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Author: Frank Ross
Helping youngsters to make the transition from .22 plinkers to higher performance loads has always presented the arguable question: Which caliber is the right one? Regardless of your choice, there is no substitute for "trigger time" when it comes to perfecting the fine art of shooting, and for my money, the Marlin 17V is a solid investment.
The designation for Hornady's new .17 ammo is HMR, which stands for Hornady Magnum Rimfire, but what it actually means is HoMe Run. In fact, when you combine this great new caliber with Marlin's new Hornady 17V and a quality varmint scope what you have is a grand slam.
When our department received several of the latest models of .17s from different manufacturers, two went to be tested by veteran shooters who could give an in-depth analysis based on critical shooting specifications. I on the other hand opted for the evaluation that seemed more fun, at least at first blush.
Since the Marlin version is ideally suited to the body of a youngster, the question to be examined was, how well can a lad (of say 12 years of age) handle a rifle of such exceptional capabilities. I have such a lad who is always eager to pull the trigger, as long as someone else is buying the ammo, so we set out to determine just how the two matched up.
First, there was the task of mounting the scope to fit his body and getting the crosshairs zeroed for 100 yards on a shooting bench. I mounted a Tasco WorldClass 6-24x50, since our main mission was going to be smaller varmints at significant distances. Another factor for the Tasco selection was the price. Considering the fact that for adults, this isn't going to be a shooter's main rifle, I took the position that consumers would want an economical scope with a great deal of versatility and plenty of magnification.
Getting the scope set up went fairly quickly; however, it took about 15 rounds to get it zeroed. I took the extra step of having it bore sighted first, but the first two rounds were completely off the paper. We cut our distance in half and made some major corrections, and in a matter of 30 minutes had it tightened up to the point that Jordan produced a three-shot group that a nickel would cover, at 100 yards. We were ready.
The following weekend, we set out for a dog town just Southwest of our home. Unfortunately, these dogs are very wary after repeated visits that have depleted their ranks only marginally. We walked the last 300 yards to the town, and when we were within 150 yards they started barking and scurrying to their holes.
We set up in our usual place, using my shooting bag for a gun rest. Jordan, my 12-year-old tester, can't spell patience and is basically ignorant of its meaning or merit. When he gets into the prone position, something had better start happening. While the barking alerts pierced the late afternoon, these cautious dogs were sounding the alarm from well within their holes. Fulfilling my duties as chief scout and guide, I scanned the area thoroughly, from the close holes to those in the far distance, well beyond the .17's effective 150-yard range. After repeated questions that begged the answer, "When are they going to come out?" and "Why won't they come out?" I was willing for him to try a long distance lob of say 200 yards. After all, this was a test.
The afternoon of our outing, there was a mild breeze blowing gently through the dry prairie grass that bordered what is now a devastated area resembling a moonscape. Gradually a few distant dogs began to crawl out of their holes, standing erect as they sought to detect danger. "There's one dad," he whispered with enthusiasm. As they stretched to their full height and whistled back and forth, they made a perfect target profile, just about 150 yards too far. "Yes," I said. "And how far do you think that is?" I asked.
"Oh, 175 yards," he offered. "How about 275 yards?" I corrected.
"No way," he said.
"Yes way," I insisted.
He wanted to prove me wrong with a quick pull of the trigger, but again, I prompted him to be patient. His eye was glued to the scope as he searched in vain for one that would receive my approval. While we waited, I contemplated the tenacity of this curious critter.
After two marginally effective attempts at poisoning out the vermin, this colony has bounced back to devour every living plant in an area that covered about 5 acres. The landowner is very happy to host our occasional contribution to varmint control, and I did my part by keeping the dog count down and the brass picked up. I was eager to increase our effectiveness, so that he wouldn't consider poisoning them again. On both previous occasions, the town was basically taken to the brink of extermination but there were always a few dogs left. From this remnant, a fresh crop always sprang anew like a phoenix rising from the ashes.
It takes a while, but I am convinced that the numbers of pups being born are increased when a town is being repopulated. The last time they "got the gas," there were only four dogs left. One morning on the way to work, I crept by slowly and counted them as they scampered across their barren mounds and scoured ground. Since I have no way of knowing the male/female mix, I have no idea what the production ratio might have been, but barely a year later the town was back in business. Two years later, so were we.
Finally, after a long harangue of "can I shoot that one," a lone dog ventured out at roughly 90 yards. Once Jordan spotted him, he wanted to start blazing away, but I suggested that if he would wait for a few more minutes more would come out and he might be able to get a closer shot. There were mounds as close as 25 yards in front of us, but he had the "want tos" bad. "I can hit him dad," he pleaded. "Let me shoot him."
I relented, and following a lengthy series of heavy exhales, and several repositions on his rest, the rifle's Chihuahua voice barked back and a relieved prairie dog dropped into its hole amid dirt and rocks that showered it from the near miss. "Hmm," I said. "Thought you could hit it?" I chided gently. With a disgusted expression, he jacked another round into the chamber and reaffixed his eye to the scope, trying to stare the dog back out of its hole. For youngsters making the transition from plinking to higher performance loads, there is no substitute for "trigger time" when it comes to prefecting the fine art of shooting.
From that point forward, the afternoon's shoot slid down a slippery slope. Several more dogs popped up, and I was sure he hit one, but when we stepped off 125 yards to the hole there was no body to confirm his marksmanship. As the afternoon sun dropped to the horizon, it was obvious that this town was shut down for the evening. It was a long walk back to the truck for him, and he entered the house like he had lost his best friend. Later that night, I tried to encourage him with the promise of an expedition to a town with dumb dogs. That cheered him up considerably, as he cleaned the rifle and licked his wounded pride.
Over the next four weeks, every time I had a day off, when we could go, the wind was howling, as Nebraska winds do in the Spring, and all three other seasons for that matter. Finally, the pressure of editorial expectations pushed me into a Friday morning outing before work. The town we were going to try was about 45 miles north, and relatively unmolested. I woke him up at 6 a.m. and we were in position by a little after 7. As we walked out into the area, it was immediately obvious that today's session would be more productive. Dogs were everywhere and even as we approached, they stood still and erect, barking like it was going to change our minds.
For this day's shoot, I loaned Jordan my shooting sticks, since he had difficulty with the lower angles required by using my shooting bag as a rest. This proved to be very fortuitous since the terrain undulated severely, requiring an elevated angle for most shots. There was a stiff breeze cranking out of the northwest and I cautioned him to compensate to the left of his target. "You'll just have to experiment a little. I'll watch the dirt kick up if you miss and you can correct for the windage. Give it about six inches and we'll see how that works," I said.
Within minutes the .17 was popping, and the seven-shot clip was empty, but no dogs were down. "More ammo," he said.
As he quickly thumbed the tiny shells into the clip, the urge to participate became too overwhelming.
"Here, let me see that," I said.
"No, dad. I can do this," he replied.
When I asked him if he wanted me to run a few rounds, just to make sure it was still sighted in I got 'the glare.' "You find them, I'll shoot," he said with a finality that I reluctantly accepted. After all, it was supposed to be a kid test I reminded myself.
As I glassed for likely dogs, at a reasonable distance, Jordan got set and called for a target. This isn't a sporting clay range I thought, but within seconds I spotted two dogs on the same mound just barely 100 yards away. It took a few minutes to locate them in the scope with it cranked up to the maximum 24 power, so I had him crank it back to 18 and that magnification seemed to work a little better for quick acquisition. There were so many mounds, dotted by dried cow pies, that it was difficult to pick out a small dog that was basically the same color as the dirt it was setting in, when working at full power.
"Wait just a second," I cautioned. "They are going to line up and you could get a double. Ok, take 'em." The rifle's diminutive pop was followed by shouts of joy. "I got them," he shouted. "I got a double."
"Not a bad way to get your first dog," I remarked. "Your first dog was a double. Now see if you can top that."
"More ammo," he said, grinning with an outreached hand.
As I held out another batch of shells, it occurred to me that this is one excellent aspect of the .17. Despite his excessive rate of consumption, compared to production, he had used less than half a box of ammo and the cost is marginal when compared to a .22-250 or .243. Hornady's suggested retail price is less than $10.00 for a box of 50, loaded with the 17 grain V-MAX bullets, and with these hot loads it performs very favorably. Jordan's main mode of fire is a .22 lever action, and although he loves to shoot it -as long as I buy the bricks of ammo- prairie dogs have eluded his long-range lob shots. For him, the .17 was a definite upgrade that eliminated the need for excessive elevation at distant dogs. Sure, there are limitations to everything in life. Even with the 17gr bullet's 2,550fps muzzle velocity, you can't reach everything that you can see. However, when dogs are within your range, the effect is dramatic.
At six pounds, plus the weight of a scope, it's a good size for young muscles and the price won't remove much weight from a shooter's wallet. Just about any youngster could mow enough lawns to purchase one in a few weeks. At today's rates, it would only take about a month of Saturday's to earn the rifle's $200 purchase price. Of course dad could help if there's a birthday coming up.
No question, the Marlin .17 would be a great gun for introducing a youngster to shooting higher velocity rounds. The kick is almost nonexistent, the noise is minimal, and the high-performance V-MAX boat-tail jacketed bullet generates at least 25% more muzzle velocity than the 22 Win. Mag. A heavy 22" barrel also makes it easier to steady when emptying the 7-shot clip. The rugged, walnut-finished, hardwood, Monte Carlo stock is kid tough and comes with sling swivel studs. This firearm is intended to be used at the upper reaches of its fast, flat trajectory, so there are no factory sights, but the receiver is grooved for a tip-off scope mount, and Marlin includes 1" scope rings. If you select a scope with a larger diameter objective lens, like the Tasco 6-24x50, you'll need to pick up a pair of taller mounts.
After what seemed like a very long time I was able to wrestle the rifle away from this ingrate of a son, (he's got a pretty good grip) and fired a few rounds. I shot it from a sitting position, kneeling and standing off-hand. In a 12-year-old's vernacular, "cool."
It took a round or two to adjust to the wind drift and then I dropped two dogs, but when we walked over to view the results we couldn't find them. Either we lost sight of the spot among the labyrinth of pocked holes or as Jordan suggested, "maybe they have rescue dogs that sneak up and drag them back in their holes!"
I gave him 'the glare' and we headed back to the road where our vehicle was parked. As we walked out of the area, dogs that had been quiet from an hour of shooting began to pop back up and bark at our departure. I paused and looked to my left and Jordan went on point, quickly scanning the landscape, eager to empty the Marlin's clip one more time. "Where is he, do you see one? I'll shoot him, just tell me where." he said.
"Ok, just one more then we've got to go," I said. "You've had way too much fun for one day."
"No way," he said, slumping over the scope to await range, and direction.
For a complete technical review, with wind drift calculations and bullet drop charts, click here.
To find the our nearest location where this type of firearm is sold, click here.
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