Super Varmint!

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Savage’s New A17 Self Loader Is Optimized
For A Hot New CCI .17 HMR Round.

By Holt Bodinson

Well, it is about time an arms manufacturer tamed the persnickety .17 HMR cartridge in a semi-automatic platform designed from the get-go to handle the extended pressure curve of this fast and accurate little rimfire round. The result is Savage’s new model A17 rifle coupled with CCI’s A17 loading that boosts the velocity of the 17-grain Varmint Tip round to a record smashing 2,650 fps.

How’d they do it? The typical, semi-automatic, rimfire action is based on a straight blowback design in which pressure is handled by the mass of the bolt or slide and the tension of the operating springs. However, the .17 HMR cartridge is a bit of a challenge when mated to a simple blowback action. As CCI’s Development Engineer, Brett Olin, explained it to me, “Semi-auto rifles traditionally have not been very successful in .17 HMR because this cartridge, by design, produces maximum average pressure (26,000 psi) approximately twice as long as the .22 Long Rifle. Because of this, there is still pressure in the rifle system when a non-locked-breech (blowback) opens.”

Offhand, I can think of two blowback designs adapted to the .17 HMR. Magnum Research once utilized a system in which a small orifice was drilled just in front of the chamber to meter off a bit of the expanding gas. Volquartsen, on the other hand, still offers a design utilizing a counter-weighted bolt to achieve the same control over pressure.

Savage took a different path. Their engineers developed an entirely new, mechanically delayed, blowback action featuring a vertical rising locking lug in the body of the bolt engaging a locking recess in the ceiling of the receiver. The locking bolt is called an “interrupter lug.” At the moment of ignition, the interrupter lug is engaged, thus momentarily delaying the blowback action. Then rearward pressure on the bolt forces the lug to cam down out of battery, allowing the unlocked bolt to travel rearward, extracting and ejecting the case. Basically, it’s all a matter of timing, balancing the extended pressure curve to the retention of enough residual pressure to operate the action.

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Specifically designed to handle the pressure of the .17 HMR,
Savage’s A17 autoloader performed flawlessly.

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The development of Savage’s mechanically delayed, blowback action brought with it an additional benefit—higher velocity ammunition—optimized for the A17 rifle. Asking CCI’s Brett Olin what “Optimized for the Savage Arms A17 rifle” meant, he continued: “Since the delayed blowback Savage A17 does not open early like a straight blowback design, we were able to add 100 fps to the design using a different powder than our typical .17 HMR loads and still stay within pressure time constraints and pressure limits.” The result? CCI’s A17 brand ammunition featuring a 17-grain Varmint Tip at 2,650 fps, packaged in boxes of 200 rounds and retailing for about $60 a box.

The test rifle we received came mounted with a Bushnell Banner 3.5-10x36mm scope featuring a range-calibrated elevation turret and a parallax adjustable objective. Vista Outdoors, as you probably know, now owns Savage, Bushnell, Weaver and a basket of other famous sporting brands.

Arriving at the range, I was greeted by Johnny Johnson, the range master. He took one look at the new A17 and said he just had to try it so I loaded up the 10-shot rotary magazine, handed him the rifle and screwed my eye into a spotting scope. His first three shots, indeed the first three shots out of this new rifle, clustered into 3/4 inch at 100 yards. He turned, winked at me and said, “Do you want me to save the target for you?” (But I’m getting ahead of myself.)

The A17 is designed for accuracy. The medium weight, 22-inch barrel is button-rifled and completely free-floated in a nicely shaped black synthetic stock. Savage is known for their accurate barrels, but adding their fully adjustable, AccuTrigger to the package was inspired. Set at the factory and measured with Lyman’s electronic trigger scale, the weight of pull of the A17 averaged 3 pounds, 1 ounce. It doesn’t get any better than that on factory guns. The Savage trigger is superior, and my hat’s off to Savage for making it readily available to other manufacturers.

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The rotary magazine performed well but has some kinks
that require getting used to.

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The Savage A17’s precision, button-rifled barrel is free-floated its entire length.
This helps account for the rifle’s consistently outstanding accuracy.

Featuring a hard-chrome plated bolt with a large, handy operating handle, a case-hardened receiver and Weaver-type scope bases, the A17 also sports a 10-round, rotary magazine. If there’s a weakness in the A17 design, it’s their rotary magazine. It’s stiff to load and when inserted in the stock housing with the bolt closed, it has a tendency to drop out if the flimsy, plastic, spring catch is not solidly seated in its recess. You learn to work around it, but why the engineers couldn’t have come up with a magazine with a positive and robust retention catch confounds me. On the other hand, the magazine works. I experienced not one misfeed and the more you used it, the easier it was to load.

The range-compensating Bushnell scope was a marvel of accuracy. When I dialed 100 yards on the elevation turret read-out window and adjusted parallax, I was slightly low. Turning the turret to a point between 100 and 125 yards put me dead-on target. The range compensating elevation turret scrolls out to 250 yards in 25-yard increments. I’ll call it a day when I reach out any further than 200 yards on ground squirrels with a .17 HMR. The .17 HMR is fast, accurate, but its light 17-grain bullet really looses steam quickly for serious hunting purposes. It’s a great, light varmint round for sensible distances but my advice is: Don’t push it.

After Johnny Johnson’s initial 3/4-inch 5-shot group, the pressure was on. CCI’s A17 ammo proved fast and consistent. The 17-grain load is factory rated at 2,650 fps.
My chronograph recorded an average velocity of 2,658 fps with an extreme spread of 16 fps. Occasionally, I would shoot a 3-shot, 3/4-inch group, but my average with both CCI’s A17 and TNT Green (2,588 fps) ammunition was 1 inch. The accuracy champ was Winchester’s heavier, 20-grain Super-X Gamepoint (2,439 fps) which produced 1/2-inch 3-shot groups more often than not. The 20-grain Gamepoint load was also singular in producing the largest point-of-impact shift, dropping 2 inches low and 1 inch right of the 17-grain loads.
One point about range protocol with a semi-automatic, shell shucker, position yourself so your rifle or handgun isn’t dumping hot brass down the shirt of your neighbor to your right.

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The Bushnell Banner 3.5x10x36 proved to be the perfect optic for the A17 in .17 HMR.

The Savage owner’s manual recommends you fieldstrip the rifle for cleaning from the breech. It’s a lot of work. You will need a .17 caliber cleaning rod and a brass jag. I favor Midway’s Tipton brand, carbon-fiber rod with a brass spear tip. My suggestion is unless the action requires a thorough cleaning, simply use a .17-caliber Hoppe’s Bore Snake with a cleaning agent/preservative and be done with it. You might have to run a solvent patch followed by a dry patch down from the muzzle end first to fish the Bore Snake line weight through from the breech, but done carefully, you will not damage the muzzle or crown.

The A17 is a neat, semi-automatic, small-game rifle. It’s ideal for game on the move, and with its AccuTrigger and a .17 HMR scope like the Bushnell Banner, it leaves nothing to be desired in terms of lethal accuracy. Just remember to buy those 200 round boxes of CCI A17 ammo. The A17 is an absolute ammunition junkie.

Model A17
Maker: Savage Arms, 100 Springdale Rd., Westfield. MA 01085,
https://gunsmagazine.com/company/savage-arms-inc/

Action type: Semi-automatic,
delayed blowback, Caliber: .17 HMR,
Capacty: 10, Barrel length: 22 inches, Overall length: 42 inches,
Weight: 5.41 pounds, Finish: High-gloss black, Sights: Drilled & tapped for
factory-mounted scope bases,
Stock: Black synthetic, Price: $465

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