By: Dennis Crownover
This was my first rifle chambered in the “New” hot rimfire round, the 17 Hornady Magnum Rimfire. I was excited about getting a rifle in this new caliber but wasn’t sure if it would live up to the hype I was reading so I opted for a lower cost rifle that still had all the basic features I wanted, heavy barrel, synthetic stock, etc. and the Marlin fit that bill nicely!
Marlin is one of the top producers of rimfire rifles in the U.S. and has a well proven reputation for being among the most accurate on the market while still keeping their prices in the economy range.
The basic specifications of the Marlin 917VR are as follows.
||7-shot clip magazine.|
|Barrel:||22", heavy contour, free-floating|
|Rifling:||4 grooves, 1 in 9" twist, RH|
|Length of pull:||14".|
|Drop at Comb:||1.3".|
The barrel is a 22", free-floating, varmint weight with recessed target crowns. The 900 series rifles come with the T-900 fire control trigger system. It has a consistent single stage trigger pull and a wide, serrated finger contact surface. The associated safety locks the trigger and is positive and easy to activate.
Not much here, just a standard Marlin cardboard box with the gun in a plastic sheath (bag). Included were a sparse operators manual, one 7-round magazine and a cheesy plastic trigger locking devise. No open sights are included so you will need to select a sight system before you can shoot the gun.
The gun was relatively clean but I felt it should have had a little more oil on the barrel and action…it seemed kind of dry so the first order of business was to thoroughly clean the gun, check all screws for tightness and wipe it all down with a light film of gun oil.
I choose the BSA Sweet 17 6-18X40 scope for this gun because it is designed specifically for the 17 HMR. This is a relatively inexpensive scope running less than $200 and has a trajectory compensator which allows you to zero the rifle a fixed distance (100 yards) and then, via a turret on top of the scope, select any distance from 100 to 300 yards and the scope will automatically re-zero to the selected distance. This feature works pretty well but most of the time I am shooting on the fly and just adjust my hold off the old fashioned way. This feature is handy when you are sniping ground squirrels and the like, when you can set up for a somewhat fixed distance.
This was the first BSA optic I had used and I am very impressed with its performance, especially for the price. The optics are very clear and the scope is coated with a rubberized matte black finish.
At The Range
After mounting the scope and performing a quick bore sighting, it was off to the local range to see how well this combination would shoot. Using the Hornady 17 grain V-Max, I set up my first target at 50 yards to see if my bore sighting was close…I was on the paper and just a little under the bull’s eye. I moved a fresh target to 100 yards and began dialing it in. After three or four three round groups I had it just were I wanted at ½” high…just a personal preference. So I settled in and fired another dozen groups or so to get the feel of the rifle and see how well I could get it to group at the 100 yards. The bolt was smooth and the trigger was crisp and clean but a little heavier pull than I like…might have to fix this at some point.
After running 50 rounds through the gun I was very impressed with the accuracy. I could shoot sub 1” groups all day with out much effort. My best groupings measured just under ¾” at 100 yards, not bad for an off-the-shelf rifle for under $500 with scope and all.
In The Field
As you may have gathered, I really like this gun and have fallen in love with the little 17 HMR cartridge. From the quiet but authoritative report to the laser beam accuracy, this cartridge is just flat fun to shoot and very addictive. I couldn’t wait to get in the field with it.
The primary reason I purchased the gun is to use when calling Coyotes and Bobcat in rural areas. I wanted something that could take a yote or cat out to 75 or even 100 yards but is very quiet and would not carry as far as a center fire cartridge and be a little safer when hunting within a mile or so of scattered homes. My choices were between the proven .22 WMR and the new kid on the block, the .17 HMR. The .22 WMR would have been a great choice but I was intrigued by the little .17 which advertized velocities of 2700 fps and superior accuracy.
I was not disappointed with its performance as demonstrated at the range but I was more than a little concerned about this little 17 grain bullets ability to take down a coyote size animal humanely. I have had experience with very small bullets traveling a great speed (22-250) but this bullet is substantially smaller and at least 1000 fps slower than the hot center fire varmint rounds.
For the maiden test of the 17 HMR’s stopping ability, I brought the rifle with me to call an area where I have had pretty good success calling both coyotes and bobcat.
It was evening and the sun was just getting ready to drop behind the mountains. About 15 minutes into the call sequence I saw some movement a couple hundred yards up the canyon hugging the toe of the slope and moving from bush to bush…right away, I knew this was a cat. I switched to my high pitch, low volume distress call and blew three short, low cries. Sure enough, this did the trick and the young cat moved to within 75 yards of my stand and then just stood looking in my general direct partially behind a small sage. I was up the canyon wall about 50 feet so I had a good vantage on the cat’s position.
By this time I had brought the gun up and now found the cat in my scope. Since I was slightly above and the cat was showing me its right front shoulder, I brought the crosshairs down and lined up the shot in just below the right shoulder area.
A smooth pull on the trigger and Crack! He folded where he stood. I held on him for a few seconds just to make sure I didn’t have to follow up with another shot, but no further movement. I hiked down and pulled my pistol just in case but he was done. After inspecting the very small entrance hole and then flopping him over I could see there was no exit…perfect! The little 17 had proven itself, at least on a 25 pound cat.
Sometime after this I dropped my first coyote with the rifle in much the same manner with identical results. The 17 seemed to bring down the predators with less effort than the center fire cartridges, but I think this is due to the lower amount of energy being delivered, less violent impact.…they just seem to drop without much drama. I did have one bad experience but it was my fault, I knew I should not have taken the shot. I had called in a coyote to within 30 yards or so but all I could see was the top of his head above the sage he was standing behind. He was looking right at me but hadn’t quite figured it out yet. I decided to take a head shot (I don’t like to do this unless I have to with lighter bullets) so I aimed at his left eye and pulled the trigger. I was off by about a half inch and the bullet skidded along the skull and exited behind the ear. This knocked the coyote down but he was whirling around howling. I had to finish him with the .357 which was no small feet because he was flopping and whirling like a top. Final got a shot into some vitals and it was over. I attribute this to operator error and not the 17 HMR but if this had been a .223 or 22-250 the result may have been different.
My recommendation for predator hunters is to keep it under 100 yards and be extra carefully with shot placement and as long as you can do this, the little 17 is a perfect choice for close in coyotes and cats where you want to be quiet and not afraid of the bullets traveling too far down range.
I have also shot a few rabbits and varmints with very good results but I have not had an opportunity to do any long range ground squirrel shooting which I think would be a blast. The area I live just doesn’t have much opportunity for this but I am going to Idaho this summer and of course I will be bringing the Marlin 17 HMR.
The Marlin 917VR is an excellent .17 HMR varmint rifle. Judging by my range and field results Marlin’s reputation for accuracy is well deserved and holds especially true for the 917. I would highly recommend both the Marlin 917VR (and I’m sure the other models are just as capable) and the .17 HMR for anything from serious close in predator hunting to 200 yard varmint shooting, plus it is just so incredible fun to shoot, it brings a smile to my face every time I pull the trigger.