New England Firearms Sportster SS1-217 .17 Mach 2
As of November 2000 the company names and assets attached to New England Firearms and Harrington & Richardson became the property of Marlin Firearms. This makes Marlin Firearms, marketing its products under the brand names of Harrington & Richardson and New England Firearms, H&R 1871 LLC, the largest manufacturer of single-shot shotgun and rifles in the world.
Our NEF rifle was about as simple to operate as any rifle can be, but it did have some up-to-date features. The black synthetic stock was backed by a thick ventilated rubber pad. The comb met the shooters cheek with a Monte Carlostyle contour. A pebble finish covered its entire surface. We found the grip end of the stock mated flush to the right-hand side of the flat-black colored receiver, but the left-hand side was slightly offset.
The manufacturer said that this was not a palm swell or similar feature but actually a manufacturing defect. If we were dissatisfied, they were willing to apply a new stock. But since it didnt really look out of place or affect function, we were willing to let it pass. The forend showed a black pebble finish to match the stock and offered an indentation for grip immediately below the flush-fitting heavy varmint barrel. Fixed studs for attaching a sling were mounted front and rear. The outer diameter of the barrel was almost five times its bore, and its outer surface showed a gleaming brushed pattern of vertical lines. A 5-inch-long scope mount was seated atop the barrel with its edge nearly flush with the chamber end of the barrel.
The hr1871.com website lists several different series of rifles and at least six different lines that operate from the same basic system. The Sportster series consists of five different models each chambered for rimfire calibers only. Extra barrels that change the caliber are available from the factory. There were only three operational features on the NEF Sportser. They were the trigger, which broke cleanly at 4 pounds every time, the hammer, and the barrel release.
Pushing in the barrel release automatically ejected the shell. As advised in the owners manual, we found it best to dismount the cheek from the stock prior to ejection to avoid getting smacked by the empty case as it rocketed out of the chamber. A transfer-bar system was in place to help prevent accidental ignition. The transfer bar fills the gap between the face of the hammer and the firing pin. Unless the trigger was pressed, the transfer bar remained in the down position. The resulting gap prevented the firing pin from being struck.
Of the four Sportster models, only the .22-caliber rifles are shipped with sights. But both the .17 HMR and .17 Mach 2 rifles ship with a Weaver mount in place. The scope mount was tall, but the supplied extension had to be mounted on to the tang of the hammer. This part was waiting for us in a plastic bag glued securely to a fold inside the corrugated shipping box. The extension slipped over the tang and made it possible to pull back the hammer from the side. The extension can be mounted to provide access from either the left- or right-hand side. Even with the barrel release offset to the right, we would judge this rifle to be equal in favor of right- or left-handed shooters.
The extension was tubular with a checkered outer surface. Inside the extension was an Allen set screw that was remarkably hard to turn. But we didnt strip the screw or the wrench, and the tight fit made the application of Loc-Tite unnecessary.
We found that the $21 Burris Zee rings that worked so well on our other two rifles were too tight for the Weaver mount atop the NEF Sportster. We resorted to using a set of Traditions-brand rings we found in a hardware store selling for about $8. These aluminum rings worked perfectly well and we were able to mount our Konus Pro scope just above the hammer. Having pieced together a truly budget rifle, we headed for the range.
Mounting the NEF Sportster for our bench session was easy because without a magazine protruding from the bottom of the receiver, we could support as much of the rifle as we wanted on to our sandbags. This freed up our position and helped us avoid such pitfalls such as pressing the front of the magazine against the sandbag. This also trimmed its profile for more comfortable carry when slung over-the-shoulder. We also enjoyed carrying the Sportster cracked open with one hand cupped beneath the action. This point of balance made the gun feel lighter than its 7+ pounds.
From the 50-yard line, the NEF Sportster was the top performer. The barrel never seemed to heat up, and performance was consistent. We only printed one five-shot group that measured as much as a full inch across. Groups measuring less than a half inch were printed with both the Hornady and Remington ammunition. From the 100-yard bench, our groups averaged 1.8 inches across firing the Hornady ammunition, mainly due to one 2.2-inch cluster. Our tightest five-shot group at this distance measured 1.3 inches across. We never thought a single-shot rifle could be so enjoyable.