Remington's .17 Fireball

By Chuck Hawks

New for 2007, Remington's .17 Fireball was created by necking-down the .221 Fireball case (itself based on a shortened .222 Remington case) to accept .172" diameter bullets. Remington apparently hopes to capitalize on the interest generated in .17 caliber rifles by the overwhelming success of the .17 HMR rimfire cartridge.

A wildcat dating back to around 1963, the .17 Mach IV, is also based on a necked-down .221 case. While their performance and appearance are virtually identical, Remington states that the .17 Mach IV and .17 Fireball are not interchangeable and .17 Fireball ammunition should not be fired in .17 Mach IV rifles.

The new .17 Fireball boasts an advertised muzzle velocity (MV) of 4000 fps and a 300 yard velocity of 2360 fps with a 20 grain AccuTip-V varmint bullet. The muzzle energy (ME) of the 20 grain bullet is 710 ft. lbs. and at 300 yards the remaining energy is 247 ft. lbs. The latter is approximately equal to the energy the popular .17 HMR develops at the muzzle. These Remington figures were taken in a 24" test barrel.

Independent chronograph test results published in American Rifleman magazine showed an average MV some 125 fps slower than advertised from the 24" barrel of a Remington Model 700 rifle. Even so, that little 20 grain AccuTip-V bullet is moving right along. A factory load using a 25 grain bullet is rumored for introduction next year.

Here are Remington's trajectory figures for the .17 Fireball's 20 grain AccuTip-V bullet at a MV of 4000 fps:
+1.6"at 100 yards, +2.0" at 150 yards, +1.5" at 200 yards, 0 at 250 yards, -2.8" at 300 yards.

That means that you are looking at about a 275+ yard varmint cartridge if you are willing to accept a bullet deviation of 2" above and below the line of sight. Our trajectory tables (see the Tables, Charts and Lists Page) are based on a 1.5" deviation for varmint cartridges, but no matter how you figure it the .17 Fireball's trajectory is comparable to a .22-250 shooting the 50 grain AccuTip-V bullet at a MV of 3800 fps. In other words, the little .17 Fireball delivers big varmint cartridge trajectory.

Remington introduced their first commercial .17 centerfire, the ultra-high velocity .17 Remington, in 1971. Unfortunately, it has never set any sales records. Perhaps it was ahead of its time. Because the .221 case is a little smaller than the .223 case from which the .17 Remington is formed, the .17 Fireball gives up 250 fps of MV to the older cartridge. The Fireball is, however, a hot little cartridge in its own right and any varmint who strays within range of a hunter armed with one is probably not long for this world.

The .17 Fireball is a typical bottleneck, rimless cartridge. It has a case length of 1.41" compared to the 1.796" case length of the earlier .17 Remington. The .17 Fireball's rim diameter is .378", head diameter is .375", shoulder angle is 30 degrees, cartridge overall length is 1.83" and it uses small rifle primers. The SAAMI maximum average pressure (MAP) is 55,000 psi, well below the 63,000 psi of the.17 Remington. This lower MAP should reduce fouling and increase barrel life.

Hornady is the primary supplier of .172" bullets to reloaders and they make Remington's 20 grain AccuTip-V bullet. Hornady offers reloaders a 20 grain V-Max and two 25 grain bullets, a V-Max and a hollow point. The 20 grain V-Max and AccuTip-V bullets have a sectional density (SD) of .097 and a ballistic coefficient (BC) of .185.

The 25 grain bullets have a SD of .121. The V-Max has a BC of .230 and the hollow point has a BC of .187. None of these are impressive numbers so do not try to stretch any of these .17 caliber centerfires beyond the CXP1 class game for which they were designed.

Based on Hornady loading data for the nearly identical .17 Mach IV, which should also be applicable to the .17 Fireball, 16.3 grains of H4198 powder is good for a MV of 4000 fps with Hornady's 20 grain V-Max bullet. 15.1 grains of the same powder gives a MV of 3600 fps with either of Hornady's 25 grain bullets. These Hornady loads were developed in a T/C Encore rifle with a 24" barrel and used Remington cases and Remington 7-1/2 primers.

The .17 Fireball delivers substantially less recoil and muzzle blast than the big case .22's because it operates with less powder behind a lighter bullet and the hole in its barrel is smaller. These are important considerations for varmint hunters operating in semi-populated areas.

Like any caliber, the .17 has disadvantages as well as advantages. Reloaders should remember that the .17 Fireball's small case means that small variations in powder will produce seemingly disproportionate changes in velocity and pressure. Varmint shooters should note that .17 caliber barrels foul quickly and must be cleaned frequently to maintain top accuracy. However, because the .17 Fireball burns less powder than the .17 Remington and drives its bullet at a lower velocity with less pressure, it fouls the bore less rapidly. Fouling problems are reported to be much less pronounced than with the .17 Remington.

Because it is quieter, kicks a little less, costs a little less to reload and still shoots very flat, I think that the .17 Fireball will ultimately replace the .17 Remington as the leading centerfire .17 caliber cartridge, just as the .17 Remington largely replaced the wildcat 17's that preceded it. There actually is not a lot of difference in the performance/trajectory of the two cartridges. Whether the .17 Fireball can make serious inroads in the popularity of the modern .20 and .22 caliber small cased varmint cartridges (.204 Ruger, .222 Rem. and .223 Rem. in particular) is another matter. It seems unlikely, but because more and more varmint hunting is being done in semi-populated rural areas it is not beyond the realm of possibility.

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Copyright 2007, 2012 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.