April 2003

Anschtz, Ruger, Marlin & Savage: .17 HMRs Meet Head-to-Head

All of the guns shot well, but it was no surprise that the higher-priced Anschtz came out on top in our evaluation.

We had lots of volunteers to help in our field testing of the four .17 HMRs. Here Lee Hoots shows off a big ground squirrel taken with the Ruger 77/17.

When the .17 Hornady Magnum Rimfire cartridge was announced early last year, few people in the industry anticipated that it would be as big a smash hit as it came to be. Ammunition has been difficult to find on dealers’ shelves at times, and many .17 rimfire shooters took to buying supplies whenever they found it in stock.

The first guns chambered for the round— Rugers and Marlins — started showing up on dealers shelves in late spring or early summer last year, and by the end of the year, virtually every major maker of rimfire rifles was making guns for the new cartridge. Everything seems to be selling well, and supply has not really caught up with demand, yet.

We did our first preliminary testing of the new round with a Ruger 77/17 in February 2002, and have been shooting the cartridge more-or-less consistently ever since in a variety of rifles. We’ve burned up more than 1,500 rounds of .17 HMR ammo, most of it in the field on varmints. We can unequivocally say it was the most accurate and has the best ballistics of any hunting rimfire round on the market today. We have shot or seen shot a variety of game with the new round, from ground squirrels to coyotes to one wild boar. The tiny 17-grain Hornady V-Max bullet at 2,550 fps, while not as devastating on small varmints as some of the 30- to 34-grain loads in the .22 Winchester Magnum, was extremely accurate and does a splendid job on small game out to an honest 200-plus yards.

For this .17 test, we selected four guns from the spectrum of rifles available, from the under-$200 Savage to the $700 Anschutz. All four were shot extensively at the range, and even more extensively in the field so we could assess their strong points and weak points. Here’s what we found.

Anschutz 1517, $699

The Anschutz was clearly the most stylish of the four guns we tested. It had an attractive walnut stock with nice grain and color that was hand-checkered at the pistol grip and fore end. Sling swivel studs were standard. Our test model was the American version of the rifle, and it had a straight stock with a 14-inch length of pull and a medium-heavy 22-inch barrel that made it hold and handle well in the field. The heavier-than-normal barrel was clean, and the receiver was grooved and tapped for standard tip-off rimfire scope mounts. We have tested and shot a number of Anschutz rifles over the years, and this was the first that didn’t come with factory-installed iron sights. This was a good move, since these guns were almost always scoped.

The trigger pull was a crisp 2.5-pounds, very consistent but with a barely-perceptible amount of slippage at about 1.5 pounds. Nice triggers were like a good kiss, they all do the job, but a good one was memorable and satisfying. Overall, this was by far the best trigger of the four guns. Also, the trigger was completely adjustable, but we confess that we never tinkered with it during our months of testing.

The safety was located on the right side of the receiver just behind the bolt, and it was easy to operate with the thumb on the shooting hand (for right-handed shooters). The safety was off in the forward position, and a red dot was clearly visible in the safety slot, indicating the gun was ready to fire. When the safety was moved rearward, the dot was concealed, indicating the safety was in the on position.

Because this gun was so slim and trim, the proportional removable magazine only held four .17 HMR rounds. You can load one round into the chamber and then drop the magazine and fill it so the total capacity was five rounds. The magazine was easy to load, it popped out when the shooter pressed the rounded latch, and was by the far the easiest magazine to reinsert into the gun. We never had a jam. The first thing any Anschutz owner will want to do would be to buy at least one and preferably two additional magazines for those fast-shooting periods when the ground squirrels were everywhere. On one hand, we would like a larger capacity magazine; on the other hand, we understand that it would either make the gun ugly with a big protruding magazine or fatter like the other three guns we tested. In our assessment, vanity and operation won out over firepower and we gave the Anschutz the top magazine honors.

Click here to view "Accuracy and Chronograph Data."

We performed the range testing over several sessions under a variety of weather conditions, but this rifle consistently would group under one inch at 100 yards even in breezy conditions. We have shot more than 20 five-shot groups at 100 yards with this rifle and the average was 0.9 inch, the best of all the guns, and we may have actually shot this gun in worse conditions than the others. In the field, this gun’s accuracy made hitting ground squirrels at 175 yards routine, and we were able to whack a few at around 225 yards. It also was the gun used to finish off a wounded wild hog with a single head shot. How could you not love a gun like this?

Marlin 17VS, $310

The Marlin 17, because of its price and availability, was initially the biggest seller in the .17 HMR market. The 17VS features a laminated gray and black hardwood monte carlo stock with a 13.5-inch length of pull, swivel studs, but no checkering. It also has a rubber butt pad. The action and the medium-heavy 22-inch barrel were stainless steel. The receiver was grooved for standard rimfire tip-off mounts, and Marlin includes a functional set with the gun. There were no open sights.

The Marlin trigger was probably the worst of the four guns we shot, but even it wasn’t horrible. It initially broke inconsistently, ranging from 4.5 to 5.25 pounds, but it become more consistent with usage and settled in at 4.75 pounds. Throughout our testing there was some slippage and creep early in the pull, but it broke fairly crisply.

Like the Anschutz and Savage, the safety was located just behind the bolt on the right side of the action in a fairly convenient spot to operate with the thumb on the shooting hand, for a right-handed shooter. The words Safe and Fire were rolled into the side of the receiver at the safety, and the shooter can see a red cocking indicator at the top rear of the bolt on the striker knob. We found all this confusing because the shooter can read the two words regardless of the position of the safety, and the cocking indicator shows red when the gun was on or off safe (which was with the safety pushed forward). Once you were familiar with the gun, you don’t look at any of the writing or indicators, but it should be clearer for beginners and first-time handlers of the gun.

The magazine was a detachable seven-shot clip that protruded significantly below the rifle stock — the most of any of the four guns we tested — but once you were accustomed to the magazine, you stop banging it against sandbags, hoods, stumps, and body parts. Some of us were slower in that learning curve than others, and the magazine and release, both with straight (if not sharp) edges, were cursed frequently in the field. But the magazine was quick to release and fairly easy to replace when in a ground squirrel-shooting frenzy, and we liked the seven-shot capacity. We also never had a jam.

Our range testing of this particular model involved just 10 five-shot groups at 100 yards, but the gun produced our smallest individual group at just a snick over 0.5-inch, which was pretty impressive. The overall average was 1.14 inches.

For about $100 less, you can get the Marlin 17V, which has a standard hardwood stock and a blued finish rather than the stainless and laminated stock. We’ve shot two of the standard blued versions, and they were the equivalent, accuracy and handling-wise, of the stainless laminated gun for less money.

Ruger 77/17, $460

The Ruger we tested had a very nice straight walnut stock with some figure in the butt just ahead of the rubber pad. It was checkered at the fore end and pistol grip and came with swivel studs for sling mounting. Because of the wide, fat magazine, the stock on this gun was flat for about 10 inches ahead of the trigger guard, which makes for stable shooting off sandbags. The 22-inch barrel was blued and the lightest of the four .17s tested. The gun comes with very nice factory scope mounts that clamp right into the receiver, and there were no open sights.

We whine about the fact that the bolt will kiss most scopes mounted in anything but Ruger’s high mounts (a special order item for this gun). Some scopes, which otherwise work fine on the gun in the supplied mounts, will make the gun inoperable. Ruger knows about this problem and supplies high mounts with the Model 77/22 Hornet. The solution to the problem would be to do a slight redesign on the bolt to end the problem in the whole line. But that’s a small problem on an otherwise nicely designed gun.

We liked the three-position Model 70-like wing safety with its positive, visible lock-up into the bolt, blocking the striker from moving forward. The middle position, our usual carry position, has the gun still on safe, but it was quick and easy to kick forward to the fire position with the thumb of the right shooting hand while hunting. We liked this safety the best on the four guns.

The trigger on the Ruger was the best factory version we’ve used on a Model 77 rimfire. It broke crisply and consistently at 4.5 pounds. While there was a fair amount of travel after the hammer was released, it was pleasant and we never felt it was a factor in a poor shot or group.

The rotary nine-shot magazine was also one of our favorite features on this rifle. For hunters and shooters not familiar with the Ruger magazine, it was more difficult to remove and load than the other guns’ magazines because both the release and magazine ride flush with the bottom of the stock. But that also makes for a trim, appealing gun. For varmint hunters, the nine-shot capacity was a big plus. While we never had a jam with this gun, we were experienced rotary magazine users. We should note that it was possible to get the rim of one case behind the rim of the case below it in the magazine, which locks the works up when it comes time to chamber that round. This can be fixed by popping the jammed cases down into the magazine, allowing the rim of the top case to jump free. Cursing seemed to help, too.

Our range testing with this gun involved three sessions. In our first, we shot three, five-shot groups at 100 yards that measured 0.68, 0.94, and 0.86 inches, and decided we had a gem and went hunting. After another dozen groups the average had blossomed to 1.33 inches, but many of those groups were shot in breezy conditions. Two groups that ended up over 1.5 inches had three shots in 0.3-inch-groups or less. The gun can shoot, and it probably killed more ground squirrels than all the other guns because we had it first and held on to it until the testing of the last gun was completed.

We won’t lie: We liked it in the field because we didn’t have to load it as often.

Savage 93R17, $180

The Savage was the lowest-priced model we tested. It came with a no-frills Monte Carlo hardwood stock with pressed checkering at the grip and fore end and without sling studs. This model has a 21-inch heavy blued barrel and blued action. Standard Weaver-style bases were factory-affixed to the action, a feature we liked, and there were no open sights.

The safety was also located just behind the bolt on the right side of the action. Simple and positive, it exposed a big red spot when in the foreword Fire position. An almost invisible “S” was exposed when in the rearward position. It was probably the easiest of the four safeties to operate because it had the shortest movement between the safe and fire positions.

The Savage trigger was a surprise, breaking consistently at 4 pounds with only a modest mushy section in the middle part of the pull. It had very little slippage or creep. There was a substantial amount of travel after the trigger broke, but it was manageable.

The five-shot magazine barely protrudes beneath the stock, but the release sticks down at a 45-degree angle, and we drew our own blood on that piece of metal twice while hunting varmints. But when depressed, the magazine popped free, practically shooting into the shooter’s hand. The magazine was fairly stiff when reinserted and had to be set on the rail that aligns it into the action precisely. Once on the rail and started into the action, it was best to seat it firmly with the palm of the hand. We did have a couple of jams when the bullet tip caught on the top edge of the chamber, but this was caused by not sliding the ammunition fully to the back in the clip.

While the Savage was the worst shooter of the group off the bench, it didn’t lag by much, averaging 1.34 inches for 10 five-shot groups at 100 yards. It was the most perplexing, however, because it consistently would put three shots nearly in one hole, and then send two fliers out of the group. In the field, we liked the balance the heavy barrel provided for offhand shooting, and we tumbled a couple of ground squirrels at nearly 100 yards standing on our hind legs. The flyer problem also gave us an excuse when we missed (it couldn’t have been a wobble on our part).

Savage could be the first company to offer a .17 HMR in a left-handed version. The company makes left-handed Model 93 actions, which have the bolt and safety on the left side, and we think they could own the lefty market with this gun if they came out with this model for the southpaws quickly and promoted it.

Overall, we thought the Savage was a great buy for the money, and if we could figure out the flyers, we thought it had the potential to be the most accurate gun of the lot.

Gun Tests Recommends
Anschutz 1517 .17 HMR, $699. Our Pick. We felt the Anschutz was simply the most accurate and best-handling gun overall in the field. This gun has all of the details — an excellent trigger, a clip that pops out when released and can be reinserted with eyes closed, accuracy, a wonderful look, and the best fit and finish of any of the guns we tested — that make it the complete package. All of the other guns had features we liked, perhaps even more than the Anschutz in some situations, but none of them had this gun’s attention to detail, in our view.

Marlin 17VS .17 HMR, $310. Buy It. If we wanted an all-weather .17 HMR that could take all the abuse even a teenager could dish out, we’d take this gun over any of the others. The stainless finish and laminated stock would withstand weather and rattling around in vehicles, and its price wouldn’t make you cringe. It’s also nearly as accurate as the Anschutz and had a clip that held nearly as many rounds as the more expensive Ruger.

Ruger 77/17, $460. Buy It. For serious varmint hunters, the Ruger may be the best choice. It has the highest-capacity magazine, works the best off sandbags, and when it comes time to start tinkering with the gun, there were more aftermarket products for the 77 line than any of the other three guns we tested. We can’t wait to get our hands on a heavy-barrel version.

Savage 93R17 .17 HMR, $180. Best Buy. The Savage was by far the best buy of the four guns we tested. It was as accurate as the Ruger at less than half the price, and the heavy barrel made it pleasant to shoot in the field, especially offhand. Like the Marlin, it can handle abuse. If you are on a budget but can’t live without a new .17 HMR, this is the gun you should pick.


Also With This Article

Click here to view "How the .17 HMR Was Born."