The other day I had quite the unique experience while doing some varmint hunting. I got to use a vintage 1915 Savage 99 lever action in .22 High Power and a new Savage B17 bolt action in .17 HMR. Two rifles a century apart, but both cutting edge in their own time.
The .22 High Power was created by Charles Newton in 1912 specifically for the Savage 99. It launched a 70 grain bullet at a then-sizzling velocity of 2,800 feet per second. Proponents of the “speed is everything” school of thought used it to take everything from cape buffalo to tigers to polar bears. As faster .22s came on the scene, it began to lose ground and is no longer chambered by any major manufacturer in the U.S.
For being over 100 years old, the Savage 99 I got to use was in amazingly good shape with little wear and tear. The bore was dark, but for open sights, it shot surprisingly well, and it was a lot of fun to take it out for a spin. After I got used to the open sights, any rock chucks or ground squirrels inside 100 yards were in some serious trouble. The Savage 99 is a fun gun. The action nice and smooth. The trigger wasn’t quite as crisp as I’m used to, but the recoil was minimal.
In contrast, the .17 HMR I used was developed in 2002 by Hornady, Marlin and Ruger, hence the “HMR.” They simply necked down a .22 Winchester Magnum to .17 caliber and capped it with a 17 grain bullet going 2,800 feet per second. That is 600 feet per second faster than the .22 WMR. Once again the manufacturers are selling velocity. Rather than the wood and open sights of the model 99, the B17 sported a synthetic stock and Vortex Diamond 4-12x scope. I haven’t heard of anybody taking on a cape buffalo with the .17, but several folks have told me it works great on coyotes, and I would not be surprised to learn that it has been used on a deer or two.
Right away I noticed that the .17 HMR arrives on target noticeably faster than the .22 LR I normally use for squirrels, and with a lot more authority. The rifle I got to use was very accurate. Shots inside 200 yards were very common, and I could stretch it to 250 with a good rest and no wind.
Since the .22 High Power lacks availability, and ammo for the .17 HMR is quite a bit more expensive than .22 LR fodder, neither will likely become my primary squirrel rig any time soon. However, they are both a lot of fun to shoot.
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