Savage

Savage 92R17 BTVSS

Several years ago I bought a Savage 93R17 BTVSS.  That’s it in the photo above. My rationale was simple: I wanted an inexpensive alternative to my .308 Savage 110 heavy barrel rifle. With the ability to shoot with good accuracy out to 200+ yards, I thought the .17 WMR cartridge would allow me to keep up my long(er)-range skills without forking over a never-ending fortune for match grade .308 ammunition. The other rationale was I like stainless steel rifles and the gun just looks cool. What more reason to own a firearm does one need? Firearms are, in part, just plainly fun.

It’s a very nice rifle indeed. The Savage Accutrigger works as advertised, providing at no extra cost the kind of light, consistent trigger pull available only at great extra cost as an aftermarket item only a few years ago. Savage did it right and everyone else has followed suit. Accuracy is excellent. My only real complaint was the generally clunky, indistinct feel of the magazine system, though it works perfectly and the magazines are also made of stainless steel.

I am, however, more a fan of semiautomatic firearms than bolt guns. The two aforementioned rifles are my only bolt-action rifles. Also, as a reflection of the fact that I am not wealthy, and content myself with things that work well and are sufficient for my purposes rather than demanding the finest available, I do not buy scopes that cost more than my rifles, or as much.

I’ve always been a fan of the Ruger 10-22–I’m certainly in good company–even though I don’t currently own one of the little rifles. Though with the recently introduced take-down models, that may soon change. My only real complaint with the 10-22 was, until the take-down model, the barrel had to be cleaned from the muzzle.

That’s not a real problem–it certainly hasn’t hurt 10-22 sales for the last half-century or so–and with modest care, one can easily avoid damaging the muzzle during the cleaning process, but why not have that ability and eliminate altogether the possibility of damage?

Savage A17

Savage A17

When Savage recently introduced the A17, I was intrigued. Had they finally solved the problems that plagued every other manufacturer and killed the .17 HMR version of the Ruger rimfire in its crib? I’ll not go into the inherent problems extensively here. Those technical details can be found in many easily accessible places, such as this American Rifleman review.  For those, however, that are not technically minded, here’s a Reader’s Digest version.

.17 Hornady Magnum Rimfire

.17 Hornady Magnum Rimfire

The .17 HMR–Hornady Magnum Rimfire–cartridge is essentially a .22 magnum case necked down to accept a 17 grain, .17 caliber bullet. This allows substantially greater velocity than a .22 magnum bullet, as much as 300+ FPS greater. However, this cartridge was sufficiently different than the .22LR and .22 magnum designs that reliably and safely using a straight blowback action–an action that relied on the weight of the bolt and the strength of the recoil spring to keep the bolt closed until pressures diminished sufficiently to allow it to safely move backward–that weapons being designed by various manufacturers, including Ruger, failed to achieve a sufficient level of reliability and safety. Thin-walled rimfire cartridges, if unsupported by the steel of the chamber for milliseconds, can blowout, sometimes explosively, damaging the rifle and/or shooter. No manufacturer, until Savage, had solved the problem sufficiently and inexpensively to allow mass production in a 10-22 manner (there are a few semi-autos on the market chambered in .17 HMR, but they are not widely distributed and tend to be pricey).

Savage solved the problem with a bit of ingenious design and materials use. The A17 uses a mechanical “interrupter lug,” a small piece of hardened steel, that slips into a corresponding slot in the case hardened receiver, keeping the bolt closed the milliseconds necessary to prevent accidents. Interestingly, the rotary magazine latch seems insubstantial, even flimsy, until one understands that it was designed to shear away in case of an explosive cartridge detonation, allowing the magazine to eject from the magazine well, venting gasses and particles downward, away from the shooter.

When I first handled an A17, I was surprised by its size and mass. It does not feel like a rimfire rifle. It’s balance is that of rifles chambered for much more powerful centerfire cartridges. Its dimensions also aid in this impression. Though smaller people, including women and children, will have little trouble with the 5.41 pound rifle, it does not feel like a toy to substantially sized men. I suspect some of this is due to the 22” barrel, several inches longer than the most popular .22 rifles. The well done, traditional blued finish also gives the impression of a serious, quality weapon, as does the $465.00 MSRP. The fact that the rifle is not provided with non-optical sights also speaks to a more serious firearm. Even then, having never fired an A17, I could easily see why Guns And Ammo named it the Rifle of the Year for 2015. 

I generally avoid buying any product during its first model year. Let other poor suckers work out the kinks with the manufacturer. I read several reviews that spoke of reliability issues requiring returns of the rifle to Savage. However, every Savage product I’ve owned worked perfectly and reliably, so I let my pegging “want” meter overpower my overwhelmed “caution” catch and took a chance.

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All of the controls of the rifle are appropriately placed, sufficiently large, and work as they should. The bolt catch/release is thoughtfully placed, and large enough to be easily engaged and released. The safety is of common crossbolt design, which for a sporting rather than military arm, is sufficient and unobtrusive. The trigger guard, and the entire trigger group, are made of plastic, but unless one is a stubborn traditionalist, this is not a longevity or reliability problem. Plastics have proved themselves in firearms applications for decades.

The bolt lever initially seems overly large and massive, but the softer plastic provides good purchase for the hand, and its placement does not interfere with any other function of the rifle or even a scope. During disassembly and reassembly, one appreciates the well-thought out design of even this small part.

The only other item of note on the underside of the rifle is the front takedown screw. Only two screws must be removed to separate the barrel/receiver from the stock, and the other is under the rear cover. Both are easily accessible, and of sufficient size to prevent easy, unnoticed loss.

The Magazine:

Magazine

Anyone familiar with the iconic 10-22 rotary magazine will be at home with this magazine. It is, of course, somewhat larger, is slightly differently shaped, and its walls aren’t quite as thick as those of a 10-22. For the first 30 rounds, it was quite stiff. It was necessary to not only slide cartridges backward into the magazine, but also wiggle them, and put sideways pressure on their rims to force the red plastic rotor to turn (counter-clockwise) with a slight hangup and click, but once that was overcome, cartridges slid easily into place and the rotor turned. After about 30 rounds, the hangup was gone and the sideways pressure no longer necessary. The magazine functioned as smoothly as any 10-22 magazine.

However, in order to ensure positive engagement with the magazine well, it was necessary to hold the bolt fully to the rear when inserting the magazine. If I did not do this, the magazine was likely to fail to fully seat, though it felt and appeared seated. This would cause failures to chamber, and/or allow the magazine to drop from the well, not something easily or credibly explained to interested bystanders. Done with the bolt locked to the rear, the magazine inserted and locked into place with obvious tactile and audible signals, and functioned perfectly. Allowing the bolt to fly forward–never tentatively with semiautomatic weapons–always perfectly chambered a cartridge, giving said interested bystanders nothing at which to smirk

I have not been able to find magazines on the shelf in local stores, including the shop where I bought the rifle, but Cheaper Than Dirt is advertising them for $16.15, and Academy apparently has them for $22.99, though my local Academy has none on the shelf.  Even the rifles are relatively hard to find these days, something Savage is obviously laboring to make a thing of the past.

Shooting:

Apart from the adventure with magazine lock up, the rifle functioned flawlessly. I had adjusted the Accutrigger to its lightest setting before shooting, which is easily accomplished using the furnished tool without removing the action from the stock or disassembling the rifle in any way. The Accutrigger worked as well with the semiautomatic action as it has done with every Savage bolt action I’ve ever fired. It is light and crisp and contributes enormously to accuracy. Center hits on an 8” metal plate at 200 yards were of the “can’t miss” variety: ridiculously easy to do.

I didn't poke the holes with a pencil. Really.

I didn’t poke the holes with a pencil. Really.

This is a 5/8” group fired at 100 yards with Hornady .17 HMR ammunition. I have no doubt that with greater concentration and less distraction owing to near future chores, the rifle is capable of even greater accuracy. It is easily as accurate as my bolt action .17, which has a much heavier barrel configuration, and by virtue of its bolt action, theoretically greater accuracy potential.

Even off-hand, the rifle is well-balanced and does not feel overly heavy. A target-profile barrel would no doubt make the rifle muzzle- heavy, but this too would depend on scope size and choice. I chose a refurbished Nikon 4X12X40 scope–about $130.00–and was rewarded with an inexpensive scope with sharp and exceptionally clear optics, positive click adjustments done without tools, and smoothly functioning optical adjustments.

Most of my shooting was done from a bench with the attached bipod and shooting bags for the stock, but I also fired some 20 rounds at 100 yards from an unsupported, standing position at a silhouette target someone thoughtfully left in place without too many holes in it, putting all rounds within the center of mass with relatively rapid fire. I didn’t measure the group size, but it appeared to be around 5-6” when viewed through a spotting scope. Your mileage may vary.

Recoil is all but non-existent, and the rifle drew quite a few questions and apparently admiring glances, not only at the appearance of the rifle, but at the groups downrange. Several shooters were watching with their spotting scopes. Keep in mind I am hardly a long-range shooter in the Carlos Hathcock/Chris Kyle pantheon, but the A17 makes shooting well easy.

I did not use any ammunition other than common Hornady .17 HMR with the poly tipped, 17 grain bullet. I intended to shoot some of the new CCI A17 ammunition designed specially for the A17 rifle, which is apparently 100 FPS faster than stock .17 HMR, but the shop where I bought the gun had none in stock and no idea when–or if–they would get it. Every other local shop where I inquired had never heard of the ammunition, causing several mildly funny exchanges with clerks that thought I had no idea what .17 HMR ammunition was, while I knew they’d never heard of the CCI ammunition:

Clerk: “Yeah, this is .17 HMR ammo, it’s…”

Me: “No, I mean CCI .17 HMR…”

Clerk: “Yeah, see, it says .17 HMR right here…”

Me: “I know what .17 HMR ammo is. What I want is .17 HMR ammo specifically manufactured by CCI for the Savage A17 rifle. It says ‘A17’ right on the box…”

Clerk: blank stare.

Disassembly and Reassembly:

All rimfire ammunition is dirty. Rimfire rifles require cleaning. I’m not a clean freak by any means, but I believe in doing any job well, and I was pleased to discover that the A17 is relatively easy to clean. Anyone that has ever cleaned a 10-22 will find many points of similarity. The A17 is not AR-15 easy to take apart and clean, but it’s not far from it, and both require a bit of attention to detail. Unlike some gun manuals, the Savage manual is well written and has clear and obvious illustrations, and enough of them.

Takedown

Taking the gun down requires a small punch–even the trigger adjustment tool supplied with the gun would probably do the job–inserted into the single hole on the plastic rear cover to lift the recoil spring guide upward and out of its slot. Using the punch, the rear cover can be lifted off–I had to use a flat bladed screwdriver for a little additional lifting power; that should no longer be necessary after a few cycles–upward and backward, and the action spring assembly easily slides out. This also frees the bolt lever. Using a 5/32 Allen wrench, two action retention screws are easily removed–even with a scope mounted–and the receiver/barrel unit and stock are separated. With a little tilting, the bolt easily slides out the rear of the receiver. To finish the job, use the punch to push a single pin holding the trigger group in place, and it too is easily removed from the receiver.  It too resembles a 10-22 trigger group.

Takedown 2

There are no small, hard to see or manipulate parts or springs that tend to fly off at the worst possible time into alternate universes, lost forever. The A17 wasn’t designed to be military foolproof, but it’s not far from it. Cleaning is straightforward, but it would be wise to have many Q-Tips handy, and turning the receiver and bolt this way and that to remove grit from all the channels, nooks and crannies is necessary. With the bolt out, it’s easy to see–and properly lubricate the clever mechanical linkage of the interrupter lug. Cleaning the barrel from the breach just feels right, and is easier to do with that tiny bore and equally tiny cleaning tools.

Reassembly is in reverse order and there are no parts that can be assembled upside down or backward. Even the bolt lever can only fit the proper way. Pushing the rear cover into place feels as though one must use too much force, but it eventually snaps authoritatively into place, and removing and replacing it will surely become easier with practice and a little wear. It is a well-engineered and properly reinforced piece of plastic, unlikely to be damaged.

Final Thoughts:

This is more than just a casual, inexpensive plinking gun. It costs more, and it is more versatile. I suspect it will remain entirely reliable, and would provide an excellent and inexpensive way to teach anyone the basics of scope use and long-range–relatively speaking–marksmanship. The rifle is not so large or heavy as to be prohibitive to the small in stature or children, nor does it feel undersized to large or experienced shooters. I’m looking forward to this gun in stainless steel, and with a heavier profile barrel.

Every now and then a manufacturer gets a product just right, and Savage has done it with the A17.

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