Best .17 WSM Ammo

Photo of 17 wsm ammo outdoors

If the .17 Hornady Magnum Rimfire (HMR) is your first choice for varmint ammo, then be prepared for an upset. Introducing the .17 Winchester Super Magnum (WSM), that uses a heavier 20gr bullet than the HMR but fires them nearly 20% faster and with about 65% more muzzle energy. Armed with the best .17 WSM ammo, you’ll be a menace to varmints far and wide!

.17 WSM Quick Answer Box:

photo of 17 hmr ammo and 17 wsm ammo outdoors
A side-by-side view of .17 HMR ammo (Left), and .17 WSM ammo (Right).

• What is the difference between 17 HMR and 17 WSM? The .17 HMR cartridge is shorter and has less velocity and bullet weight than the .17 WSM cartridge. The .17 HMR casing is a necked-down .22 Magnum case set to take a .17 caliber bullet. If you work in construction, you may already know the .17 WSM casing is based on a .27 caliber nail gun case used to set nails in concrete.

• What type of magazine does a 17 WSM rifle use? It depends, the most commonly used .17 WSM magazine is the Savage B Mag for bolt action rifles. The Franklin Armory F17 series is based on the AR-15 platform and utilizes a 10 or 20 round AR style magazine. Other rifles, like the lever-action Winchester 1885 Low Wall, are breach-load and do not require a magazine for feeding the ammunition.

• Can I shoot 17 WSM ammo in a 17 HMR rifle? No, you can’t safely fire .17 WSM cartridges from a rifle chambered in .17 HMR. The SAAMI PSI of the .17 WSM cartridge is 33,000 pounds, the PSI of the .17 HMR cartridge is 26,000 pounds. This difference in pressure makes it unsafe to fire a .17 WSM cartridge in a rifle chambered for .17 HMR.

Why Is The .17 WSM A Good Choice?

The .17 WSM is an extremely powerful rimfire round, the most powerful modern rimfire in the .17-.22 caliber range by miles.

It is a very new offering, released in 2012 and using a .27 caliber nail gun blank cartridge as the base. Designed with the intended purpose of being capable of shooting very flat and carrying farther than any other current rimfire offering, it has even less adverse wind drift or drop than the .17 HMR. It is capable of handling internal pressures 27% higher than the HMR, translating to higher velocity and higher energy.

History of the Caliber

There is a short history of the .17 WSM because it has only been in production for less than a decade. Released in 2012 by Winchester and put into production in 2013, it is still available in a limited number of firearms, with the most widely distributed being produced by Savage Arms and Ruger. Shooters who enjoy a traditional semi-auto rifle chambered in .17 WSM should check out the Volquartsen series rifles. 

Winchester created the round to be a dominant force in varmint eradication while retaining the simplicity and compactness of a rimfire. It is a good in-between cartridge for when overshooting is a concern and the targets are under 50 pounds.

Bullet Types And Uses

Since the .17 WSM was first manufactured in 2013 and is primarily used by varmint hunters, this bullet has seen few evolutions. Selection of the .17 WSM is currently limited to polymer tipped or the Hornady V-Max®. These options are essentially the same thing with one of them being a registered trademark while the other’s are not.

V-Max®

photo of hornady 17 wsm ammo outdoors
The varmint hunting community respects the Hornady .17 WSM V-Max load

Hornady describes their 20-grain V-Max® Varmint Express ® as the bridge between the potent but limited .17 HMR and the centerfire .17 Hornet, another wildcat cartridge derived from the venerable .22 Hornet.

Their line of V-Max® projectiles has garnished a lot of respect in the industry. They shoot flat, possess excellent ballistic coefficiency, and have awesome expansion on target leaving killer wound channels.

The 20-grain V-Max ® boasts impressive numbers of 3,000 ft/s at the muzzle with 400 ft/lbs of energy. While certainly not in the realm of prominent centerfires in terms of energy (.223 Remington 40-grain V-Max® exits the muzzle at 3,800 ft/s and carries 1,282 ft/lbs), the velocity is still tremendous for a rimfire caliber.

What stands in stark contrast to the .17 HMR with the .17 WSM is the ballistics at 200 yards. The .17 HMR drops off significantly in velocity and bullet drop. At 200 yards the .17 HMR exhibits -8.5” of drop to the WSMs -4.1″. Of perhaps more important is that the .17 HMR sees a 70.6% reduction muzzle energy from the muzzle to 200 yards. Whereas the WSM only sees a 53% reduction.

Polymer Tipped

photo of winchester 17 wsm ammo outdoors
Winchester .17 WSM ammo is a great choice for taking care of varmints and pests.

Winchester manufactures three polymer tipped bullets: the lightest is a15-grain non-leaded bullet with a 20-grain midweight and a “heavy” 25-grain bullet.

The 15-grain bullet is a real rocket, blistering along at 3,300 ft/s from the 24” test barrel. It delivers 363 ft/lbs at the muzzle yet retains 110 ft/lbs at its intended distance of 200 yards. The bullet only drops -4.3” at that distance since it is still hustling along at 1,821 ft/s!

The 20-grain offers predictably identical ballistics to the Hornady 20-grain V-Max® since they are essentially identical.

The 25-grain is not quite as fast as the smaller two, but is still no slouch. At 2,600 ft/s and 375 ft/lbs at the muzzle, it cruises at 1,892 and 199 respectively at 200 yards with only -5.6” of drop. For a point of reference, Winchester .22 WMR V-Max® 30-grains exit the muzzle at 2,250 ft/s and 337 ft/lbs and at 200 yards show 1,041 ft/s and 77 ft/lbs with -14.9” drop.

This is where the .17 WSM shines and does exactly what it was designed to do. It carries nearly twice the velocity, over double the energy, and only a one-third the drop of its cousins while remains considerably more economical than the centerfire varmint calibers.

Should I Buy A .17 WSM Rifle? 

a macro photo of poly tipped 17 WSM ammo
Does a lack of ammo variety hurt the popularity of the .17 WSM?

The popularity of .17 WSM remains to be seen in how widespread its growth will be. Only a few brands of rifles are currently available which the common man can access and they cost about the same as a comparable centerfire. With fewer choices in the marketplace, it may be very difficult to see growth in the usage of the cartridge. It does do what Winchester intended it to do really, really well. Not to mention, if you want to shoot suppressed, you can use a less expensive rimfire can. The .17 WSM carries great to 200 yards but drops off after that which might be a real selling point for landowners with relatively close neighbors.

Lack of choice in ammunition for .17 WSM owners is a drawback. People in the rimfire market for this caliber are likely already using cheaper calibers for plinking. The key takeaway is that this is a very promising dedicated varmint or precision shooter cartridge. It is extremely accurate and still much less expensive than other common precision calibers. A day at the range with the .17 WSM will cost less and last longer than with a 6.5 Creedmoor. If high speed, high-performance cartridges in a diminutive rimfire sized casing sound like your idea of fun. You’re going to love the .17 WSM.

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