January 2008

.17 Mach 2s: New England Firearm’s Sportster Is An Affordable Blast to Shoot

For only $169, the small-caliber NEF delivered big-gun fun and features. We also liked Marlin’s $232 917M2, but in our analysis, the Savage Arms $228 Mark II F doesn’t match up.

If the last time you tuned in to the world of rimfire ammunition the .17 Hornady Magnum Rimfire (HMR) was all the rage, then you probably missed the arrival of Hornady’s .17 Mach 2 cartridge. The year was 2004, and the difference between the two rounds is this. Just as the .17 HMR can be described as being descended from the .22 Magnum, the .17M2 is related to the .22 Long Rifle—the .17M2 is based on the .22 LR case, slightly lengthened and necked down to .17 caliber. Photographed close up, the .17M2 looks remarkably like a full-size centerfire round, but it’s nearly small enough to be hidden beneath a quarter. The .17M2 round does not develop the velocity of .17 HMR ammunition (by about 350 fps on average), but it still offers a very flat trajectory and the advantage of the modern .17 caliber bullet is touted as being more accurate than traditional rimfire slugs.

To experience shooting .17 Mach 2 rounds from behind the trigger, we acquired three rifles. They were the $169 New England Firearms Sportster SS1-217, Marlin’s $232 917M2, and the $228 Savage Arms Mark II F. The Marlin and Savage Arms rifles were magazine-fed bolt actions, and the NEF worked from a single-shot break-top design.

Each rifle arrived ready for the mounting of a scope, and we tried several in our initial range session. Considering the low cost of our test rifles, we preferred not to choose a scope that cost more than our most expensive model. We lucked out with the $100 Konus Pro 1.5-5X32mm No. 7249 (konusscopes.com). The Konus Pro offered an etched glass-reticle that gave us plenty of light, and it featured fine crosshairs centered inside of a diamond pattern. We liked this because we didn’t want the crosshairs to obscure any more target mass than necessary. In the field we thought the diamond helped us get on target more quickly, and variable power offered added flexibility to our field of view.

We tested with the only three .17M2 rounds we could find. They were Remington’s AccuTip V Boat tail, CCI’s V-Max and Hornady’s V-Max. All three were sold in 50-round boxes and were topped with 17-grain bullets. Prices ranged from $7 for the CCI to $11 for the Hornady in our local store.

Our targets were 6-inch Target Spots by Birchwood Casey. These orange adhesive circles featured a diamond-shaped bull that matched well with the diamond reticle of the Konus Pro scope. Shooting at American Shooting Centers in Houston (amshootcenters.com), we began our benchrest session by recording five-shot groups from a distance of 50 yards with each test round. Next, we tried printing groups from 100 yards with whichever round proved the best in each individual rifle. Each gun was tested under conditions that varied from calm winds and bright sunlight to 25-mph winds that periodically moved clouds in front of the sun. For support, we used a heavy Caldwell Tack Driver bag up front and a bean bag underneath the stock. Here is what we learned.

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