Ruger K77/17-VHZ .17 Hornet Varmint Rifle
By the Guns and Shooting Online Staff
Back in 1983, Ruger (www.ruger.com) introduced their first bolt action, rotary magazine, rimfire rifle. This was an adult .22 intended to appeal to mature shooters, not kids. The M77/22 was a big success and, as they say, the rest is history. The original walnut stocked sporter rifle was joined by stainless synthetic and laminated stock versions, including heavy barrel varmint models. The basic action was subsequently adapted to rimfire magnums, the centerfire .357 Magnum, 44 Magnum and now the hot .17 Hornet varmint cartridge.
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, the .17 Hornet has already become one of our favorite centerfire varmint cartridges.
When Ruger announced the availability of their K77/17 varmint rifle in .17 Hornet caliber for 2013, we knew we had to review one. The Ruger K77/17 in .17 HMR is already one of our favorite medium range varmint rifles. In .17 Hornet, it potentially becomes a long range varmint rifle, if it lives up to its promise. That is what we intend to find out.
The Ruger K77/17-VHZ has good credentials. We know from experience that the K77/17 action is strong and reliable. It is a short stroke, dual rear locking lug, cock on opening, turn bolt action with a 90-degree bolt lift. This action features an open top, flat bottom receiver. (It is not drilled from bar stock.) The receiver is heat treated and the bolt is polished stainless steel. The lock time is very fast, which minimizes potential rifle movement between the moment the trigger releases the sear and the rifle fires.
Ruger 17 Hornet barrels are hammer forged and rifled with a six groove, 1:9" twist. The barrel is 24" long and tapered smoothly from breech to muzzle. It has a medium-heavy contour, measuring 0.658" in diameter at the muzzle, with a target type crown.
The 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. The barreled action can easily be removed from the stock for by removing the two screws in the trigger guard / bottom iron. Incidentally, the bottom parts are stainless steel, not plastic.
The bolt release is a flush lever at the extreme left rear of the receiver. Open the bolt fully and then depress the bolt release with a fingertip or thumbnail.
The bolt itself is much longer than those used in most other rimfire and ultra short centerfire cartridge actions. It is roughly as long as .308 centerfire bolt. When the action is locked or unlocked, only the rear half of the bolt rotates; the long front portion does not.
The extractor is a small hook at the front of the bolt (the type used in many rimfire rifles). It appears to be adequately strong, but only takes a small bite on the case rim. The heavy duty ejector is fixed, part of the investment cast receiver and should be impervious to wear or damage.
One interesting aspect of this 77/17 centerfire action is that the upper bolt locking lug recess is cut all the way through the top of the rear receiver ring. There is a rectangular cut in the front of the receiver ring measuring 0.3515" wide and about 0.551" long. When the bolt is locked, you can see the end of the bolt's locking lug in this rectangular cut in the forward edge of the rear receiver ring. (Remember, this is a rear locking bolt.)
The M77/17 receiver is investment cast and inspection of our sample showed that no attempt was made to polish its interior or the action parts. We did what we reasonably could to smooth the action before shooting the rifle, including cycling the bolt and dry firing the rifle repeatedly, hundreds of times, for hours on end. The inside of the receiver was so rough at the outset that if the bolt was unlocked with the magazine removed and the muzzle pointed straight up, friction in the receiver races prevented the bolt from sliding rearward. Offhand, we cannot remember another centerfire bolt action rifle where the bolt would not simply fall open from gravity. Needless to say, stroking the bolt was a very gritty, high resistance operation. After a couple of days of the aforementioned repetitive cycling to accelerate "wearing-in" of the parts, at least the bolt would drop open with the rifle held vertically and the feel was substantially improved, although still far from smooth. Ruger should polish the bolt rails and internal parts before these $1000 rifles leave the factory.
The receiver incorporates Ruger's patented integral scope mounting bases and Ruger 1" (25mm) steel scope rings are supplied with all 77/17 rifles. No iron sights are fitted, which makes perfect sense for a varmint rife. We have long regarded this as an outstanding scope mounting system. Certainly, the scope bases will never shoot loose!
The safety is a three position, pivoted lever type similar to that used on the Ruger Model 77 Mk. II and Hawkeye centerfire rifles. It is located at the right rear of the action. Safety fully forward is the "Fire" position; fully rearward is "Safe" with the bolt locked closed, the way you would normally carry the rifle in the field. The middle position is also "Safe," but the bolt is unlocked, allowing a chambered cartridge to be ejected.
We did not get around to measuring the non-adjustable trigger pull of our test rifle until after we had smoothed the action to the best of our ability, but after our efforts it released at a reasonably consistent four pounds, without take-up or grit and only moderate over-travel. A clean four pound trigger pull would be adequate for a big game hunting rifle, but is not up to normal varmint rifle standards, including Ruger's own M77 Mark II Varmint/Target model. Our guess-estimate is that the trigger pull was around five pounds out of the box. Wolff Gunsprings has a reduced rate trigger/sear spring for the Ruger 77/22 intended to reduce the pull weight. (All Ruger M77 rotary magazine rifles use the same trigger/sear spring.) We ordered one ($3.50 without shipping on the Wolff Gunsprings website), but it did not arrive in time for this review.
M77/17 Hornet rifles are fed from a detachable, six shot, rotary magazine. Rotary magazines are our favorite type. The patented Ruger rotary magazine is made from glass-filled nylon and incorporates stainless steel lips. This has proven to be a very reliable feeding system and the magazine fits flush with the bottom of the rifle, making for a clean appearance and comfortable carrying. Depress the magazine catch (located immediately behind the magazine) to insert or remove the magazine. The magazine will drop from the rifle when the release is depressed.
The stainless steel barreled action has a crude (bead blasted?), matte gray finish that is much less attractive than the earlier Ruger Target Gray finish. Only the stainless steel bolt is appropriately polished. "Ruger All-Weather 77/17" is stamped on the left side of the receiver, but is meaningless. We don't understand the reason for this rough metal finish (besides reducing production cost), as the previously reviewed K77/17-VMBBZ and other stainless steel Ruger rotary magazine rifles come with a much more attractive satin stainless finish. We think this is a shame, as the K77/17-VHZ is not a cheap rifle and should not be finished like one, inside or out.
The K77/17-VHZ is supplied with a straight comb, laminated hardwood, Green Mountain stock. It comes with Ruger's usual four panel, cut checkering. The comb is fluted and detachable sling swivel bases are provided. The buttplate is charcoal black rubber with a black line spacer. This stock is appropriately shaped for a lightweight varmint rifle. The stock's lines are generally attractive and it is commendably slender at forend and pistol grip. It feels good in the hands, certainly better than any injection molded plastic stock. The outside has an attractive, smooth, satin polyurethane finish that completely fills the wood pores.
Unfortunately, the inside of the stock is completely unfinished (bare wood) and so crude there are small splinters from the inletting cuts, which is not good if you get caught in the rain. The bare wood will readily absorb moisture, ultimately rusting the barreled action if the stock is not removed and completely dried. So much for the "all-weather" claim.
The stock laminates are layered in three repeating colors: gray, brown and green. We think a brown laminated stock, such as supplied on the K77/22-VBZ, looks more natural and is more attractive than other laminated stock colors, whether the barreled action is blued or stainless. Our second choice would be a gray/black laminate, such as supplied on the stainless K77/17-VMBBZ.
The Staff opinion was divided on the K77/17-VHZ's Green Mountain tricolor stock. Referring only to the color of the stock, not its shape or function, Guns and Shooting Online Owner/Managing Editor Chuck Hawks thought it satisfactory. Technology maven Dave Cole was noncommittal; he didn't care one way or the other. Technical Assistant Bob Fleck disliked the tricolor laminate, but not so much that it would prevent him from purchasing the rifle. Chief Technical Advisor Jim Fleck disliked both the green laminates in the stock and the dull gray metal finish; he would be unlikely to buy one of these rifles on aesthetic grounds. Gunsmithing Editor Rocky Hays found the tricolor laminate completely unacceptable and would not buy the rifle under any circumstances, unless he intended to re-stock it, because of the green color. We all agreed that Ruger would do better to nix the tricolor laminate and use a brown laminated stock.
The entire rifle looks better in direct sunlight than it does indoors or in the shade. When you show it off to your friends, pick a sunny day.
· Catalog number: K77/17-VHZ
· Model number: 7212
· Caliber: .17 Hornet
· Magazine type: Detachable, rotary
· Magazine capacity: 6
· Barreled action: Stainless steel
· Metal finish: Matte gray
· Trigger: Single stage, non-adjustable
· Stock: Green Mountain laminated hardwood
· Length of pull: 13.5"
· Sights: None; integral scope bases and Ruger rings provided
· Barrel: 24"; medium-heavy contour
· Twist: 1:9"
· Overall length: 43.25"
· Weight: 7.5 pounds (empty)
· Weight as tested: 9.0 pounds with scope and rings (empty)
· 2013 MSRP: $969
We recently reviewed a top of the line Leupold VX-6 3-18x44mm scope with a fine Duplex reticle, which is an ideal match for a long range varmint rifle like the K77/17-VHZ. (See the Scopes and Sport Optics index page for the VX-6 review.) Unfortunately, this fine scope is built on a 30mm main tube, so the Ruger rings supplied with out test rifle could not be used. A hurried call to Ruger got a set of 30mm rings on the way to us. Once they arrived, mounting the scope was easy. We used a Segway Reticle Leveler and bore sighting was accomplished with a Bushnell magnetic bore-sighter, which we know from experience is good enough to get us on the paper at 25 yards. We can take it from there. Once assembled, our test rifle weighed nine pounds, a good weight for a .17 Hornet varmint rifle.
We use a +/- 1.5" MPBR for varmint rifles. In the case of a .17 Hornet with the Hornady 20 grain V-Max factory load, the Maximum Point Blank Range (+/- 1-1/2") is around 240 yards. So zeroed, the bullet is about 1.5" high at 125 yards and 1.75" low at 250 yards, so no compensation for trajectory is ordinarily needed from the muzzle to 250 yards. At 100 yards, the distance at which we usually sight-in our rifles, the bullet should hit about 1.35" high. Armed with this information, sighting-in the K77/17-VHZ with the super accurate Leupold VX-6 scope was a snap, requiring only two shots at 25 yards and three shots at 100 yards.
Of course, for the shooting portion of any rifle review we need ammunition. The .17 Hornet is a relatively new caliber and ammunition has not yet found its way to the sporting goods store in our small home town, no doubt at least partially due to the general and widespread ammo shortage caused by the anti-gun agenda of the second Obama administration. We wrote to Hornady and requested four boxes (100 rounds) of their fine Superformance Varmint load with a 20 grain V-Max bullet. Our thanks to the good folks at Hornady for this ammunition; without their participation, reviews like this would not be possible.
As usual, we did our test shooting at the Izaak Walton gun range south of Eugene, Oregon. This facility offers covered bench rests with target stands at 25, 50, 100 and 200 yards. We used a Caldwell Lead Sled DFT (bare, no lead) to steady the rifle on the bench rest. Recorded groups were three shots, fired at Hoppe's Sighting-In targets. Guns and Shooting Online staff members Chuck Hawks, Rocky Hays, Jim Fleck and Dave Cole participated in the shooting chores. The Western Oregon summer weather was rainy with thundershowers, a high temperature of 70-degrees and no wind. Here are the results:
Hornady Superformance Varmint 20 gr. V-Max Factory Load - smallest group 1/4"; largest group 1-1/2"; mean average group size = 0.50"
It rained the entire time we were at the range, from heavy rain with large drops to light rain with small drops. We tried to shoot during the latter and avoid the former, as we were afraid the huge drops would deflect the little 20 grain bullets. Fortunately, the rain didn't seem to affect the groups.
This time out, Rocky won bragging rights by shooting the smallest group. Chuck shot the worst group, which was 1.5", rapid fire. Except for that one group, everything was at or under 1 MOA and most around ½ MOA. This is one of the most accurate rifles we have ever reviewed and we were suitably impressed.
Most of our slow fire groups had at least two of the three bullet holes touching; some had all three touching. The very sharp Leupold VX-6 riflescope, set at 18x for the 100 yard shooting, had something to do with this. The fine Duplex reticle and super accurate adjustments made it very easy to dial in the rifle and aim with great precision. Hornady's excellent .17 Hornet ammunition must also get part of the credit. This Superformance load is really something. The final piece is the minimal recoil and muzzle blast of the .17 Hornet cartridge, which makes accurate shooting very easy. Combine a great rifle with a great scope, great ammunition and a cartridge with minimal recoil and muzzle blast and this is what you get.
The rifle worked perfectly, with no malfunctions of any kind. There is a learning curve with respect to both efficiently loading the magazine and seating it in the rifle. Holding the rifle's magazine release button fully depressed while the magazine is seated is the key to the latter.
Rocky and Chuck commented that such an accurate rifle deserves a lighter trigger, although at least the stock trigger breaks cleanly. The time we spent "breaking-in" the action paid dividends at the rifle range. By the time we got to the shooting part of this review, we had a decent action.
As we expected, the basic quality is there. Ruger's K77/17-VHZ rifle, Leupold's VX-6 scope and Hornady's Superformance V-Max factory loads make a nearly unbeatable combination.
RIFLE REVIEW SUMMARY
Copyright 2013 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.