Sweet Seventeen: Three Top .17 HMR’s for Today’s Varmint Hunter
By: Thomas C. Tabor, Gun World Hunting Columnist
I bet against the success of the .17 HMR when it was first introduced. Like many others I simply couldn’t envision a significant need for another rimfire cartridge. The .22 LR seemed to be everything that shooters desired along those lines, and the ammo for the then new .17 HMR was high-priced compared to the .22 LR.
Besides, Remington tried a similar concept when they brought their rimfire .5mm Remington Magnum to market in the 1970s, and it resulted in a crushing failure for the company. So, I reasoned, how could the .17 HMR be much different?
But while there are some obvious similarities between these two cartridges, there are some noteworthy differences as well. First, Hornady did their homework beforehand, laying the groundwork for several firearms manufacturers to start chambering for the new round. Another thing favoring the .17 HMR was the fact that during the 3+ decades separating these two cartridges, the interest in varmint hunting increased substantially. So I’ll admit it. I was wrong about the .17 HMR.
Once I got over my skepticism, I joined the masses and I found that the .17 HMR was a great cartridge for small game and varmint hunting. Today, you can choose from a good selection of rifles chambered in .17 HMR, but I’ve developed my own short list of favorites for a variety of reasons.
Here are my choices of three really sweet .17s:
Savage Arms’ Model 93R17BTV
If you’re looking for a high degree of accuracy in a .17 HMR rifle, but don’t want to spend a great deal of your hard-earned cash just for varmint hunting, I’d recommend that you take a very close look the Savage Arms’ Model 93R17BTV. This is an exceptionally well-built rifle that shoots as accurately as others carrying much higher price tags. Like Savage’s other rimfire models, the 93R17BTV is built at their Canadian factory, and then shipped to the states. A few of the noteworthy characteristics of this rifle include an attractive and comfortable thumbhole laminated stock, a target/varmint-style 21-inch 1:9 twist rate button-rifled barrel that has been free-floated, gloss blued metal work, 5-shot magazine, a modest weight of 6-pounds, dual-pillar-bedded action and a Savage’s AccuTrigger. I prefer the blued look of this rifle, but if your preference leans toward stainless, the Savage Model 93BTVS would likely tweak your fancy.
I found the AccuTrigger of this rifle to be a great attribute. Inherent in its design is a small lever-like projection in front of the trigger Savage calls an AccuRelease, which must be depressed before the gun is permitted to fire. As the shooter squeezes the trigger, the AccuRelease automatically becomes disengaged, unblocking the sear and allowing the firing pin to be released. The basic idea of this design is to provide the option of setting the trigger pull to as low as about 1-1/2 pounds, but still be able to maintain a high degree of safety from accidental firings. To be totally honest, I initially feared that this would mimic a trigger that possessed creep in its movements, but I quickly discovered that wasn’t the case. The AccuRelease is so easily compressed that after a couple of shots most shooters become oblivious to its presence.
My initial testing of this rifle took place on my private rifle range firing a broad array of different ammo at 50 yards. Two types of CCI cartridges were shot that possessed heavier than normal 20-grain bullets. One was loaded with full metal jacket bullets and the other with CCI’s Game Point jacketed soft-points. From there I progressed to a variety of the more traditional 17-grain bullets, consisting of Remington brand ammo loaded with Accu-Tip-V BT bullets, Federal Premium with Speer TNT HP and Hornady shells possessing V-Max bullets. In each case, the accuracy of this rifle could only be described as superb, with 50-yards groups frequently falling in the ¼-inch to ½-inch category. Even though most rifles demonstrate a preference toward a specific type of ammunition, in this case the Savage Model 93R17 BTV seemed to be very accepting of all the ammo I put down its barrel. And when I moved from the paper targets to live ones I found the Savage provided devastating results on ground squirrels and prairie dogs and did equally well on small game like cottontails.
Unlike rimfires that possess an almost petite appearance, I’d characterize the Savage Model 93R17BTV as being similar in size and feel as a centerfire rifle. A modest weight of only 6 pounds make it comfortable for field use, and an MSRP of only $415.00 helps assure that this particular rifle is makes my list of the best three .17 HMRs.
Cooper Arms of Montana’s Jackson Squirrel Rifle
Cooper Firearms of Montana build some of the most accurate production firearms available anywhere. Cooper compliments that ability with an elegance often lacking in many other comparable rifles. One of my personal favorite Cooper designs is the 4-shot clip fed rimfire repeater Model 57M Jackson Squirrel Rifle. The particular rifle discussed here is essentially a standard rifle with one exception. Rather than possessing a standard AA grade Carlo walnut stock, I had it fitted with elegant piece of AAA select grade French. I topped it off with a scope of equally great quality, a Swarovski Optik R3-10x42mm L-Plex, and mounted it using Warne Maxima Series steel bases and Quick Detach steel rings.
Normally these rifles are set at the factory with a trigger pull weight of about 2-pounds, but I asked that mine be set at a minimum, which turned out to be about 1-1/2 pounds. I really liked the inherent features of this rifle. The roll-over style Jackson Squirrel stock was oil finished and possessed a fluted forearm. Obviously, there is little reason to worry about the near non-existent recoil of the little .17 HMR cartridge, but still Cooper installs a Pachmayr pad as standard. The reason for doing so is likely to discourage the rifle from slipping when stored in an upright manner. The stock came with the standard 2-panel, 20-lines per inch hand checkering on the grip only. These characteristics—and a weight of only 6-1/2 pounds—make this rifle near perfect as walk-about firearm.
The accuracy of the Cooper Jackson Squirrel rifle certainly didn’t disappoint. I found its tack-driving accuracy to be exceptional both on the range and in the field for hunting prairie dogs, ground squirrels and marmots. For the range shooting as well as the varmint blasting, I primarily used Federal Premium V-Shok cartridges loaded with Speer TNT 17-grain hollow point bullets, and found them to be extremely effective.
The MSRP for a Cooper Model 57M Jackson Squirrel Rifle runs $2,125.00 with the standard AA Claro walnut stock. The AAA French upgrade ran an additional $800.00.
Volquartsen Custom’s Semi-auto .17 HMR
Volquartsen Custom is one of the few manufacturers to chamber their semi-automatic rifles in .17 HMR. This company offers blowback-designed rifles fully capable of handling the increased pressures associated with the .17 HMR. Currently the company offers far too many optional firearm choices to be adequately covered here, but on a special order basis you have the ability to design a firearm specifically around your own needs, and that includes both rifles and even a few .17 HMR chambered handguns. A few of the options available include: a McMillan thumbhole composite stock, a laminated wood stock in a wide variety of colors and design choices, a barrel that is either fluted or non-fluted in a number of different patterns, metal finishes including brushed stainless, blue/black and even camouflage and a wide variety of other choices.
I had a recent opportunity to test one of these rifles on the range and in the field. In this particular case, the tested rifle came with a brown/gray laminated thumbhole stock, snake fluted barrel and a snake compensator. The barrel was a little less than 20-inches overall (including the compensator) and possessed the standard twist rate used for most .17 HMR rifles of 1:9. In reality, because the compensator is not rifled, that would make the actual rifled portion of the barrel about 17.5-inches in length. The trigger group was a TG2000, which came from the factory with a trigger pull (10-pull average) measuring 2.57-pounds and a 0.6-pound spread between those pulls. It featured a stainless steel CNC machined receiver, a round titanium firing pin and heavy-duty extractor. These rifle utilize a Ruger JMX-1 rotary style clip capable of holding nine .17 HMR cartridges.
After mounting a Leupold FireDot Duplex reticle VX-R 3-9x50mm on the rifle using the built-in scope base, I headed out to the range for my initial testing before taking it to the field for some ground squirrel shooting. In virtually every case, the rifle performed its duties flawlessly. Accuracy was exceptional no matter what type of ammo I shot, the trigger pull was good and its unique style of attractiveness is sure to get any shooter’s your heart pumping. For pricing options, contact Volquartsen Custom.
Thomas C. Tabor is Gun World’s resident hunting columnist, and routinely goes afield in pursuit of small birds, large game and good stories. His “Today’s Hunter” column appears monthly, and he is a frequent contributor of gun and equipment tests and other features.
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