.17 HMR Single Shot Rifles Compared: Stevens Favorite 30R17, T/C Contender G2, Winchester 1885 Low Wall
By Chuck Hawks and the Guns and Shooting Online Staff
This is admittedly a strange comparison as it involves one low priced rifle, one medium priced rifle, and one high priced rifle. On the other hand, anyone searching for a single shot rifle chambered for the hot .17 HMR cartridge has little choice but to compare these three models, as these are the only widely available choices.
Here at Guns and Shooting Online we have had the opportunity to review all three of these rifles (see the Product Review Page for the individual reviews), so a comparison is a natural follow-up. To start with, here are the basic specifications for all three rifles, from least to most expensive:
Stevens Favorite Model 30R17
Thompson/Center Contender G2
Winchester Model 1885 Low Wall
Some immediate comparisons are possible based on the above specs. First of all is the price differential. One could almost buy a T/C for the price difference between the Stevens and the Winchester! You would expect better workmanship and finish on the more expensive rifles, a point to keep in mind as this comparison moves along.
Next is the disparity in weight. The Winchester weighs close to twice as much as the Stevens, empty and without a scope, although both are configured as hunting (not dedicated varmint) rifles. It isn't hard to figure which is going to be less burdensome in the field.
The Contender is about 1.15 pounds heavier than the Stevens, but at only 5.4 pounds is still not a heavy rifle. But there is a catch. The Contender comes with a heavy varmint-type barrel and lacks iron sights. This means that it must be scoped, and the natural scope would be a relatively high power--and therefore heavy--target/varmint model. The other two rifles would naturally wear lighter, hunting type scopes in the fixed 4x or variable 3-9x range. The bottom line here is that the size and weight of the Stevens Favorite would probably appeal most to the hunter stalking small game.
The length of the rifles reinforces that conclusion. Although none are particularly long compared to bolt action .17s, the Winchester Low Wall is 4.25" longer than the other two rifles, making it less handy in close cover.
The barrel length and contour of these three rifles is also different. The Favorite wears a sporter weight octagon barrel. The Low Wall comes with an intermediate contour barrel, heavier than the Stevens, but lighter than the varmint/target barrel on the T/C. The Winchester's octagon barrel design makes it comparatively stiff. The T/C is provided with a round, varmint weight barrel. This heavy contour barrel also makes the rifle noticeably muzzle heavy, a trait only partially compensated for by its short length. When equipped with a high power scope the T/C becomes something of a handful.
Two of our single shot rifles use falling block actions, and one is a break-open action. All three are exposed hammer designs, a worthwhile safety feature. Here are some of our key impressions of each rifle derived from our testing.
This is a handy little rifle with inherently good lines. The Favorite .17 HMR rifles coming out of the Savage plant today look much like the original versions. They are supplied with a blued barreled action and a walnut finished hardwood buttstock and forearm sans checkering. The latter is of the Schnable shape. The wood is given what appears to be a very light oil finish. The pores of the wood are not properly filled and the finish is dull and lifeless. A few hand-rubbed coats of Birchwood-Casey or Outers Stock Oil would improve the appearance of this rifle.
The metal parts could have used considerably more polishing before being blued. Coupled with the poor wood finish, the overall impression is of a rifle built to the lowest possible price point. I am sure that is not far from the truth.
Beyond the rifle's appearance, the next things that get the new user's attention are the very stiff under lever and the incredibly heavy trigger pull. Opening the action of this rifle requires serious force. The lever and the falling block both look like cast parts to me, and they operate like cast parts on which no one bothered to polish the engagement surfaces. I mean, this action is STIFF.
Once the hammer is cocked (and that, too, requires excessive force), it takes serious effort to pull the trigger, which measured about 7 pounds on my RCBS Premium gauge. The trigger does have some creep, but it is so hard to pull it's difficult to tell how much. After firing the spent case must be removed manually, as there is no ejector.
This whole rifle needs attention. If this were my rifle, I would disassemble the action, which looks pretty simple, and hand polish all of the engagement surfaces. I would polish every single place that metal rubbed on metal to reduce the operating friction to tolerable levels.
I mounted a Leupold VX-II 3-9x33mm EFR rimfire scope on the Favorite for testing. This is an excellent scope that is well suited to any .17 HMR hunting rifle. The same scope was also used on the Winchester Low Wall.
Thompson/Center Contender G2
One of the unique features of these T/C guns is their ability to change calibers by changing barrels. The Contender G2 (second generation) rifles can even change from rimfire to centerfire cartridges. Another notable feature is their Life Time Warranty.
Our first impression of the Contender G2 when it arrived at Guns and Shooting Online was that it had a weird looking stock. Our second, when we assembled it, was that it is muzzle heavy. That .17 caliber hole leaves a lot of steel in the 23" barrel blank, so the rifle balances about 2.6" in front of the trigger guard.
The buttstock shape is a function of the way the grip is mounted on the Contender pistol, and the G2 rifle is based on the pistol action, so the same system is used for the rifle version. This requires a pronounced Monte Carlo comb to raise the eye enough to align with a scope. This, in turn, requires extreme fluting to make it possible to get the strong hand around the neck of the stock. The result is a stock that looks like a makeshift arrangement, which it is. There is no checkering, but both the wood and metal finish are adequate, although somewhat dull.
The ergonomics of the G2 are fine. The rifle shoulders easily and lines up properly. The trigger finger falls naturally on the trigger. The forend is hand filling and comfortably shaped.
Operation of the G2 rifle is pretty simple, and identical to a Contender pistol. Pressing up and rearward on the trigger guard "tail" opens the action. Once the action is open, a cartridge can be manually inserted into the chamber. Then pivot the action closed.
On top of the hammer is a pivoting safety lever that blocks the hammer when it is aligned with the centerline of the rifle. When on "safe" the lever covers a small red dot. To the left of the red dot is a small letter "C" and to the right a small letter "R." Move the lever to cover the "R" and the hammer is set to fire a rimfire cartridge. With the hammer's firing pin selector properly set, all that is required to fire the rifle is to manually cock the hammer and squeeze the trigger. After firing, open the action to extract the fired case, and remove it manually. There is no ejector.
The test rifle's trigger released at 4 pounds as measured by my Premium RCBS trigger pull gauge, with no perceptible creep. It is a good trigger, one of the best that we have encountered in a .17 HMR rifle. Its clean release will satisfy most users, and this contributes to good practical accuracy.
For testing purposes we mounted a Mueller Eraticator 8.5-25x50mm varmint scope on the T/C rifle. This large scope made it a little awkward to cock the hammer and made us wish that an offset hammer spur had been supplied with the rifle, as Marlin does with their lever action rifles. But its magnification, good optics, and fine target crosshair/dot reticle gave good views of the target.
Winchester 1885 Low Wall
The new Low Wall is an eye catching falling block rifle. The barrel, hammer, trigger and all screw heads are polished and deeply blued. The tapered 24" octagon barrel is screwed into a color case hardened receiver. The operating lever and curved rifle buttplate are also color case hardened.
The overall fit and finish of this Winchester is good. The lines of the Winchester are excellent, slender and graceful. Despite its traditional appearance, this stock has a reasonably high, fluted comb that is designed for use with telescopic or iron sights.
The straight hand buttstock and slender Schnable forearm are black walnut of somewhat better than average figure and wear a satin finish. There are generous areas of bordered cut checkering that looks to be about 22 lpi in point patterns.
One good feature that was carried over from the previous Browning version of the Low Wall is a user adjustable trigger. There is a small screw in the bottom of the trigger that is turned clockwise to lighten or counter-clockwise to increase the trigger pull. The adjustment range is supposed to be 3.5 to 5 pounds. I set the test rifle for the minimum available trigger pull, which measured 3.75 pounds on my RCBS Premium Pull Scale. The trigger itself is wide and grooved for easy control. This is a good trigger with a clean let-off, the best of the three.
The Low Wall action is a very good one. It is strong and smooth in operation. Operating the lever to load the chamber automatically cocks the external hammer. The hammer is of the rebounding type, and it is also provided with a "half cock" safety position. When the action is opened after firing, the Winchester Low Wall extracts and then automatically ejects the spent shell casing to the right, left, or center, depending on where a built-in deflector is positioned.
I selected a Leupold VX-II 3-9x33 EFR rimfire scope for use on this rifle. This Leupold is high in quality, moderate in size, comes with a superb fine Duplex reticle and excellent optics. All of which make it well suited for a .17 HMR combination varmint and small game hunting rifle.
We did our test shooting at the Isaac Walton rifle range south of Eugene, Oregon. This outdoor facility offers 25, 50, 100, and 200 yard shooting distances and solid bench rests.
Guns and Shooting Online staffers Rocky Hays, Gordon Landers, Nathan Rauzon, Bob Fleck, Jim Fleck and I variously contributed to the shooting part of the review. Four brands of ammunition were used. All were loaded with 17 grain bullets. The four types of ammunition were: CCI (Speer TNT JHP bullet at a MV of 2525 fps), Federal Premium (Speer TNT JHP bullet at a MV of 2550 fps), Hornady Varmint Express (Hornady V-MAX bullet at a MV of 2550 fps), and Remington Premier (Rem. AccuTip-V bullet at a MV of 2550 fps).
We did our bench rest shooting using a Caldwell Lead Sled rifle rest stabilized with a single 25 pound bag of lead shot. That is more than enough weight for a .17 HMR rifle.
For record we fired 5-shot groups at Outers Score Keeper Targets at 100 yards. Each shooter shot groups with all four brands of ammunition. Following is a summary of the shooting results. (The complete shooting results can be found in the individual rifle reviews.) Remember that these are averaged group sizes fired by several shooters using four brands of ammunition.
Averaged group size with all four brands of ammunition:
Average group size with most accurate brand of ammunition:
As you can see, the Contender G2 produced the best average groups with all brands of ammunition, and also the smallest average group size with its favored brand of ammunition. This merely reinforced our impression of the G2 as the best long-range varmint rifle of the bunch.
The Savage and the Winchester turned-in perfectly adequate results, especially with their favored brands of ammunition, for their intended role as small game hunting and stalking rifles. Both are accurate enough for occasional use as varmint rifles as well. Once again, the generally excellent potential of .17 HMR rifles and ammunition is evident in these shooting results.
The small game hunter might well prefer the Stevens Favorite 30R17 despite its relative crudity. The price is right, and the inferior stock finish is easy and inexpensive to improve. It should not be difficult for a professional gunsmith or talented amateur owner to smooth and lighten the operation of the action. The Stevens is a work in progress, but with the addition of a little sweat equity should make a good hunting rifle. With these improvements it would also be an excellent training rifle for beginning shooters of all ages.
The dedicated varmint hunter seeking a single shot rifle will likely choose the Thompson/Center Contender G2. Its heavy barrel, good trigger, and superior accuracy make it the odds-on choice for the purpose. And its oddly shaped stock should be less intrusive in this application, as varmint rifles in general are seldom noted for their beauty.
The Winchester 1885 Low Wall will be the natural choice of the connoisseur of fine rifles. Its excellent lines, finish, and workmanship set it apart from the other rifles and justify its higher price. Its smooth action and excellent operating features make it functionally superior, and its long barrel should deliver top velocity. These are solid points in its favor. The best always costs more.
Note: Individual reviews of these single shot rifles can be found on the Product Reviews page.
Copyright 2005 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.