I am always looking for something a little different, that?s what makes the world interesting. Not that the normal is insufficient for the task in hand, but sometimes it?s nice pushing the boundaries and exploring. I have owned many small-calibre rifles and have a passion for anything smaller than .22 calibre, especially in the form of speeding .17 or .20 calibres (0.172in and 0.204in).
The .22 and 6mm Palmisano Pindell Cartridge (PPC)series of cartridges, developed by Dr Louis Palmisano and Ferris Pindell in the US in 1974, completely changed the way shooters looked at cartridge design and performance. Their short, efficient cartridge cases made from premium brass had only one goal: extreme accuracy. Having been originally designed as a benchrest target round, this compact pocket rocket is ideal for use as a vermin cartridge in Britain.
The .17 PPC is only one of many incarnations of the PPC case, the most popular being .20, .22 and 6mm calibre, though the 6.5mm version ? now improved into the 6.5 Grendel ? is turning heads.
With a .17 calibre you are looking at bullet weights ranging from 15 to 37 grains, which allow velocities between 4,600fps and 3,600fps. However, the different bullet weights require differing rifling twist rates to stabilise the projectiles, as too much rotational spin generated at these velocities can tear a bullet apart before it reaches its target.
Sadly, the lighter 15- and 18-grain bullets from Berger are no longer available and the largest 37-grain VLD Berger bullet requires a specialised 1-in-6 rifl ing twist rate. So, in practical terms, you are looking at the 20-grain V-Max and 30-grain Berger bullets, though Reloading Solutions sourced me some Woodchuck Den 30-grain Gold bullets from the US.
Because essentially this is a wildcat cartridge, i.e. not commercially available, a degree of case preparation is necessary. The PPC cartridge head is an awkward size, so the bolt face of a donor rifle, if you are rebarrelling, may require some modification to function properly. The .17 PPC head size is 0.445in, the .223 is 0.378in and the .308 is 0.473in.
The .17 PPC starts life as a .220 Russian case and only requires a small modification to achieve the .17 form. You can resize using a 2-die forming set from RCBS to reduce the neck diameter, or sometimes I use a .22 PPC neck die with removable bushes of 0.240in, 0.235in, 0.229in, 0.220in and 0.212in sizes to reduce the parent .220 Russian case?s neck. I then run all the cases through a .17 PPC full-length die and uniform the neck diameters with a K&M 0.172 neck expander. Always use sufficient lube to stop cases sticking; Imperial Sizing Die Wax is great, though Royal Case & Die Lube is good, too.
Because the brass will thicken as the neck is reduced, you will need to neck turn the cartridge case necks to reduce the thickness of the brass of the cartridge and so allowing the correct clearance for your rifle?s chamber. For this test, I used a custom Sako rifl e, which has a 0.197in chamber neck, so a loaded round would have to have a maximum neck diameter of 0.195in to give the necessary 0.002in clearance for precise bullet release. K&M neck turners from Reloading Solutions will provide a uniform neck diameter, then all that is needed is to fire-form the brass in the rifle?s chamber to achieve the characteristic PPC shape.
The .17 PPC case, being small and squat, likes the medium powder burn rates, which include Reloder 15, Varget, Benchmark and Vit N135. However, like any wildcat calibre, they react differently to the dimensions and components of each rifl e and you will only discover the right powder loads through trial and error.
I like small, fast bullets, especially for crow-or-rabbitsized vermin, so the obvious choice as a starting load were Hornady 20-grain V-Max bullets, which are dependable performers, not only in their capacity to fragment on impact (frangibility) but also because of their accuracy.
In the past, I have used 24 grains of Benchmark powder to achieve a velocity of 4,437fps from a 24in barrel, with a top load of 27.25 grains of Benchmark to achieve 4,729fps velocity. These days I use Reloder 15 powder with a top load of 25 grains, which pushes the same 20-grain V-Max bullet to 4,627fps. At these velocities the cartridge-case life is increased, so I can achieve more reloads per case before the primer pockets expand too much. The .17s are notoriously pressuresensitive, so increase the powder weight 0.25 grains at a time.
The 20-grain Berger bullets also performed similarly to the V-Max bullets, though I could up the charge to 25.5 grains of Reloder 15 to achieve 4,688fps before any signs of pressure.
The 25-grain Hornadys or Bergers with Reloder 15 and charge weight of 26 grains achieved 4,307fps velocity, while 27 grains of Varget produced 4,394fps. Both use a hollow point to expand the bullet, though I have found the Bergers more accurate and consistent.
Where the .17 PPC really shines is in utilising heavier .17-calibre bullets of 30 grains. However, there are few choices outside the world of specialist bullet-makers. The 30-grain Berger is the obvious choice and with its flat base hollowpoint design it works well in the PPC size case, though I had problems with some of them not expanding readily.
With a load of 24.5 grains of Hodgdon Benchmark powder, a velocity of 3,963fps makes it useful as a fox load. Another 0.5 grains pushes it over the 4,000fps barrier at 4,089fps. I have been using some specialist bullets from the US named Woodchuck Den Gold of 30 grains weight. The difference between these and the Bergers is that the Golds have a high ballistic coefficient of 0.270 due to their thin, boat-tailed design. This makes them wind slippery, enabling them to drift less in the wind at extended ranges and retain more of their energy, too.
I have found the Reloder 15 powder to be consistent, so a starting load of 24 grains gives 3,834fps, and is mild and accurate. However, I wanted maximum performance, so an increase of 0.25 grains at a time led to increments of velocity change of 3,891fps, 3,930fps, 3,978fps and finally 4,073fps for a maximum load of 25 grains of Reloder 15 powder.
As an all-round practical vermin load it is hard to beat the 20-grain V-Max bullet from Hornady when launched at 4,627fps, as you have a trajectory as follows: zeroed at 100 yards you are only 0.4in low at 200 yards. At 300 yards, you are 3.9in low, while even at 400 yards you are only 11.5in low. Switch bullets to the heavier but more ballistically efficient 30-grain Gold Woodchuck Den bullet and while the velocity is 600fps slower, you have an almost identical trajectory path, but still retain more energy down-range. At 200 yards, the Gold bullet still has 695ft/lb energy, while the lighter, faster 20-grain V-Max has dropped to 462ft/lb.
However, this is not the whole story, as accuracy will be the determining factor in bullet choice and, with velocities this high, rifling wear around the chamber?s throat area will be accelerated. Fouling can become a problem if you have a cheap barrel or shoot large numbers at a time, but I use the .17 PPC as a one-shot, ultra-long-range crow or fox cartridge were I might only get one shot anyway, and its lightning speed and fast trajectory is just what I need.
Obviously, the .17 PPC is not for everyone, as there is a lot of cartridge-case manipulation prior to any shooting, but when you have been in this game for as long as I have, the challenge and expectation outweighs any tedious chores from case forming. The .17 PPC is a superbly consistent and accurate cartridge from the off, primarily due to its benchrest lineage. Some cartridges are like that; ultimately, whether shooting targets or game, it is accuracy that is paramount. To achieve humane one-shot kills, nothing else will do and the .17 PPC achieves this at some astonishing ranges. Do not dismiss it as inadequate simply because it?s a small calibre. Let the rifle and the raw ballistics be the proof of the pudding, not second-hand tales from people who have never shot a .17. However, I now have a Pac-Nor super-fast 1-in-6 twist barrel to stabilise the Berger 37-grain bullet for my RPA. I will let you know how I got on with a heavier bullet ? the .17 PPC story continues.