There we sat, a group of gun writers perched on a rolling South Dakota hill on the Rosebud Indian Reservation, blasting away at prairie dogs with a host of new Savage rifles. The summer sun baked down on us and the barrels ran hot, but none of it was enough to deter us from slinging round after round at the hundreds of dogs scattered before us. We drank from giant, frozen jugs of ice melted in the sunlight, quenching our thirst but not our appetite for more shooting.
It was on that trip that I inherited a fondness for Savage’s new B.Mag, a bolt-action rifle chambered in .17 Winchester Super Magnum (WSM). At first glance it’s just another black, synthetic-stocked rifle, but upon closer inspection, there are plenty of features to fall in love with. Over the course of a few days spent in South Dakota, I had ample time behind the rifle, most of which was marked by the kind of hearty laughter and cackling that every experienced prairie dog shooter knows all too well.
The .17 WSM, which was released in conjunction with Savage at the 2013 SHOT Show in Las Vegas, launches a 20-grain projectile at roughly 3,000 fps, an impressive feat for such a pint-sized cartridge. During the trip we shot Federal Premium’s American Eagle loads with 20-grain tipped bullets. The load performed admirably and is a good choice for a full day of blasting away, with a box of 50 rounds running about $16 at your local sporting goods store. The rifle and ammunition, not to mention the 2.5-pound AccuTrigger, made for an incredibly accurate combination.
Interestingly enough, the .17 WSM was developed from a .27-caliber nail gun blank, which was then necked down for a .17-caliber bullet. Maximum internal pressure is around 33,000 psi and roughly 7,000 psi more than the .17 HMR. The 3,000 fps velocity is about 630 fps faster than the HMR, giving you about 7.5 inches of movement in a 10 mph crosswind at 200 yards versus the HMR’s 16.5 inches. Less wind drift and bullet drop mean better accuracy at considerable range. The .17 WSM doesn’t create the kind of carnage and high-flying gymnastic moves on prairie dogs that are so common with cartridges like the .22-250 or .204 Ruger, but it’s got plenty of pop out to at least 150 yards and is still more accurate at longer ranges than the .17 HMR or .22 Magnum, both close range killers in their own right.
It also lacks the wallop of another of my favorites, the .17 Hornet, but is affordable to shoot and produces virtually no recoil. While Winchester boasts of “devastating performance” at “ranges well past 200 yards,” I found the cartridge consistently accurate and lethal out to 150 yards, especially given South Dakota’s notoriously obnoxious winds. If you’re coyote or bobcat hunting, the .17 WSM is effective out to moderate ranges and helps limit pelt damage, something everyone who’s spent evenings sowing fur can appreciate.
The B.Mag rifle fits neatly into Savage’s 17 Series and weighs about 4.5 pounds without a scope, making it an ideal walk-around or maneuverable truck gun. With scope you’re still at less than 7 pounds, which is ideal for field carry but more susceptible to movement with the wind. To help alleviate that issue, I employed sandbags in the front and rear of the rifle atop a sturdy steel tripod-style shooting bench.
One of the most interesting features on the B.Mag is the bolt, which is a completely new design for this rifle. Savage’s engineers tailored the bolt specifically for the .17 WSM; it features dual, opposed, rear-locking lugs and it cocks on closing. The rationale is that this gives the shooter better cocking leverage against a stout firing pin spring, which is also required for reliable ignition on the rimfire. Practically, this means it’s easy to short stroke the bolt, and many times you think you’ve closed it but haven’t. The solution, which requires a bit of practice and reformed muscle memory, is to firmly push all the way forward and then close the bolt. A bit unusual and not altogether smooth, but it’s a workable design once you figure out the mechanics of it.
The other staple of the rifle is of course the AccuTrigger, a revolutionary design that incorporates an adjustable, finely tuned trigger into an affordable package. Out of the box, the trigger on my rifle was under 3 pounds and crisp as always.
The 22-inch barrel is button rifled and features a light contour, sporter-type barrel. A heavier barrel contour makes sense for hardcore varmint applications, an option Savage now offers in several other B.Mag packages, including blued heavy barrel, stainless heavy barrel, sporter and target models. Prices range from $379 for the standard rifle to $578 for the target model.
One of the biggest benefits of our South Dakota adventure was that we got to shoot multiple different calibers and rifles in the same conditions, everything from .17 HMR to .22-250. So how do the mighty .17s stack up? Personally, I’d rank them in this order: .17 Hornet, .17 WSM, .17 HMR. It’s not really a fair comparison, two being rimfires and the Hornet a centerfire, but it’s always fun to stir the pot.
The .17 Hornet is, in my opinion, one of the finest of the varmint cartridges around, sending a 20-grain V-Max bullet downrange at a whopping 3,650 fps. I shot the Savage rifle in .17 Hornet one afternoon until, ammo supplies starting to run low, they had to pry that rifle out of my hands. Not only is the round insanely accurate, it remains steady in the wind and relatively flat shooting out to 300 yards. Impact on prairie dogs is more similar to what you’d see from the .204 and .22-250 and again, there’s very little recoil. On the downside, Hornet ammo is about double the price of WSM, depending on which load you select.
Next, I’d rank the .17 WSM. It carries more velocity and is accurate to greater distances than the HMR, and prices on ammunition are fairly similar (depending on load). Both are effective rounds for varmint and coyote, so long as you don’t go trying to pull off a 300-yard shot in 30 mph winds. Especially inside 100 yards, the HMR is extremely effective. The main thing, as always, is knowing your own capability as a shooter, combined with your load, optic, rest and rifle pairing.
For a budget-friendly rifle that’s built to last, incredibly accurate and enjoyable to shoot, Savage’s B.Mag does the trick. The .17 WSM is a highly accurate, lethal round out to 200 yards, great for varmint and coyote applications and assuredly pelt-friendly. The rifle is light (4.5 pounds) and thus great for carry afield or for shooters of smaller stature. While the bolt design takes some getting used to, it makes for a reliable platform. For well under $400 on the street, the B.Mag in .17 WSM is one of the best varmint rifles available today.
Editor’s Note: This article is an excerpt from the Spring 2017 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.
Is Plinking Your Passion?
The .22 is the most popular caliber in the world for a reason. This useful and informative three-resource Rimfire Rifle Basic Collection is a must-have whether you are a casual plinker or a hardcore .22 enthusiast. With experts like James E. House and Kevin Muramatsu guiding you through the world of Rimfires, you are bound to learn something new you can apply to your .22. When you’re ready to take that knowledge to the field, the Paper Shooting Targets can help hone in that perfect shot with your Rimfire! Get Your Kit Now