I remember when the .17 WSM (Winchester Super Magnum) round first came out, and I believe it was Savage Arms who was the first gun maker to chamber this hot, new round in their rifle. Everyone was jumping on the bandwagon to get this new rifle and new caliber. I sat back and waited for a while before taking a close look at the .17 WSM. I liked what I saw and what my results were in my testing. Still, I wasn’t about to run out and buy a rifle chambered in .17 WSM.
Ruger recently announced their Model 77/17 rotary magazine rifle in .17 WSM, and after looking over the press release I decided to order one. To be sure, the Ruger Model 77 is one stout rifle in any caliber you get it in, and it has been my experience that they are exceptionally accurate, too. I’ve never been disappointed by a Ruger Model 77, EVER! The model under review here is the American walnut stocked version with a stainless steel barrel. The gun comes without any sights, so you need to mount a scope. The barrel is 24 inches long, and the rotary magazine holds six rounds, though I was hoping for ten rounds. The rifle comes in at 7.50-lbs, but it actually feels a little heavier than that to my way of thinking. The wood on my sample didn’t disappoint; it was beautiful. The bolt action itself operated smoothly and had a 90-degree throw to operate it. The Model 77 comes with integral scope mounts, machined directly into the receiver. Ruger also provides scope rings with the rifle, which is nice! The three position safety allows you to lock the bolt to load and unload the rifle with the safety on. The only thing needed was ammo and a scope. I mounted a Leupold 3-9X40 scope and grabbed some Winchester .17 WSM ammo from the gun shop. I got their 20-gr polymer tipped fodder, and I was ready to go.
I’m not all that familiar with the .17 WSM. My only experience was with it in a borrowed Savage rifle for an article, and I didn’t shoot as much as I would have liked to. Ammo was in very short supply back in 2013. A few words on the .17 WSM ammo is in order. This caliber descended from the .27 caliber nail gun blank, by necking it down to take a .17 caliber bullet. Muzzle velocity is around 3,000 FPS, and, of course, this is a rimfire round and not a center fire round.
The .17 WSM was designed, in my humble opinion, to be a very flat shooting rimfire round, capable of taking game the size of coyote and smaller out to several hundred yards, which are ranges the .22 LR, .22 Mag can only dream of doing. Winchester claims this is the fastest rim fire round in the world, and I have no reason to doubt or argue this claim. Nothing else even comes close in velocity!
I haven’t been out varmint hunting in quite a few years, unless you consider moles in my front yard as varmints. Any more, I just blast ’em with a shotgun when I see a new mound appearing in my yard. I used to hunt my brother-in-law’s ranch in southern Oregon. I’d hunt ground squirrels, where on a good day I could easily kill a couple hundred in his front field alone in early Spring. I mostly used a .22 LR rifle or handgun of some sort, and I had to get close; the front field on his ranch in about 300 acres. However, if I had this Ruger M77 in .17 WSM, I could have set up a shooting table on the hill and sat there all day long, picking off those little critters without having to move all over the field in order to get closer for a shot.
I zeroed the Ruger at 100 yards, and I wasn’t too worried about drop out to 200+ yards because the .17 WSM is very flat shooting, as I mentioned. It took me a bit of doing to get the Leupold scope fine-tuned with the itty-bitty .17 caliber bullets. I wanted the best zero possible for my testing. During my shooting, I fired more than 200 rounds of ammo, most of it downrange at 100 yards, and if I did my part I could get groups slightly larger than one inch, if the wind wasn’t blowing. When the wind blew, I was all over the target, due to some strong winds on the mountain where I shoot sometimes. I believe the Ruger is capable of groups under an inch, with the right ammo and if I’m really on my game. I only had the 20-gr Winchester poly tipped ammo for my testing. Ammo is still a bit hard to come by these days. All shooting was from a shooting bag, over a large boulder, and it was a bit lower than I liked, but it worked just fine for my testing. I suspect, if I had gone prone, I might have gotten better groups with the Ruger.
When I tested the Savage Arms rifle in .17 WSM, it was an okay performer, and it was priced about right. However, this Ruger M77 is the cream of the crop. We are talking about a big game rifle, for the most part, that is sized down (the action) to handle the .17 WSM round. The gun doesn’t have to be this well made; however, it is, and I love it. Needless to say, there was zero recoil with this 7.5-lbs rifle.
I’m a bit surprised though, that when Ruger jumped on the .17 WSM caliber, that they didn’t chamber this round in their American Rimfire Rifle or their 10/22 (10/17?) to start with and then work their way up to the cream of the crop– the M77. I’m hoping that Ruger will at least work on the American Rimfire Rifle and find a way to chamber it in .17 WSM to make it much more affordable to the consumer. The M77 in .17 WSM has a full retail of $999. That’s not cheap, but then again no other rifle chambered in this caliber comes close to the quality of the Ruger M77. Still, one can hope that the engineers at Ruger and the powers-that-be will decided to chamber the .17 WSM caliber in the American Rimfire Rifle or the Ruger semiauto 10/22 line-up.
So, where exactly does the new Ruger M77 .17 WSM fit in, in the scheme of things? Well, to be sure, it’s an outstanding caliber for varmint hunting at ranges far beyond what any .22 caliber round can even begin to think about taking game cleanly. Secondly, ammo prices have finally started to come down quite a bit for the .17 WSM; so that’s real good news. However, the ammo is still a bit hard to find, so shop around for the best prices and quantity you need. Also, from a survival standpoint, I can see the little .17 WSM being used for hunting small game, cleanly, not wondering if your .22 LR or .22 WMR will get the job done. Also, the round is much quieter to shoot, so you can do some hunting without disturbing the neighbors out in the country. You don’t want everyone knowing that, in a survival situation, you are able to get some game meat. A big center-fire rifle will surely draw attention your way when you pull the trigger.
I’m really starting to get sold on the .17 WSM round, now that I’ve had a little more experience with it, now that more gun companies have jumped on-board, and having Ruger come out with the M77 in .17 WSM is just an added bonus in my book. Check one out at your local gun shop, I think you’ll be as impressed as I was with the M77. Then again, Ruger doesn’t disappoint!
– Senior Product Review Editor, Pat Cascio