This past month, I took the Savage B.MAG 17 Winchester Super Magnum on a couple of hunting trips up to the Eastern Sierra area of California and also back to Arizona. While in Arizona, I had a buddy of mine shoot the B.MAG exclusively, just to see if someone who has never shot this rifle/caliber combo, would find it to be as accurate and fun as I do.
This was answered within the first hour of arriving at our hunting area in Arizona.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me go back to late August when my trip to the Eastern Sierra took place. I had my Savage B.MAG for about a month when I had an itch to go after some Jack Rabbits with the rifle. I knew from past hunts where I could go and shoot some Jacks, while getting a better handle on how the .17WSM handled game animals. There has been a lot of discussion about what the 20 grain bullet, doing 3000 fps, would do to game animals such as rabbits. In my first hunt report, I was able to shoot a Cottontail (head shot) and a Jack Rabbit (chest shot), without doing too much damage. However, two shots do not allow for a proper gauge of how a bullet reacts on impact.
Eastern Sierra, California:
We left the Los Angeles area very early in the morning and arrived in the Owens Valley at dawn. Severe thunderstorms had just rolled through the area the night before, with lightning causing a few fires around the valley. I didn’t think this would affect our hunting, but when we arrived at our spot, there was nothing moving! The two Jack Rabbits we saw were running full speed away from us into the desert. Normally, they will stop for a quick glance, but these were not being cooperative.
We hunted around the area for a few hours, then decided to see if we could find something else to shoot. I knew of an area that held pockets of Ground Squirrels, so we hit that location next. It was quite a drive, so we arrived during the heat of the day. Thankfully, the tall trees created some nice shady spots to set-up and wait for the Squirrels to pop out. We had a tangle of old tree branches about 60 yards in front of us, which had evidence of Ground Squirrel activity (holes in the ground, half-eaten fruit and lots of footprints). After about 10 minutes, I noticed some movement within the tangle of branches. It was definitely a Ground Squirrel, but he didn’t seem to want to leave his protective cover. Finally, after what seemed like forever, he popped up on top of a branch to take a look around. Although there was a branch directly in front of him, blocking a clear shot, I was able to thread the bullet in and blow him off the branch (see video below)! The 20 grain, .17WSM bullet, completely opened him up and flung him back about a foot from where he was perched. After shooting him, we waited to see if another would come out and get some of the tasty morsels left by the WSM! We were not disappointed. After about 15 minutes, we again saw movement within the branches. This was a much bigger Squirrel and it was stopping here and there to gobble up what was left of his buddy. Finally, it made the move to the same branch that the previous Squirrel was sitting on and I took the shot. The bullet entered the back and flipped him completely upside-down, while opening him up (again, see video below)! It was dead on impact, proving once again that a small, fast bullet on small varmints is completely lethal with correct bullet placement!
After a few more minutes, the Ravens started to show up. They were circling the area, waiting for us to leave so they could get to the remainders of the Ground Squirrels. This caused a panic among the other critters in the area, leaving us with no further shot opportunities. It was time to pack-up and head out.
After having another disappointing evening hunt at the Rabbit area, I decided to hit the high-country the following day to get out of the heat and look for some other varmints to shoot. We ended up in a small valley at about 8500′ in elevation with a large storm cloud dropping rain and lightning bolts in the mountains around us. It was not going to be a long hunt, but I was hoping for at least one shot. Sure enough, while glassing all the boulders in the valley, I spotted a large Ground Squirrel sitting on top of one checking out the scenery. I got set-up for the shot, while Tom started running the video. I ranged him at 110 yards, but he jumped to another boulder just a bit further. After holding high and shooting exactly where I held (missing!), I held right on him and squeezed the Accu-Trigger on the B.MAG. There was an audible pop when the bullet hit him, leaving a cloud of dust floating in the damp air. I hiked up as the rain started to fall in our spot and retrieved the Squirrel. He was large for the area and sported a decent sized exit wound where the bullet exited! He left a splotch of blood on the rock and slid down to the bottom. After a few pictures, we hurriedly put everything back into my truck and headed down the mountain.
That was the last chance I had to shoot anything up in the Eastern Sierra. The rain storms had wreaked havoc with the dry desert, creating rivers of mud and debris, sending all the animals to high ground and safety. I headed home a bit disappointed, but determined to get in at least one more hunt with the B.MAG and ammo. That would come within a couple of weeks, but little did I know the rain would cause havoc again.
A buddy of mine (Matt) had recently taken a job in Virginia and like any freedom loving Californian, decided to move and take advantage of the state’s progressive gun laws and excellent hunting. He happened to be coming back to California for a week, so I suggested we take a road-trip to Northern Arizona to hunt some Cottontail Rabbits and maybe a few Prairie Dogs. The weather was supposed to be in the low 70’s, with only a 30% chance of rain in the afternoons. This sounded perfect, so I picked him up at his base (military) and we made the 6 hour drive to Arizona. Since he didn’t bring any firearms, I figured that it would be a great time to let someone with noexperience, get a crack at using the rifle. He is left-handed, so any of my rifles would have been a bit difficult to use, but he seemed to do okay with this one.
The Savage B.MAG was sporting a new paint job, as I had asked a friend of mine, who does excellent work painting gun stocks, to work his magic on my “ugly” (not my words, but the popular comment around the internet) Savage. When we arrived at our hunt location, it took only one shot to determine that the rifle was dead-on, so I handed it to Matt and we were ready to hit the field. The spot that held the Cottontails was the same place I shot mine on the first trip out here, so I had high hopes to collect some of the dozens I didn’t shoot. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. The Cottontails had all but disappeared! We jumped one Jack Rabbit that did not offer a shot, but nothing else. It was very frustrating and started to make me second guess my decision of driving all the way to Arizona. Thankfully, on the final loop to my truck, we started seeing Rabbits. I shot one that was tucked in a bush. I was able to kill it instantly, but the bullet disintegrated on impact and left quite a mess of the Rabbit.
I collected that one and gave the gun back to Matt. Within 100 yards of the truck, we started running into more Cottontails! Matt had an opportunity that almost escaped him, but the Rabbit ended up in front of a bush about 70 yards from where he was. With a slight adjustment, he was able to make a clean head-shot, dropping him instantly. With clouds building in the distance, I decided not to waste any more time trying to find more Cottontail, so we headed down the hill a bit to look for Prairie Dogs. It wasn’t our first hunt choice, but it turned out to save the day and even the trip!
When we reached the Prairie Dog area, Matt got set up with a tall bi-pod, the range-finder and a handful of .17WSM ammo. It wasn’t more than a few minutes when the first Prairie Dog was spotted and Matt was able to make the shot. His first shot was 175 yards on a smaller Prairie Dog. The bullet performance was very odd. The Prairie Dog had one small entrance hole and a small exit hole on the opposite side. No major damage was showing, but the Prairie Dog was dead on impact. Within a little while, Matt was on another Prairie Dog, this time it was out a bit further and I was able to get it on video. This one was out of his hole eating as much grass as he could. At the shot (169 yards), the pop was definite, flipping the PD over, dead (see video below). We ended up walking out to retrieve him and found grass still in his mouth, left-over from the meal he was having when shot. This time, the bullet performed as expected, blowing out a large part of the neck and shoulder (see images #1 and #2 below).
While we stood there checking him out, Matt spotted another Prairie Dog on a mound near us. I didn’t have my video camera, but I started recording with my phone. Matt took a knee and found him in the scope. At the shot, we again heard the “pop” of a solid hit. We walked over to him and found one of the biggest Prairie Dogs I’ve seen. He was very large, but the 20 grain bullet performed well and killed him instantly! I ranged the distance for the shot and it turned out to be 88 yards. Not bad for a quick, no rest, shot (see images #3 and #4 below).
The last Prairie Dog of the day was also the furthest. Matt had been tracking a Cottontail that popped out of some bushes, when I spotted another large Prairie Dog way off in the distance. There was a few seconds of me doing a bad job of trying to describe where it was, but Matt found it pretty quickly. I ranged it right before he took the shot and called out “197” a few seconds before he pulled the trigger. The hit was delayed, but loud. Even at that distance, the pop was clearly audible (on video as well). It was a great shot and showed Matt’s ability to shoot well with an unfamiliar rifle.
Minutes after the long shot, the rain started to drop here and there. We knew it was time to get some pictures, get loaded up and get the heck out of there. We had an opportunity to hunt the woods for some Golden Mantle Ground Squirrels, but the rain ended up forcing us to call it a day and a trip (see video below). It was a good thing we were able to shoot a few Prairie Dogs, as the rain kept up for the next two days, ending our hunt.
As of today, I’ve had my Savage B.MAG about two months. Within that time, I have shot 100’s of rounds and dozens of varmint and small game animals. The flat-shooting 17WSM really packs a punch, but it also helps with longer range shots. After being an eye-witness to Matt’s shots and watching the hits on my video screen as I was recording, I can honestly say that this is a winner for those who hunt small varmints. The .17 Winchester Super Magnum is up there with the 5mm rimfire with regards to energy, but with a bullet that requires little hold-over, making longer shots less guess work and shooters more confident. It goes without saying that there will always be folks who trash new rifles and rounds. But I feel that those who do not give the .17WSM a fair chance, are missing out on a fun cartridge. Ultimately, it is their loss. But it is also the loss of the folks who read the comments and lose out as well. I hope my articles and videos can at least show some proof that this is a viable cartridge that deserves the praise it is receiving from many of the gun writers out there.
— Eric Mayer