with the continual reloading of the rifle and I well remember the days when I used a self-loader for the bulk of my rabbit hunting. Other hunters amongst us know how devastating a smooth operating self-loader was to a tightly bunched up number of rabbits.

With all of the shooting we were doing problems were starting to emerge with our rifles, nothing we would call serious, merely annoying; I was having trouble with the 10 shot magazine on my CZ, but there again I don’t know too many people owning CZ’s that haven’t experienced feeding problems with the rifle’s 10-shot magazines.

I overcome this by using several 5-shot magazines which I kept fully loaded at all times. It was an annoyance having to change magazines so often and I will probably look at buying a new polymer 10 shot magazine to replace my old steel ones which were causing my problems.

Also my heavy barrelled CZ had a shocking trigger on it, the creepy trigger was really annoying; so much so that without thinking I had a basix trigger system fitted to it. Just my luck; I got a faulty one which caused me no end of trouble. So I did what I should have done in the first place and had a local gunsmith put the old trigger system back on the rifle and take the creep out of it.

My mate wasn’t without problems with his Anschutz .17HMR; he was experiencing the same problems that I had with my CZ .17HMR, a frequently fouling barrel. It was pretty frustrating for both of us as while my mate was cleaning the barrel of his rifle; I had to sit there waiting for him to finish with all of those rabbits hopping around, oblivious to our presence.

As darkness fell the rabbit numbers seemed to increase. A hand held spotlight soon became burdensome and we soon got sick of passing it from one to the other all the time. We even tried holding one each but that was just as time consuming as just running one.

It seemed a good idea at the time but then my mate came up with the idea of attaching a hunting torch to his .17HMR. It worked that well that another soon followed and was attached to my heavy barrelled .22 rimfire. Up until then I was shooting them in the headlights of the 4×4.

Thanks to the light gathering ability of the Leupold VII 4 – 12×50 variable scope I had attached to my rifle it was an easy job to take rabbits that were picked up in the vehicle’s headlights.

While shooting truckloads of rabbits as months went by, their rabbit didn’t seem to be dwindling that much; except on one property where we seemed to have got them under control. My mate finally succumbed to common sense and bought himself a new rabbit hunting outfit. Spending anything up to $250 a night on ammo has a habit of doing that.

On one trip he turned up with a pretty flash outfit, that being a left handed heavy barrelled Anschutz in .22 rimfire, a nice variable scope topped it off perfectly.

I had been paying $70 for a brick of high velocity Winchester 40 grain power points, I even tried a few of the new 42 grain power points; but I found them fairly savage on rabbits over the short distances that we were encountering. I eventually settled for Winchester high velocity ammo 36 grain ammo.

The accuracy of the .17HMR round is very impressive and while there is no wind present head-shots on rabbits can be taken at 100 metres with ease. That there is the crux of the matter, as it is not often wind of some kind is not present while hunting the plains country of New South Wales.

The explosive effect of the tiny 17 grain projectile is quite devastating and if you are shooting for the table, head shots are a must.

Over the past couple of years we have had the opportunity to give the .17HMR and the .22 rimfire a really good testing. We estimated that over that period of time we would have taken over 15,000 rabbits, as well as numerous hares and foxes, over every distance and weather conditions usually encountered in country NSW.

I was keen to replace my CZ Heavy Barreledit with a left-handed version, seeing that I am a left-handed shooter. The CZ company had a heavy barrelled version with a thumbhole stock. It looked pretty impressive on paper and I was quite miffed when I was told left handed versions were not available.

I was even more miffed when Blake turned up to show me his right handed model he had just purchased. Without a doubt I will be the first in the queue to buy a left handed version if they ever bring one out.

I am definitely sticking with my CZ heavy barrelled rimfire as I can’t see any reason to swap back to the .17HMR just for improved performance. The cost of the ammo is enough to put me off, let alone the constant cleaning of a dirty barrel.

My mate, on the other hand, reckons he will stick with the .17HMR, especially when the rabbits aren’t as thick and are on the nervous side, making long shots necessary and he will use his .22 rimfire when their numbers are thicker and the ranges closer.

This story was first published in the April 2014 issue of Sporting Shooter magazine.




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