September 2009

17 HMRs: Henry’s Lever Gun Vs. Savage and Ruger Bolt Actions

We often have the luxury of grading big winners and big losers. That’s not the case here; contingent on your budget and intended use, you could be happy with any of the tested rifles.

It has been said in the industry that "when all else fails, invent a caliber." Part and parcel of any highly new-product driven industry is the constant attempt to invent new lines of price and performance where none exist in a tangible, real-world sense. One fairly recent cartridge development that has gained traction and popularity is the Hornady 17 Magnum Rimfire introduced in 2002. It is remarkable in many respects, gaining distinction as the first successful rimfire cartridge to hit the market in over 40 years. The last rimfire considered to be a "successful" introduction was the 22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire in 1959.

Henry lever-action H001TV Octagon barrel repeater

What no chronograph or battery of test targets can show is the fun factor. Though subjective, we came up with our fun-factor winner. The Henry lever-action H001TV Octagon barrel repeater ($550, top) was the shortest, fastest-handling rifle of the bunch, had the best figured wood, and surprised us with its crisp trigger. However, the Savage Classic ($566, middle) had a great trigger, was affordable and shot well with some ammos. The Ruger 77/17 bolt-action ($749, bottom), like the Henry, also got our top grade of ‘A’ for its big-gun feel and accuracy, and we preferred it slightly over the Savage because of its magazine.

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Most all of the 17-caliber cartridges offered today are either 17- or 20-grain. With such flyweight bullets, as a practical matter they are most suited for ground squirrels, rabbits, and similarly fragile and small-sized game or varmints. CCI reportedly manufactures most all 17 HMR ammunition, though there are slight differences between the brands themselves. As far as we know, this is still the case. As for the case itself, it is the 22 WMR necked down to accept the 17 HMR’s 0.172-inch-diameter bullet.

Billed as the "world’s fastest rimfire," it appears to be just that, although there are a few caveats. The sectional density of the projectiles (about .084 for the 17 grain; .097 for the 20 grain) suggest it is not a great platform for penetration, and the ballistic coefficients of the respective bullets (about .123 for both) also promise that windage is a consideration at longer ranges. It clearly is, with just a 10-mph crosswind blowing either bullet horizontally 8 inches or so at 150 yards. Unless your shooting conditions are very calm and consistent, despite the 17 HMR’s high initial velocity, it remains a 100- to 125-yard gun for most small-game applications.

What this cartridge promises and delivers on is the fun factor. With negligible recoil and a reasonable cost per shot compared to most centerfires, the Hornady 17 HMR is easy on the shoulder and not especially damaging to the wallet, either. In our quest for value, performance, and fun, we loaded up three rifles chambered for this pipsqueak with pop: Henry Lever Action Frontier Model No. H001TV Octagon-Barrel 17 HMR, $550; the Ruger Model 77/17-RM 17 HMR, $754; and the Savage Model 93 R17 Classic 17 HMR, $566. After the requisite initial scoping of the rifles, it was off to the field.

Henry Lever Action Frontier Model No. H001TV

Octagon-Barrel 17 HMR, $550

The Henry impressed us with its dashing good looks right out of the box. The medium-stained walnut stock was far better figured than average, the bluing was dark and rich, the lever action was buttery smooth, and its trigger was a very light and crisp 3.5- pound break. The heavy octagonal barrel made it look like a real gun, not a Tinkertoy, and the gold "Henry Repeating Arms" barrel lettering set off the gun nicely. Though traditional, the buckhorn iron sights are a long ways away from our favorites, and we half-expected the Henry to be a bit of a pain to scope up. We were wrong, though, finding that a set of Millett 1-inch Angle-Loc Windage Adjustable 3/8-Inch Dovetail High Rings ($20) mounted our Sightron SII 2.5-10x32mm scope quickly and with no hassle. The Millett rings gave us plenty of clearance to cock and decock the hammer manually and also required no removal of the factory iron sights. Though the 11-shot Henry tubular magazine was not exactly enough to "shoot all day," it was the best magazine capacity of the tested rifles.

We had breezy 8- to 12-mph range conditions, so we decided to do our shooting at a laser-verified 50 yards. We discovered that the Henry didn’t care for the 20-grain ammunition, shot the 17-grain Hornady rounds well, but was at its best with the Winchester 17-grain ammunition, shooting several consecutive groups inside one-third of an inch—groups we easily covered with a dime. We hadn’t thought that our stable of 17s would be as ammunition-sensitive as 22 Long Rifles tend to be, but we were wrong about that as well. For whatever reason, the Henry told us it liked to be fed the Winchester ammunition the best.

We went over the Henry closely, trying to be as picky as possible. We really couldn’t find much to carp about. We did find one section of the forearm wood, the very end pointing toward the muzzle, that was not sanded smooth. It was hard to

100-yard light varmint rifles

Our chronograph work showed that there was little velocity difference based on the different barrel lengths of the three rifles. Though none of the tested rifles are presented as match-grade target rifles, we feel that all of them are effective 100-yard light varmint rifles or plinkers. Despite the Hornady 17 HMR cartridge’s claim of being “intrinsically MOA accurate,” our testing showed that these rifles are just as specific ammunition-dependent as any other breed of rifles, with all three tested rifles showing a distinct preference for one brand of ammunition. Ironically, all three of these rifles preferred something different. The Ruger was the most accurate rifle tested with its favored ammunition, the 17-grain Hornady loads, than the other rifles were with their favored ammo. The Henry did extremely well with the Winchester Varmint Express loads, the best of the test with this ammunition with the Ruger just a very small notch behind with the same ammunition.

spot, and we considered it so very hard to discern and in such an unobtrusive area we initially didn’t bother to call Henry to avail ourselves of their lifetime warranty. We think that for most consumers, it would go completely unnoticed or would not be considered worth a phone call.

Henry Repeating Arms President Anthony Imperato refers to his company’s lifetime warranty policy and customer service policy as "Extreme Customer Service." Since the forearm did have a minor finish flaw, we contacted Henry, described the small cosmetic issue, and sent along a photograph to show precisely what we were referring to. Without hesitation a brand-new replacement forearm was overnighted to us that was finished perfectly. Henry made good on its warranty and customer-service pledge.

The only annoyance we could come up with in use of the Henry is what would be expected with any lever-action shot off our Caldwell Fire Control rest—we had to cant the gun to cycle the action, the lever’s downward throw interfering with the shooting rest itself.

Our Team Said: We liked the octagonal barrel of the Henry, we appreciated the trigger, we enjoyed the lack of rattling present in the loaded gun (as opposed to some tube-fed attempts), and with the Henry’s smooth action and more than acceptable accuracy with 17-grain ammunition we ended up impressed. It did everything we could ask of a lever-action 17 HMR.

Savage Model 93 R17 Classic 17 HMR, $566

The Savage impressed us out of the box as well with an extremely attractive walnut stock, high-luster bluing, and the Accu-Trigger that quickly revealed itself to be the best trigger of the tested rifles—breaking clean at just over 3 pounds. We made a mistake mounting a Burris 3-12x32mm AO scope on our Savage, initially. This Burris gave us a headache, defining the "instant black-out" hyper-critical eye position genre type of scope. This scope was so ridiculously eye-position sensitive, it was essentially unusable. So, we quickly replaced it with a Sightron SI 3-9x40mm scope that took away our headaches in short order.

The Savage proved to be allergic to 17-grain bullets, giving us unacceptable accuracy with both Hornady and Winchester brands of it. We were disappointed. With the 20-grain Hornady XTP ammo, the Savage turned into a completely different rifle, giving us better-than-half-inch repeatable groups at 50 yards. We checked around and found this was not unusual—Savage 17s prefer 20-grain bullets more often than not. This runs counter to our past experiences with 17s, where the 17-grain V-Max bullets typically win the day. This was clearly not the case here. The Savage shot the 20-grain XTP’s far better than the other rifles in this match-up.

Though we feel the Savage has an attractive price tag, excellent fit, finish, and wood-to-metal fits—we found one area that we all agreed needs work: the five-shot detachable magazine. It didn’t always lock into place (as did the Ruger rotary magazine), it lacks the capacity of both the Henry and the Ruger (the Ruger is a nine-shot magazine), and compared to the Ruger, it juts out in unsightly fashion, unlike the flush-fit Ruger rotary magazine.

Our Team Said: We happily give the Savage a "Buy It" recommendation based on the price point, its Accu-trigger, and respectable accuracy with the 20-grain XTP ammunition. It is a reliable rifle, an attractive rifle, and a better than average value. A better magazine treatment would send this example (and several others like it) into the "A" category.

Ruger Model 77/17-RM 17 HMR, $754

The Ruger distinguished itself quickly in a number of ways. The Ruger also had a

Ruger and the Henry

If you are debating between the Ruger and the Henry, finances might well come into play. The scope bases are integral in both models. Ruger includes rings, while the Millett rings we bought for the Henry worked superbly and set us back just $20. We also note that only the Henry has iron sights of the tested rifles, so only the Henry can be fired accurately right out of the box. Advantage: Henry.

nice piece of walnut, but it was the Ruger action that sets this rifle apart. It is the only action that locks closed (due to its three-position safety) and is notably smooth due, in large measure, to the Ruger’s rotary magazine. The bolt handle is far more generous than that found on the Savage, and after a glance at the underbelly of the Ruger—it was easy for us to appreciate the flush fit of the magazine and the extra stock inletting. The beefy steel Ruger action is stronger than the aluminum frame of the Henry and stronger than the tube-type action of the Savage, we thought. The Ruger is built more like a high-power rifle than the others.

We liked the Ruger grip cap and the overall look and heft of the 77/17. The triangular slope of the stock made the Ruger notably easy to hold and handle. The Ruger’s trigger was heavy, though, breaking at a tad over 5 pounds—right at the edge of what we consider acceptable. It was not so heavy as to destroy our Ruger experience, but the Ruger trigger suffers horribly compared to Savage’s Accu-Trigger.

The Ruger preferred the Hornady 17-grain V-Max ammo, and with it gave us the best groups of all the tested rifles—inside two-tenths of an inch at 50 yards, touching three little 17-caliber holes on occasion.

Our Team Said: We appreciated the nine-shot magazine capacity of the Ruger; we like how easily it was to swap magazines in and out. We note that the Ruger is nearly $200 higher in retail price than either the Savage or the Henry. We also understand that retail prices are not always the best barometers of street price; our research showed roughly $100 to $125 difference between these rifles at the local level. We feel that the included Ruger integral rings are worth something as well. We all agreed it is a well-made rifle almost anyone would enjoy.

ACCURACY AND CHRONOGRAPH DATA

HENRY LEVER ACTION OCTAGONAL No. H001TV 17 HMR

SAVAGE 93R17 CLASSIC 17 HMR

Ruger 77/17-RM Rotary Magazine 17 HMR

GUN TESTS REPORT CARD SUMMARY