The Marlin Model 917VS Varmint Rifle
By Chuck Hawks and the Guns and Shooting Online Staff
Marlin is the top producer of rimfire rifles in the U.S., and the Model 917VS is the top of the Marlin rimfire line. It is an attractive bolt action rifle with a stainless steel barreled action and a gray laminated stock. The 917VS is chambered for the flat shooting .17 HMR (Hornady Magnum Rimfire) cartridge.
The main features of the Model 917VS are its laminated hardwood Monte Carlo stock with tough Mar-Shield finish, stainless steel barreled action, bolt action with thumb safety and cocking indicator, T-900 trigger mechanism, and free floating heavy barrel. The receiver is grooved for tip-off scope mounts and also drilled and tapped for conventional scope bases, which are included. The stock is provided with a rubber butt pad and nickel-plated detachable sling swivel bases.
The 917's action uses a tubular receiver. The bolt locks closed by means of a single lug at the base of the bolt handle. The two position safety allows the bolt to be operated while in the "SAFE" position. The bolt head is provided with a spring steel claw extractor, and there is a blade type ejector. The bolt is removed by simply pulling the trigger. A spring steel magazine release projects from the rear of the magazine well. The muzzle of the varmint weight barrel wears a recessed target crown.
The removable clip type magazine is formed from brush finished, nickel plated sheet steel. There are grooves in both sides of the magazine box designed to contact the cartridge shoulder and keep the bullet from touching the front of the magazine, thus eliminating battered bullet tips. This 7-shot magazine projects a good inch below the bottom of the stock, marring the the clean line of the stock. A second, reduced capacity magazine that protruded no farther than required by the magazine release would be greatly appreciated.
The Marlin's magazine is the source of our only serious complaints about these rifles. The magazine well is oversize, making it possible to insert the entire magazine in front of the rifle's rear magazine guide rail, rather than sliding it onto the guide rail. This jams the rifle.
Even when correctly inserted and locked in place, the magazine is far too loose in the magazine well. Often cartridges will not feed from the magazine unless it is manually pressed upward (into the rifle) to remove the excessive slack and allow the lower face of the bolt to contact the rim of the top cartridge in the magazine as it is slid forward. The Marlin magazine also has a propensity to allow the rim of the second cartridge to ride in front of the rim of the top cartridge, making it impossible to feed the top cartridge from the magazine. We independently procured two 917VS rifles and three magazines, and all combinations exhibited the same problems. I would have to rate the feed reliability of these rifles as poor.
The T-900 fire control system is touted as a real improvement in Marlin rimfire rifle triggers. This new trigger group is included on all 900-series Marlin bolt action rimfire rifles. It features an improved and consistent single-stage trigger pull and a wide, serrated finger-contact surface. The associated safety locks the trigger and is touted as positive and easy to activate. Not having an older model Marlin bolt action rifle on hand to compare, all I can say is that the 917VS trigger was satisfactory. It felt lighter than its measured pull weight of 5.5 pounds, but I still would have preferred a lighter pull.
The basic specifications of the Marlin 917VS are as follows. Magazine: 7-shot clip magazine; Barrel: 22", heavy contour; Rifling: 4 grooves, 1 in 9" twist, right hand; Length of pull: 14"; Drop at Monte Carlo Comb: 1.3"; Length: 41"; Weight: 7 pounds; Sights: none.
The Marlin 917VS carries a MSRP of over $400 (in 2004). However, it is widely discounted. Our test rifle was purchased at the sporting goods department of one of our local Bi-Mart discount department stores for about $279. As rimfire rifles go, I would consider it a medium priced model, and it is a lot of rifle for the money.
Marlin's bolt action .17 HMR varmint rifles (Models 917VS and 917V) are widely considered to be among the most accurate on the market. This reputation for accuracy is reassuring, since .17 HMR ammunition is loaded to a very high accuracy standard of 1 MOA or better groups at 100 yards. Tack driving ammunition deserves a tack-driving rifle.
The original Hornady 17 grain V-Max (spire point) bullet is credited with a MV of 2550 fps, and the newer 20 grain XTP (spitzer) bullet is credited with a MV of 2375 fps. The 17 grain bullet is touted as the varmint bullet, and the less destructive, deeper penetrating 20 grain bullet is recommended for small game hunting.
The .17 HMR is undoubtedly the best rimfire cartridge ever developed for varmint hunting. Hornady trajectory tables show that if the 17 grain bullet is zeroed at 100 yards it hits only 0.1" high at 50 yards, and 2.6" low at 150 yards. The trajectory of the 17 grain bullet as offered in .17 HMR ammunition from CCI, Federal, and Remington is similar.
A better way to zero a .17 HMR rifle is to put the 17 grain bullet 1.5" high at 100 yards, for a zero range of 145 yards. It would then hit about 0.9" high at 50 yards, 0.3" low at 150 yards, and 5.5" low at 200 yards. The maximum point blank range (+/- 1.5") of the cartridge would be about 165 yards, at which range the bullet retains about 90 ft. lbs. of energy, enough to remain effective on the smaller varmints. That is the way we sighted-in our .17 HMR test rifles.
A Simmons Aetec 3.8-12x44mm AO scope was chosen to complement the Model 917VS that was used for the bulk of the test shooting for this article. Millet rings that clamp directly to the grooves provided in the 917's receiver were used to mount the scope.
The big Aetec is a good scope for a .17 HMR varmint rifle. It provides clear views of small targets, coupled with an adequate field of view (at 4x) and plenty of magnification for any conceivable purpose to which the 917VS is likely to be put. There is noticeable curvature of field at the edges, but this has little or no effect on the scope as a sight. And, with a 2004 MSRP of $200 and a discount price around $155, it is reasonably affordable.
Technical Advisors Bob Fleck, Jim Fleck, and I shot the Marlin 917VS at the Izaak Walton outdoor rifle range near Eugene, Oregon. The weather was damp and chilly, and there was no wind. The rifle was fired over sandbags and from a Caldwell Lead Sled rest. The two brands of 17 HMR ammunition selected for testing both used 17 grain bullets. These were Hornady brand with the plastic tipped V-Max bullet and CCI brand with the 17 grain Speer TNT hollow point bullet.
After bore sighting and establishing a preliminary zero at 25 yards, we moved back to 100 yards and sighted-in the rifle to hit 1.5" high at that distance. We then fired 3-shot groups from a cool barrel for record. Accuracy proved to be excellent, better than any rimfire rifle previously tested for Guns and Shooting Online.
With the CCI ammunition groups ran from a minimum of 1" to a maximum of 1 1/2". The Hornady loads with V-Max bullets proved to be even better in our test rifle. Groups measured from 3/8" to 1 1/4". The average size for all recorded groups was about 1 1/8" (1.125"). I don't see how anyone could expect better accuracy than that.
The 917VS is included in the article ".17 HMR Rifle Accuracy Test Results," which can be found in the "Rifle Information" section of the Rimfire Guns and Ammo Page. There you can compare its range results with other .17 HMR rifles tested by Guns and Shooting Online.
All three shooters noticed that the operation of the bolt was stiff and grabby, which sometimes made chambering a new cartridge difficult. Something, probably the bolt raceway, needs to be smoothed. There were numerous failures to feed, a problem caused by the magazine system (described above). Even so, it's hard not to like a rifle as accurate as this one.
In summary, the Marlin 917VS is far more rifle than its modest cost would indicate. Judging by our test results, its reputation for fine accuracy is well deserved. I would not want to be a rodent within 200 yards of a good shot with a Marlin Model 917VS rifle in his hands!
RIFLE REVIEW SUMMARY
Copyright 2005, 2007 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.
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