October 2004

Trio of Trick .17s: Clark, Briley, Volquartsen Go Head to Head

Clark’s 10/17 and Volquartsen’s Deluxe were tack-drivers, but Briley’s Sporter had problems.

Ray Ordorica liked the lines, balance, trigger, and accuracy of the Volquartsen .17 HMR. He was most impressed by the unique action, designed and built for the .17 HMR and used on this competitively priced “performance” rifle. This rifle was Our Pick.

The recent introduction of the .17 Hornady Magnum Rimfire cartridge has resulted in a massive batch of new firearms of just about every type. One of the more useful — or at least more popular — .17-caliber firearms seems to be any of the various conversions based on Ruger’s 10/22 Magnum autoloading rifle. There has apparently been so much interest in the numerous conversions of the semiauto Ruger that Ruger itself has recently introduced its own version of the 10/22 with an .17 HMR barrel. That the new Ruger .17 costs nearly twice as much as the same gun in .22 LR ($510 vs. $275) indicates there’s lots of engineering necessary to produce a satisfactory autoloader in .17 HMR.

We acquired three rifles converted by Volquartsen, Briley, and Clark, the latter two based on Ruger’s steel 10/22 Magnum receiver. We don’t know at this writing what, if any, changes Ruger made to make that company happy about using its own steel 10/22 Magnum receiver for the .17. We do know that Volquartsen felt the Ruger action’s limitations were such that Volquartsen chose to design and produce an entirely new receiver, CNC-milled out of stainless steel, for the conversion. We hope to examine the new Ruger semiauto .17 in the future to see if we can discover what, if any, changes Ruger made to that action. All three of our test rifles had special barrels and good triggers, plus laminated stocks that look to most eyes far better than the “hardwood” stocks put onto Ruger’s rifles. And there were other specifics, as we’ll detail in our following report.

Volquartsen .17 HMR Deluxe Model, $1078

Touted as being one of the first semi-auto .17 HMR rifles on the market, Volquartsen’s Deluxe rifle featured a CNC-machined, stainless-steel receiver with an integral Weaver-style scope mount. The rifle was strikingly attractive, and — with its 20-inch, ported, fluted, stainless bull barrel — was the heaviest of the test rifles. The rifle also had an attractive angular-machined trigger guard of aluminum alloy. The compensated “match-grade” barrel was threaded to the receiver.

The barrel compensator consisted of 32 holes drilled in eight groups of four-in-a-row, evenly spaced around the periphery of the barrel itself. The barrel was relieved inside for 1.5 inches, making its true length 18.5 inches. The Volquartsen seemed to recoil a bit less than the other two rifles, as noticed from our machine-rest position, but didn’t seem to be significantly louder, to our surprise. Volquartsen may have missed the boat in one respect. If the company had omitted the very bottom group of four holes, or perhaps three rows of four, the compensator would also have helped hold muzzle flip down. We’ve seen this applied to a custom .308 M14, and it does work.

The Deluxe Model’s trigger was the TG2000, standard on all Volquartsen’s 17 HMR rifles. Several versions of .17 HMR rifles are available from Volquartsen, the others being generally lighter and simpler than our test rifle. Volquartsen also makes its own bolt for the rifle, which featured a hardened extractor and titanium firing pin. The hammer and bolt-recoil springs were cryogenic stress relieved, which is supposed to give longer life and better retained spring force over time.

The laminated-wood stock was brown colored, and its finish was superb. Gray finish is a no-cost option, as is a Hogue stock if preferred. We would have liked a bit more room for our right hand, or a bit less-dramatic curve, as the pistol grip curved too quickly for us. But it did permit good control of the rifle and let us pull it in as tightly as we wanted. There was no checkering. The forend was large and comfortable. The barrel was floated to the receiver, but there was a point of contact at the front where the forend exerted significant upward pressure on the barrel. The stock inletting was entirely adequate, we thought, while not being at all perfect. Stock finish was just wonderful. The finish was dull yet showed the wood grain, the pores were all filled, and the finish was also hard enough to resist major dings with ease. The stock was well fitted with a firm Boyd’s black rubber butt pad that helped hold the gun in place. Recoil with all these .17s was insignificant.

A single Allen screw secured the stock to the rifle. The action had a large protrusion to permit faster removal of the magazine. The Volquartsen accepted standard nine-shot Ruger magazines, as did all the rifles. As with Ruger’s original action design, the bolt didn’t stay open after the last shot, but could be held open by pressing inward on a blade in front of the trigger guard. We measured trigger pull clean at just under 3 pounds.

The action finish and all metal work was exceptionally well done, we thought. The action was tastefully laser-marked with the maker’s logo, name and city, and the barrel similarly marked with the Volquartsen logo and caliber. The big rail on top of the receiver made mounting a scope easy. We chose our 12X Leupold for this rifle, secured in Weaver rings. One shot at 25 yards told us we were on the paper, and we

proceeded with our shooting tests

at 100 yards. We used ammunition by Remington, Hornady and CCI. All of it worked perfectly in the Volquartsen, and we had no problems whatsoever with the rifle. Our best test results were with CCI and Remington, which both gave overall averages of 0.7 inches for three-shot groups at 100 yards. Worst was Hornady, at a very acceptable 0.9-inch average. That ought to suffice for whatever you want to do with one of these .17 HMR rifles.

Briley .17 HMR Sporter, $1,100

This rifle, like the Clark, was built around Ruger’s .22 Magnum receiver. Briley’s options include use of the original Ruger stock, which would make the price of the rifle only $850. You can add a fluted barrel to either setup for $100 more. Our test rifle had an attractive, multi-colored, laminated stock without cheekpiece, but with a raised portion to help get the eye up to scope level. It worked for lefties as well. The wood laminations were colored green and brown and gray, and looked very good, we thought. Stock finish was, like that of the Volquartsen, excellent. The overall stock-finish effect was duller than the Volquartsen’s, and we could see the wood grain even better. We thought the stock coloring would help it blend in with many woods environments, and would be thoroughly suitable for hunting. It was, to our eyes, the best-looking stock color of all, but not necessarily the best shape.

The action retained Ruger’s normal blue finish with dull receiver top, and all Ruger’s markings on the left side of the action, just as Clark’s version did. The barrel was gray colored, presumably stainless, tapered, and 24.2 inches long, the longest of the test rifles’ tubes. The barrel breech area had Briley’s name, logo, and the caliber designation, plus the word “Hunter.” Per the company website all .17s are called “Sporters.” There are Briley “Hunters,” but those are all are .22-caliber. Therefore we believe this one must have been a “Sporter” despite the name on the barrel. If in fact it was a Hunter, Briley needs to change its website page.

The trigger itself was bright red, and the entire trigger guard was also not Ruger’s normal fare. The trigger group was by a custom trigger maker. In front of the trigger guard was a chrome-plated vertical post attached to the normal Ruger-style magazine-removal button. The post made it faster and easier to detach the magazine. One thing was totally different about this rifle from the other two. It was possible to put the Briley’s cross-bolt safety on with the action uncocked. If this were done, it was impossible to fully withdraw the bolt. We’ll get to that little problem a bit later.

The stock had a thin Pachmayr Decelerator mounted expertly on its rear end. While a recoil pad of that quality was hardly necessary with this cartridge and rifle weight, the Decelerator looked great with its rounded edges and leather-like surface finish. The forend of the stock had grooves near its upper edge that gave some comfort to the supporting hand. There was no checkering. The pistol grip area was more to our liking and comfort than Volquartsen’s had been, though it was on the too-large side, we thought. We might have preferred checkering, but the stock allowed solid holding of the rifle. Some of us could have done with a touch less height to the raised portion of the buttstock. That will of course depend on the height of scope eventually mounted by the individual owner. Stock inletting was excellent, notably better than on the Volquartsen. The Briley’s long barrel was just barely floated, with a thin gap, yet had upward pressure on the barrel from the front of the forend, similar to the Volquartsen setup. We liked this barrel setup a lot.

We measured the trigger pull at 1.25 pounds. Yet the trigger was long and vague, with significant overtravel. The other two rifles had distinct and adjustable trigger stops, and this Briley needed one, in our estimation. The rifle included Ruger rings, which we used to mount our Leupold 36X test scope, and then took the Briley to the range. That’s when our problems began.

We took the rifle to 25 yards for a shot or two to center the scope. But the rifle didn’t fire when the hammer fell. Accordingly, we put the safety on and tried to clear the chamber. We could not do so. The bolt would come back only an inch and stop. We eventually figured out the safety had to be OFF on all three rifles to clear the chamber in the event of a misfire. We didn’t like this at all, and that applies to all three rifles. By keeping pressure on the safety bolt with one hand, the other two hands (!) can hold the rifle and pull the bolt back to clear the chamber. As the bolt goes back, continued pressure on the safety moves it over to the Safe position as soon as the hammer is cocked. Unfortunately, the Briley suffered several failures to fire throughout our test session, despite our repeated tries to fix it. We cleaned the chamber and bore repeatedly and looked at the trigger mechanism, but all looked to be in proper condition.

We tried all three types of ammunition in the Briley, and got perhaps 70 or 80 percent successful firing. The rounds that failed to fire were all marked with a light blow by the firing pin. We pulled the rifle apart to see if we could determine the problem, and discovered the aftermarket trigger assembly. All cases seemed to go into the chamber fully and easily. The problem seemed to be that the hammer spring was apparently too weak to reliably strike a decisive blow on the ammunition. All three types of ammunition were affected and had failures to fire. All ammunition worked perfectly with the other two rifles. We note that all three rifles occasionally exhibited what appeared to be bulged case heads, back toward the direction of bolt travel. No cases let go, but the first time we noticed this it was alarming, yet appeared to be relatively harmless.

We were able to evaluate the Briley despite its irritating problem of not going bang, though we felt the poor hammer blow may have hurt its accuracy. All fired cases were ejected properly, with one exception. We had one failure to eject with Remington ammunition, the fired case remaining in the raceway. The best the Briley did was (again) with CCI ammunition, giving average groups of 1.1 inches. Average of all groups was 1.2 inches. We thought the fix for this problem would be fairly easy, so didn’t reject the rifle outright. We didn’t care for the vague trigger, shooting from our machine rest. It may have been okay from offhand, but we’d prefer a crisp letoff over this one any day.

Clark 10/17, Model RDSS-1022-17, $960

This rifle was something of a sleeper. Superficially, it resembled the Briley, but with a shorter barrel and gray-colored laminated stock that had a cheekpiece. Unfortunately, the cheekpiece was of the roll-over type, which the Volquartsen also had, making them less than ideal for left-handers. The Briley alone was ambidextrous. Short of opting for a left-handed stock, the elimination of the roll-over portion of these two stocks would make the rifles easier to use by lefties. When we further assessed some of the Clark’s details, we were impressed. The inletting was okay, about midway between Briley and Volquartsen. The forend held a clue, though, to some serious accuracy thinking by Clark. The 21.3-inch gray-colored stainless barrel was tightly bedded for about 2 inches in front of the blued Ruger receiver. Then it was floated until near the front of the forend, where it had — once again — significant upward pressure, and also full support on the sides of the barrel.

The Clark’s butt had a black rubber pad marked “Eliminator.” It gave good traction and was expertly mounted. Stock finish was once again excellent. Again there was no checkering, but this time the pistol-grip shape was perfect for us. It had just enough curve to give excellent control while allowing us to pull the stock in firmly without danger of the hand slipping. The wrist was small enough to give a feeling of confidence, and the overall balance of the rifle (without scope) permitted easy holding for offhand work. The forend was wide, but the least comfortable of the trio of test rifles. We would have liked it to be more rounded, like that of the Volquartsen. The sharp top edges bothered some shooters who like to wrap the left-hand fingers around the forend.

The trigger pull was clean and extremely consistent, breaking at 2.7 pounds. We put our Leupold 36X onto the Clark and repaired to the range. There we found no problems, and the finest accuracy of all three rifles. We also fired the smallest group of this test, 0.4 inches for three shots at 100 yards. That was with Hornady’s fodder, which also averaged the smallest overall groups at 0.6 inch. This time the CCI was the worst, giving 0.8-inch groups. This was one shootin’ machine, and the more we shot it, the more we liked it.

How did Clark achieve this? We suspect the unusual bedding helped. We went looking for clues, and found more details online. Per Clark’s website, Clark .22 LR, .22 Magnum, and 17 HMR barrels are machined from Lothar Walther premium-grade blanks. Clark uses its proprietary chambering reamer, and also puts a recessed match crown on the barrels. Barrels are available with 0.920-inch round (bull), fluted or mid-weight configurations and come in blued or stainless steel. While the standard barrel length is 21.5 inches, Clark will cut barrels to any length specified by customer down to 16.25 inches.

There was no quick-change lever on the magazine release, but one could be added for $15. Clever home workmen could add one easily themselves. Clark has many options available, including the use of the original Ruger stock if desired, for a saving of $95. However, a laminated stock by itself costs more than that, so adding it to the package seems like the smart way to go. We suggest the prospective buyer become aware of Clark’s available options before placing an order for a rifle.

Gun Tests Recommends
• Volquartsen .17 HMR Deluxe Model, $1078. Our Pick. We were much taken by the good looks and fine balance of the Volquartsen. We thought it was the most attractive overall, and clearly the most serious-looking rifle of the bunch. Its big barrel gave it a slightly muzzle-heavy feel, but it was steady in the hand. Its forend was, we thought, the most comfortable of the test trio. We very much appreciated the unique action, which we thought was attractive, well made, and unquestionably strong enough for the cartridge. We congratulate Volquartsen for being able to offer a truly custom rifle from stem to stern at a price competitive with the other makers tested here. Accuracy was way more than adequate, we thought, though some tweaking might give better accuracy. This could include altering the forend pressure, and changing ammo types until you get the tiniest groups. We liked this rifle a whole lot, and think you will too. Its combination of decent accuracy, impressive looks and good trigger made it our first choice, despite its slightly greater cost than the Clark. One caveat: Volquartsen’s manual and a card included with the rifle mentioned using any sort of bristle brush or cleaning rod inserted from the muzzle can damage the bore. The warnings also mentioned that use of either of these devices would void the warranty. The Volquartsen rifle came with a really neat pull-through cleaning device that we believe all .17 makers should include with the rifle. It was Hoppe’s “Bore Snake,” and consisted of a cleverly integrat­ed brass weight, a tough pull string, and a padded “floss” portion that also in­corporated a small brush that all acted to quickly clean the bore with a single pull-through.

• Briley .17 HMR Sporter, $1,100. Conditional Buy. Despite its failures to fire, some of us were attracted to the Briley. The stock looked just great, we thought, and the overall workmanship seemed to be first-rate. Although the Volquartsen scope rail appeared to be truck strong, the standard Ruger rings and integral bases that Briley and Clark used have worked well for a long time. They seem to be adequately strong, unless you habi­t­ually throw your rifle against rocks and trees. Seriously, relatively heavy rifles like all of our test trio can put great strain onto the scope mounts if the rifle simply falls over, so be careful to not abuse your rifle, no matter what setup you have. Oddly, the long barrel on the Briley did not give it a velocity advantage over the other two. We could see little reason for the extra length. It added weight and did little for holding ability, though that again would depend on the individual. Some like lots of length or weight out front.

• Clark 10/17, Model RDSS-1022-17 $960. Buy It. We particularly liked the way this rifle performed. It was clean, looked good, and had no nonsense, just honest workmanship. There were no surprises, just excellent accuracy in a complete, viable, good-looking package that cost a bit less than the other rifles tested. Clark guaranteed 1-inch-or-better groups with the .17 at 100 yards. We found this one easily was within that guarantee with all three types of ammo tried. In fact, it achieving the best overall accuracy of this test trio, 0.7 inch versus 0.8 inch for the Volquartsen.

There were no problems with the Clark at all. We don’t know what more performance you could ask for in any .17 HMR, bolt-actions included. The Clark 10/17 had almost everything anyone could want, though we’d have preferred a stock color like that of the Briley, and clearly preferred the Volquartsen’s action.