Released in 2014 by Franklin Armory, the F17-L is a gas-piston, AR-15-style rifle chambered in .17 WSM Rimfire—the first in existence. In order to adapt this venerable gun to the hot rimfire, the company set up some proprietary features in order to tame and channel the small—but mighty—projectile. Although .17 WSM has been around for a while now, the caliber is still pretty exciting, and I can assure you after testing, it holds up to the hype. Plinking and target practice are areas in which the F17-L excels, but it feels like taking a Porsche out to the local go-kart track.
Franklin Armory has built a rifle that wrings every advantage out of the .17 WSM lightweight speedster, making it an undefeated contender for the ultimate varmint gun.
Having worked in law enforcement most of my adult life, I’m used to what we’d call “stripper” models—meaning that every cost-cutting option was taken in order to save money. The F17-L is a welcome antithesis to this concept. At every turn, the company used excellent components to build this rifle. Starting with the heart of the system, the upper is machined from 7075-T6 aluminum and includes great standard carryovers, such as a forward assist and dust cover. Add to this a free-floated handguard that is fluted, vented and protects/conceals part of the gas piston system. The end of the handguard also features an M-LOK section and has integral bipod and tripod adapters. The barrel is a heavy-profile bull style and runs a full 20 inches long, giving plenty of room for the mighty 20 grains to reach their ultimate speed potential. Forged from 4140 chrome-moly, the barrel ends with an 11-degree target crown and features a 1:9-inch twist.
The matching lower is also hewn from 7075-T6 aluminum and includes a flared magazine well to aid in loading and reloads.
The trigger guard is expanded a bit to allow for gloved fingers in colder weather but is a single piece with the lower. The grip, from Ergo, has a tacky texture and is shaped in a far more ergonomic style than its A2 predecessor.
“Franklin Armory has built a rifle that wrings every advantage out of the .17 WSM lightweight speedster, making it an undefeated contender for the ultimate varmint gun.”
The lower has ambidextrous quick-detach (QD) sling mounts, as well as a textured area on the front of the magwell for offhand grip. Additionally, the lower has a specialized tension screw, allowing shooters to eliminate any play between the upper and lower. Just below the mag release on the right side is a serrated index point that gives tactile feedback and reminds shooters where to index their trigger finger. Finally, the lower is equipped with a Franklin Armory “Factory Custom Tuned Trigger.”
Both of these pieces meld together with a hard-coat type III anodized finish. The color is an olive drab—which I did not think I would like at first, but it grew on me. The bore, chamber and finish are completed with a salt batch nitride finish, making it highly resistant to the elements. Overall, the fit and finish are superb.
The weapon comes equipped with modern AR functionality that reflects an attention to detail in design. There is a forward assist, shell deflector, dust cover and an expanded trigger guard. In addition, the stock is a Magpul MOE that proved to be a great aid in aiming. The 10-round magazine that comes with the rifle is slightly more curved, banana style, than traditional AR mags, but it makes sense when you recall that the weapon is slinging rimfires. And when I say, “slinging,” I mean it.
I reached out to Vortex Optics, which sent me a Diamondback Tactical 4-12×40 scope for use with Franklin Armory’s modern rimfire that shoots like a laser. The F17-L makes tiny holes from long distances, and I would soon learn not to hold the .17 WSM in the same class as its rimfire brethren.
I mounted the glass to the Picatinny rail on the rifle with a Vortex Cantilever Mount, which proved effortless. The unit mounted right up to the flat-top receiver and locked down with two bolts. I soon realized I would need the power of the Vortex to help me analyze what was happening.
The .17 WSM is a remarkable little round. Akin to the .22, it’s a rimfire cartridge that only weighs in at around 20 grains. What’s impressive is the amount of velocity the tiny round exhibits—speeds of 3,000 fps are not uncommon. This provides for a relatively flat trajectory for the first couple of hundred yards in exchange for a recoil that is marginally stronger than a .22. (Pulling the trigger, seeing the speeds on the chronometer, watching the hits, I was reminded of the old cartoon, Mighty Mouse: Huge, lantern-jawed cats were left stunned after the tiny rodent socked them in the chin… clearly more than they were expecting!)
I received ammunition for testing the F17-L from Winchester, as well as American Eagle (Federal) and Hornady. There might have been some discussion about pricing when the ammo was first released, but I found all three offerings at under $20 for a box of 50 rounds—much closer to the plinking price you’d expect from rimfire. While the cost implied a budget “sedan,” I found “Ferrari” performance.
I set up the Caldwell chronometer on race day to see how fast things were moving. I was duly impressed.
OFF TO THE RACES
The .17 WSM has been quickly developing a reputation for being a varmint-zapper, combining light weights with wicked speed to deliver amazing stopping power. There are many examples available on the Internet of people taking small to medium game with the round. The F17-L, utilizing the bull barrel, takes full advantage of this round’s potent capabilities to deliver some impressive numbers.
The American Eagle clocked in at an average of 2,945 fps, and Hornady came in close, at 2,984 fps. The Winchester screamed out of the barrel at 3,320.6 fps. Again, recoil was negligible, and even the sound of the report was not unpleasant. I began testing for accuracy, shooting five five-round groups of each brand of ammunition at 100 yards after zeroing the Vortex. My preconceived notions of rimfire began to crumble; I was impressed to see all brands of ammunition providing sub-MOA groups.
After shooting five groups at 100 yards, the numbers were impressive. The American Eagle averaged 1.466 inches, Hornady averaged 1.118 inches, and Winchester averaged 1.124 inches. However, I was able to achieve sub-MOA with each brand of ammunition: The smallest group for American Eagle was 0.81, Hornady was 0.79, and Winchester was 0.83. At the range, I experienced anywhere from 5 to 17 mph crosswinds, so this might also explain the variance.
I made some interesting general observations about the F17-L during multiple trips to the range. As mentioned before, the recoil is minimal for the velocities achieved. I could hear the spring in the stock eating up what little there was, and it vibrated a bit and made a noise. But otherwise, it did an excellent job. The Magpul stock is excellent. And, there was plenty of real estate on top to let me find my perfect eye relief for the Vortex scope.
Overall, the rifle was sturdy and had some heft that leaned toward the barrel end. The entire package was terribly familiar… because it is an AR-15. The ergonomics of the rifle are excellent, thanks to the Magpul stock and the Ergo grip—both of which are outstanding. The grip, in particular, was very nice. After settling in to shoot, I found follow-up shots were easy, with little to no adjustment at all.
The magazine is a little odd but is a feat of engineering to accommodate the rim on the casing. It’s more banana shaped than a standard AR magazine and holds 10 rounds. Loading is slightly different than I was used to, but it got better with practice. Getting the magazine in took a little more rocking motion (as on an AK-47), but the flared magwell assisted with this.
“If varmints had a union or could organize, they would definitely be protesting this rifle.”
The magazine, itself, is billet, with metal feed lips. The Vortex scope was truly impressive. It was bright and clear and allowed me to view the tiny holes the .17 WSM made at 100 yards. I was really surprised by this. I had brought a spotting scope but did not need it. The Diamondback Tactical was a breeze to dial in after being bore-sighted, because the dials are solid, with stiff and knobby outer turrets. They were tactile, allowing for a firm grip, but didn’t come off zero after getting bumped around from my many trips to the range.
One minor annoyance was that after mounting the scope, the rifle barely fit into the case provided by Franklin Armory. The trigger is good; it provides enough resistance to hold your finger in place. Then, it breaks. Trigger pull averaged 4 pounds, 5 ounces, with a crisp reset. I used this combination to set my numbers at 100 yards but was intrigued to see how far I could go. I eventually reached out to 200 with success and really began to wonder at the potential of the .17 WSM. So, I stretched it out to 400 yards and hit an 18-inch steel plate with fair consistency.
Grey Ghost Gear is a tactical gear company that went in a different direction with the Gypsy. Following a wise trend of “gray man” products hitting the market, the 1,368-cubic-inch backpack is made of waxed canvas and has a flap-top design to help it resist the elements. The bag is tough and lightweight, yet it loads and carries well.
During testing, I hauled items from mundane to dangerous in the mountains and coffee shops around my home with none the wiser. This is an amazing bag for those wanting to avoid arousing the suspicions of hoplophobics (an expression coined by Colonel Jeff Cooper to describe an irrational aversion to weapons, fear of firearms or the fear of armed citizens) without sacrificing features and capability.
The Franklin Armory F17-L is an excellent example of what a motivated company can do with Eugene Stoner’s original design. In this specific application, the .17 WSM is harnessed and routed through a long, heavy barrel that rockets small—but deadly—projectiles at around 3,000 fps. Quality components fit the bill at every turn, making the F17-L a pleasure to shoot. Excellent ergonomics, marginal weight, no recoil and deadly accuracy are the hallmarks of this effort. The Vortex Diamondback Tactical was a perfect complement to the weapon, allowing me to zero in and deliver the tiny bundles of velocity that are the .17 WSM—at ranges out to 400 yards.
If varmints had a union or could organize, they would definitely be protesting this rifle. I could easily imagine someone fielding this gun, only to see a dozen white flags emerge from tiny holes in the ground.
American Eagle Tipped Varmint 20 grain
|Winchester VarmintX 15 grain||
|Hornady V-Max 20 grain||
NOTES: Accuracy was tested using five five-shot groups at 100 yards. Velocity was measured using a Caldwell G2 located 5 feet from the muzzle.
CALIBER: .17 Winchester Super Magnum Rimfire
ACTION TYPE: semiauto; magazine fed
GAS SYSTEM: F17 piston
BARREL: 20-inch full contour; 1:9-inch RH twist
MAGAZINE: 20-round; 10-round (tested) for restricted states
TRIGGER: Franklin Armory Custom (average 4.5 pounds)
SIGHTS: None (flat-top optics rail)
STOCK: Magpul MOE
WEIGHT: 9 pounds, 10 ounces
OVERALL LENGTH: 38.25 inches
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the June 2018 print issue of Gun World Magazine.