The Hot, New .17 WSM Rimfire Needed A
Completely New Savage Rifle To Handle It.
By Holt Bodinson
Ammunition developments drive the firearms market. A year ago, who would have thought Winchester Ammunition would take a .27 caliber, powder-activated, rimfire tool cartridge used in the construction industry, neck it down to .17 caliber and deliver us the new magnum champ of the rimfire world? With a flatter trajectory coupled with higher retained energy and velocity than either the .17 HMR or the .22 Win Mag, all the new .17 Winchester Super Magnum needed was a compatible rimfire rifle.
With a SAAMI maximum average pressure of 33,000 psi, the .17 WSM required a beefed-up rimfire action. Savage jumped on the project, and we now can enjoy the .17 WSM in their innovative B.MAG model. But first, some background on the .17 calibers in general.
Other than their appearance in BB guns and .177 pellet guns, I hadn’t really known much about the .17 calibers until I picked up P.O. Ackley’s 1959 edition of Handbook for Shooters and Reloaders. Ackley was one of the earliest .17-caliber barrel makers and his 1959 book included loading data for the .17 Ackley Bee, .17 Ackley Hornet, .17 Javelina and .17/222. In his notes on the .17/222, he commented, “…it has produced spectacular 1-shot kills on deer, bear and javelina thus proving the effectiveness of small high-velocity bullets on large game in the hands of skilled riflemen.”
In 1966, Ackley released Volume 2. It contained the loading date for five more wildcat .17 calibers: the .17/30 carbine, .17 Mach IV, .17/223, .17/222 Ackley Magnum and the .17 Flintstone Super Eyebunger (.17/22-250: 4,444 fps with a 25-grain bullet!) plus a most provocative .17-caliber article, entitled “The .17 Ackley Bee” by A. Lee Robertson of the Utah State Department of Fish and Game. Robertson chronicled his use of the .17 Ackley Bee on everything from small game to mule deer, which expired without “a quiver,” as he put it.
Playing with the .17 wildcats was an expensive and exotic sport until Remington unveiled their .17 Remington in 1971, essentially a .17/223, churning up .220 Swift velocities of 4,040 fps with a 25-grain bullet in the Model 700. I bought one. After I was housebroken to using .17-caliber cleaning rods and inching tiny .17-caliber bullets into a Bonanza seating die, I enjoyed the rifle and the caliber for game up to coyotes in size.
Savage’s new 8-round, flush-fitting rotary magazine helped maintain
a pleasing stock line (top) and functioned flawlessly during testing (below).
As revolutionary as the .17 Remington was, it wasn’t until 2002 when Hornady, working with CCI, delivered a .17 every rimfire hunter could relate to—the .17 Hornady Magnum Rimfire (.17 HMR) to be quickly followed by its diminutive brother, the .17 Mach 2, based on CCI’s Stinger case. While the operating pressures of the .17 HMR are slightly higher than the .22 WMR, existing .22 WMR platforms, be they rifle or handgun, were quite capable of digesting the .17 HMR without a hiccup. In a matter of months, most gunmakers were turning out a variety of models chambered in .17 HMR.
Not so, with the .17 Winchester Super Magnum. Only Savage jumped in with both feet, cranked up the CAD program and delivered to us a completely new action incorporating a rear locking, cock-on-closing bolt, stylized bolt handle and bolt shroud, Savage’s crisp, adjustable AccuTrigger, tang safety, 8-round rotary magazine, side bolt release and factory-fitted scope bases. Mated with a lightweight barrel, the overall matte-finished, barreled action is free-floated in a black, synthetic stock with a rubber buttplate, sling swivels and ersatz, molded-in checkering on the forearm and pistol grip.
Surprises? The cock-on-closing bolt was one. It’s stiff and requires a bit of force to cock the mainspring and seat the two rear-locking lugs. The barrel profile was another, as was the overall weight of the rifle. The majority of Savage’s tack-driving, magnum rimfire models in .17 HMR and .22 WMR sport heavy barrels and, more often than not, laminated stocks. Typically, their weights run from 6.8 to 7.8 pounds. I was expecting Savage would chamber it in an accuracy boosting, heavy-barrel format for the initial introduction. They didn’t. With its sporter profile barrel and minimal synthetic stock the B.MAG is a wand of a rifle, weighing only 4 pounds, 7 ounces on my Sunbeam scale.
A svelte rimfire deserves a svelte scope. I rummaged around until I located one of my favorites—Leupold’s recreation of the vintage Lyman 4X Alaskan. With a 7/8-inch tube and an overall length of 10 inches, the Alaskan fit the overall scale and proportions of the B.MAG to a tee. The Sunbeam scale now read 5 pounds, 5 ounces.
Thanks to the folks at Winchester, I had on hand their two current loadings—a 20-grain polymer tip rated at 3,000 fps and a 25-grain polymer tip at 2,600 fps. The 50-round boxes proudly proclaim in print that “The new .17 Win Super Mag caliber ballistically exceeds the velocity, energy, trajectory and wind drift characteristics of all rimfire products currently available. The highest velocity rimfire caliber in the world!” It was off to the range.
The 8-round rotary magazine is interesting. Like the magazine of a Model 99 Savage, every round is compartmentalized in its own cradle. The magazine worked like a charm without any feeding issues.
This test target (above) is fairly representative of the accuracy Holt
experienced at 100 yards. At 100-150 yards (below), the current B.MAG
will still prove sensational for varmint hunting.
Over a Pact Professional Chronograph, Winchester’s 20-grain loading averaged a fast 3,053 fps and their 25-grain loading, 2,593 fps. The velocities promised on Winchester’s cartridge boxes were indeed delivered. Someone did their homework on this Winchester/Savage combo.
I shot a lot of targets with both loadings at 100 yards. The Savage AccuTrigger, adjusted for 3 pounds, was a joy to use. The six targets illustrated are an accurate rendering of the average groups delivered by the B.MAG. On the average, the 25-grain loading was more accurate than the 20-grain loading, but both loadings proved inconsistent in their grouping ability. In all fairness, based on my own experience with the .17 Rem and the .17 HMR, either loading would be devastating on varmints at 100 or 150 yards from the B.MAG, but neither delivered the accuracy we’ve come to expect from .17 caliber cartridges and Savage rifles.
Three issues bothered me. Many ejected cases were coated with carbon, indicating that the cases were not obturating properly. With the 20-grain loading, spent cases would occasionally stick in the chamber. The single extractor of the B.MAG bolt would simply ride over the rim and not pull the spent case out. I had to resort to a .17-caliber cleaning rod poked in from the muzzle end to knock the cases free of the chamber. Finally, there were occasions when the bolt lift was noticeably stiffer, indicating the case was seizing in the chamber because of carbon build-up or differing case metallurgy or higher pressures or who knows what.
There are a couple of extenuating circumstances about this test I should mention. Because of its light weight and the high pressure and high performance cartridge it’s chambered for, the whippy, little B.MAG. is highly sensitive to minor changes in the way it is held by the shooter and positioned on the benchrest bags. It could well be the inconsistency I see in the groups is a product of the shooter and not the rifle or the ammunition (the 3-shot, factory test target, fired with the 20-grain load, showed a group of 0.9 inch).
On the other hand, I noticed the forearm on the polymer stock could easily be shifted from side-to-side to either clear or rub against the free-floated barrel, indicating a structural or bedding issue which would definitely affect accuracy as the forearm is rested and moved around in the bunny-ear sandbags of the benchrest pedestal.
The new Savage B.MAG is a trim, handy sporter. A svelte rimfire deserves
a svelte scope. Leupold’s now discontinued Alaskan model proved ideal.
One of the challenges of all .17-caliber rifles is their proper cleaning. Typically, you don’t find .17-caliber cleaning rods, brushes and patches down at your local gun store. I suffered through a few learning curves until I discovered the 4-4.5mm Zimmerstutzen cleaning rods and felt cleaning wads stocked by International Shooters Service in Fort Worth, Texas. One of the 4mm cleaning wads incorporates little bristles for scrubbing out fouling while the plain wad is used for applying solvents, preservatives and for general cleaning. Although other brands of .17-caliber rods, bushes and patches are now available, I find the 4mm gear the easiest and fastest to use by far.
The development of the .17 Winchester Super Magnum is a new highwater mark in rimfire ballistics. In my opinion, the real potential of the .17 Winchester Super Magnum will only be realized when Savage takes their B.MAG action, screws a heavyweight barrel into it and beds it in a hand-filling laminated stock. I am reminded Remington killed off their fine 5mm Remington Rimfire Magnum by chambering it in two whippy little inadequate rimfire rifles, the Models 591 and 592, which never delivered the best the cartridge had to offer. Let’s not let that happen to the sensational .17 WSM.
4-4.5mm Cleaning Equipment
International Shooters Service
2319 E. Loop 820 North
Fort Worth, TX 76118
MAKER: Savage Arms
100 Springdale Rd.
Westfield, MA 01085
Action Type: Bolt-action repeater
Caliber: .17 Winchester Super Magnum
Capacity: 8-round, detachable, rotary magazine
Barrel Length: 22 inches
Overall Length: 40.5 inches
Weight: 4 pounds, 7 ounces
Sights: None, factory supplied scope mount bases