The .17 HMR Ruger 77/17VMBBZ Varmint Rifle
By Chuck Hawks and the Guns and Shooting Online Staff
Sturm, Ruger & Company, along with partners Hornady and Marlin, played a key role in developing the .17 HMR cartridge and the first rifles in which to shoot it. The 77/17VMBBZ is at the top of Ruger's fine .17 HMR rifle line.
It's a serious varmint rifle, a bolt action repeater with a stainless steel barreled action and a laminated hardwood stock. This model is supplied with a precision hammer forged, tapered, heavy barrel with a target crown. It is sold without iron sights, which would be superfluous on a .17 HMR varmint rifle.
The Ruger 77/17 action used in our test rifle incorporates a number of worthwhile and novel features not found on most rimfire rifles. Among these are its investment cast, heat treated, stainless steel receiver; dual locking lug stainless steel bolt; ultra-fast lock time; dual hook extractors and fixed ejector; visible cocking indicator at the rear of the bolt; low, three position safety; integral scope bases for Ruger rings (which are included); superior trigger mechanism; and rotary magazine system. The bolt release for removal is a separate, flush mounted lever on the left at the rear of the receiver.
The Model 77/17VMBBZ is supplied with a gray/black laminated hardwood stock with a full pistol grip and studs for attaching quick detachable sling swivels. This nicely shaped stock has a straight, fluted comb and a relatively small diameter pistol grip that aids control. The forearm is slender and graceful, but flattened on the bottom for shooting from a rest.
The grey/black laminated hardwood stock is nicely complemented by a unique low glare, corrosion resistant, Target Grey metal finish. This gives the rifle a serious, business like appearance that I kind of like. I wouldn't want all of my rifles to sport this finish, but on one special rifle it's pretty neat.
The famous Ruger rotary magazine deserves special mention. This detachable magazine fits flush with the bottom of the stock for a sleek appearance. Its internal spool keeps the individual cartridges separated and its stainless steel lips and feed ramp minimize wear. The body of the magazine is made of very tough glass filled nylon. Feeding is slick and trouble free. This is the best magazine system used in any .17 HMR bolt action rifle with which I am familiar.
Also worth emphasizing is the Ruger's trigger. It is clearly superior to the trigger mechanisms in other rimfire varmint rifles that I have reviewed recently. The test rifle's trigger broke at 4 pounds by my RCBS gauge after a moderate amount of smooth travel. These days that is a very good factory trigger. In fact, this trigger is both lighter and smoother than the one in the Ruger M77R centerfire rifle that I recently reviewed.
The three-position safety is located at the right rear of the action. It works just like the one on the M77 centerfire rifle (or a Winchester Model 70). The fully forward position is "fire," the fully rearward position locks both the trigger and the bolt and is "safe," and the middle position locks the trigger but not the bolt for loading and unloading.
Here are the basic specifications for the Ruger 77/17VMBBZ:
A Bushnell Elite 3200 5-15x40mm AO riflescope was selected for installation on the Ruger 77/17VMBBZ. This fine optic was graciously supplied for review by the good folks at Bushnell. The supplied Ruger high scope rings made mounting the big Bushnell Elite scope easy. The Ruger scope mounting system is, in my opinion, the best in the industry.
This Elite 3200 scope features a one-piece tube, Rainguard fully multi-coated optics, 1/4 MOA fingertip adjustments, standard Multi-X reticle, 3.5" eye relief, 91% total light transmission, fast focus eyepiece, and a matte black finish. It boasts an extended AO focus range of 10 yards to infinity. A lens hood is included. The view through this scope was sharp and clear, and added to the pleasure of shooting the 77/17VMBBZ rifle. You can't hit what you can't see.
The Ruger 77/17VMBBZ rifle is, of course, chambered for the .17 HMR cartridge. I have written so much praise about this hot little number that it would be pointless to repeat it all here. Suffice to say that the .17 HMR is the highest velocity, flattest shooting, and most accurate rimfire small game and varmint cartridge on the market.
Hornady's original .17 HMR varmint load gives a 17 grain V-MAX bullet a MV of 2550 fps and ME of 245 ft. lbs. (Other brands are similar in performance.) Production standards are very tight for this ammunition. The goal is MOA (or better) accuracy at 100 yards.
To take advantage of the long range potential of the .17 HMR cartridge, I zeroed the Ruger rifle to hit 1.5" high at 100 yards with the 17 Grain V-MAX bullet. This means that the bullet hits dead on at 145 yards, and about 1.5" low at 165 yards, for a maximum point blank range (+/- 1.5") of 165 yards.
The test firing of the Ruger 77/17VMBBZ was done at the Izaak Walton rifle range south of Eugene, Oregon. This outdoor facility offers target stands at 25, 50, 100, and 200 yards, and solid bench rests from which to shoot. In an attempt to eliminate as much human error as possible, I shot all recorded groups with the rifle nestled in my Caldwell lead Sled rifle rest.
The shooting for this review was done on a gray and mostly overcast day with occasional light rain. Temperatures were in the mid-50's (F). Typical Western Oregon weather on the first day of spring.
This same Ruger rifle was simultaneously involved in a .17 HMR varmint rifle comparison test with three other rifles, so I was not the only Guns and Shooting Online staffer who got to shoot it. Guns and shooting Online Technical Assistants Bob Fleck, Nathan Rauzon, and Gordon Landers were all on hand, as well as your author. Everyone liked the way this rifle looked, handled, and functioned.
After first bore sighting with my Bushnell magnetic boresighter, the first shots from the new Ruger rifle were fired at 25 yards. Using the scope's adjustments to "walk" the bullets into the 10 ring at 25 yards insured that they would at least be on the paper when I moved to the 100 yard line.
The shooting at 100 yards was done at Outers Score Keeper targets. All groups consisted of 5 shots. The barrel never got more than slightly warm, so no cooling off periods were required.
Four brands of ammunition were used: CCI (Speer 17 grain TNT bullet), Federal Premium V-Shok (17 grain Speer TNT bullet), Hornady Varmint Express (Hornady 17 grain V-MAX bullet), and Remington Premier Gold Box (Rem. 17 grain AccuTip-V bullet).
I know from previous experience that this is all high quality ammunition, capable of delivering MOA groups at 100 yards. But I also know that rifles are individuals and have specific ammo preferences. To find out this rifle's preferences, four shooters each shot groups with all four brands of ammunition with the following results.
Hornady - Smallest group 1"; largest group 1 5/16"; average group size 1 1/4".
CCI - Smallest group 7/8"; largest group 2"; average group size 1 3/8".
Federal - Smallest group 1"; largest group 1 7/8"; average group size 1 9/16"
Remington - Smallest group 1 1/8"; largest group 2 3/8"; average group size 1 11/16".
AVERAGE GROUP SIZE FOR ALL AMMUNITION = 1.44".
Judging by these results it would seem that the Hornady Varmint Express ammunition is the load of choice in this particular rifle. This Target Grey Ruger 77/17 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.
There were no malfunctions of any kind during the course of this shooting. Everyone praised the Ruger rotary magazine for its reliability and ease of loading.
The Ruger 77/17VMBBZ is a deluxe, adult rifle. It has the lines, fit, and finish of a high quality centerfire rifle, and its bolt action is one of the strongest and smoothest around. If you have a weakness for fine, reliable rifles (as I do), you are going to like this .17 HMR Ruger.
RIFLE REVIEW SUMMARY
Copyright 2005, 2015 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.