I finally got to take the .17 Winchester Super Magnum varmint hunting. I know that sounds very matter of fact, but the last month has been a mad dash to try and get my hands on one of the new Savage B.MAG rifles and the new .17 Winchester Super Magnum ammunition to feed it.
It was almost anti-climatic once I got out into the field, but that changed once I pulled the trigger and sent a 20 grain V-Max downrange into an unsuspecting ground squirrel!
Let me rewind a bit. Winchester began shipping ammunition in late June, 2013, with the Savage rifles released about two weeks later. Since the release, I have watched ammunition prices go as high as $80.00 a box on Gunbroker and the Savage B.MAG rifles upwards of $400.00. Take into consideration that a box of the 17WSM (#50) retails for $15.00 on average when available at some of the larger stores and rifles had sold for $299.00 when they were first released. Although I did not hear back from my contact at Savage about the rifle, Winchester came through almost immediately with a box each of the 20 grain and 25 grain V-Max cartridges. I ended up tracking down a rifle from some fine folks in Pennsylvania, who got it to my FFL here in California within a few days. After that it was a 10 day wait until the State of California would allow me to acquire possession of my rifle.
That’s when time began to slow down for me. I spent the time trying to find ammunition for myself and others, as well as repeating much of what I discussed in my first article about the Savage B.MAG and the 17 Win Super Mag ammunition on various forums around the internet. It was nice to see that the buzz was still there, but it didn’t help with my wait. Fast-forward to a few days ago, when my FFL called to set the pick-up appointment. My time was up! I was finally getting my rifle. I set about clearing my schedule and planning a drive into the Central Valley area of California for a short hunt with the new B.Mag and 17 Win Super Mag.
I had not seen one of the B.Mag’s in person since the SHOT Show in January, so I took my time inspecting the rifle. Not discounting the rifle in any way, but it “looked” and “felt” like a $350.00 rifle. The stock is black molded plastic and thin at the forearm, but includes a sling swivel stud. Also, the rubber buttpad has a slight curve cut into it. Both are nice, practical, touches. The bolt and action were easy enough to put together. When closing the bolt I felt a bit more resistance than normal, but opening it was easy. The magazine is also plastic, but loading and unloading was simple and quick, with no issues encountered. Looking around inside the action showed a few small parts that I might worry about breaking sometime in the future, but all-in-all it looked like what I expected and remembered.
After the inspection, I completed a very thorough cleaning of the entire rifle, bolt and barrel. I was going to treat this exactly like one of my more expensive centerfire rifles, so I decided to top it with a Burris Fullfield II – 4.5 – 14 x 42mm Scope. The higher power, I surmised, would be needed when I was reaching out to touch a ground squirrel or jack rabbit. I did end up going with a slightly smaller objective because I wanted the scope to sit as low as possible on the B.Mag. Even with the smaller bell, I needed to use high rings to clear the barrel. By 4PM the day before my hunt, I was ready!
The alarm didn’t even get a chance to go off, as I was already awake by 4:00 AM. My mind was picturing scenarios where I would be shooting at hordes of ground squirrels with the new rifle. Each one blowing up into a “POOF” of red mist and fur! Okay, maybe not. But I was excited! I was out the door within a half-an-hour and stopped only to pick-up my buddy, Tom and a quick breakfast. As we dropped into the valley near the first ranch, my heart sank. There was a pretty stiff wind blowing, which would curtail my bench time. Once we arrived, I set-up my chronograph and target. I immediately shot the rifle 5 times through the chronograph. The 17 Win Super Mag registered only one shot above 3000 fps. That didn’t concern me, because most of the others were bumping up against that threshold. However, I was bit worried about the spread (72 fps). That turned into a non-issue when I settled the gun into the bags to shoot groups and complete my final sight-in.
Because it was windy, I set my target up at 50 yards. This was not because of concern for the affect on the 20 grain bullet, but because my target was moving slightly and the wind was also pushing me around. Because ammunition is scarce right now, my only group was three shots and measured 0.40″ edge-to-edge. Subtracting the bullet diameter gives me a 50 yard group of 0.228″. I suspect that my 100 yard groups will be sub-1/2 MOA, but that will be left for a future trip to the range. I made the final adjustments and ended up sighted-in at 1″ high at 50 yards. It was time to hunt!
My first kill was epic. It was a ground squirrel that hopped up on top of a large pile of bricks. I was about 100 yards away and he had no idea I was there. I adjusted my video camera to capture his demise, then found him in my scope. I watched my shot hit him in the chest. It tossed him backwards, DOA! I unloaded the B.Mag and walked over to turn off my video camera. To my shock, I realized that I accidentally shut the camera off while adjusting it only a few moments before. It’s okay, I said to myself. I can take some pictures of the dead squirrel and shoot more as the day progressed. That was not going to happen. The squirrel had fallen into a pile of deep rocks and I was unable to retrieve him. I was very disappointed, as I wanted to see what the 17 WSM had done to him.
I spent the next few hours wandering around the ranch looking for another critter to shoot. Nothing was out. The wind and heat were destroying my first hunt with the B.Mag! Oddly enough, noontime brought about a drop in the wind and an increase in varmint activity. I was on the edge of the ranch checking out the corrals, when I saw movement about 70 yards away under a livestock loading ramp. While my buddy got the camera ready, I popped the magazine in the B.Mag and loaded up a round. I found a good rest and started scouring the shade under the ramp. It was a small cottontail rabbit. Tom tried to get the video camera focused on the rabbit, while I dialed my scope power up to get a better view of the bunny. I put the crosshairs just behind the eye of the rabbit and squeezed. I saw the rabbit jump and start flopping around right after the shot. I got him! I went to retrieve the rabbit and realized that my shot actually hit higher than I had anticipated. It actually hit him in the head, but barely. The bullet did not hit square on the rabbit’s skull, so it did not get a chance to fragment. Although the accuracy of the rifle proved itself again, that was strike two for me testing this cartridge/bullet combo.
Because of the lack of animals, we moved to another area where I knew there had to be ground squirrels. We saw plenty as we drove in, but nothing would stay up long enough to offer a shot. My idea was to watch a large wood pile on the far side of the ranch for ground squirrels. As we were driving to that location, I noticed movement in a small bush next to the alfalfa field about 50 yards away! It was a ground squirrel and it was not spooked at all. I parked and set-up my camera and mount. I then pulled out the rifle and loaded it up. This time, the squirrel posed perfectly for me as I settled the crosshairs on its shoulder. I squeezed the trigger and watched the squirrel catch air and land in the brush pile. The little 20 grain bullet smacked the ground squirrel hard and killed it instantly! I was so excited to finally be able to see the damage caused by the bullet. After a morning of disappointments, I felt none as I hoisted the squirrel up from the brush pile. The .17 Winchester Super Magnum inflicted exactly the devastation I was hoping for, causing a quick death to the ground squirrel! Best of all, I finally got it on video!
I wanted to head to one more area that I knew held jack rabbits, before we started the long trek home. About 100 yards into the area, Tom spotted something in the brush near an old orchard. The double-check showed a jack rabbit relaxing in the trees avoiding the heat of the sun. The shot was going to have to be through a little brush, but by now I felt comfortable enough with the B.Mag to know that I could make the shot. There was no way to get clean video, so we just pointed the camera in the direction of the rabbit. I normally go for head-shots on rabbits, but this was going to be a chest shot so I could see bullet performance. The jack rabbit flipped after the shot and landed in the grass, with no other movement. It was dead before it hit the ground, which is a great sign of a potent cartridge and well-placed shot! As we collected the jack rabbit, it was laying on the side that the bullet entered. There was no blood, nor sign of an entrance wound at all. I flipped it over and saw the exit wound! It was a bloody mess of heart and lung matter. The bullet dispensed all of its energy inside the rabbit when it blew up. That was another good measurement of cartridge/bullet effectiveness! I spent a few minutes taking pictures of the rabbit before cleaning it and packing it in ice for the drive home. It was a great way to end the day.
Winchester did not push the new 17 Winchester Super Magnum as a small varmint caliber as much as they pushed it for predator hunters. I have yet to make a decision on this caliber for predators, but for smaller varmints, it is very effective. However, it has everything that I “would” want in a predator caliber; including accuracy, velocity and energy. Both the 20 and 25 grain bullets has been proven in the past to be excellent for saving fur on predators, but at speeds that are much faster than the 17 WSM. I will not make that determination until I have put a few coyotes down this winter. I think the majority of people who purchase this combo will be using it to extend their range for smaller varmints. Ground Hog, Rock Chuck and Prairie Dog hunters should benefit from this caliber, as well as Ground Squirrel hunters who like to reach out a bit further and hold a bit lower than they are used to.
I saw someone online refer to the new Savage B.MAG as a “truck gun”. Although I can understand the reasoning behind that statement, I also think that tends to relegate it to something that it is not. Beautiful wood and butter smooth action it may not have, but accuracy it does. We would expect nothing less from a $1000 rifle, but great accuracy from an out-of-the-box $350 rifle is something that even the high-dollar shooters can appreciate (if they choose). I only have a couple of suggestions for Savage as they develop this new platform and possibly chamber other calibers in the B.Mag. The stock needs improvement. At the height of my hunt, it was 100 degrees and the sun was turning the black stock into an uncomfortable hot spot for my cheek. A nice wood stock, like some of their other rifles have, would be a worthy upgrade for this rifle. This would also resolve my second suggestion. The forearm of the stock already flexes some. Add 100 degree temps and it flexes more than normal. This did not have any affect on the rifle’s accuracy, but I learned not to lean too hard up against a fence post when shooting!
All in all I think this is a formidable varmint rifle/cartridge combo. I believe that Winchester has raised the bar for other ammunition manufacturers. Companies that take risks to bring us new and exciting innovations are what makes rimfires such a blast!
Editors Note: At the end of the hunt, I checked through every one of my fired cases and none of them had cracked necks. I have been asked about this, so I wanted to add the answer within this story. Also, the 17 WSM is noticeably louder than a 5mm Rimfire or a 17 HMR.
By: Eric Mayer
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