Hunting with the 17HMR
story by Don Caswell
A lot of people like to hunt and eat rabbits. Hares, for some reason, do not seem to have quite the same following.
This is surprising because hares are widely available across Australia and hunting them is just as challenging as hunting rabbits. Their meat is darker and a little gamier than rabbit, but is nevertheless fine fare when properly cooked. Hare is considered quite a delicacy in Europe.
Hares were introduced into Australia in the mid-1800s to provide traditional quarry for the emigrant settlers. Since then hares have spread across a large section of the continent. I have personally seen the odd specimen way up in the buffalo country of the Top End, well north of where the textbook says their range finishes.
A return to southern climes after a lengthy stint in the tropics generated the opportunity to pick up small game while hunting on the farms of a few old buddies. Naturally, this also generated the need for a new rifle. There were a lot of good reports in the press about the recently introduced 17HMR and I decided to acquire one for the hunting of rabbits, hares, cats and foxes.
I chose the sporter weight ‘American’ model made by CZ. My decision was based on having owned a Brno Model 2 in 22RF for 30 years and being quite happy with it. Also, a few old cronies of mine had been using the CZ in 17HMR and were reporting very good performance. I bought some Hornady’s 17 grain tipped hollow-points to test the new outfit.
At the range the rifle shot better than I had expected, producing tighter groups than I could achieve with my 22RF. The trajectory was nice and flat out to about 150m or so and the report seemed to be quite mild, more than a 22RF but less than that of the 22RF magnum.
With the unit demonstrating exemplary behaviour at the range it was time for some field trials. A road trip to the farm of an old friend was arranged, a place where I had shot hares, rabbits and the odd fox over the years. My hunting buddy joined me for an overnight hunt, with the intention of taking home a feed of hare meat.
Our timing was excellent. All the crops had been harvested and there had been recent light rain after a lengthy dry spell. The cultivations were essentially bare and open, with a haze of green pick just emerging, and only narrow bands of fringing tall grass.
The farmer reported plenty of hares and a few bunnies were to be expected. He also asked if we would pay special attention to his wildlife zone as there was evidence that one or more feral cats had moved in and were rapidly killing off the small birds and doves that he had worked hard to encourage.
We used the last hour or two of daylight to drive around the place and get our bearings and establish likely looking spots.
An early barbecue dinner helped to ease us from evening to night and it was time for the main event. We connected the spotlight to the vehicle and broke out the CZ 17HMR. We saw hares as soon as we put the light on.
There were plenty of hares, but less than half of those we encountered gave an opportunity for a shot, keeping on the move in loping, jinking hare fashion. Typically, the hares were mostly encountered in pairs.
Given the big, open paddocks and a steady, cool breeze, the hares were restless and wary. This was where the benefits of the 17HMR’s flat trajectory became rapidly apparent.
Any hare that paused within 150m was history. Sometimes we got the pair, sometimes one; at other times the hares escaped into sheltering grass. Just about all the hares we shot were beyond reasonable 22RF range.
Another thing that impressed me was the killing power of the .17HMR. Even on big, rangy old hares it hit like a lightning bolt. I don’t believe I’ve seen high velocity centrefires kill hares any more quickly or effectively over the 80 to 150m distances we were obliged to shoot at.
After collecting a dozen hares we returned to the farmhouse to dress them. We skinned and gutted our bag then hung the carcasses to chill in the early winter night air. We took the skins, guts and a number of badly bruised carcasses back to the paddock and placed them at a few strategic locations along the edge of the wildlife patch.
Sweeping the area with the spotlight revealed the brief flash of bright reflecting eyes, either a cat or fox. However, the animal disappeared back into the thick scrub before any chance of a shot was offered. We spent some time stalking the area on foot with spotlight powered by a battery carried in a shoulder bag but saw no more of the predator we sought.
Early the next morning we returned to the wildlife zone where we had set out the enticements. A sweep of the spotlight showed nothing in or around the scrub; however, when the spotlight was swung out across the paddock, there out in the open with nowhere to go, was a big black feral cat.
He started to move and I tracked him with the scope while my hunting buddy worked the light. I was starting to worry the cat may not give me a chance when he made the mistake of stopping briefly to glance back at us. That was all the opportunity I needed.
The 17HMR cracked and the cat flopped to a well-placed head shot. Again I was impressed by the mighty little 17; dropping a feral cat in its tracks, stone dead, was a big test. We were congratulating ourselves on our luck as the first light of morning brightened the sky.
Spotlighting for the night was over. We waited until the daylight strengthened then set off to stalk along the edge of the scrub. We hadn’t progressed too far when a movement in the bordering grass caught our eye.
It was a grey feral cat, stealthily making his way back to the scrub after a night of hunting in the paddock. My partner took the shot; it was another emphatic kill.
A couple of young hares had also dallied a little too long on the paddock’s edge, so we added them to our bag as the sun began to colour the eastern skyline. All in all, it was a very successful night and a great christening for a particularly useful little rifle.
With experiences like this, and many more since, it is difficult not to be impressed by these new 17 Hornady Magnum rimfires. They seem to be ideal for hunting rabbits, hares, cats and foxes and are really setting the benchmark for what is the most effective and desirable calibre for humanely shooting animals of this size. The low noise and extreme frangibility of the projectiles make this an excellent calibre for use around farmhouses and close to settled areas.
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