At the time, I didn't know much about the caliber other than that it was different and therefore, to my way of thinking, special. Luckily for me the .17 Rem is more than different and special. It's effective, extremely accurate and I have grown to love it more for its strengths than its uniqueness.
The .17 Remington stems from a long line of .17 wildcats, but it's the only one that has ever been commercially produced by a major manufacturer. In 1971, Remington legitimized this caliber and from that point on it became the "only .17", leaving the others to drift into obscurity known only to die-hard reloaders, wildcatters and people with affinities for weirder stuff than I. It has had a consistent following over the years but not until recently, when Remington built their Classic model in .17, has its popularity been re-ignited.
The .17 Remington is essentially a .223 case necked down to .17 caliber. Factory Remington loads push a 25 grain bullet at 4,064 fps. This makes it one of, if not the, fastest factory produced loads on the market. Reloaders can also tailor loads to their specific needs. Several manufacturers offer bullets ranging between 20 and 30 grains in a variety of configurations.
When Remington introduced their Classic model in .17 caliber, I had to have one. As soon as I heard the news, I was on the phone to my local Remington dealer. I had one in my hands the next day. With a few boxes of factory ammo and a new Weaver V16 scope, I was on my way to the range for some light testing while breaking in the barrel. After the barrel was sufficiently seasoned, I started concentrating on groups. After firing the first group, I had to walk down the 100 yards to the target because I couldn't see the tiny holes through the 25-power spotting scope.
I was impressed to say the least. The first five shot group with factory ammo yielded a group of .67 of an inch! I have fired hundreds of rounds since then and, excluding my own shakiness, groups have always averaged between .50 to .75 of an inch. This is all out of a factory rifle with factory loads. I have two hunting partners who do extensive reloading for their .17's and they get approximately the same accuracy.
I have hunted with this rig for the past two years, taking crows, rock chucks and coyotes, and I am as impressed with it in the field as I am on the range. The flat trajectory is great for unknown distance shots on small varmints. The recoil is non-existent, and the report is mild. If pelt hunting is a concern, I have experienced very limited pelt damage with the .17. The light, fast bullet usually stops inside the animal, thereby avoiding the large exit holes of heavier calibers.
However, like everything else in the world, there is no perfect product without some drawbacks. The .17 is no exception to this rule. The two biggest drawbacks to the .17 is its susceptibility to wind drift and the limited penetration if heavy shoulder bones are hit on coyotes. The wind drift is simply a fact of life, but if the shots are kept within 250 yards on blustery days, the amount of drift is minimal. With the factory 25-grain hollow-points, lack of penetration may be a concern, but for the hand loader it is easily overcome by loading 30 grain bullets at a slightly lower velocity.
Miscellaneous .17 Notes
The .17's do have some peculiarities that owners and prospective buyers need to be aware of. First, none of your existing cleaning gear will work for a .17. A new rod, brushes and jags are required, but several manufacturers produce excellent products.
The .17's originally got a bad rap for barrel fouling and short barrel life. As far as fouling is concerned, I have yet to see the problem nor has anyone else I know who owns one. It is hard to say what is different from the old .17's, but I suspect it is a combination of better barrels, bullets and cleaning solvents. Regardless of the previous cause, it is now a non-issue. I get excellent accuracy up to 25 rounds before cleaning, which is on par with my .223 and .22-250.
Short barrel life is encountered with any caliber that pushes a bullet over 3,500 fps. Barrel life is an issue for the person who does a lot of shooting but not for the average hunter. By even the most conservative estimates, 2,000 accurate rounds can be expected. Now, 2,000 rounds may not be much to some, but most hunters will take many years to reach this amount. It simply boils down to how much you shoot. If you do shoot this much in a few years, I would suggest that you definitely enjoy your sport and a couple of hundred dollars for a rebarreling job is a small price to pay compared to everything else that goes into shooting and hunting.
The .17 will never be as popular as other calibers but, for those who love them, this is perfectly OK. In fact, they probably wouldn't want it any other way. There is something special about owning "weird" calibers.
To purchase Remington's high quality load for the .17, click here