Which Is the Real Winner Here?
It gets brought up all the time: I want a gun that has a little more punch than a .22 long rifle.
The first thing I ask the person is what they plan on using the gun for. If it's a gun they'll use on things like groundhogs and other backyard vermin, either is fine. Both the .17 HMR and .22 WMR are well-suited.
But when it comes to bigger pests, there's one that performs better than the other.
With that, oftentimes, the subject matter turns to coyotes and there's a clear winner in my eyes between these two calibers. The .22 WMR—commonly referred to as the .22 Mag—I feel is better suited for coyotes when compared to the .17 HMR. Why? A heavier bullet.
Coyotes are considered thin-skinned, but they are definitely bigger and tougher than a groundhog. The deeper-penetrating .22 Magnum bullet is better at breaking bones and cutting organs.
The downfall of the .17 HMR when used on coyotes is the explosive properties of the bullet. The bullets hit and explode on impact, which doesn't bode well for deeper penetration and weight retention. Exploding impacts work excellent on thin-skinned small game. But it can end in disaster against bigger varmints.
When you look at velocities of the two rounds, you'd think the .17 HMR is the clear winner. But that velocity is only pushing a 17-grain bullet (although there are 20-grain bullets available). Advertised muzzle velocity of the .17 HMR is 2550 FPS giving 246 FPE (foot pounds of energy). But when you compare that to a .22 Mag with an advertised muzzle velocity of 1900 FPS (pushing a 40-grain bullet) you get a calculation of 321 FPE. Take that energy and combine it with a bullet that stays together and you have a round more suitable for coyotes out to 100 yards.
Does this mean you can't kill a coyote with a .17 HMR? Absolutely not. Consider good shot placement from a suitable range and the round will do the job. But it doesn't leave much wiggle room for errors.
It might sound like I'm being critical toward the little .17 HMR cartridge. But I think it is a fantastic round. It just isn't my choice for coyotes.
Here in Michigan, you can hunt coyotes at night but you have to use a rim-fire rifle. When it came time for me to buy a designated nighttime hunting gun, I chose the .22 Mag for all the reasons listed above.
The .22 Mag has been around for a long time. And I don't expect it to go anywhere anytime soon. It is a very versatile cartridge.