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Which is the best.17 HMR bolt-action rifle?

Bruce Potts compares the Sako Quad Synthetic, CZ Synthetic Silhouette, Browning T-Bolt Synthetic and Anschutz 1517 Thumbhole to find the best performing .17 HMR bolt-action rifle

.17 hmr bolt-action rifle

The .17HMR round has been a popular choice for vermin control since it was introduced by Hornady in 2003.

This is largely owing to its flat shooting abilities and fast expanding bullet, which makes it easier to hit game at a long range. There is less bullet drop to be compensated for compared with the standard .22 LR round. The frangible nature of the bullets, Hornady 17-gr V-Max in most cases, makes them safer to use as there is less chance of ricochets.

Can be used in most .22 LR-sized actions

Because its size is based on a necked-down .22 Magnum case, it can be used in most .22 LR-sized actions, which can be adapted to fit an HMR round.

Most manufacturers have .22 LR and .17 HMR options on the same action length, with modifications only needed to the loading port and magazine length. In this way you can also use the .17 Mach 2 or .22 WMR cartridges. The Sako Quad’s quick-change barrel system offers all these options and the new CZ 455 offers .22 LR or .17 HMR on one action with a swift barrel change.

For this test I picked out four of most in-demand .17 HMR rifles on the market from Sako, Browning, CZ and Anschutz and shot them side by side to ascertain the pros and cons of each.

Comparing actions

As its name suggests, the Sako Quad, has the ability to change to four different calibres with a unique quick-release barrel mechanism to accommodate the following calibres: .17 Mach 2, .17 HMR, .22LR and .22 WMR. In this way, one rifle has a multitude of uses: for foxes, vermin or even target work – all while using the same chassis.

The bolt action has a low bolt-lift to clear a fitted scope. It also permits a fast reload and has a single extractor claw which feeds a new round from the magazine reliably. A single release screw, sited below the action through the floorplate is all that is needed to change the colour-coded barrels.

The best rimfire action in the world?

The CZ is probably the best Mauser-style rimfire action in the world. It combines tradition, reliability, quality materials and is made to exacting standards. This action is designed to fire huge volumes with an accuracy you wouldn’t expect from its price.

The .17 HMR action has a larger loading port and bigger magazine compared with the .22 LR, but it still has a short bolt throw.

The bolt has twin extractor claws with a fixed blade ejector, which is very sturdy.

A strong favourite with UK shooters

The ultra-fast Browning T-Bolt rifle has become a strong favourite with UK shooters. This is largely because it meets three needs efficiently: one, it is reliable with a fast-operating action; two, it is exceptionally accurate; and three, it’s something different from the same old bolt-action system, which appeals to many.

The bolt and action are slim but the bolt locks via twin opposed locking lugs, which engage through the action walls so it is solid and strong.

The twin claw extractors are positive and the straight pull and bolt handle angle make it easy to operate.

Anschutz quality

The Anschutz name is synonymous with quality. Look at this company’s offering and you’ll see accurate rimfire rifles in a wide selection of models, grades and stock configurations. The Anschutz 1517 model’s action is beautifully blued and engineered with no visible machine marks.

The bolt handle has a large plastic end for a good grip and the scope rails take even the biggest scope with ease.

Synthetic stocks tend to sell more in the UK

All of these makers offer wood or synthetic stocks in each version. In the UK synthetic stocks tend to sell more, except for the Anschutz with its walnut thumbhole design featuring an attractive colour and grain to the wood.

This thumbhole cradles the firing hand comfortably for a firm hold. The chequering is respectable and the oiled finish more practical than a matt varnish would be.

The CZ Silhouette’s synthetic black stock is robust and so it is ideal for rough use. Its solidity makes it my favourite stock of all these rifles. Thanks to the textured finish you’ll keep a secure grip even in wet conditions.

By comparison, the Sako’s polymer stock feels a little more hollow, but it does have angled finger grooves instead of chequering, which also provide a firm grip.

Whilst the T-Bolt’s stock is nicely styled it is lightweight and a bit too hollow for me. The spare magazine is sited in a recess in the recoil pad – a nice touch I think.

Some triggers are better than others

All four rifles have effective triggers for field use but I had preferences.

The T-Bolt uses a sliding safety catch and trigger with single-stage pull that breaks very cleanly. A simple system but one I liked.

The CZ trigger will benefit from a bit of refinement either with a gunsmith’s trigger adjustment or replacing the trigger springs. Mind you, it’s a rifle that’s going to be used in the field, so maybe I am being a little too fussy.

The 455 model has a set trigger and is much better. The Sako Quad has a single-stage trigger, which can be adjusted as required, but is set at about 2lb to 3lb.

The sear is cleanly released when the trigger is pulled, and I have never had a problem with it.

Sako Quad Synthetic

The Sako Quad has become a firm favourite because you can exchange a barrel for a new calibre easily. Effectively you can have a rabbit gun in the morning and exchange the barrels in the afternoon to go out foxing.

CZ Synthetic Silhouette

Certainly the best selling .17 HMR rifle in the UK today, the CZ uses the same miniaturised Mauser-style action of their .22 rimfire range and so there are many variations available. This synthetic has a 16in barrel, blued-steel finish and black, synthetic stock.

Browning T-Bolt Synthetic

This straight-pull .22 rimfire is unique in that the bolt is operated in a single action by pulling the bolt straight back without any upward movement. It makes it fast to operate. The rifle is available in wood, synthetic and Varmint versions. The Browning T-Bolt is gaining a name with shooters for its fast action, superb accuracy and unusual bolt.

Anschutz 1517 Thumbhole

The ultra-compact .17 HMR rimfire is made by premium rifle maker Anschutz. The 1517 action is very well engineered which attests to the Anschutz’s reliability and legendary accuracy. I found the ergonomic thumbhole stock a delight to use.

So what was my verdict? What did I think was the pick of .17 HMR bolt-action rifles?

I’d give first place to the Browning T-bolt. Here’s why.

  • This updated T-Bolt straight-pull desing is perfectly matched to the .17 HMR round and smooth to operate
  • The 10-shot rotary magazine with unique helical load system is compact and reliable under field conditions
  • There is an excellent selection of finishes and stock designs that range from walnut, black synthetic and short or long barrels

Rating: 5/5

Verdict: This was almost certainly my favourite of all the rifles I tested.  I love the straight-pull system as it works so well on this model. Accuracy is superb. The stock is well designed, though a little hollow feeling, but you get a spare magazine as standard and the trigger-unit is also good with a crisp pull to it.

In second place is the CZ Synthetic Silhouette

  • Robust and reliable .17 HMR with a good choice of wood or synthetic stock designs and barrel configurations, including Sporter or heavy as well as standard or carbine-length
  • Excellent accuracy. I have never shot a poor CZ. All models have screw-cut barrels for sound moderators
  • The stock is my favourite. It has a good shape with a nice heft, is not heavy, but has a solid feel

Rating: 4/5

Verdict: Great value for money. The gun offers enough different choices and configurations for most shooters and their budgets. The new CZ 455 is accurate and adaptable with a swift barrel change between .22LR and .17 HMR. I’d say it is one to watch out for.

Third places goes to the Anschutz 1517 Thumbhole

  • This offered the best handling of all the rifles I tested. It sits securely in the hand and shoulder, aided by that excellent thumbhole design
  • Superb trigger, adjustable with reliable safety, too, contributing to the fine accuracy
  • Accurate but you need to keep the bore clean. In my experience Anschutz barrels are tight and benefit from a good cleaning regime

Rating: 3/5

Verdict: Anschutz guns are expensive. However the price tag is more than justified by the level of finish, accuracy and quality of materials used. The rifles are always highly sought after and hold their value well.

Finally (but not least) comes the Sako Quad Synthetic rifle

  • Adaptable. A rimfire with the ability to change calibres so one rifle can play four roles
  • Bolt system is always reliable and the magazine pops out conveniently into your hand when the release catch is activate
  • Stock design on this Synthetic model has conveniently moulded grooves for grip, but no chequering

Rating 3/5

Verdict: Whether you use the barrel change facility or not, a standard .17 HMR Sako Quad makes an excellent vermin gun. Accuracy is always good, but be sure that the securing catch is full locked, though. An excellent rifle for a variety of uses.