Even at age 93, my father was a terror on groundhogs and kept his rifle propped in the corner of the kitchen for quick action when a chuck began feeding in his alfalfa field. A crack shot, the WWII marksman would lean out the kitchen window and unleash his vengeance on this farmer’s nuisance that never seemed in short supply. A rifle to my father was a tool, like a hammer, and he gave it about as much care. For his birthday, I bought him a Remington 5 mm, the first year that cartridge came out. He shot a groundhog, but didn’t kill the varmint cleanly and bashed the pig over the head, bent the barrel, and never used the rifle again. More recently, he found favor with a .22 magnum rifle that required frequent re-sighting due to his rough treatment.
Sadly, my father passed at age 94 and a full season of reproduction occurred among the alfalfa an indication of just how prolific woodchucks can be when their population is unchecked. Now the population-control baton passed to me and I took on the job with determination. I grew up and learned to hunt chasing groundhogs by spotting, stalking, sneaking, crawling, and mastering a host of shooting positions with a .22.
This go round, I used my favorite small game rifle in an equally favorable cartridge, the .17 Hornady Rimfire Magnum. Chambered in a Ruger Model 77 and topped with a Zeiss 3-9 variable scope, this “tool” proved to be much more effective than I had remembered.
The year the .17 HMR was introduced, I had a safari planned for Africa and wondered what at “.17 safari” would be like. Since I had room in my double gun case, taking the diminutive caliber along for the ride took little effort. Ironically, I met Erwin Kruger, a descendant of the former South African President and namesake of the famous park that bears his name. Kruger was a tomato farmer and a small duiker and steenbok were mowing off his young plants like a John Deer lawn tractor in high gear. Kruger was all about testing the rifle on his antelope pests and in one night we bagged five. The .17 took down these 10-20 pound antelope consistently out to 100 yards and ruined very little meat in the process, since the antelope were considered excellent table fare.
I learned as a young boy that killing a groundhog with a .22 caliber cartridge required exact shot placement. Unless the tiny bullet struck the top of the creature’s head or smacked it squarely through the shoulder, a groundhog would dash down its burrow to eat alfalfa another day.
The .17 HMR bullet is smaller in diameter and mass than a .22 Long Rifle but greatly exceeds the popular .22 in velocity and energy. Additionally, it exhibited a much flatter trajectory and simplified the aiming process.
Sadly, the family farm went up for sale and I had the enjoyable task of getting the groundhog population under control. Because residential development had encroached on the borders of the farm, a high caliber rifle was neither an option nor a preferred tactic. I dusted off my Ruger 77, checked the Zeiss scope with a single shot, and went after the varmints with gusto.
Because the chucks hadn’t been harassed in a year, creeping 50-75 yards was fairly easy and with a solid rest, the .17 became a death ray. Gone was the need for a head shot to anchor the pig where it stood. By aiming in the chest area, the process was sight, squeeze, and hear a solid thud sound followed a patch of tail twitching. In two weeks, I took 21 pigs with as many shots and left each for the buzzards and a bald eagle to recycle.
If you’ve never fired a .17 HMR, the cartridge is pure joy. With virtually no recoil, it’s ideal for introducing youngsters to shooting, small game hunting, and perfect for groundhogs and other varmints. Check it out at www.hornady.com
Winchester pushed the envelope of the .17 cartridge with the hottest rimfire on the planet- the Winchester Super Magnum with velocities of 3,000 fps, comparable to the speed of some 7mm Rem Magnum loads. Tipped with a choice of three bullets in 20 or 25 grain, this speed round is nearly impervious to wind and distance, yet delivers lethal energy to varmints and predators.
The .17 Win Super Mag is offered in a variety of bullet types including: a 20-grain plastic tip in the Varmint HV® (High Velocity) line, 25-grain plastic tip in the Varmint HE® (High Energy) line and a 20-grain jacketed hollow point in the Super-X® line. Each .17 Win Super Mag bullet will far surpass the long-range wind drift and bullet-drop limitations of popular rimfire calibers like .22 Win Mag and .17 HMR, while depositing more than 150 percent more energy than both.
At a time when ammunition costs are escalating, the new .17 rimfire can economically deliver plenty of downrange fun for plinking or small game harvest. The speed and flat trajectory makes it a groundhog nightmare and with virtually no recoil, it’s an ideal cartridge for younger shooters.