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A Hotter Hornet: Savage Model 25 Review

by Craig Boddington   |  March 20th, 2012 13

Savage-M25_001

The .17 caliber is hardly new. It probably first achieved popularity among Australian fox hunters more than 50 years ago. The Down Under rabbit infestation is well known, but for the boom in foxes that followed, the little .17 seemed just the ticket. The bullet would enter, do its work, but not exit, thus minimizing pelt damage. In the 1960s good old American wildcatters started necking various small centerfire cases (including the .22 Hornet) down to .17, and the caliber found favor with quite a few serious stateside varminters.

After quite a bit of wildcatting activity Remington introduced the .17 Remington in 1971. Based on the .222 Remington case, but with the neck shortened and the case lengthened to increase powder capacity, the .17 Remington was—and is—one of fastest of all factory cartridges, propelling a 20-grain bullet at 4,250 fps, or a 25-grain bullet at just over 4,000 fps.

Although wildcatters never gave up, this is pretty much the story of the .17 caliber until the last decade. The .17 Remington did—and does—have a following, especially among predator hunters. It has been less popular among high-volume varmint shooters because it quickly achieved a reputation for rapid fouling that affected accuracy. Why? Well, when velocities are that high some fouling is unavoidable, and because of the .17’s small bullet diameter, a couple thousandths of fouling buildup is more critical than with larger calibers.

In 2002 Hornady introduced the .17 HMR, based on the .22 WMR case necked down. The .17 HMR has been a spectacular rimfire success. It tends to be more accurate than than .22 WMR, and with a little 17-grain bullet at 2,550 fps (or a 20-grain bullet at 2,375), it’s awesome for small varmints at short range. Hornady followed up in 2005 with the .17 Mach 2, using the CCI Stinger case (slightly longer than the .22 LR case) necked down.

In 2007 Remington necked the stubby .221 Fireball case down to .17, creating the .17 Remington Fireball. This little speedburner propels a 20-grain bullet at 4,000 fps, and it’s very accurate as well. However, it’s fair to say that, of all today’s .17 offerings—both rimfire and centerfire—only the .17 HMR can be considered a runaway success.

The Load, the Rifle
Now there’s one more, the .17 Hornet, developed by Hornady late last year and now making its debut in the Savage Model 25 bolt action. I’m not always good at predicting winners and losers in the marketplace—and it’s way too early to tell—but I’m calling this one a winner.

The concept isn’t new; wildcatters have been necking down both the .22 Hornet and blown-out .22 K-Hornet since the 1960s. The .22 Hornet is really a blend, not quite as sharp-shouldered as the K-Hornet, but with quite a bit of the .22 Hornet body taper removed. Thanks to modern propellant technology, it’s also an idea whose time has come. Introduced in Hornady’s Superformance Varmint line, the initial factory loading features a 20-grain V-Max bullet at an advertised velocity of 3,650 fps, which seems to me to be an astounding performance from such a small case.

I was first introduced to the .17 Hornet at Intermedia’s August Round Table at PASA Park in Illinois. It seemed accurate and was a lot of fun to shoot, but at that time both rifle and ammunition were in prototype form. Several months passed before I was able to get my hands on a production rifle and ammunition. No matter. My first impression of the rifle/cartridge combo held up just fine.

The Savage Model 25 is a serious varmint rifle. There are three versions. The one I got was the Light Varminter. It has a laminate wood stock and a 24-inch bull barrel. With the Leupold Vari-X II 3-9x50mm scope I put on it, it weighs about 9½ pounds. The scope deserves special mention. The Vari-X II, or “VX2,” is hardly new, but for 2012 this time-tested Leupold line has received a significant facelift, with improved optics and adjustments. At the 2012 SHOT Show they had the “new” VX2 mounted on a platform side by side with the “old” VX2—and you could actually see the difference. That said, many prairie dog hunters will mount more powerful scopes on their .17 Hornets, while predator callers may prefer a smaller, more versatile hunting scope like the 3-9x50mm I used on the test rifle.

As may be imagined, with the little .17-caliber cartridge, it’s an extremely stable platform. The rifle can also be had with a laminate thumbhole stock (Lightweight Varminter-T) or with synthetic furniture (Walking Varminter). The Model 25 has a three-lug bolt, and in .17 Hornet, the detachable polymer magazine holds four rounds.

Small But Sizzling
Hornady’s .17 Hornet ammo comes packed in a square 25-round box. The first thing I did was run several rounds over the chronograph. Honestly, I was skeptical. I know it’s a light little bullet, but how could they get that kind of velocity out of that tiny case?

A partial answer, at least, is Hornady’s Superformance proprietary powders. Like I said, I was skeptical, and I’d have been perfectly happy if the factory ammo even came close. But it didn’t just come close. My actual average on this lot of ammo was 3,675 fps, which suggests that, for those who prefer a lighter “walkaround varmint rifle,” the published velocity of 3,650 fps can probably be achieved from a 22-inch barrel.

At the bench the little .17 Hornet is just plain fun. With a heavy rifle like the Model 25 Savage there is almost no movement when the trigger breaks—and varmint hunters will love that. The Savage Accu-Trigger is crisp and clean, and although the magazine proved a bit of a stumbling block in development, feeding from the polymer magazine was smooth and flawless.

At the range it probably didn’t make much difference. The new Leupold was clear and bright, and the adjustments were precise. After rough bore sighting the rifle came readily into zero with just a couple of shots. With a stable rifle in a solid rest, a good trigger, and the scope turned up to 9X, I felt like the groups I was getting were representative of what the rifle and load wanted to deliver. Maybe I could have done slightly better with a scope of higher magnification…but I wouldn’t swear to it. Also, I was aided by an extremely calm day. One thing that cannot be changed is that the .17’s very light bullets are pretty susceptible to wind drift.

OK, is that enough suspense? Get on with it, Boddington, how did the darned thing shoot? Quite well, thanks for asking. Right out of the box, with factory ammo and no barrel break-in, this particular Savage Model 25 is a half-MOA rifle. Of a dozen groups, my best measured .40 inch; my worst .75 inch. The majority were extremely consistent at just about a half-inch. I tend to think that’s pretty darned good for first crack out of the box. Although 3,650 fps is still pretty darned speedy, I was surprised that barrel heat didn’t seem an issue. I fired quite a few shots in quick succession, but the Savage’s heavy barrel hardly got warm to the touch (lots of steel, small hole!). I fired it warm and I let it cool, but the accuracy didn’t vary noticeably.

Real-World Applications
The cartridge’s overall length—at 1.723 inches—is exactly the same as the .22 Hornet. The rimmed case will not be suitable for all actions, but it should fit nicely into all existing platforms that will handle the .22 Hornet. As much as I love the original Hornet, I have to admit that serious accuracy has rarely been the cartridge’s strong suit. So, as has been the case with .17 HMR versus its .22 WMR parent, it’s my guess that the .17 Hornet will prove noticeably more accurate on average than the .22 Hornet we’ve long known and loved.

It’s also a whole lot faster, with a trajectory curve that closely matches that of the .223 Remington with a 55-grain bullet. Unlike the .17 HMR, its centerfire case can be handloaded, however Hornady is pricing its factory ammo to be extremely competitive: The suggested retail price for a box of 25 (note the five-round bonus over most centerfire rifle ammo) is $25.27; part of the idea is for the cartridge to be more affordable. But no matter how you compare it, the .17 Hornet is not a .17 Remington, much less a .223.

While it does shoot just as flat as a .223, its light bullets are going to get blown about a bit more on windy days, and those little projectiles cannot produce nearly as much energy. On the other hand, it is a whole lot more capable than the .17 HMR. I use the HMR for armadillos and other pests around my Kansas place. For small varmints out to 150 yards or so, it’s an amazing little cartridge, but it has sharp limits. At 2,550 fps I’ve found it to be marginal for coyotes. Even at close range you have to be very careful with shot placement, and once you get out there a bit, it just doesn’t have enough steam.

I’ve also used the .17 HMR in Africa for small predators and pygmy antelopes, and I’ve found it marginal for jackal (which, like coyotes, are very tough); and I’ve seen issues with penetration even on small, thin-skinned antelopes like steenbok. But add 1,000 fps to that little .17-caliber bullet and you have an entirely different cartridge with an altogether different set of capabilities.

The .17 Hornet should prove plenty of gun not just for foxes, but also for coyotes and bobcats and, like the faster .17s, should do its work without pelt-damaging exit wounds. For the ground squirrel and prairie dog shooters, it has both accuracy and extended range over the rimfires, so while no .17 can be considered a true long-range varminter, it will reach into the middle distance almost as well as the .223, with the added advantage of letting the shooter call the shot right through the scope.

In our vast spectrum of factory cartridges, there aren’t many gaps, but I think the .17 Hornet found one: a versatile .17 that reaches out without breaking the bank or burning the barrel. It’ll be very interesting to see how well it catches on.

See photos and specifications of the guns mentioned in this article and order from an inventory of thousands—all online through Gun Locator. Visit GalleryofGuns.com.

Savage-M25_005

The Savage Model 25 has a four-shot detachable polymer magazine that was easy to load and fed flawlessly.

  • jim

    Whats not to like here? Thanks to Hornady & Savage for the 300 yd laser beam with low report and no real rise with recoil. Also thanks to Mr Boddington for an excellent report.

  • Steve

    I have been teetering on getting the walking model 25 for about a month now. But was thinking .223. Now I have to reconsider a bit. As typical for Boddington, a complete and honest report regarding strengths and weaknesses of the new cartridge and a good look at the 25's capabilities. What I also really like about Boddington is he can shoot, unlike so many other rag writers. I get real sick of writers reporting stuff like "great" 2 to 3 inch groups with guns like Sig 226's. And from a bagged rest, no less. I have done much better than that offhand. GET SOMEONE WHO CAN SHOOT and is as honest as Boddington or at least use a Ransom rest.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sandhu.bhupinder2 Sandhu Bhupinder

    nice shot with minimal recoil

  • Alan_T

    Dear Santa ,
    How are you and the lovely Mrs. Claus ? How is Rudolph and the other reindeer ? Did you like the cookies and milk I left out for you last Christmas Eve ? I have been a good boy this year Santa ( so far ) so would you please , please , please bring me a new Savage model 25 with a laminated stock in .17 Hornet , an autographed photo of Colonel Boddington and lots 'n lots 'n lots of .17 Hornet ammo ?
    Your Friend ,
    Alan_T

  • Iowa Don

    And just what can it do that my .22-250AI Savage heavy barrrel can't with 30 grain Bergers at a chrono'd 5037fps? Col. Cooper once said of the double .45ACP pistols that were so hot some years ago; "It's a solution in search of a problem". And I can still use factory ammo if I run out of the AI loads. This is another version of "a fool and his money…."

    • Jeff

      I'll tell you what it can do that your 22-250 cant do……. It can maintain barrel life a helluva lot longer. And I hate to rain on your parade, but Ackley Improved is hardly worth the expense with todays powders. AI is an old mans concept.

      • Scott S

        Couldn’t have said it any better myself. I’m a .260 Rem. fan (.264 or 6.5mm in anything), and people are touting that to reach the real potential of the .260 is to make it an “Ackley Improved”. Bunk! I hunt, I target shoot, & don’t need a hand cannon to do it with. I deer hunt with a .22 Hornet or .260 Rem. Using the .22 Hornet for meat kills and the .260 (occasionally my 30-06′), for trophy hunting. Roy Weatherby & P.O. Ackley found and created a true “step up” for THEIR time to improve the cartridges of their day. As you stated, it’s the modern age and technology has improved. Most guns are capable of producing accuracy that the shooter cannot obtain. So actually the guns can produce better than the person behind the trigger. Blowing shoulders, fire forming, ultra-maging, WSSM’s, bring nothing to the table that can’t already be purchased and used right off the shelf. I don’t need 1.3grns of more powder, or 150fps of speed to take my quarry. I need about 3 seconds to spot, aim, fire. Hunt over. If you can’t take an animal today with anything off the shelf, or you need .300 Win or .300 RUM to take a whitetail deer; you need to go practice at the range. I hunt with a .22 Hornet & a .260 Rem, 30-06′ Springfield, and now a .17 Hornet and my “manhood” is intact. Rarely have I encountered if any, “men” that can accurately out shoot me with my ole’ 06′ vs. their WSSM’s, .300 Mag’s, etc. There are limits! A 30-06 is about as much as any one shooter can handle in recoil and remain accurate. Same goes for revolvers. .357 Mag, is as high as one can go in modern magnum calibers and be consistently accurate. Keep your 500 S&W’s, .454 Casull’s. I’ll shoot the center out of the target while you speckle the whole target & maybe manage to hit the “10″ ring once. An animal that will not go down from a properly placed 30-06′ shot, maybe shouldn’t be hunted by man. Read & learn from famous old professional hunters of the past & you’ll see that many didn’t need “howitzers” to harvest their target. Roy Weatherby preferred his .257 for African hunts. As for Mr. Boddignton, my only gripe is he is so blatantly a .270 Win man & any caliber that may outdo or smudge it’s reputation such as the .260 Remington? He will go out of his way to state the “cons” of any & all .264″ calibers & always manages to state that his .270, 7×57 & .300 WSM will do anything the family of 6mm & 6.5mm family can do and do it better. When it’s inherently clear to many that 6mm & 6.5mm projectiles are clearly the most effective, naturally accurate diameter discovered thus far. Check the world record books for proof. It’s fine he prefers the .270. It came out in his time and he cut his teeth on it so naturally he is smitten with it, but don’t dog calibers of today because you don’t or haven’t had the love affair that you’ve had with the .270 Win, 7×57 & .300 WSM. They are not the measuring stick for everything else. So please Mr. Boddington; stay objective & non biased when reviewing any & all calibers regardless of manufacturer. Case in point? Hornandy’s 6.5 Creedmore was given such high regard by Mr. Boddington while the .260 Rem was “passed over”. Was it corporate influence? Hornady is definitely on top of their game as it were for today’s ammo manufacturers & I have found that their ammo is becoming more & more accurate. Whereas in the past, I was not impressed with Hornady’s accuracy or lack thereof. Winchester ammo is also another “pass over” in most articles and when it isn’t omitted it usually shoots in the top 3 groups (if not the best grouping) of any 3-shot, 5-shot range session shown in the article. According to most writers from various publications, you’d think that Hornady, Black Hills, Federal & sometimes Remington were the only ammo manufacturers in the United States. However when stopping at my local gun shop, sporting goods store, Bass Pro & Cabela’s, usually the “empty” section of ammunition is almost always Winchester. All the while, Remington, Federal, Hornady & others are stocked and full upon the shelf. Why is that Mr. Boddington? Is it that they make higher production runs and therefore everyone is stocked and merely waiting for Winchester (Olin, Inc.), to make a run of ammunition so that they may round out there stock? I think it’s clear that Winchester makes the most consistent ammunition you can buy off the shelf all the while remaining affordable. So please remain neutral when reviewing products for us, the reader as you did in this article featuring the .17 Hornet. Also, as anyone knows that knows anything about ballistics, ammo, rifles, etc.; that the .17 Hornet is not and never will be intended to take Kudu, or Moose. We’ve got a pretty good idea that it’s for small game. Thank you.

  • S. Riley

    Well it's not a 5000 fps cannon and it doesn't sound like one either. One thing it CAN do is shoot 700 rounds of 3600 fps little coyote killing projectiles out of a pound of powder.

  • Frank

    There will always be people that say my gun is better than that gun,but would be better to take things on their own merrits.I have always liked the .17 Remington and before I bought one people would curse it for no good reason.
    It did have limitations but still worked just fine for me and I can only remember one fox that did not drop like a stone.
    Not that I am the best shot in the world,I just knew the limits of the round.
    I am sure the .17 Hornet will be a winner with many people. I am glad to see new ideas for the shooting world. I live in theUK and we get little to get excited about because we are so limited with what weaponswe are allowed to own.
    Enjoy all your shooting in the USA cos we love reading about it.

  • Ted Zachary

    ordered wrong ammo. did not know there was such a thing as .17 hornet. did the respectable thing and bought a new savage . 17 hornet. first five shots and begin to notice a feed and extraction problem. next problem was the primer cap and cartridge being extracted in two pieces. lots of smoke curls out around bolt when this happens. also find the magazine loads first two cartridges very well but the last two very difficult. bought this problem child on NOV. 15, 2012 and returned it to the factory on Nov.19, 2012. am now the proud owner of 600 round of .17 hornet ammo and no rifle to fire them thru. not sure i want to fire this rifle when ever i get it back. Ted Zachary Yukon, Okla.

  • Eddie

    I've recently purchased a Savage .17 Hornet and I have to say that it has performed perfectly straight out of the box, as it should. I've not had chance yet to get out on the hills with it, but my first impressions shooting targets out to 100 metres are that I'm going to have a lot of fun with it. I already have a 17 HMR which I've found the accuracy to be fantastic, but just fancied something in the same calibre with a little more reach. This rifle for me appears to fit the bill.

  • Robin Gleason

    This gun (model 25) is my go to gun for bobcat, fox, javelina, jack rabbit and many more. Reloading it, I gave up on. It’s like trying to put socks on a flea. I love this gun and have had NO problems with it or the factory ammo.

  • skooter

    I agree 110% with Scott S, I am a firm believer in less bang & more brains. Honestly I hope the .17hornet sticks around! For me the .17hmr had no place on my shelf but it made it big & the .17mach2/.17HS (my go2 gun for Fox & smaller) took a digger! I don’t see how anyone who is a serious fur trapped &/or Hunter wouldent want a M2 for coons & such. The 17hornet is great on Fox,coyote fur & bigger so it will be my other go2 rifle right next to my baby .17mach2…

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