November 13, 2014
By Joseph von Benedikt
Seventeen-caliber rifles are just a little bit magic. They shoot whisper-tiny projectiles the same diameter as the BBs we all loved to pop away with as kids. They produce almost no discernable recoil. Even the report of most .17-caliber guns is mild, particularly that of rimfire versions.
Yet the little pills zipped downrange from .17-caliber rifles shoot with lazer-like flatness and produce surprisingly impressive results on small game and predators. Depending on the size of the cartridge case housing the tiny bullets, performance ranges from mostly suitable for rodents inside 200 yards to deadly on bigger predators out to 400 yards.
Only a couple of characteristics plague .17-caliber firearms: tiny bullets require delicate rifling that is easily damaged by cleaning equipment; and tiny bores are, well, just plain aggravating to clean. True enthusiasts tend to advise infrequent cleaning of rimfire versions simply to avoid potentially damaging the rifling (and because the rimfire versions just don't leave much fouling) and extreme care in cleaning centerfire versions.
Two calibers stand out among those of .17-diameter ilk, although others — of newer design — may outstrip them in the future. Today's favorites are the .17 HMR and the .17 Remington.
Of the two, the .17 HMR is far and away the most popular. Of rimfire design, it's ideal for prairie dogs, potgut gophers and most of the smaller furbearers out to a couple of hundred yards. It shoots projectiles in the 17- to 20-grain range up to about 2,600 feet per second (fps).
The .17 Remington, on the other hand, is the darling of predator hunters protective over pelts. It typically kills even big-bodied coyotes cleanly, yet does minimal damage to the skin. Fast follow-up shots are easy, virtue of low recoil, and savvy shooters can spot their own impacts through their scope. Zippy 25-grain projectiles exit the muzzle in excess of a jaw-dropping 4,000 fps.
Up-and-comers in the .17 world are the recently introduced .17 WSM, which is the fastest rimfire-type seventeen in history and pushes a 20-grain bullet at 3,000 fps; and the .17 Hornet newly designed by Hornady (some term it the .17 Hornady Hornet to avoid confusing it with older, wildcat-type, necked-down versions of the .22 Hornet). It pushes 25-grain bullets up to 3,200 fps.
There are others, such as the excellent, mild-mannered .17 Mach 2, the accurate but short-lived .17 Remington Fireball and so on, but the cartridges detailed above are the main players on the current seventeen scene.
In some cases, the cartridge you want to shoot will dictate the type of rifle available. For instance, if you want to shoot the new .17 WSM, you're pretty much limited to Savage's B-Mag and perhaps one or two single-shot, novelty type rifles such as Taylor Firearms' little baby Sharps. Likewise, only a few models exist for Hornady's new .17 Hornet, and rare too are rifles currently chambered in the uncommon but long-lived .17 Remington.
On the other end of the stick, almost all firearm manufacturers offer rimfire rifles chambered in .17 HMR, so shooters can pick and choose.
Here, listed in alphabetical order, are several of the best .17-caliber rifles available today:
Alexander Arms .17 HMR
If you like cutting-edge firearms based on the wildly popular AR-15 rifle, this little semiauto
.17-spitting marvel is your ticket to happiness. Designed from the ground up for the .17 HMR, it's of blowback operation and features a fluted 18-inch barrel, monolithic magazine and collapsible stock. It's also available as an upper assembly, complete with everything you need to convert your .223-caliber AR over to .17 HMR.
[imo-slideshow gallery= 99],210 (complete rifle); $715 (upper assembly)
Of straight-pull operation, the T-Bolt
is probably the fastest repeating bolt-action rimfire available. It's also beautifully manufactured and finished, unlike many competing designs. The price reflects the quality, but if you appreciate fine firearms, you'll never regret laying out the cash for a T-Bolt. The 22-inch varmint-contour barrel free floats; the trigger is adjustable, and a 'semi-match chamber ' enhances accuracy. Of double helix design, the magazine holds 10 rounds.
Cooper Arms Model 21 Varminter
Arguably the Rolls Royce of centerfire 17s, Cooper's Model 21
features a slim little turnbolt action appropriate in size to the .17 Remington. I've shot one of these chambered in .204 Ruger extensively, and even on a bad day, it put bullets into 3/8-inch groups at 100 yards. Available styles include stocks and barrel contours appropriate for everything from bench-top sniping at far away prairie dogs to hiking-intensive predator hunts. Without doubt, this is the finest of its type, and you'll pay for that quality: Depending on stock type, wood quality and so forth, cost can easily top gallery= 99,000.
CZ 455 American
One of the best values in rimfire bolt actions, this sleek little rifle
has an adjustable trigger, machined receiver and hammer-forged barrel. My .22 LR version shoots dime-size 50-yard groups with run-of-the-mill, bulk-type ammo. It's also available as a combo package with two barrels: one chambered in .17 HMR and the other in .22 LR. Combining accuracy, quality and affordability, this is an optimum choice for shooters wanting to get into the seventeen scene.
CZ 527 American
Fans of traditional styling and controlled-feed actions love CZ's
little Model 527
. Appropriately scaled for diminutive centerfire cartridges, its action feeds from a detachable single-stack steel magazine of five-round capacity, and an adjustable single-stage trigger makes precise bench-type shooting easy. The barrel is hammer forged, and proprietary scope mounts machined into the action eliminate the need for screw-on bases but require CZ-specific rings. The Model 527s I've tested generally shot groups of well under an inch at 100 yards.
Marlin Model XT-17R
During a bear hunt in Canada one year, I discovered that Marlin
.17 HMR rifles were the tool of choice among local beaver trappers/fur hunters. The flat trajectory and precise accuracy they offered enabled hunters to make quick, clean kills and collect more furs. Robust, accurate and without expense-increasing frills, the XT-17
comes with a 22-inch barrel in your choice of stainless or blued, with walnut or synthetic stock. Open sights are standard, and the receiver is grooved for common rimfire scope rings. Magazines are detachable, in both four-shot and seven-shot versions.
$280 to $350-ish
Remington 700 VS
In reality, your best bet for a .17 Remington-caliber rifle is to pick one up used via Gunbroker.com
because, unfortunately, Remington
only produces limited runs in the caliber, and most other manufacturers don't build .17 Remington rifles at all. (As listed above, Cooper Arms
does, and any custom gunmaker worth his salt can build you one.) However, if you really want a genuine Remington rifle, and a new one at that, have your local gunshop order you a Model 700 VS
(Varmint Synthetic) from Zanders Sporting Goods
(a distributor with a special run of them). Barrels are velocity-milking 26-inch-long varmint profile tubes, and the stocks are durable synthetic.
Built more like a true big game rifle than any other rimfire bolt action, Ruger's M77/17s
make excellent training tools for the deer hunt. More importantly, they are extremely capable, elegantly designed, tough, tiny-bore tools capable of handling whatever Nature and abusive hunters can hand out. Plus, the 77/17 is available in your choice of the very popular .17 HMR or the hot new .17 Hornet centerfire. Barrel length is 24 inches, and the stocks are laminated wood. Scope rings are included and attach directly to the top of the action.
$969 suggested retail (but real-world pricing is much cheaper)
Of unique design and featuring specialized operating characteristics required to reliably function the stout .17 WSM cartridge, Savage's B-Mag
is both a real departure for the company's norm and — in my opinion — the most interesting rifle to come out of Savage's
R&D department in recent years. Rifles come fitted with rail-type, cross-slot scope bases and sport Savage's very popular AccuTrigger. Harking way back to Savage's Model 99, the magazine is of rotary design and holds eight cartridges. The barrel is 22 inches long and slender; the entire rifle weighs only 4.5 pounds.