I am not sure I was able to wipe the smile from my face during the entirety of the trip home. After one day afield with a rifle chambered in Hornady’s .17HMR, I was sold.
I am generally a purist when it comes to taking game. That is, I’m much less about extreme wound ballistics than I am about a humane kill. There is one game species in which I deviate from this dictum: Sage rats. When using firearms to reduce damaging populations of sage rats (formally known as Belding’s Ground Squirrel), I’m equal parts function and fun. And dramatic effect on target is fun.
I starting shooting sage rats, as many do, with a rifle chambered in .22LR. On a calm day and with a decent rest, I am routinely able to make one-shot hits on squeaks at about one hundred yards. Rarely, though, do you find such a day in the areas I hunt. Wind is generally on order to some degree and, as many of you know, it can wreak havoc on the accuracy of the diminuitive .22LR.
My initial answer to the problem was stepping up to a larger caliber. The rifle pictured above is chambered in .223 Remington. Topped with an excellent Leupold Mark IV scope and loaded with match ammo, the hits were stretched out to the four to five hundred yard range. Sacrifices for shooting centerfire rifles on sage rats exist however. In addition to much more expensive ammo bills, the shooter is subjected to more felt recoil and muzzle blast. Both will wear on you after an entire day afield. Longevity, too, is sacrificed. While I have a general idea as to the number of rounds a .223 Remington or most any other .22-caliber centerfire will allow down its bore before accuracy becomes suspect, I’ve never known anyone to “shoot out” a .22LR barrel.
Enter the .17 Hornady Magnum Rimfire. Released in 2002 and based on the .22 Magnum rimfire case, the initial .17HMR offering was topped with a seventeen grain bullet which sped along at approximately 2500 feet per second. Light bullet construction and screaming speeds resulted in almost-nauseating wound ballistics when flesh was met. The combination of speed, low recoil and muzzle blast, and effect on target made the round both highly functional and a lot of fun. And for sage rats, it was almost more fun than a man should be allowed.
My first .17HMR-chambered rifle was a Savage 93R17 FV. Even with a tupperware-like stock, the rifle shot very well when topped with a Tasco varmint scope. On one of our following trips east, my wife had the opportunity to “try” my rifle on rats. I say “try”, as once she got her hands on it I was relegated to spend the remaining portion of the day behind an alternative .22LR. Did I mention .17HMR is addicting?
In short order, it was decided a second .17HMR was due for my wife. I decided, however, this would not be an over-the-counter, out-of-the-box gift. I’ll admit, once the project got started it took little time at all to get completely away from me. The end result, though, was epic.
I can remember getting the call from my gunsmith to let me know the rifle had been completed. Laughing, he told me, “You might want to bring something to put this in. I doubt you’ll want to be seen in public with it without a girl nearby.” Upon receiving the finished product, I tended to agree. As a rifle for my wife, it was perfect.
The project began with the purchase of a new donor rifle. As I’d had great luck with my previous Savage, the brand was a quick decision. I knew my wife would appreciate the look of stainless steel, so a new Savage 93R17 BVSS was purchased. This model had the added benefit of a great donor stock in grey laminate, which quickly replaced the tupperware offering on my .17HMR.
I knew I wanted to stock the rifle with something really special. While I generally do not like laminate stocks for hunting rifles due to their heft, they are perfect for static, stationary shooting sports. Laminated stocks are highly stable, relatively impervious to the elements, and can be had in a vast multitude of color combinations. A quick perusing of the Richards Microfit Stocks website and an order was placed for one of their Cascade Classic models. The color’s name said it all: Psychedelic.
I knew I did not want to use the same sheet-type bottom metal on the new rifle, so I picked up a trigger guard for a Remington ADL. The magazine well was a custom piece completed by a friend with excellent machining skills. After a ride on the buffing wheel, both were ready for the ‘smith.
I dropped off all of the parts at my local gunsmith Michael Hill (Eugene, OR). Mike has done work on several projects for me, both repairs and complete builds. He is meticulous with his work, which is a quality required of good ‘smiths. When he asked me how I wanted the stock finished, I replied, “I want it to look wet and a foot thick.”
The finished product was a work of art. Mike finished the inletting of the stock to allow it to accept the barreled donor action. A complete bedding job was completed as well to allow the rifle to squeeze out every drop of potential accuracy.
After all of the interior work was done on the stock, Mike set to work on the finish. After all of the sanding was completed, Mike sealed the stock with multiple coats of automotive clear coat. The effect is evident.
After receiving the rifle, I took it home and topped it with a set of aluminum, one-piece Leupold rings and a Tasco 3-9×40 scope with a silver finish. While I know she loved the finished product, I’m not sure which of us was more enamored with Mike’s work. I suspect it was me.
It wasn’t until the following day I realized Mike had snuck one last touch of class into the finished product. The product engravings on both strong and support sides of the barreled action had an off look to them. Where I remembered only a cold, stainless finish now existed a gold accent. A quick call to Mike confirmed my suspicion. Having a bit of extra gold leaf just lying around the shop, Mike had accented all of the rifle’s lettering with a touch of gold.
The finished rifle shoots well and looks amazing. That said, I generally have to build up the courage to take it to the range without my wife present. People might talk. . .