Other Guns of the Week > We know many readers are interested in the 17 HMR ("Hornady Magnum Rimfire"), a high-velocity rimfire cartridge that has become very popular with varminters. For small critters like ground squirrels, the 17 HMR may be the only cartridge you need from 50 to 150 yards (or more). The ballistics of the 17 HMR are far superior to the venerable .22 LR, giving the 17 HMR a much farther "reach" than a .22 LR, and a flatter trajectory than the .22 WMR. In this story we review two 17 HMR rifles, a Volquartsen semi-auto and a Ruger 77/17 bolt-action. Both guns belong to our friend Glen Robinson, a talented benchrest shooter who recently won the Ojai Valley Gun Club annual championship for both Precision Centerfire and Precision Rimfire (short-range). Glen has done some serious comparison testing with both rifles, trying out a half-dozen varieties of 17 HMR ammo. The overall results may surprise you. The semi-auto outshot the bolt gun by a significant margin, with all types of ammo tested.
Support Your Site
17 HMR Shoot-Out -- Volquartsen Semi vs. Ruger Bolt-gun by Glen Robinson
The Lure of the 17 HMR For quite some time, like many gun owners, I wanted to add an accurate, yet affordable self-loading rimfire rifle to my stable of guns. I considered buying a bare-bones Ruger 10/22, but it seemed that, if you wanted good accuracy, you could end up upgrading so many components that the 10/22 ceased to be a bargain. Once you upgraded the trigger, barrel, stock, etc. you could have a lot of money invested. That's what got me interested in the Volquartsen products. I've seen a lot of folks pour money into their 10/22s. With a Volquartsen it's ready to go out of the box. You get a good, solid, rigid receiver, with a good trigger and a good barrel. All the key components are high-quality out of the box.
Having decided to go with a Volquartsen, the next question was caliber. This gun was to do double-duty as a varminter and a paper puncher, and I wanted to shoot groups at 100 yards. The superior ballistics at 100 yards and beyond favored the 17 HMR over a .22 LR. I considered the 17 Mach 2, but I preferred the 17 HMR because it has a significant velocity edge over the 17 Mach 2 -- as much as 500 fps. The 17 HMR also had a reputation for better accuracy. I also already owned a Ruger 77/17 bolt action rifle in 17 HMR so it made sense to go with the Volquartsen 17 HMR. I was intrigued to see how a semi-auto might perform compared to the bolt gun.
Putting the Volquartsen's Pieces Together I did some shopping and was able to find a "like-new" Volquartsen 17 HMR, Deluxe model with 20" stainless fluted barrel with muzzle brake. I paid $600, which was a steal -- the current MSRP for this rifle, chambered in 17 HMR, is $1542.00 (the .22 LR version is $1,347.00). The price was obviously right… but there was one little problem. The gun had a left-hand thumbhole stock and I am right-handed. As an experiment, I did try shooting the gun with the original left-handed stock and was able to get some respectable 4-shot groups under 3/4". However I knew I wanted to change out the stock for a right-handed (or ambi) stock with a flat fore-end that could ride the bags better. The gun was showing good potential but I thought the original lefty stock was a limiting factor.
The Volquartsen is more fun to shoot because it is semi-automatic and more accurate. It shoots faster and it shoots better. The previous owner used it to shoot ground squirrels and he really liked it. He said it was deadly on ground squirrels. He said 'it wasn't even fair'.
Checking on the Volquartsen.com website I saw a VX-5000 stock in Volquartsen's Bargain Bin that looked like it would fit my barreled action. This is an interesting two-part stock that combines a machined aluminum chassis/forearm with a fiberglass buttstock section. Metal and fiberglass mate together right behind the action. The stock was drastically marked down from $445 to $170.00. Not being able to resist such a bargain, I ordered the VX-5000.
There were some initial issues getting the action to fit in the new VX-5000 stock. The bolt stop pin at the back of the receiver was too long, so the receiver wouldn't seat. I called Volquartsen and they sent another pin, along with the rubber bedding system that goes between the action and the VX-5000 aluminum chassis. (As an aside, I think this rubber bedding system may account for some of the gun's excellent accuracy. The rubber is glued into the chassis and the action clamps down over it. This provides a great fit in the chassis with some vibration damping.) After getting the new rear pin, the barreled action was an easy drop-in to the stock. I snugged up the action and was ready to go shooting. I didn't even mess with the trigger. It came set at 1 lb., 11 ounces -- plenty light for a varmint rifle.
The Bolt-Action Competitor -- Ruger Model 77/17
The Ruger model 77/17 is the "old dog" in this two-gun shoot-out. I purchased the Ruger about eight years ago when the 17 HMR cartridge first came out. I bought the gun because I was interested in the completely new rimfire caliber and I thought it would be good for varminting and fun target work. I had tried some Ruger 77/22s that shot well so I thought the Ruger 17 HMR might work well too. And the price was affordable at the time. I paid about $550 for the gun, not including optics.
Over the years, the Ruger 77/17 didn't see a lot of use. The round count is still pretty low and the gun still looks like new. I did add a few upgrades to improve performance. Out of the box the Ruger had a very heavy trigger pull -- about 5 pounds. I purchased a new sear from Timney (sear only, not a complete trigger kit). That got the pull weight down to about 2 pounds. Then I had a local gunsmith friend work on the trigger, and he got it down to 1 lb., 5 ounces, crisp and totally reliable. The trigger is now very nice for a varmint rifle.
The rifle needed a scope of course, so I fitted a Burris Signature 8-32x44mm scope ($375.00 on sale). The Burris sits in high rings that clamp to the integral dovetail on top of the Ruger action. It's a very solid set-up that works well. For the money, I really like the 8-32 Burris scope. It is very sharp and clear and has given me no problems over the years.
Front Bag-Rider from Possum Hollow The final upgrade was to add a front bag-riding sled. This made a huge difference in the Ruger's stability in the bags. With the round fore-end and no sled, the gun wouldn't sit steady in the bags. I looked at the various options, including Sinclair's Forend Benchrest Adaptor ($34.95) and Hart's "Accuracy Asset" ($41.44), and then selected the $18.99 Fore-End Stabilizer from Possum Hollow Products (Eric Sinclair). The Possum Hollow Stabilizer is a simple 3"-wide, heavy-duty plastic fixture that clamps on to the forearm through the sling swivel stud. It is made from UHMW plastic, which is very slick. It works great. The Possum Hollow Stabilizer really helped steady the gun, which otherwise rocked a lot. I found that one can shoot the Ruger without the Possum Hollow bag-rider, but you're working so hard to level the gun that you may miss the wind conditions. The Possum Hollow Fore-End Stabilizer can be purchased for $18.99 at Grafs.com, or you can order directly from Possum Hollow, (260) 782-0735; address: 6913 E 250 N, Andrews, IN 46702.
100-Yard Accuracy Testing with Volquartsen & Ruger
After purchasing my Volquartsen 17 HMR, I wanted to test the gun's accuracy and see how it compared to my older Ruger 77. It would be interesting to pit the semi-automatic Volquartsen against a bolt action 17 HMR. In the centerfire world, bolt actions are supposed to be more accurate that semi-autos. Would this be true with the 17 HMR?
I did my initial 17 HMR comparison testing before changing to the VX-5000 Volquartsen stock and before adding the Possum Hollow Fore-end Stabilizer on the Ruger. All tests were conducted at 100 yards, and, for these initial tests, I used only 17-grain ammunition. Testing was done from a stable bench with a Randolph Machine (Fulghum) front rest, Fudd rimfire rest top, and Edgewood rear bag. Despite the fact that both guns, with their rounded, narrow forearms, tended to roll in the bags, the results weren't that bad… at least for 3 or 4 shots. However, neither gun could consistently keep the groups tight for 5 shots in a row. I decided to try to get more stability before testing again.
As explained above, I found a "drop-in" Volquartsen VX-5000 stock among Volquartsen's "Bargain Bin" offerings. This metal/fiberglass stock has a 1-3/4" wide, flat fore-end which would work much better in my Rimfire BR top. The Ruger's rounded fore-end was the next problem. It needed something to provide a wide, flat bottom to fit my front rest. I purchased Possum Hollow’s 3"-wide Fore-end Stabilizer. This unit works very well despite the low price -- $18.99 at Grafs.com.
Support Your Site
Semi-Auto Outshoots the Bolt Gun -- By A Wide Margin With the Volquartsen secured in its VX-5000 stock and the Ruger fitted with its front Possum Hollow sled, I went back to the range for Round 2 of testing. Both guns were really stable in the rest and I felt confident that the results would be more consistent. All the targets were shot at 100 yards. The wind was calm for the whole test. Again, only ammo loaded with 17-grain bullets was used. For both guns I went through a process of trying different types of 17-grain ammo, then selected the ammo that seemed to shoot the best. For both the Ruger and the Volquartsen, this proved to be the Federal V-Shok ammo, which is loaded with Hornady 17-grain V-Max bullets. The Ruger’s 5-shot groups were better but still struggling to get just to 1.1" -- most groups were much larger. Running the Federal 17-grain V-Shok ammo in the Volquartsen, I shot a 0.516" (photo below left). This gun has subsequently produced a number of groups in the high 5s and 6s.
Heavier, 20-Grain Bullets Perform Better in Switchy Conditions After my testing with the 17-grain ammo, I acquired some Hornady 20-grain XTP ammo and CCI 20 grain Gamepoint and 20-grain FMJ ammo. Some 17 HMR shooters have reported that the 20-grain ammo performed better so I wanted to give the heavier bullets a try. For my 20-grain testing session, conditions were windy and switchy. A test target was shot with 17-grain Hornady V-Max bullets with both rifles to compare to the 20-grain bullets. The Ruger shot much better in the wind with the 20-grain bullets. The CCI Gamepoint ammo proved the most accurate. (With the 17-grain V-Maxs, in these switchy conditions, the Ruger's groups were three times the size of the Volquartsen's!) With the Volquartsen, the smallest group was obtained using the Hornady XTP 20-grain bullet. What I learned from this session was that the 20-grainers seem to have an edge in windy, shifty conditions, even if both guns preferred the lighter bullets in calm conditions.
Volquartsen 50-Yard Test After seeing how the two guns performed at 100 yards, we decided to try the Volquartsen at 50 yards. The effect of wind at 50 yards (in terms of horizontal dispersion) is roughly one-quarter what it is at 100 yards. By shooting at 50, we hoped to get a clearer picture of the Volquartsen's "raw accuracy", independent of wind effects.
Shooting duties were handled by myself and ARA rimfire ace Joe Friedrich. Unfortunately the conditions were somewhat switchy for our 50-yard test, which was done with Joe's brand new Randolph Machine (Ken Fulghum) one-piece rest. Even with the switchy winds, at this 50-yard distance, the Volquartsen produced some fine groups with the Federal 17-grain V-Shok ammo. Shown at right are two five-shot groups shot in succession, the top by me, the bottom by Joe. Both groups measure right about 0.340" center to center. With more practice with this rest, we think we could shave a bit off the group size -- maybe get close to one-quarter-inch.
Wrap-Up -- Comparing the Qualities of the Two Rifles
While the Volquartsen proved to be the more accurate of my pair of 17 HMRs, I still enjoy owning both rifles. Each gun has its strong points and weak points.
Ruger Strong Points: From any angle, the Ruger 77/17 is a nice-looking rifle with classic lines. I like the gray-finish stainless barrel -- it goes well with the gray laminated stock. With the addition of the aftermarket sear, the trigger is crisp and the bolt function is smooth. The action is strong and dependable. The conventional "open rear" action allows you to clean "normally" with a bore guide, cleaning rod, and patches/brushes. I feel I can do a better job of cleaning with the Ruger than with the boresnake on the Volquartsen. Ergonomically, the Ruger is easier to get down on because the stock is lower.
Ruger Weak Points: Accuracy is somewhat disappointing. The best 100-yard group the Ruger has shot was about 0.82" and the gun averages well over 1.25" for 5 shots. In fairness, I haven't done anything exotic in terms of bedding the action/barrel, and I would expect that an aftermarket barrel, perhaps combined with a barrel pre-load (up-pressure) pad, could improve the accuracy.
Volquartsen Strong Points: The Volquartsen is a well-made, accurate, dependable rifle. The gun cycles very reliably and requires very little maintenance. To clean it, just pull a boresnake through the bore. The gun exhibits very nice machining, and the VX-5000 stock rides steady on a front sand-bag, even though it's only about 1.75" wide. Even without any tweaking the trigger is very good, and the pull weight is fine for varminting.
Volquartsen Weak Points: The VX-5000 stock is not ideal for bench work -- the comb is a bit too high, though I like the feel of the vertical grip. This stock profile is really more suited for silhouette shooting, but this stock seemed to be the best option offered by Volquartsen that could be used for both paper-punching and varminting. The receiver design limits your options for barrel cleaning.
Conclusion -- The Volquartsen Takes the Prize Having shot both rifles extensively, if I had to pick one gun, it would be the Volquartsen. The Volquartsen is much more accurate and it offers much faster follow-up shots. For varminting the Volquartsen would be superior, no question about it. I'm happy I bought the Volquartsen and the VX-5000 stock. It is a fun, versatile gun that lives up to the manufacturer's accuracy claims.
Did You Enjoy Reading this Article? If So, You Can Help Support
6mmBR.com by Making a Small, Secure Contribution.