A Fine Rifle Meets a Fine Cartridge
THE SAVAGE MARK II CHAMBERED IN .17 MACH 2
| The Savage Mark II chambered in .17 Mach 2
In my opinion, the .17 Mach 2 is both the most misunderstood and the most underestimated cartridge in today’s shooting world. Numerous factors have contributed to that unwarranted status. Some shooters have been swayed solely on the slightly faster muzzle velocity and the hype surrounding its larger cousin, the .17 HMR, while others simply haven’t fired a rifle chambered in .17 Mach 2.
Evolution of the Hornady .17 Rimfires
Timing played a decisive role in the .17 Mach 2’s popularity. If the cartridge had been introduced prior to the .17 HMR, it may have immediately garnered more attention and favorability from shooters, but the .17 Mach 2 wasn’t released until 2004, two years after the .17 HMR’S introduction. By then, many shooters had already developed a love affair with the .17 HMR and showed little interest in this somewhat smaller version of the same cartridge concept. Both cartridges were based on a .22 rimfire case. The parent case of the .17 HMR is produced by necking down the .22 WMR (Winchester Magnum Rimfire) case, and the .17 Mach 2 uses the case of the .22 Stinger, which is 0.100 inch longer than the normal .22 LR. Both .17 rimfires are advantageous in that the cartridges are typically loaded with very thin-skinned jacketed bullets as opposed to the lead bullets of the .22 LR.
Almost immediately, the .17 HMR became the talk of the small-caliber shooting world. With its little .17 caliber bullet reaching speeds up to 2,500 fps, it produced devastatingly better results on varmints and small game than the .22 LR or even the .22 WMR. It’s understandable why many shooters turned up their noses when Hornady launched the .17 Mach 2, which in many cases, is loaded with the exact same 17-grain bullet, but leaves the barrel about 400 fps slower.
.17 HMR vs. .17 Mach 2
A 400-fps difference in muzzle velocity between any two cartridges is hard to ignore. In this case, however, it’s not as important as it initially seems. To thoroughly evaluate these cartridges’ potentials and limitations, one must dive beneath the surface.
In most cases, bullet velocity is directly proportional to its trajectory. However, that factor considerably loses its influence when those cartridges aren’t meant for long-range
shooting. In this case, I consider both the .17 Mach 2 and the .17 HMR to be essentially 100yard calibers. Obviously, you can shoot either one farther than that, but neither is intended to perform well beyond that approximate range. That said, I must confess that I recently eliminated a total ground-squirrel colony from 129 yards using one of my .17 Mach 2 rifles. The colony was located behind our house and consisted of about a dozen critters. That little .17 Mach 2 produced instantaneous deaths to most of them with a single shot. Only two escaped that first killing attempt. But that was certainly stretching the .17 Mach 2’s limits, and if I’d been shooting a rifle chambered for .17 HMR, those shots would’ve been equally challenging.
Residing in the American West, I have lots of vermin and small-game species at my disposal, and when it comes to moderaterange shooting, I frequently choose a rimfire rifle. I can’t count how many critters have fallen to the report of my .17 Mach 2 and .17 HMR rifles and handguns, but it certainly numbers in the hundreds, possibly thousands. Most often I select a .17 Mach 2 rifle for that work. When the little 17-grain impacts a ground squirrel or prairie dog, it typically exits out the back of the critter, leaving a halfdollar-sized exit hole. Would that same bullet do more damage if traveling about 400 fps faster? I seriously doubt it.
There are some factors I believe strongly favor the .17 Mach 2 over its larger cousin. First, from my own experiences, I believe the .17 Mach 2 is frequently a bit more accurate than the .17 HMR, and often, the ammunition is considerably cheaper. Perusing my ammunition catalogs, I frequently find the prices of .17 Mach 2 ammo are nearly half the prices of the .17 HMR variety. I’m unsure why, because there can’t be significant differences in materials or production costs. But, aside from the monetary savings, I prefer the .17
Mach 2’s considerably lighter report. While not recommended, I occasionally find that I can get along without earplugs while hunting.
The .17 Mach 2 does have a downside: availability of ammunition and firearms chambered in the caliber. Nevertheless, a great rifle still available in .17 Mach 2 is Savage Arms’ Mark II bolt-action.
Savage’s Mark II .17 Mach 2
While some manufacturers have dropped the .17 Mach 2 from production, Savage Arms continues producing it in two models, the Mark II F with a traditional sporting-contour barrel, and the Mark II FV with a heavier target- or varmint-style barrel. These are great-performing rifles that come moderately priced and with accuracy consistent with the modern-day Savage reputation.
Both rifles come equipped with the company’s renowned Accu-trigger, which is adjustable to very light trigger-pull weights, yet remains safe for field use due to its design. After removing the stock, the trigger adjusts easily by using the tiny tool included with each rifle. Nevertheless, I found the pull weight was good straight from the factory at only 2 pounds, 8 ounces—five-pull average— and with only 4.6 ounces of spread between pulls. The Mark II’S stock is a typical black composite style, but rather than featuring a detachable trigger guard, it’s molded directly into the stock.
The test rifle’s weight is a light 5.5 pounds, and the heavier-barreled FV is slightly heavier at 6 pounds. Both come with a 21-inch carbonsteel barrel with a twist rate of 14:1. My rifle came equipped with a 10-round banana-style magazine. That capacity may, however, vary in your area due to magazine-capacity laws adopted by some jurisdictions.
“… the cartridges chambered and ejected smoothly and effectively, making the whole operation effortless and problem-free.”
On the Range
Upon receiving the Mark II F .17 Mach 2 rifle, I immediately installed a Konus Pro 275 310x44mm scope on it using the bases included with the rifle and a set of 1-inch Weaver rings. Following that, I ran the rifle through its paces and found it performs admirably, both on the bench and in the field. The magazine easily snapped into place each time, a characteristic often lacking in magazine-fed rifles. I also
found loading the magazine easier than most other rifle and pistol magazines, and the cartridges chambered and ejected smoothly and effectively, making the whole operation effortless and problem-free.
I began testing the rifle on my private firing range, shooting Hornady cartridges loaded with 17-grain V-max bullets. That formalized shooting mostly took place from the bench at 50 yards. After shooting several boxes of ammo on the range, I’d accumulated a large database of five-shot groups. The smallest of those measured ¾ inch, and the average of all the groups was 1 ½ inches. Even though I knew how those bullets penetrated small game, I began wondering just how great they would penetrate real tough stuff when my eyes fell on our 55-gallon trash-burning barrel. I’d previously ventilated the barrel with one of my handguns to provide better combustion, so one more bullet hole was the least of my worries. The barrel is very old and made of considerably heavier metal than most modern-day barrels. I aimed and squeezed off the shot, and found the little 17-grain bullet punched a nice hole through the side facing me and nearly penetrated the far side, leaving a dent sticking out about 38⁄ inch. Clearly, there’s very little science behind this type of shooting, but nevertheless, it impressed me.
The Way I See It
No question about it, the .17 Mach 2 has lagged in popularity in recent years, and I find that very disheartening. But, having been concerned for some time about the future availability of ammunition, I confronted Steve Hornady at the last SHOT Show and asked him about the ammunition’s future. He responded quickly and decisively, saying that while he remains at Hornady, that cartridge will be produced. He did say that, for the time being, ammunition might be difficult to acquire, like all rimfire cartridges.
In my mind, a fine cartridge like the .17 Mach 2, coupled with a fine rifle like the Savage Mark II, is a hard-to-beat combination for any shooter seeking high success rates on small game and varmints, or simply as a firearm for plinking and target shooting.
For more information on the .17 Mach 2, visit hornady.com and savagearms.com.