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Blackhorn Powder
Rifle Magazine
February - March 2001
Volume 36, Number 1
ISSN: 0017-7393
Number 209
On the cover...
This issue is only available on CD-ROM.The Cooper .17 Mach IV and Remington Model 700 .17 Remington are top choices for smallbore enthusiasts. Photo by Stan Trzoniec. Coyote photo by Gary Kramer. Purchase the CD-ROM here
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Looking back, it’s difficult to pinpoint the original idea and intent of the .17-caliber cartridge, never mind the seemingly unending list of variations. Even before the popular .17 Remington was thought of, 55 years ago the legendary Parker Ackley built a .17-caliber rifle for the late C.H. O’Neil. Called the .17 Pee Wee, it was nothing more than the .30 M1 carbine case necked down to .172 inch.

From then on the .17 caliber started to snowball. While some say Ackley “developed” the .17 Hornet, .17 Bee and .17 Lovell, in his book titled Handbook for Shooters and Reloaders, Ackley states he only “became familiar” with the trio of newcomers. He goes on to say “. . . we now have the .17 Woodsman, .17 Pee Wee, .17 Javelina, .17 A&M and the .17/222.”

Still the list goes on. The .17 Squirrel is simply another version of the .22 Hornet case with the shoulder pushed back slightly; the .17-221 is an early version of the .17 Mach IV with its shoulder angle moved back. Later, an improved .17 Mach IV somewhat overpowered the original version by incorporating a sharper shoulder angle.

The .17-222 is easily formed by first running the .222 Remington case in a sizing die and finishing the operation by fireforming. There are also additional variations like the .17 Landis Woodsman, .17-40 and .17-32 Jet, obviously formed by necking down the famous .22 Jet cartridge. Much later - over a quarter century later - the .17 Remington appeared and, much to the chagrin of most, simply and very easily commercialized the .17 caliber.

Newcomers to the .17-caliber family have a couple options, both of which are easy to work with at the loading bench or in the field. The .17 Remington is a great cartridge, and since it is commercialized, rifles, brass and components are as close as your nearest sporting goods store. On the other hand, folks who enjoy working with wildcats might find the well-liked .17 Mach IV inviting. Both are close in terms of velocity (considering internal volume) with the edge going to the “legalized” Remington brand, but in the end it boils down to whether you’d like to sit back and purchase everything from stock or roll your own.

The .17 Remington

Chambered in one of the most popular bolt-action rifles ever made, the commercial version of this .17 cartridge has been with us in the Model 700 since 1971. In reality, as an off-the-shelf rifle, the Model 700 as chambered for the .17 Remington is really hard to beat. Whether chambered in the .17 Remington or .375 H&H, the Model 700 gets its pedigree from a long line of famous and accurate ancestors. Starting with the Model 30 in 1921, the series started a progression of models to include the Model 720, 721, 722, 725, commencing with the improved Model 700 in 1962.

Even the Model 7 had a fling with the .17 Remington; for a few years from 1993 to 1995 it was available with a clean barrel (no sights) and a wood stock. Finally, just two short years ago, the “Classic” found its way into the .17 Remington fold - no doubt a bonus to collectors.

The Model 700 BDL is the most popular of all the 700s in the line. Sporting a California-type stock complete with a monte carlo comb, cut checkering and a high gloss finish, this rifle continues to be a major player in the corporate lineup. Adding still another dimension, if you really want something unique, the Remington Custom Shop will be more than happy to make one up for you in .17 Remington complete with fancy wood, engraving and your choice of optical goods.

It’s not hard to see that Remington had its work to do in developing the .17 Remington for consumer use. After all, here you have a bullet    that measures only .172 inch across its body diameter, a case tapped from the likes of the popular .223 Remington, combined with a bullet weight of only 25 grains (factory version) pushing in excess of 4,000 fps.

Rim size was also a major consideration especially for a new cartridge introduction. New tooling drives up the cost of development and gets the bean-counters nervous. Here, Remington took the .223 Remington case with a rim size of .378 inch - the same as the .222 Remington and .222 Remington Magnum - and handily adapted it to the present-day short action Model 700s. While many might criticize Remington for basing the .17 Remington on an overly large case, one has to look at the practical side of consumer marketing. Remington is not in the wildcat business (remember that nasty liability word) so with a case length of 1.796 inches and a rim size of .378 inch, they literally had a near instant, no sweat new product in which feeding problems were nonexistent.

They also took a gamble. Pure and simple, the .17 Remington is a varmint cartridge, so it will only appeal to a small circle of outdoorsmen. In basic form the .17 Remington is nothing more than the .223 Remington necked down to .17 caliber with the shoulder backed down a bit to increase the neck length. In reality, the shoulder has only been moved back about .087 inch for a better grip on the bullet while keeping the same 23-degree shoulder on the case. This makes the .17 Remington case 1.796 inches long; the parent case is 1.760 inches.

The critics rose once more. They remarked, “Why go through all this trouble when you can take the .223 case and just neck it to .17 caliber?” Good question, but I think efficiency of the cartridge was the key. By using a smaller interior volume, the .17 Remington (with its shoulder moved back) can push a 25-grain bullet (on paper now) to about 3,960 fps with 21.0 grains of H-335. The unmodified .17-223 takes that same 21.0 grains to reach only 3,618 fps with 23.0 grains needed to even come close to 3,930 fps.

Dual purpose hunters who like to use the .22 calibers for “larger” small game also find the .17 Remington fascinating. For instance, looking at Table I helps illustrate some interesting comparisons.

Charts always tell the story so there is not much to say except that if you love velocity and desire a pure varmint rig, the .17 Remington may be the cartridge of choice. Then too, since there is only one factory load at present in one bullet weight, handloading is the only way to go. Cases are plentiful, ditto on the primers, and propellants like H-322, H-335, AAC-2520, IMR-4320, W-760 and newer Varget seem to fill the bill handily. Bullets and bullet weights now range from 15 to 37 grains and are a full production item from the likes of Berger, Calhoon, Hammet, Remington and Hornady.

Actual reloading practices follow the norm in making up loads for the .17 Remington. First, it’s a good idea to fireform cases with a midrange load and neck size only thereafter in the interest of accuracy. You’ll need a very small-necked funnel, and you’ll have to feed these cases slowly, especially with stick powders like IMR-4320. Patience must prevail, especially for those with larger fingers, as seating bullets will tax the best of us. I find it’s a good idea to chamfer the inside of sized cases to form a platform for these minute bullets to sit on as they are pressed into the cases during the seating and crimping operations. Other than that, standard loading practices prevail.

The .17 Mach IV

On the other side of the coin is the .17 Mach IV. Students of history are quick to point out that while the .17 Remington is considered the most popular .17-caliber cartridge, the .17 Mach IV beat it to market by about eight years.

Introduced by the O’Brien Rifle Company in 1963, it wasn’t very far behind the introduction of Remington’s aggressive .221 Fireball. This in fact was the basic case for the Mach IV; all you have to do is neck down the .221 Fireball to .17 caliber and voila, you have the .17 Mach IV! The overall length stays the same (1.400 inches), but the shoulder angle changes from 23 degrees to a more traditional short-cased 30 degrees common in some popular benchrest cartridges like the .219 Donaldson Wasp, .22 BR, .22 PPC, 6mm BR/PPC and hunting cartridges like the .300 Savage. While rifles chambered for the .17 Mach IV don’t have the near instant availability as the Remington Model 700, they are available from Cooper Arms (PO Box 114, Stevensville MT 59870).

Chatting with company honcho Dan Cooper, he advised that the company’s brand new Classic rifle was now ready in the Mach IV for my testing program. This company is on the forefront of supplying rifles to budding wildcatters, and if the .17 Mach IV doesn’t get your attention, how about one chambered in the .17 Ackley Hornet, .17 Squirrel, .218 Mashburn Bee, .22 K-Hornet or even the .22 Squirrel. Those are listed under the Model 38 Mini-Action; the Model 21 Short Action plays host to the likes of the .17 Javelina, .17 Mach IV, .221 Fireball, .223 Ackley and even the .22 and 6mm PPCs.

At 5 1/2 pounds sans scope, rings and mounts, the Cooper Classic is a really great squirrel gun. Sporting a hand-lapped match grade barrel, a very unique Cooper bolt with three front locking lugs, a knockout stock profiled from select AA Claro walnut, it was made range-ready with the addition of a set of Warne bases and a Leupold Compact 3-9x32 scope that allowed the use of low rings.

Cases for the .17 Mach IV are made from the .221 Remington Fireball and should be formed in two separate operations, and not by just running the case into a .17 Mach IV sizing die.

For equipment, purchase the RCBS case forming die set 58011. This includes a form die No. 3, a trim die and an extended head/shellholder No. 10. Place these dies into your press making sure both just touch the extended head that you have just placed into the ram. Lube the cases outside only (inside neck lubrication is not needed at this point), making sure that only a bare minimum of case lube is on the shoulder. Too much will produce shoulder dents, not particularly harmful, but excess working of brass in this area is not really needed. Still another tip: While forming cases, check the inside of the form die for lube buildup that can, in most cases, be the culprit of shoulder dents. A small amount of lighter fluid or WD-40 can clean this area in a jiffy.

The first forming reduces outside neck diameter from .245 to .218 inch. From there the trim die now takes it from .218 to .205 inch. Finally, the RCBS full-length sizing die set (56017) will true up the cases, especially in the shoulder and neck area with a final outside dimension of .198 inch and a perfect inside diameter of .170 inch.

I like to fireform new brass using 18.5 grains of AAC-2520 topped off with a Hornady or Remington 25-grain bullet and a Remington 6 1/2 primer. After the range session, a quick run through the die to just neck size all the cases makes everything ready for some serious accuracy testing. Velocity of this load in the Cooper rifle was 3,375 fps. Back home the die was set to allow the bolt to just close over a processed case ensuring the proper headspacing for optimum results downrange.

Loading either of these .17-caliber offerings requires perseverance and attention to all the details. Bullets are small, powder charges a bit touchy, and you should allow enough time to do the job right. Each powder charge should - read must - be weighed to ensure accuracy down to .10 grain. There are sufficient bullet choices, and I settled on the 19-grain Calhoon and 25-grain Remington and Hornady designs. For the 19-grain bullet, loading data for any 20-grain bullet can be used and can be found in Hornady’s new loading book. Calhoon recommends that you don’t push his bullet past 3,800 fps as accuracy and terminal results may be impaired. If you need the additional velocity, the Hornady 20-grain bullet should satisfy any speed cravings.

Before we get into the nitty-gritty, a few observations are in order. First, on the subject of fouling, I did clean the bore with a patch dampened with just a trace of Hoppe’s impaled on a copper bore brush. After every 20 rounds, this combination was pushed through the bore followed by a dry patch, then a fouling shot. Another interesting point is that the Mach IV with its slightly lower velocity was a perfect match with the lighter Cooper bullet. On the other hand, the more potent .17 Remington did itself proud in the somewhat heavier Model 700.

Final outcomes are always nice to tally, and both .17s were no exception. Reloading practices aside, and if I had to narrow the playing field with a choice of propellants, IMR-4198, Vihtavuori N130, H-322 or H-4198 would be my pick in the .17 Mach IV. Best velocities were achieved using H-322 and VV-N130 and would be higher (and much closer to the .17 Remington) if the Cooper had a 24- and not a 19 1/2-inch barrel.

In the larger .17 Remington, again IMR-4895 set the pace with a 1/4-inch group at 100 yards. Not a fluke, this load was repeated a few more times with the same result. Hodgdon’s H-322, IMR-4895 and W-760 would also get the nod for best of show. In the velocity column, AAC-2520 hit 3,738 fps with the 19-grain Calhoon while H-335, IMR-4320 and W-760 wiggled past that magical 4,000-fps barrier with some very impressive readings for the Remington 25-grain bullet. Remington’s only factory load that incorporates the heavier 25-grain bullet pushed 3,800 fps with a very decent 3/4-inch group.

Finally, those concerned with trajectory need not fret with either .17-caliber cartridge. For instance, if both are zeroed at 300 yards, the Mach IV at 3,500 fps will rise only 5 inches above the line of sight at around 155 yards. The .17 Remington is better simply because of velocity; at 4,100 fps the midrange trajectory is about 3 inches.

For the wildcatter, the .17 Mach IV offers a challenge both in ammunition and finding a rifle. On the other hand, our old friend the .17 Remington is easy to load, has factory brass at your beck and call and is chambered and available on short notice at your favorite gun dealer.

Propellant Profiles
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