How far can you accurately shoot a 17 HMR ?

I seem to get a lot of questions around the 17 hmr centered around how far you can actually shoot it accurately. It’s also a huge topic in most rimfire forums. That question is pretty easily answered using a little data and combining that with a lot of shooting at long range.

But when some people ask the question, what they really mean is how far can you take an animal like a prairie dog humanely. They are very different questions and I will give you my opinions based on experience below.

I routinely shoot 4 inch clay targets at 230 yards. On a calm day when there is no wind, my hit rate is about 80% using CCI 17 grain ammo from a Savage 93r17. At 300 yards the group starts to open up at a faster rate and hit rate goes down to around 50%. At 400 yards, you can see fairly consistent hits on a 12 X 12 inch target with no wind.

Accomplishing this requires experience and practice with your rifle. All of the correct shooting techniques must be in place and executed properly.
As you can see in the *chart below, bullet drop really begins to increase after 150 yards.

This increase in the rate of decline can have a large affect on bullet path as this is where it passes back through the sound barrier which causes a little turbulence and destabilization of the bullet in flight.

With no wind, this is the primary reason the group begins to open up. Add a little wind, and the challenge begins to equal shooting a 30 caliber bullet at over 1000 yards. Very good and cheap practice for long range shooters.

As you can see, the answer to the question of the title depends on target size and environmental conditions. A wind gusting up to 8-10 mph can move impact a couple of feet or more at long ranges. Learning to read the wind is an important skill for long range shooting, especially with this cartridge because it is so light.

I don’t hesitate to try 400 yard shots because it is definitely possible on a large target, but bullet performance is declining so rapidly at that distance that groupings really open up and consistent shot placement is more luck than skill.

Of course without the right equipment, shots at this distance just aren’t possible. You should preferably be using a performance bolt action rifle (bolt actions are inherently more accurate than semi autos because of design) and a really good scope designed for long range shooting.

Use of a good rifle rest is also a necessary component for hitting with any consistency at these ranges. Without these you are just spitting in the wind.
When just shooting at targets, you only have to worry about connecting. When hunting, you need to also worry about bullet performance at that actual distance you will take the shot.

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How far can you take an animal with a 17 hmr ?

Again, the truth is it depends on the animal. That is because after 150 yards or so, the energy delivered to the target diminishes at a faster rate. The further the distance the faster energy delivered falls off. See the table below.

The bullet depends on energy for expansion. Energy is a function of mass (weight) times speed. With a light weight, like the 17 hmr bullet at only 17 grains, and due to the design of the bullet, it must be traveling at a fast speed in order to expand which creates a larger wound channel and helps the bullet to affect vital organs which is called “killing power”.

A light bullet at a speed that is below what is needed for maximum bullet expansion has a low killing power. Now if we could redesign the bullet to expand at a slower speed, killing power would increase but we don’t have that luxury with the 17 hmr. There is not a huge choice in bullet designs, so we are stuck with what we have.

With all of this in mind, I have taken prairie dogs out to 150 or so yards with explosive bullet performance. After that distance the explosiveness dwindles and the bullet just begins to punch holes in the animal because of the facts discussed above.

I have actually taken a prairie dog at around 250 yards with one shot to the vitals. I have also wounded several between 150 and 250 yards.
To take an animal this size humanely do not take a shot at a distance that you are not sure you can’t put the bullet in the vitals.

On an animal the size of a coyote I would suggest making your maximum distance somewhere in the 100 – 150 yard range, and only take shots that can be well placed.

References*chart from MCarbo.com