Compared: Ruger K77/17- VHZ and Savage 25 Lightweight Varminter-T .17 Hornet Rifles

By the Guns and Shooting Online Staff


Having reviewed the Ruger K77/17-VHZ and Savage Model 25 Lightweight Varminter-T rifles in the hot .17 Hornet caliber, we thought it would be interesting to compare and contrast these two varmint rifles. It is a worthwhile comparison, as both are (relatively) lightweight varmint rifles intended for the same roles and competing for the same customers. Both are magazine fed bolt actions with 24" semi-heavy barrels, stocked in stiff and durable laminated hardwood stocks. Full length reviews of both rifles can be found on the Product Reviews index page.

The .17 Hornet is a flat shooting, long range, varmint and small predator cartridge that combines high velocity (MV 3650 fps) with minimal recoil and muzzle blast. .17 Hornet factory loaded ammunition is relatively inexpensive by design and, of course, the empty brass can be reloaded. Developed by Hornady (www.hornady.com), the .17 Hornet is based on a blown-out and necked-down .22 Hornet case. It launches a 20 grain V-Max bullet at a muzzle velocity (MV) of 3650 fps, which is comparable to the velocity of the .22-250/55 grain factory load at a fraction of the muzzle blast, recoil and expense. The long range trajectory falls between the.223/55 grain V-Max and .22-250/55 grain V-Max factory loads, impressive for such a little, mild shooting cartridge. Although it was only introduced in 2012, Hornady's .17 Hornet has already become one of our favorite centerfire varmint cartridges.

Here are the basic specifications for our compared rifles:

Ruger K77/17- VHZ

Ruger K77/17- VHZ
Illustration courtesy of Sturm, Ruger & Co., Inc.
  • Catalog number: K77/17-VHZ
  • Model number: 7212
  • Type: Bolt action repeating varmint rifle
  • Caliber: .17 Hornet
  • Magazine type: Detachable rotary, polymer body
  • Magazine capacity: 6
  • Barreled action: Stainless steel
  • Metal finish: Matte gray
  • Trigger: Single stage, non-adjustable
  • Trigger pull: 5 pounds (as delivered)
  • Trigger guard/bottom iron: Stainless steel
  • Barrel: 24"; medium-heavy contour
  • Sights: None; integral scope bases and Ruger rings provided
  • Stock: Green Mountain tricolor laminated hardwood
  • Length of pull: 13.5"
  • Overall length: 43.25"
  • Weight: 7.5 pounds (empty)
  • 2013 MSRP: $969

Savage 25 Lightweight Varminter-T

Model 25 Lightweight Varminter-T
Illustration courtesy of Savage Arms.
  • SKU: 19739
  • Series: Lightweight Varminter
  • Type: Bolt action repeating varmint rifle
  • Caliber: .17 Hornet
  • Magazine: Detachable box, polymer body
  • Capacity: 4 rounds
  • Barreled action: Carbon steel
  • Metal finish: Satin blue
  • Trigger: Varmint AccuTrigger
  • Trigger pull: 2.7 pounds (as delivered)
  • Trigger guard/bottom iron: Polymer
  • Barrel length: 24", semi-heavy contour
  • Sights: None; Weaver style scope bases are supplied
  • Stock: Natural laminated hardwood
  • Length of pull: 14.25"
  • Overall length: 43.75"
  • Weight: 8.25 pounds (empty)
  • 2013 MSRP: $775

As you can see, the specifications are similar is some ways and quite different in others. The Ruger (www.ruger.com) is basically a traditional looking rifle, while the Savage (www.savagearms.com) has a space age appearance. One thing that immediately caught our attention is, while the Savage is named "Lightweight Varminter," the Ruger is actually pound lighter out of the box. However, both are substantially lighter than a Ruger M77 Varmint/Target or Savage Model 12 Varmint Series rifle. These are long range varmint rifles that, assuming appropriate scopes, can also serve for small predator calling. A reasonably lightweight, variable magnification scope of about 4x on the bottom end and 12x to 16x on the top end would serve nicely for both purposes.

Both rifles are in what we would call the medium price class, but the Savage clearly has the advantage here, being $194 cheaper than the Ruger. On the other hand, considering how long rifles last given reasonable care, this isn't a lot amortized over the time of ownership. It amounts to only $9.70 per year if you keep your rifle 20 years and if you trade it in, the Ruger will be worth correspondingly more. Viewed in that light, the difference in price should not be the deciding factor for most shooters. Let's compare some more important factors.

The Barrels

The barrels are 24" long and tapered smoothly from breech to muzzle. Both use a target type crown. The Savage's carbon steel barrel is heavier in contour, measuring 0.685" in diameter at the muzzle. The Ruger stainless steel barrel measures 0.658" in diameter at the muzzle. Many shooters prefer a stainless steel barrel for its rust resistance. Others like the look of blued steel.

The Savage barrel is screwed into the Model 25 receiver and secured by a typical Savage locking collar. Properly executed, this is an excellent system that allows very precise headspacing. Savage centerfire barreled actions are individually checked for proper headspace and TIR after assembly. The Ruger barrel is screwed into its receiver and headspaced conventionally.

The Savage barrel is free-floated for its length, with the action pillar bedded in the stock. The Ruger barreled action is bedded tightly into the stock (barrel not free floating) and there is a slightly raised area inside the front of the forend channel to apply a little upward pressure on the barrel at that point. This is intended to stabilize the barrel and improve accuracy.

Sporter contour barrels are generally more accurate when solidly bedded. Heavy contour barrels are generally more accurate when free-floating. These barrels are in-between the two extremes. Which bedding system is superior is a matter of opinion. Our guess is that each manufacturer has chosen the most appropriate bedding method for their particular rifle.

The Actions

These are turn-bolt action rifles, but they are quite different. The Ruger's receiver is investment cast of stainless steel and is a conventional, open top, flat bottom design that makes it easy to single load cartridges directly into the chamber or clear a jam, if necessary. The Savage's receiver is drilled from carbon steel bar stock and uses an oval slot for an ejection port, which provides limited access. The very long, cylindrical Savage receiver rides abnormally high in its stock, looking a bit odd. The Ruger receiver is shorter, lower and trimmer. We like the basic design of the Ruger action better.

However, the Ruger receiver is very rough inside. It was evidently left as cast, without any attempt to polish the bolt rails. The result is gritty, uneven bolt operation. Cycling the bolt a great many times will eventually tend to "wear-in" the parts, but it will never be as smooth as it would have been if Ruger had properly finished the inside of the receiver in the first place. Reducing machining time reduces production cost, but in this case it is false economy.

The Savage's bolt rails are machined into its round receiver. Although there are fine machine marks, the result is markedly smoother bolt operation than the Ruger.

Both bolts are assembled from several pieces. The Ruger bolt is a stainless steel, two-lug, rear locking design that requires a 90-degree bolt lift. The Savage bolt is made of carbon steel with three evenly spaced front locking lugs and requires only a 60-degree bolt lift. Both bolts cock on opening. The Ruger's bolt body is polished and left in the white. The Savage bolt body is also left in the white, but engine turned for added visual appeal. Both have commendably fast lock times.

These bolts are larger than you would expect for such a short cartridge. After all, the .17 Hornet is only 1.720" long. However, the Ruger bolt is approximately .30-06 length, measuring 6-11/16" long. The Savage Model 25 bolt is enormous, longer than a typical .375 H&H Magnum bolt. It measures approximately 7-15/16" in length. It is hard to understand an action for a cartridge less than 1-3/4" long with a bolt almost 8" long.

Although the Savage's bolt head with its three locking lugs is a separate part assembled to the bolt body, the whole fixture turns when the bolt handle is lifted. The front half of the Ruger bolt body does not turn; only the back half of the Ruger bolt, which carries the locking lugs, rotates when its bolt handle is lifted.

The Ruger's bolt handle is shorter and fits close to the stock when the bolt is closed, making the rifle less bulky and handier to carry or stow in a gun case. The Savage bolt handle is longer and sticks well out from the stock, somewhat reminding us of a bolt action army rifle from times past. It makes the action bulky, but is easier to grasp, even when a big telescopic sight is mounted on the receiver.

Both bolt knobs are smooth and round. The Ruger's bolt knob is machined integrally with its one-piece bolt handle. The Savage bolt knob is simply screwed onto the end of the bolt handle, which is itself screwed into the body of the bolt.

The Ruger's bolt throw is about 2-1/4". The Savage's bolt throw is slighter over 3". In terms of operating speed, the Savage's long throw negates its shorter bolt lift.

Extraction and Ejection

The Savage extractor is a short claw mounted at the front/side of the bolt between two of the front locking lugs. (Interestingly, this is a better extractor design than the sliding bolt face extractor used in Savage's top of the line 110 action.) The Ruger extractor is a small hook mounted at the front of the bolt, as typically seen on rimfire rifles. (The Ruger 77 rotary magazine action was originally designed for rimfire cartridges.) The Savage extractor gives considerably more bite on the case rim to extract dirty or stuck cases.

The Ruger's ejector is fixed, husky and integral with the rear of the receiver. We don't see how it could break and it allows cases to be ejected softly into the hand when the bolt is operated slowly, or thrown well clear of the action when the bolt is operated swiftly. This is our favorite type of ejector. The Savage uses a spring-loaded plunger ejector in the front of the bolt face that throws empty cases well clear and equally far from the receiver whenever the bolt is pulled open.

The Safeties

The Savage Model 25 safety is a simple to understand, two-position catch at the right side of the receiver. Forward is "Fire" and rearward is "Safe," but the bolt is not locked closed. (It probably should be, given how far the Savage's bolt handle protrudes from the side of the rifle.) The cylindrical knob of the safety lever sits about 1-1/2" forward of the end of the bolt when in the "Safe" position and about 2-1/8" forward in the "Fire" position. We think this safety is located too far forward for convenient operation. It is, however, positive and reasonably smooth.

The Ruger 77/17 safety is a three position, pivoted lever identical to that used on the Ruger Model 77 Mk. II and Hawkeye centerfire rifles. It is located at the extreme right rear of the action. Fully forward is the "Fire" position; fully rearward is "Safe," with the bolt locked closed. The middle position is also "Safe," but the bolt is unlocked, allowing a chambered cartridge to be ejected. It its "Safe" (rearward) position, the operating lever is even with the end of the bolt.

We judge the Ruger safety to be more conveniently positioned for natural operation by the thumb of the shooting hand and we like the bolt locked closed when a rifle is carried with the safety on, to prevent inadvertent opening of the action and possible loss of a chambered cartridge. However, like pretty much all of the Ruger's metal parts, the safety is gritty in operation and requires more force to operate than it should, due to a lack of polishing before assembly.

Bolt Removal

To remove the bolt from the Savage, simply pull the trigger all the way back. There is no separate bolt release and the trigger must be pulled to remove or replace the bolt. The Ruger has a flush mounted bolt release at the extreme left rear of the action. This is a better system that prevents battering the trigger/sear when the bolt is withdrawn and the bolt can be replaced without depressing the release lever or pulling the trigger.

Metal Finish

The Ruger stainless steel barreled action, trigger guard and bottom metal is finished in a matte gray that appears virtually unpolished. It is presumably bead blasted, but it looks rough and even feels rough. The only part on the whole rifle that is properly polished is the stainless steel bolt, which is left in the white.

The Savage barreled action is polished and blued. This is a standard metal polish before bluing, not a Weatherby or Browning high luster blue, but nicely polished and attractive nevertheless. The bolt body is polished and engine-turned, while the bolt handle is deeply blued to match the receiver. The Savage barreled action is clearly better polished and finished than the crude looking Ruger barreled action.

On the other hand, the Ruger trigger guard and magazine well are stainless steel, finished exactly like the barreled action. Unfortunately, the corresponding Savage parts are matte black plastic that looks and feels cheap and doesn't match the finish of the barreled action. Savage obviously put more time and care into the metal finish on the Lightweight Varminter-T, so it's a shame they went the cheapest possible route with plastic bottom parts.

The Magazines

Both magazines use a polymer body and both feed cartridges into the chamber in a straight line, which is good. The Savage Model 25 magazine is a typical, single stack, box type that holds four cartridges. The Ruger 77/17 uses a rotary magazine that holds six rounds. Both magazines reliably feed cartridges into the chamber.

The Savage magazine was irritating, although not particularly difficult to load, due to a very long internal spacer. This magazine was designed for the longer .223 cartridge and the little .17 Hornets looked ludicrous sitting so far forward in the oversize magazine. The Ruger rotary magazine is properly sized to the .17 Hornet cartridge, but takes more effort to load. A little practice makes loading either magazine easier.

In its favor, the Ruger rotary magazine sits flush with the bottom of the rifle, while the Savage magazine protrudes about 9/16" below the bottom of the rifle. The Ruger magazine also looks and feels trimmer and holds 50% more cartridges.

The Triggers

Perhaps the Savage rifle's biggest and most significant advantage is its Accu-Trigger. The Savage varmint Accu-Trigger is user adjustable down to 1.5 pounds and ours came from the factory set at a clean, crisp 2.7 pounds. The Accu-Trigger remains the standard of the industry and the varmint Accu-Trigger is even better than the regular sporter version.

By comparison, the Ruger 77/17 trigger is not adjustable and our test rifle came with about a five pound trigger pull. It is reasonably clean, but twice as heavy as it should be and simply not in the same class as the Savage Accu-Trigger. The easiest way to improve and lighten the Ruger trigger is to install a Wolff Gunsprings replacement trigger/sear spring. This helps, but the result still falls short of the Savage Accu-Trigger.

The Stocks

The stock designs of these two rifles are very different, but functional. Both are made from laminated hardwood, which is very stiff and strong, and wear satin synthetic finishes, but there the similarity ends.

The Ruger 77/17-VHZ Green Mountain stock is traditional in shape, but not in color, as it features tri-color laminates in gray, green and tan. It is cut checkered at forend and pistol grip in Ruger's usual four panel pattern. The sporter style forend is slender in cross-section and comfortable for offhand shooting or carrying. The pistol grip has a smooth, medium curve that is a segment of a circle. It is commendably slender in cross-section. This pistol grip shape is both functional and aesthetically pleasing. The buttstock's straight, modern classic style comb is gently fluted. The butt pad is charcoal color rubber with a black line spacer. There is no pistol grip cap, but detachable sling swivel studs are provided. This is basically a sporter style stock adapted to a lightweight varmint rifle.

The Savage 25 Lightweight Varminter-T stock is a more traditional brown in color, but radical in shape. It features a thumbhole pistol grip with a tight curve and an unusual straight, un-fluted, Monte Carlo comb with cheekpiece. There is no checkering, but the forend has three large, oval cut-outs per side to aid barrel cooling. The forend is a varmint rifle type, much wider in cross-section than the Ruger's forend. There are two sling swivel studs on the forend, to accommodate a sling and a bipod simultaneously, and a single sling swivel stud on the underside of the buttstock in the usual place. The butt pad is charcoal color rubber with a black line spacer; there is no pistol grip cap.

Both stocks, although very different in style, are easy to use. The Ruger's stock design is probably superior for use from unsupported positions (standing, sitting, prone, etc.), while the Savage's stock is designed more for shooting over a rest. Either works fine in the field with a bipod attached to the front sling swivel. The Savage has a longer length of pull, but both stocks fit our average size shooters just fine. Aesthetically, both stock designs look right for their respective rifles. You pays your money and takes your choice.

Scope Mounting

Both rifles come with scope mounting bases. The Ruger's proprietary mounting base is machined into the receiver, positively preventing any possibility of loosening. 25mm (1") scope rings are supplied with the rifle and medium or high rings for 25mm or 30mm scope tubes are available from Ruger and most gun shops.

The Savage comes with two-piece, Weaver cross-slot bases installed by the factory. Rings are not supplied with the rifle, but are available from most manufacturers, including Leupold, Millett, Weaver and others. Unfortunately, the scope bases and screws on our test rifle were oiled, which increases the likelihood that at some point they will shoot loose. We recommend that the purchaser of a Savage Model 25 rifle remove and clean the top of the receiver, bottom of the scope bases and screws and reattach (firmly) using Loctite.

As removable scope bases go, the Weaver/Picatinny cross slot type supplied by Savage are probably as popular and versatile as any. However, Ruger's integral scope base completely eliminates potential problems and must be considered the superior system.

Strength

Both actions are more than adequately strong for the little .17 Hornet cartridge. The Savage Model 25 action is also used for the larger .223 Remington cartridge and the Ruger Model 77 rotary magazine action is chambered for cartridges as powerful as the .44 Remington Magnum.

Accuracy

Although accuracy is important in a varmint rifle, because the targets are small and often far away, it is not a factor in this comparison. Both of the sample rifles we reviewed are capable of very good accuracy. The difference in accuracy, if any, will depend primarily on the shooter, the specific load tested and how well it matches the individual rifle. All rifles are individuals and some are inherently more accurate than others, even within the same brand and model. The variation is usually small from example to example, but it is there and it is enough to make it impossible for us to say whether your Savage 25 Varminter-T will be more accurate than your Ruger K77/17-VHS, or vise-versa. Either rifle should get the job done if you do your part.

100 yard bench rest shooting results are included in our individual full length reviews of both rifles. See the Product Reviews page.

Summary and Conclusion

The Ruger 77/17-VHZ and Savage Model 25 Lightweight Varminter-T rifles are similar in some ways and different in many ways, yet both are quite functional. Both rifles were purchased by staff members after being reviewed. Either should be deadly to varmints and small predators in the field.

Our consensus opinion is we prefer the Ruger's basic action design, open top receiver, stainless steel construction and modern classic stock shape. Ruger's scope mounting system is excellent, as is its rotary magazine. We like the design of the Ruger's three-position safety and sturdy, receiver mounted ejector, but not its small hook extractor. Aesthetically, we are not sold on the tri-color laminate stock or dull gray metal finish and we bemoan the action's unpolished internals, which we consider the Ruger's biggest functional drawback.

We like the Savage's smoother operation and applaud Savage's choice of a brown laminated stock and polished metal finish. The Savage's most outstanding feature is its crisp, clean, light and adjustable varmint Accu-Trigger, a definite aid to practical accuracy. Anyone can shoot better with a better trigger. The 60-degree bolt rotation is an advantage, as is its larger extractor. The Savage two-position safety is simple and positive in operation, but poorly located. We don't like the Savage's bulky action, its small ejection port or its plastic trigger guard and magazine well.

The stock designs are very different, but we found both to be comfortable in use. For medium size shooters like us, we found the ergonomics a toss-up, but your opinion may vary. A prospective buyer should carefully study this article and put each rifle through its paces before making a decision.

Note: Individual, full length reviews of these rifles can be found on the Product Reviews page.




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