What Is The Most Powerful Rimfire Cartridge?

When most people think of rim fire cartridges they think of a 40 grain 22 caliber cartridge that is designed for shooting small pests at close range around the old homestead or plinking cans in the back yard.

Today’s rim fire cartridges are capable of much more than that. Manufacturers have developed rim fire cartridges and rifles capable of exceeding 3000 fps and taking game in a much more effective manor

The most powerful rim fire cartridge in existence today is the .17 WSM ( Winchester Super Magnum). It pushes a 20 grain bullet around 3000 fps with 400 foot pounds of energy at the muzzle.

These results are a breakthrough in rim fire technology and drastically increase the capability of the cartridge class.What is the 17 WSM?

Winchester already manufactured .27 caliber powered nail gun cartridges before the WSM was developed. They took this brass that they already had, necked it down to 17 caliber and wham, the 17 WSM was born. This cartridge brings rim fires into the world of larger sized animals where it was limited to much smaller with the 17 hmr and 22 cartridges.

The effective killing range as well as the flat trajectory is a true accomplishment especially at less than half the cost of similar performing center fire cartridges.

How does it compare to other rim fire cartridges?

The 17 WSM is the largest rimfire cartridge on the market today and is slightly longer than the 17 HMR with a higher case capacity for powder. Before the arrival of the 17 WSM the 17 HMR was the king of rim fires. It fired it’s bullet faster than anything else out there with devastating energy within 200 yards compared to a 22 lr or 22 winchester magnum.

The 17 WSM has now taken that role and displays the same type of performance improvement over the 17 HMR. The 17 WSM has now given us a rim fire cartridge that is capable of humane kills on coyote plus sized animals but it is still right on the border of being capable. As with any cartridge, shot placement is the key.

A bad shot on a coyote will not be effective. Take this from the horse’s mouth. I made a hurried shot on a coyote at around 180 yards with the point of impact being too far back. The results was a coyote that had to be tracked and finished off with a good shot (right behind the front shoulder) at 100 yards. With this shot the coyote went down within 10 feet.

At 200 yards this little round is still moving along at over 2000 fps with around 190 foot lbs of energy left compared to less than 100 ft lbs from the HMR an 22 WMR. This is center fire performance out of a rim fire cartridge at a fraction of the cost. These numbers would indicate the effective range is even further than 300 yards on the right target.

The 17 hmr and 22 wmr are way behind on this performance curve and the performance of the 22 is barely as good at the muzzle as the 17 wsm is at 200 yards. With these numbers you would assume the 17 wsm is also a much flatter shooter than it’s predecessors, and you would be right. With it’s typical bullet size, 20 grain, the WSM drops around 3.5 inches at 200 yards with a 50 yard zero. The 17 hmr drops about double that and the 22 lr drops about 36 inches.

Because of the speed of this cartridge it is a much better performer in the wind than it’s counterparts. This is not due to the size of the bullet but because it is still smaller than the 22, but due to the fact it is exposed to the wind for a much shorter period of time because of it’s speed.

This gives the shooter a huge advantage over the 17 HMR and the 22 WMR. The drift in the same 10 mph is less than half the HMR and more than 3 times less than the 22 WMR. All of this comes together to produce a round that much more efficient in all areas than it’s predecessors.

The deviation of the round from point of aim is smaller in all cases. This makes the shooter better in all cases because there is less room for error.

What is the cost of the 17 WSM?

At this writing, 17 wsm ammunition is available for anywhere from 30 to 34 cents per round before shipping. You can probably expect to pay around 2 cents per round for shipping.

These prices are directly from Cabela’s at the time of this writing. Check out their selection here. Compare this to 17 hmr at a total cost of around 24 to 28 cents per round shipped. There is a lot of performance improvement for the few cents per round.

Can you take a deer with a 17 wsm ?

With accurate shot placement I have seen deer taken with a 22 lr. The thing to realize is accurate shot placement cannot be accomplished by everyone. The people I have seen do this are expert shots who can put a bullet exactly behind the ear or at the base of the neck where it meets the skull. To make a humane kill takes skill and a lot of it.

A shot that is slightly off can result in an animal that dies a slow painful death over the period of a few weeks and the loss of the meat you were trying harvest. In some states it is illegal to hunt deer with a 22 for this reason. I don’t recommend doing this unless you are in a complete survival situation.

With 3 times the velocity of a 22, a 17 wsm is definitely capable of taking a deer but I still don’t recommend it. Even with a coyote sized animal the shot must be perfect for a humane kill. My advice is to limit the size of animals taken with this cartridge to fox size and smaller.

Coyotes can be taken but you must be sure you have a good shot right behind the front shoulder, you are rushed, and have the proper tools to take a good rest for a stable shooting position. When predator hunting, your shot can present itself within a second at long range and you must be ready.

No matter how good a shot you are it pays to be prepared. I own two types of shooting sticks that allow me to shoot from a sitting or standing position. Shooting prone is usually not an option in the field because you can’t see over the vegetation in most areas, at least here in the southeast.

It is also very light and easy to carry long distances even for an old guy like me. Here are the sticks I recommend from Primos Outdoors.

Or if you prefer a one stick model that is lighter but doesn’t provide quite the support see it here. I would also recommend using a bullet that will expand quickly at the velocity you are shooting.

What rifles are now available in 17 WSM?

At this writing Franklin Armory, Winchester, Ruger, Volquartsen, and Savage together have offerings ranging in price from $320 to $1400 dollars.

Is the 17 WSM an accurate cartridge?

There are a few stories on Youtube about how accuracy out of the box on some the 17 wsm offerings was mediocre at best. After glass bedding the stocks providing a better fit for the action, everyone who did it had a much more accurate rifle yielding groups that were 1 moa or better which is what we need from a good varmint rifle. Check out the video below from Regular Guys Outdoors.


There is a new sheriff in town in the rim fire world. Don’t hesitate to take advantage of the improved performance offered by this cartridge. With names like Winchester, Volquartsen, Ruger, Franklin Arms, and Savage all investing in it, it will be around for a long time. This cartridge gives the rim fire community more distance, more energy, and accuracy at long range for not a lot of additional cost. Take advantage of it.