A Fine Ri­fle Meets a Fine Car­tridge

THE SAV­AGE MARK II CHAM­BERED IN .17 MACH 2

Modern Pioneer - - Contents - By Thomas C. Ta­bor

| 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.

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