It is based on the .223 Remington, necked down to .172 in (4.37 mm), with the shoulder moved back. It was designed exclusively as a varmint round, though it is suitable for smaller predators. There are those such as P.O. Ackley who used it on much larger game, but such use is not typical.
Extremely high initial velocity (over 4000 ft/s 1200 m/s), flat trajectory and very low recoil are the .17 Remington's primary attributes. It has a maximum effective range of about 440 yards (400 m) on prairie dog-sized animals, but the small bullet's poor ballistic coefficients and sectional densities mean it is highly susceptible to crosswinds at such distances.
The smaller .172 bullet typically has a much lower ballistic coefficient than other typical varmint calibers, such as that of the .223 Remington. Because of this, the .172 bullet loses velocity slightly sooner and is more sensitive to wind; but by no means does this render the cartridge useless. The advantages of this cartridge are low recoil, flat trajectory, and minimal entrance wounds. The tiny entrance wound and usual lack of exit wound on coyote-sized animals make it an ideal round for fur bearing animals which the hunter intends to collect a pelt from. A significant disadvantage is the rapid rate at which such a small-caliber rifle barrel can accumulate gilding metal fouling, which is very detrimental to accuracy and may also eventually result in increasing pressures caused by the fouling's constriction of the bore. Many .17 Remington shooters have reported optimum accuracy when the bore is cleaned after every 10 - 20 shots, though more modern metallurgy used in both barrels and bullets has largely mitigated the fouling issue.
The .17 Remington is also one of the few cartridges in which powder charge weight is often greater than bullet weight. Though this condition has been known to degrade accuracy, the .17 Remington is noted for exceptional accuracy. This reputation for accuracy is due in no small part to the fact that only good quality bolt action and single shot rifles have been so chambered from the factory. Because the cartridge is based on the .223, it can also be used in the AR-15 and Ruger Mini-14 semi-automatic rifles by simply replacing the barrel.