July 23, 2020
I’ll come right out and say it: Savage’s A17 might be the best autoloading rimfire design on the market. It’s damn near as reliable as a centerfire, highly accurate and affordable to shoot. With a street price around $300, it’s priced low enough that every small-game hunter should own one. If you need more encouragement, read on to learn why I fell for Savage’s superb autoloader.
My intro to the A17 chambered in .17 Hornady Mach 2 (HM2) occurred last fall in southeast Wyoming, when a group of us hosted by Savage Arms and Hornady descended upon the Cowboy State for two days of prairie dogging. During the shoot, we used Savage’s flagship bolt-action rifles as well as their new autoloading .17 HM2.
First launched in 2004, the .17 HM2 is a pint-sized screamer that launches 17-grain bullets at 2,100 feet per second (fps) — almost twice the speed of sound — hence the “Mach 2” nomenclature. The .17 HM2 case is based on a .22LR Stinger necked down to .17 caliber, making it a no-recoil, low-noise cartridge that’s perfect for small critters.
At first, I didn’t have high hopes for the A17. Many companies have attempted to harness bottleneck rimfires into semiauto platforms. Most have failed miserably. However, I soon found out Savage’s little autoloader can shoot. And shoot. And shoot. The little A17 in .17 HM2 was one of the most fun firearms I’ve shot, and its reliability was astonishing.
During the event, I had the opportunity to chat with John Linscott, Savage’s brilliant lead design engineer. Linscott’s job was to modify Savage’s delayed-blowback design to work with the .17 Mach 2. As Linscott explained, the project involved a number of challenges.
“For the A17 in .17 HM2, you must first consider the sequence in which the platforms launched. The first model was the magnum autoloading A17 and A22 that utilized a unique delayed-blowback action to handle the .17 HMR and .22 WMR, both high-pressure rimfire rounds,” explained Linscott. “The crux of that project was handling the higher pressure, thin-walled rimfire cartridges in a semiauto. This is difficult, and that’s why many other manufacturers failed.”
After the magnum rifle, Savage’s next autoloading design was the A22 chambered in .22LR. According to Linscott, this was much simpler to design than the magnum autoloaders.
“The A22 in .22LR is a lot easier to work with,” he said. “It uses a simple blowback design. For magnum rounds, you need to keep the bolts locked longer so the brass won’t tear. The delayed blowback action does that.”
Next up was the A17 in .17 HM2. Linscott searched for ways to keep cost down by first using the blowback A22 action.
“For the .17 HM2 cartridge, there was no way to get enough bolt mass in the blowback action, so we took a different approach,” said Linscott. “The challenge then became scaling the delayed blowback mechanism to work with the .17 HM2. We designed a custom locking mechanism to time the bolt to keep it shut long enough so the brass wouldn’t tear or rupture and also to retain enough energy to operate the action.”
Another area of concern was bullet construction and geometry. Linscott explained how some rimfire rounds feed better than others.
“With the .17 HMR, jacketed, pointy bullets are easy to feed. The .22LR uses blunt, exposed lead bullets that can pose feeding challenges. The Mach 2 is right in the middle. It’s a more desirable ratio of power in the brass but also has a pointed, jacketed bullet, so it lends itself to working in an autoloader quite well.”
It Will Shoot
During the event, I realized “quite well” was an understatement. I tried to get the A17 to malfunction for two days, loading and then emptying rotary magazine after rotary magazine of Hornady’s 17-grain V-MAX. No matter how fast I fired, the rifles never sputtered. In fact, I don’t believe a single shooter experienced a malfunction. For a semiauto rimfire, reliability like this is unheard of.
In addition to running, the A17’s produced surprising accuracy when the wind cooperated, which is a rare thing on the open plains of Wyoming. Once we figured out wind and elevation holds, prairie dogs were zapped with every squeeze of the rifle’s AccuTrigger out to about 150 yards. Past that distance, the wind would push the tiny bullets around.
However, with the wind at our back or head-on, we did connect on a few prairie dogs at extreme distance. While the little cartridge was running on fumes, the A17 proved capable of placing rounds on target at distances exceeding 400 yards.
For a $300 plinker or small-game getter, Savage’s A17 in .17 HM2 is a fantastic little rifle. It’s lightweight, accurate, incredibly reliable and fires a flat-shooting round that’s much quieter than the .17 HMR. Compared to a .22LR, the .17 HM2 crushes it in every category but price per box. Ballistically, there’s no contest between the two.
As I said earlier, every small-game hunter should have a Savage A17. It’s a gem of a rifle in stock form. And with the barrel chopped to 16 inches and a suppressor installed, it might make the ultimate pest-removal device.
Savage A17 HM2
- Type: Delayed-blowback semiautomatic
- Cartridge: .17 HM2
- Capacity: 10-rd. rotary magazine
- Barrel: 20 in., 1:9-in. twist
- Overall Length: 39.5 in.
- Weight: 5.7 lbs.
- Stock: Black synthetic
- Length of Pull: 13.5 in.
- Trigger: Adjustable AccuTrigger
- Sights: None
- MSRP: $379
- Manufacturer: Savage Arms, savagearms.com
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