It is a tired, old cliché, but an accurate one nonetheless: Sometimes you need to think outside the box. That was exactly what was necessary in order to sate the widespread desire for a semi-automatic rifle in .17 HMR. For more than a century, the standard blowback semi-automatic action harnessed rimfire cartridges nicely. Blowback semi-autos utilize bolt mass and spring tension to keep the bolt closed long enough for the bullet to leave the barrel and allow pressures to drop off to a safe level.
But then the .17 HMR came along, and it introduced a third factor in the equation: bullet mass. The characteristic that allows the .17 HMR to achieve those superb velocities—a lighter bullet—also produces less thrust on the bolt to usher it rearward and cycle the action. Lightening the spring tension or the bolt mass proved ineffective. Oh, you could get enough bolt velocity to cycle the action, but often the action would open while the pressure was too high, endangering the shooter. A couple of companies attempted to market such a semi-auto .17 HMR but had to quickly recall the rifles and shelve the project because of this very problem.
Along came Savage Arms, and its solution to the bolt-opening problem is remarkably simple: Delay the opening of the bolt until the bullet has left the barrel and pressures have decayed to a safe level. Savage did this by employing a locking lug at the top of the bolt that remains engaged while the trigger is pulled, yet disengages the instant the back pressure drops off.
The A17 rifle has been out for years now, and the feedback has been almost universally positive. Savage’s reputation for fine accuracy remains unsullied. Though it took some time for me to find a day when the legendary Wyoming winds were not ruling the prairie this summer, once I did get some calm air, the rifle consistently grouped at less than an inch at 100 yards. The 22” free-floated barrel with a 1:9" RH twist laid everything from 16-gr. CCI lead-free hollow points to Hornady 20-gr. XTPs into tiny groups, often within a single hole.
At just less than 5.5lbs., sans the scope, the A17 is a great walking varminter. If there is a problem, it’s that such a light rifle is difficult to take advantage of that superb accuracy in the field. I’d like to see a heavy-barrel version sometime for those of us who like to set up on a prairie dog town and don’t have to carry the rifle over hill and dale.
Like virtually all Savage rifles, the A17 is equipped with the AccuTrigger, that somewhat unconventional looking fire-control switch that set gunmakers on their ears some 13 years ago when corporate lawyers deemed triggers must support the weight of the gun. My sample rifle’s trigger broke at 2 lbs., 13 oz. and was as good as any factory trigger I have used.
Included with this test rifle was a Bushnell 3.5-10x 36 mm A17 Riflescope, a scope designed specifically for this rifle. Although not offered as a package, this scope mated perfectly with the A17 rifle and functioned flawlessly. It features an adjustable objective that focuses down to as close as 10 yards, allowing the shooter the capability for precision accuracy on tiny targets at any range. Its Multi-X reticle is equipped with a custom ballistic-drop-compensating turret that is calibrated specifically for CCI A17 .17 HMR ammunition. The Bushnell 3.5-10x 36 mm A17 Riflescope has an MSRP of $149.
I took the Savage A17 to the range to see how it would do. It was a humid, 77-degree day, and I had a couple different .17 HMR loads from CCI and Hornady. In keeping with American Rifleman's testing protocol, I tested the A17 at 100 yards with five 5-shot groups.
With CCI's 16-gr. Green load, the velocity averaged 2,550 fps. My smallest group size was .50", and the average group size was 0.62". Hornady's 20-gr. XTP load averaged 2,348 fps, with a smallest five-shot grouping of 0.425" and an average accuracy of .68". Overall, a pretty tight shooter.
There is a lot to like about this A17 rifle and very little to dislike. I was very impressed with its accuracy, given its very light weight. The AccuTrigger negates my otherwise constant argument of a less-than-stellar trigger pull. I confess that synthetic stocks are not always my cup of tea, but there is no doubt that this one is effective and sturdy. I was able to sting a very few prairie dogs with it and, of course, the .17 HMR worked like a charm on the pesky rodents. Savage should be congratulated on producing a reliable and safe semi-auto .17 HMR, and, as usual, offering a whole lot of gun for the money.
Model: Savage A17
Type: Delayed blowback, semi-automatic rifle
Caliber: .17 HMR
Barrel Length: 22”
Overall Length: 42”
Magazine/Capacity: Detachable box/10-round capacity
Trigger: Savage AccuTrigger; 2 lbs., 13 oz.
Rifling: 1:9", RH, button rifled
Sights: None; comes with factory installed scope mounts
Stock: Black synthetic Drop at comb/heel: 0.775”/0.70"
Weight: 5.41 lbs.
Metal Finish: High-luster black
Accessories: Two 10-round magazines; lock