Sweet .17 it may very well be contagious!
There were some key events that lead up to the eventual purchase of my first .17, and I have to give credit to John Henry for his contribution to the world wide web on his Coyote Gods website. I read what he and others on the various chat boards had to say about the .17 and was compelled to own one. The thought of shooting a little tiny bullet at extreme velocities intrigued me. The fact that this fictional-like character John Henry used his .17s to dispatch coyotes out at 300+ yards lured me with an intensity that can only compare to Rosie ODonnell after a candy bar. With confidence in John Henrys infinite wisdom I could disregard the myths of barrel fouling, and wind drift.
I remember my first .17 like it was yesterday. I was in the gun shop and saw it up in the rack amongst some Remington Senderos and Mountain Rifles. It was a Remington Model 700 Classic in .17 Remington. I had read about these guns on the Go Go Varmint Go website, and the success that others were reporting intrigued me enough to make me buy one. I had never seen a .17 caliber bullet, but the gunshop showed me some of the factory loads. That little tiny bullet perched on top of that big case was a sight to behold I had to have it. I had him throw in a trigger job and came to an agreement on price. I also needed to buy a special cleaning rod, bore guide, jag, patches. The owner of the store advised me that I may need some Sweets and JB Bore compound. I bought a couple of boxes of Remington factory loads to get started, figuring they would also provide some brass for later reloading.
I didnt have any money for a scope, so I scrounged a Leupold 3-9 power scope from my .270. For the base and rings, a local Jumbo Sports was going out of business and they had a black one-piece base and some silver rings(all Leupold). So what if I had a black base, silver rings, and a black scope with a gold ring I was ready to shoot. I went to the range to shoot the gun and had no rest or anything just a wooden block with a rag on top to keep from scratching up my shiny new stock. I had printed out some targets from Varmint Als website and was ready to go.
I began shooting some groups and was astonished by the total absence of recoil. I could keep my eyes on the target and actually not lose sight of it. This was the first time that I had ever fired a centerfire rifle with this little recoil. The groups I shot were not remarkable, but I was pleased none the less. At the time, I felt like I was doing so well with the factory ammo, I began to think about reloads.
Funny how it worked out, but I got a bonus paycheck right before a big gun show in Valley Forge, PA, and I knew right away it was a sign that I should get my reloading stuff there. I bought a Rockchucker press, RCBS scale, hand priming tool, .17 cal funnel, Lymans 47th loading manual, and RCBS .17 Remington dies. I didnt find any brass for the .17, and most looked at me like I had two heads when I asked for .17 Remington brass. I spent most of the show walking around looking for my reloading goodies, and I burned up my allocated cash rather quickly. Then, it happened like destiny, I stumbled across the booth of Tom Thomas, owner of The Outdoorsman, with all of his Coopers. In my eyes, these were the Holy Grail of .17s I had the opportunity to hold a Cooper Varmint Extreme in .17 Mach IV. I still aspire to own one of these fine rifles (someday I will own a Cooper, I will own a Cooper, I will own a Cooper). I had been emotionally scarred and Tom Thomas was to blame. By then, the only thing I could afford was a back copy of Small Caliber News and a free Cooper brochure. I didnt realize it at the time, but my addiction was beyond control. I left that show with a backpack full of reloading goodies and high hopes.
When I got home, my excitement grew stronger, and so did my addiction. There were still several things that I needed before I could start reloading, so I decided to give Todd Kindler a call at the Woodchuck Den. Todd gave me the advice I needed, and I ordered a copy of the Sensational Seventeens manual as well as some .17 Remington brass and a Wilson Case trimmer with a .17 Remington case holder. Todd Kindler is "The Go-to Guy" for the .17s, and I felt like I knew him. He never seemed to get tired of all my calls and questions.
I had to set up a work area to support my growing addiction. I picked up an old bench that was being thrown away at work and mounted my Press to it. This little bench was only 3 feet deep by 4 feet wide and I have to say that it was a sorry sight. I had it placed in my basement up against a concrete block wall with no light. I had to string an extension cord across the basement and plug in a halogen shop light that was clipped to the floor joist above the bench. I had all of my reloading stuff stashed in a plastic tote with a lid. My little reloading area was not so pretty but I spent hours there learning the craft. I remember my first night reloading at that little bench until 2:00 in the morning.
To start reloading for my .17 Remington, I chose IMR 4320 powder, Hornady 25 grain HPs, and the Remington 7 primers. I tried this combination and had moderate success doing so, but as I was learning to reload I was also learning to shoot (Im still learning at both). I read in my Sensational Seventeens manual about Winchester 760 powder and saw the pictures of the fine groups from the load, so I decided to give it a try. My groups with the 760 were as good or better than those I got with the IMR4320, but people warned me about the temperature sensitivity of 760. Being a new reloader, I decided I had better go with something more conservative and purchased some Varget. The Varget didnt meet my expectations, and I switched back to the 4320. Later I learned that I could very well have continued to use the 760, even for shooting on hot summer days. At that point, I purchased some other bullets to try including some 25 grain Berger MEFs and some 25 grain Starkes. The Starkes, when combined with 24.2 grains of IMR4320 is still my favorite load.
I had heard and read a lot about copper fouling in the .17 Remington. I would be lying if I told you that this gun doesnt copper foul. The accuracy does decline some as well when the barrel gets fouled badly, but it still shoots close to an inch. With a clean barrel in light wind conditions, the gun is capable of shooting " groups with its favorite load. I can shoot a string of 25 40 rounds before I notice the difference in the accuracy. Copper fouling shouldnt discourage you from getting a .17, in fact, it hasnt discouraged me even a little as you will see. What I found is that if you get a factory barreled Remington, you will need to break in the barrel carefully and possibly have it lapped. I have considered fire lapping my barrel, but will probably shoot it the way it is until I can justify a re-barrel. I want to see what happens as the barrel gets more massaging from 4000-fps projectiles.
I decided that I would love to have a premium barrel custom gun in a .17 caliber wildcat. I already had a T/C Encore handgun and decided that I would like to have a carbine barrel for this frame. It all happened as a matter of circumstance, and the whole story of that gun is listed on this page as "Its a Hebee?". One thing that I will say here is that Fred Smith of Bullberry Barrel Works played a large part in contributing to my addiction by providing such wonderful barrels at prices that even a father of 3 small children could afford. I gained more confidence and experience with that gun in both shooting and reloading. I found that I could get a custom barrel made for only a little investment. The word little should be considered relative to the cost of a custom gun. I have also found that the barrel is only the beginning, and the cost of brass, dies, and time is much larger. The custom barrels that I have gotten thus far are much better about the copper fouling. I have to say that with the several Bullberry barrels that I have gotten thus far, fouling is almost non-existent.
The addiction has now taken a firm grip on me, and I will continue to provide information on my projects as they grow. I now have a nice reloading bench with oak cabinets and a Formica counter top. My reloading equipment continues to acumulate, including my most recent acquisition of a Harrells Benchrest Powder measure. Thanks to Todd Kindler for talking me into this fine tool. I also have two chronographs that my father gave me for Christmas.
Keep an eye out from time to time on the site to see how my projects are coming and feel free to tell me about yours.
The .17 caliber projects that I am currently working on include:
.17 Ackley Hornet 10" Contender barrel.
.17 Mach IV 20" Encore barrel.
.17 Jet 21" Contender barrel.
Other projects I am working on that can still be considered small caliber:
.223 Remington 15" Contender barrel.
6BR 26" Encore barrel.
I am doing articles for Small Caliber News on several of the projects listed above, so I wont put them on the site until after they are published. Please see the Long Range Handgun contribution for now and look for that article in an issue of SCN shortly. I hope to have it done for the Summer edition since I missed the deadline for the Spring edition.