By Justin Stapley | Shooting Director
A couple years ago, I shot a .17 HMR for the first time, a standard Savage bolt-action. I packed it off into the sagebrush, looking for jackrabbits and cottontails. What ensued was one of the most enjoyable rabbit hunts I’ve had in a long time.
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Both the accuracy, speed, and impact power of that little round was exhilarating, adrenaline-inducing, and left me grinning from ear to ear. After the hunt, I told my wife I had a new rifle at the top of my firearm list. The look she gave me suggested I was failing to curb the little Ralphy/Red Rider BB gun vibe.
For those of you who don’t know, the .17 HMR came out back in 2002. It’s built on a .22 Magnum casing, necked down to take a .17 caliber projectile. The combination of more powder and less mass leads to an extraordinarily accurate and ranged rimfire cartridge, perfect for small game and varmint hunting.
The center-mass hits I was scoring on the rabbits were dropping them where they stood (no follow-up shots, no god-awful rabbit screams). And, I was scoring hits on running rabbits way beyond what a .22 could do.
About the only problem I had was learning not to lead the rabbits at a distance. Those little .17 rounds shot so fast that they would impact in front of the rabbit if I led one like I would with a .22.
My only real complaint with the rifle was the single-action and the relatively small magazine size. Having packed around a Ruger 10/22 since I was a kid, I thought there had to be a good semi-automatic option for the .17 HMR out there, if not a Ruger 10/17 in development.
I was shocked to find the options were limited, almost non-existent, and was told not to trust even the few semi-automatic .17 HMRs that were out there.
The working theory of most of the firearm industry was that the .17 HMR was too high pressured for a semi-automatic action. This conclusion was mostly due to the recall of Remington’s Model 597 semi-automatic .17 HMR in the late 2000s, which had a bad tendency of shooting the magazine out of the rifle.
The pressure of the bullet would force the action open too quickly, before it had left the barrel, and the expanding gases would escape violently in the wrong direction. I also learned that Ruger canceled its 10/17 development project as a result of the Model 597’s failure.
But these theories were later put to the test and largely debunked by the .17 HMR my wife did end up getting me for Christmas: the Savage A17 (Note: marry a woman who thinks you look cute when you’re grinning like a total moron). Savage was able to solve the problem of high-pressure blowback by building a new delayed-blowback action system from scratch.
To put it in simplest terms, they fashioned an interrupter lug that holds the bolt in place until the carrier itself moves back from the pressure of the fired shot. The weight of the carrier moves past the interrupter lug and loads another round in the chamber. This system delays the action just long enough to ensure the projectile has left the barrel and expelled the high-pressure gases.
I love my Savage A17, but it’s just not a Ruger. While it uses a similar rotary magazine, the mag release is far less intuitive, and you really have to press hard to make sure the magazine clicks when you insert it, or it will fall back out.
I’ve also found the A17 needs a lot more consistent maintenance to keep it from jamming up. And, I’ve even noticed that spent cartridges sometimes don’t get ejected properly, and the rifle doesn’t seem to have cycled properly at all (I don’t know if it’s carbon build-up, a poor extractor, or simply the delayed-blowback action being too delayed).
Granted, I experienced all of this after new rifle range trips, and we all know how quickly spent brass gets out of hand on trips like that.
So, don’t get me wrong. It’s a fantastic rifle. As long as I give it the care it needs, most of the issues above don’t show up until after a hundred or so rounds have been put through it (and let’s face it, it’s still a rimfire). If my Ruger 10/22 hadn’t spoiled me all these years, I probably wouldn’t know the difference.
And that brings me to the point of all of this. Now that Savage has made the impossible possible, when are we going to see the Ruger 10/17 pop up in the catalog? Unfortunately, the answer may still be never. And, I’m not entirely sure why.
I have actually brought this up in various Facebook Ruger groups, and the replies often go one of two different directions (I’ve heard nothing official though).
The first argument is that the Savage A17 is little more than a novelty rifle. While its delayed-blowback operation makes a semi-automatic .17 HMR possible, it may not be truly effective nor efficient enough to inspire similar technologies in other rimfire firearms.
The second argument is that the A17’s system is too unique to duplicate before the patent expires.
As for the first argument, while the A17 does seem to have its annoying ticks, it’s not that ineffective. Most of what I’ve experienced, I’ve experienced with my 10/22 as well (granted after several hundred more shots).
And, I’m sure given another few years or so, the A17s that come out of Savage’s factories will probably experience these issues less and less (they’ve already improved the magazine release). If anything, it’s the lack of competition on the market that’s probably slowing innovation.
To the second argument, delayed-blowback technology is nothing new. While Savage has gone about it in a very unique way, that’s not to say there aren’t similar (but different) ways to do it or that there aren’t better ways to build a similar action.
Whatever the actual reasons for Ruger’s reticence to re-open its 10/17 program, I sure hope someone at that company can convince them to move past those reasons. The A17 is just similar enough to a 10/22 to make sure that little tick is always going to be there in the back of my mind. If Ruger ever made one, I would probably pounce pretty quickly on a Ruger 10/17. Until then, I’ll be walking the sage with what I’ve got, rabbits beware.
Justin Stapley is the Shooting Director for Spencer Durrant Outdoors, and a political writer whose principles and beliefs are grounded in the idea of ordered liberty as expressed in the traditions of classical liberalism, federalism, and modern conservatism. His writing has been featured at the Federalist Coalition, the NOQ Report, and Porter Medium. He lives in Bluffdale, Utah, with his wife and daughters.