William W (Bill) Gabbard
Where the 17-caliber centerfire rounds are concerned one has to wonder if it is like the line Merle Haggard sang in the old country song, “Are the good times really over for good?” In previous articles, I have written about favorite calibers as well as dying ones. The diminutive 17 caliber varmint rounds have always been on my list of favorites, but I am afraid that they are quickly headed for the second list.
The three that have been commercially available for years, the 17 Hornet, the 17 Remington Fireball and the 17 Remington are quickly disappearing except for the 17 Hornet. A quick review of the prominent gunmakers” websites show that Savage produces their Walking Varminter and lightweight in 17 Hornet, while Ruger shows the 77/17 in 17 Hornet, but lists it as unavailable. CZ in their recent move to the new 600 series of rifles no longer lists a 17-caliber centerfire. Blazer lists a small caliber conversion kit that allows use of the 17 Hornet in their R-8 rifles. Rem Arms purchased the firearm manufacturing portion of Remington out of bankruptcy court and at the present time even though they are producing the Remington 700, their website lists neither the 17 Remington nor the 17 Remington Fireball.
Ammunition is still available through various sources. Federal Premium, Hornady, and Winchester all list 17 Hornet ammunition while Remington lists 17 Remington and 17 Remington Fireball. Nosler Custom ammo lists 17 Remington Fireball and two types of 17 Remington - a tipped bullet and a hollow point.
The handloader has plenty of options available. Hornady lists brass for the 17 Hornet, while Nosler and Norma as well as Remington catalogs brass for the 17 Remington. Nosler and Remington list brass on their websites for the 17 Remington Fireball. Hornady lists their NTX bullet in a 15.5-grain weight and their superb V-Max bullets in both 20 and 25 grains. Nosler offers their deadly Varmageddon bullets in both tipped and hollow point 20-grain versions. Berger offers a 25-grain Flat Based Varmint bullet that has proven extremely accurate. Hodgdon lists loads using 14 different powders between their IMR, Hodgdon, Winchester, and Accurate lines. Alliant lists their Reloader 15 for the 17 Remington. Hornady, RCBS, and Redding list dies for all three, while Forester lists dies for the 17 Remington. With this kind of selection, the diligent loader should be able to find a load that meets their need.
Here in the old Reloading Room, I have worked with all three of these rounds. I have worked with two 17 Hornet rifles, a Savage Walking Varminter and a CZ 527. Both easily put three shot groups under one inch, but I must say the CZ was quite impressive. I loaded six test loads and local competitive shooter and varmint hunter, Rick Roberts, brought back six targets all with groups under one inch and two of them under one-half inch.
Rick brought in an older Remington 700 chambered in 17 Fireball. We loaded six sets of test loads for it and the first trip to the range three of the six were under one inch, two with the Berger 25 gr Flat Based Varmint bullet and one with the Nosler 20 gr Varmageddon Hollow Point. The best was one-half inch. Rick laughed and suggested that we try to tinker with that load to get it better since he might want to use that rifle in a local Factory Varmint Rifle Match.
17 Remington Fireball
Another local shooter and varmint hunter, Cody Little, brought his CZ 527 chambered in 17 Remington, which easily beat the one-inch mark with one load shooting a 0.393-inch group.
One rule to remember when handloading for these small caliber rounds is “when making changes, a little means a lot.” Due to their diminutive size, changes in charge weight need to be very small. It doesn’t take a lot to make a big difference. The same thing goes for primer changes. If you switch to a magnum primer, drop the charge, and work your way up slowly, while watching for any signs of excessive pressure.
These little rounds are accurate, highly effective on small varmints, fun to shoot, and have practically no recoil. So why do they seem to be disappearing? Some seem to think that they aren’t powerful enough for coyotes, but the fellows that use them strongly disagree. They feel that they are powerful enough without causing excessive pelt damage. The popularity of the 17-caliber rimfire cartridges may be hurting them since they are cheaper to shoot and the 204 Ruger round carries a little more punch while being extremely accurate. Whatever the reason, an old reloader like myself hates to see these great little rounds slowly disappear. Some of us love having an old rifle in a caliber that everybody else isn’t carrying and that still does a great job for its intended purpose.