Remington Model 597 Magnum LS HB Autoloading Rifle
By Chuck Hawks and the Guns and Shooting Online Staff
Our Remington 597 LS HB .17 HMR rifle took a while to arrive--we requested a sample for review about nine months ago--but it was worth the wait. This is the heavy barrel (0.825" OD) varmint rifle version of the new Remington autoloader (LS = Laminated Stock, HB = Heavy Barrel in Remington speak).
This rifle has a couple of interesting and advanced design features that, properly executed, should make it a winner. And, as we found out at the range, it is an exceptionally accurate autoloader. But before we get into the rifle's noteworthy features, here are the basic catalog specifications.
Our first impression of the 597 LS HB was that it is a trim and handy rifle despite its heavy contour barrel and man size stock with a 14" length of pull. The free floating 20" heavy barrel balances the rifle with a noticeable, but not objectionable, weight forward bias. At only 6 pounds, sans scope, it is not a burden to carry in the field. It is, in fact, one of the lightest varmint rifles we have reviewed, and it would be right at home hunting small game instead of varmints given a scope appropriate for that task.
We like the looks of the one-piece, brown laminated wood stock, although the example supplied with the 597 LS HB is thicker around the pistol grip and forward of the receiver than it needs to be. The heel of the pistol grip is not undercut so it lacks definition, and there is no grip cap. None of which is alarming or unusual; almost all factory stocks need to be slenderized.
The shape of the stock is basically attractive and incorporates a classic, fluted comb with moderate drop that positions the shooter's eye properly for scope use. The forend is comfortably tapered in three dimensions. A black plastic butt plate and studs for detachable sling swivels are supplied. This laminated wood stock is strong, weather resistant, very rigid and no doubt contributes to the rifle's fine accuracy. It is far better than the cheap, injection molded plastic stocks supplied on so many rimfire rifles today.
The 597 autoloader has some special features that are worth mentioning. The receiver appears to be made of some aluminum alloy with a flat black finish. The steel bolt, unlike most blow-back operated autoloaders, does not slide in grooves in the receiver. Instead, the 597 bolt runs on two steel rods alongside the bolt. These round tool-steel rods are much harder than the receiver and should greatly reduce friction and essentially eliminate wear. This system should allow the rifle to function better and longer than other autoloading actions. Certainly it tossed ejected cases far from the rifle.
The bolt stays open after the last shot is fired. That nice feature is always appreciated.
The bolt handle appears to be a cast metal part that can be pulled straight out of the bolt. It is retained in place by a simple notch cast into the metal. This design caused no trouble during out testing, but the bolt handle is so easy to remove that I'd keep a spare handy just in case the high operating speed of the bolt one day tossed the handle into the brush.
The 597's barrel is attached by means of a unique, permanently rigid, positive locking clamp. This appears to be a better system than simply pinning the barrel to the action, as is done with most rimfire autoloaders.
The magazine is another interesting feature. It is a removable, staggered box design that allegedly holds eight .17 HMR rounds, but the last three cartridges require excessive force to load. We limited the magazine load to five rounds for all of our testing.
It is a unique magazine. The body is a one-piece magnesium alloy die casting onto which the black plastic bottom is snapped. The large follower is molded of orange plastic. This lightweight but heavy gauge magnesium magazine is light, rigid, and precisely made.
BUT, it appears to have a serious design flaw. The movement of the spring loaded magazine follower is very carefully controlled to prevent tipping. There are small grooves inside the front and rear sides of the magazine body as well as very wide guide channels cast into either side of the magazine box. These mate to the sides of the follower. This system insures that the follower goes up and down in a straight line without tipping or twisting.
The problem is that the broad cast-in side channels make the magazine body a bit too wide in that area. Unless care is taken when loading, the rim of the cartridge being loaded can slip far enough to the side to catch under the body of the top cartridge already in the magazine. Since this is a double row magazine, the top cartridge is pressed down and to the side by the new cartridge being inserted on top of it. Sometimes this allows the new cartridge's rim into the follower guide channel, which is wide enough to then allow it to slip beneath the body of the previous case. This tends to happen if you shove the new cartridge too deeply into the magazine when loading.
It's kind of hard to describe the problem, but not nearly hard enought to cause it to occur. It happened to us several times as we loaded the magazine, and when it does it completely ties up the magazine.
The easiest way to clear the jammed magazine is to shove down the magazine follower by inserting a plastic bullet tip or a pocket knife point into the slot in the side of the magazine and depressing the follower. Then you can turn the magazine upside down and shake out the cartridges and start over. Needless to say, this is no fun in the field. I'd keep a spare magazine handy if I were working a prairie dog town, just in case. The magnesium magazine body should be redesigned with narrower follower guide channels on its sides to eliminate this problem.
In the meantime, when loading, press new cartridges just deep enough into the magazine to slip the rim under the magazine guide/feed rails and no farther. We also recommend loading no more than 5 rounds at a time. With reasonable care and an understanding of the potential problem it's not that hard to load the magazine.
The bolt, hammer, and sear feature an exclusive Teflon/nickel finish for ultra-smooth operation. Unfortunately, the lawyer inspired trigger in our test rifle was clean, but far too heavy. The trigger pull measured approximately 5 pounds on our digital trigger scale gauge. It is a wide, grooved, steel trigger that was manageable when shooting from a bench rest, but made shooting tight groups harder than it should have been. From field positions, this trigger would definitely degrade the practical accuracy of the rifle.
The streamlined, one-piece, polymer trigger guard/magazine well assembly incorporates a simple cross-bolt safety at the rear that blocks the trigger when applied. The magazine release is inletted into the stock on the lower right side of the action, just above the front of the trigger guard. Slide the catch to drop the magazine, which falls freely from the magazine well. The magazine release works well once you get used to its unusual location.
Our Guns and Shooting Online resident gunsmith, Rocky Hays, took it upon himself to detail disassemble the 597 action. He reports that the unit construction aspect of the "bottom iron" (bottom plastic?) and complexity of the trigger housing mechanism make this Remington ill-suited to the ministrations of the amateur gunsmith. The spring primarily responsible for the weight of trigger pull is buried in the trigger housing and inaccessable without complete disassembly of the fire control mechanism. In addition, attempting to polish the trigger/sear/hammer engagement surfaces will remove the Teflon/nickel coating. In other words, leave the 597 trigger housing alone unless you are a pro. Unfortunately, the trigger is not user adjustable.
Open sights are not supplied on the heavy barrel versions of the 597, although they are standard on the other models. Instead, the top of the receiver is grooved for tip-off scope mounts and also drilled and tapped for a Weaver rail. The latter is shipped already mounted on the rifle, a nice touch. Very few varmint hunters are going to want iron sights, anyway. We much prefer the free scope base.
The Model 597 was shipped with all of the usual clutter that accompanies rifles these days. The owner's manual is useful and reasonably well written, but larded with so many "safety warnings" that they make the text hard to follow. Our overall impression after reading the owner's manual is that gun ownership is too dangerous to be mastered by mere mortals and we probably shouldn't engage in it.
We mounted a Bushnell Elite 3200 5-15x40mm AO varmint scope on our 597 test rifle. This scope features Bushnell's RainGuard coating, a plex reticle, European fast eyepiece focus, fingertip 1/4 MOA windage and elevation adjustments and a front objective that can be focused to eliminate parallax. You can read a full review of this scope on the Product Review Page.
15x is really more magnification than a .17 HMR varmint rifle needs, but it is a sharp, clear scope that certainly allows close inspection of 100 yard targets! The supplied objective lens shade made the scope approximately the same length overall as the rifle's (rather short) barrel. All in all, it's a lot of scope for a 6 pound rimfire rifle. But then, the 597 LS HB is a lot of rifle.
At the range
The 597 LS HB arrived in the dead of winter, which made our time at the range chilly and damp, as you would expect in December and January in Western Oregon. Still, it was an enjoyable little rifle to shoot. The shooting chores were accomplished by Guns and Shooting Online staff members Bob Fleck, Nathan Rauzon, Rocky Hays, and Chuck Hawks.
The weather conditions at the Izaak Walton rifle range south of Eugene, Oregon were cold and damp with a heavy, low overcast but no rain or snow. The high temperatures were in the mid-30's F. Wind was not a factor.
After mounting the scope in Millet rings and bore sighting with a Bushnell magnetic boresighter, we made for the 25 yard range. It took about two magazine loads to "walk" the bullets into the "X" ring.
We then repaired to the 100 yard range, where a couple more magazine loads sufficed to get the bullets striking at the point of aim on our Hoppes "Crosshair" sighting targets. We then settled down to do some serious shooting for group size.
For record we each fired five shot groups at 100 yards with four different brands of .17 HMR varmint ammunition, all of which use 17 grain bullets. These included Hornady Varmint Express with a plastic tipped V-MAX bullet, Remington Premier (also with the V-MAX bullet), CCI with a Speer TNT hollow point bullet, and Federal Premium using the same Speer TNT bullet. The CCI load claims a MV of 2525 fps, all the others claim 2550 fps. During our chronograph tests (in a 24" barrel), all brands achieved higher than claimed average velocities 10 feet from the muzzle.
All shooting was done from a bench rest using a Caldwell Lead Sled weighted with a 25 pound bag of shot. The ambient air temperature was so low (and, after all, we were shooting for accuracy, not speed) that the rifle barrel never warmed to the touch. Here are the shooting results:
OVERALL AVERAGE, ALL BRANDS OF AMMUNITION = 1.16"
These shooting results averaged the exact same overall group size with all brands of ammunition (1.16") as the Remington Model 504-T LS HB bolt action varmint rifle that we reviewed in 2005. So much for the alleged superiority of bolt action rifles! It's probably just happenstance, but this reflects well on the consistancy of the barrels that Remington is fitting to its .17 HMR varmint rifles. That rifle did its best work with the Federal TNT load, while our Model 597 shot its best groups with the CCI load using the same TNT bullet.
The 597 LS HB 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.
During the course of our shooting we had only one failure to feed. The nose of a Speer TNT hollow point bullet jammed against the edge of the chamber instead of slipping inside as it should have. It was easy to clear by retracting the bolt a short distance and pressing the nose of the bullet down enough to feed into the chamber. This is actually a pretty good record, especially for an autoloader, considering the number of rounds we fired with four different brands of ammunition. So we have no criticism of the 597's feed reliability.
Summary and conclusion
The .17 HMR Remington 597 LS HB performed well in the course of our review. It is certainly a more attractive rifle than most of today's autoloaders, handles well, and shoots great. The magazine can be finicky to load, but the proper technique can be mastered with a little practice.
We all liked this rifle, even those of us who prefer manually operated actions. Rocky likes it so much that he refuses to send it back to Remington. Getting the product into the customer's hands has always been a good sales technique, assuming that it is a good product. This .17 HMR Remington 597 LS HB is just such a good product!
NOTE: Well after this review was written, Remington discontinued the Model 597 .17 HMR rifle and recalled all existing Model 597 rifles for safety reasons. See the Remington web site for details.
RIFLE REVIEW SUMMARY
Copyright 2006 by ChuckHawks.com. All rights reserved.
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