Savage B-Mag .17 WSM - in depth rifle test and review
- Credit: Archant
Chris Parkin tests out the Savage B-Mag .17 WSM... they divide opinion, but as Chris found when he headed out to the rabbit-filled fields, you can’t deny their accuracy!
*The 17 WSM cartridge impressed me and I see a definite reason for its existence with great reliability and pleasing ballistic capability
*Good trigger and general stock ergonomics
*Eight round magazine capacity
*Excellent MaccTec sound moderator
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*Savage Bolt design spoils an otherwise very capable gun
*The Savage is made to be an inexpensive gun in its home market but on UK turf it is competing against some premium competition
*This gun and cartridge had to prove themselves to me and the WSM did; the Savage was accurate and reliable, but not pleasant to operate because of the distinctly odd bolt cycle which has left unwanted damage to the stock
Model: Savage B-Mag 17 WSM
Calibre: 17 WSM rimfire
Magazine Capacity: 8 round detachable magazine (10 round available)
Barrel: 560mm/22” Hammer forged screwcut ½” UNF (1 in 9” twist rate)
Weight: 3.2kg/7.2 lbs
Length of pull: 350mm/13.75”
Trigger pull: 1,800gr/3.8lbs
Recommended retail prices
Hornady 17 WSM 20gr V-max ammunition: £26/50 rounds (official comparative RRP for 17 HMR is £18.90/50)
MaccTec 17 Calibre sound moderator: £312
Contact: Edgar Brothers 01625 613177 www.edgarbrothers.com
Minox ZX5i 2-10x50 riflescope with #4 reticle 01494 481004, www.minox.com
NiteSite RTEK Wolf night vision add-on 01556 503587,www.scottcountry.co.uk
When I saw the B-Mag for the first time at the British Shooting Show in 2016, I thought little more about it because it was easier to buy those rifles than the appropriate ammunition to feed them with at that time!
Fast forward 12 months and the US market has seen a veritable flood of .17 WSM contenders. So, when I saw a B-Mag and ammunition in my local gun shop, I decided it was time to start shooting one myself and dispel any myths.
There is no doubt that Savage makes accurate guns, but the look and feel of the rifles polarise opinions, between those that consider them a work tool and others wanting a rifle that shows a little more grace. This B-Mag Target with its familiar grey Boyd thumbhole laminate stock held no ergonomic surprises; I’ve come across it on many of the rifles I’ve used. In short, it offers solid ergonomics for the right-handed shooter with a rollover cheekpiece, but it’s not so comfortable shot from the ‘wrong’ shoulder because of the deep asymmetric grip and defined edge to the comb. It does offer a firm recoil pad that grips well into the shoulder pocket, good finger-pad reach to the Savage Accutrigger, and a 350mm (13¾”) length of pull.
The barrel is fully floated in all conditions with ventilation slots in the semi beavertail fore-end which will shoot well off-hand and from a bipod or sand bag. Twin studs are fitted up front with another one under the sloping buttstock to the rear. Inletting of the stock is all neat, although the round action seems to sit on the two integral pillars rather than be bedded in place, so there is a bit of an air gap surrounding the receiver. Savage’s long-standing ‘Indian chief’ logo is sadly gone from the company logo, which is engraved under the grip.
A plastic trigger guard held on by twin Phillips screws conceals the rear of two Allen-headed action screws. When released, the gun drops free of the stock to show a forward magazine catch and moulded trigger unit before the tang. This shows some adjustment, although I only seemed to get from 1,500-1,800g on the otherwise crisp Accutrigger that some of you will like, and others won’t. I personally find them precise when used like a two-stage and squeezed on the main break after pulling through the light first pull. They are far better at this point than many premium guns and, to be fair, Savage has created a safe unit with assured sear engagement by thinking around a perceived problem. Many others have chosen to follow suit with similar designs. There isn’t a great deal of space for a gloved finger because the inner blade takes up a good 7mm of space in front of the blade, but if you accidentally activate the main blade of the trigger you will get a simple dead click and will not negligently discharge the firearm itself. A tang safety sits behind the bolt shroud – simply forwards for fire and backwards for safe. It doesn’t lock the bolt in either position, and it shows no foibles and requires no specific operational sequence to function correctly.
The rotary magazine holds eight rounds and is a bit of a fiddle to load at first, but you do get the hang of it as the springs start to ease a little. It does feed correctly into the chamber when cycling the bolt if you are positive, although you don’t get much ‘feel’ for what is happening.
The bolt is the real difference on this gun and I will start by saying that it works, if it is operated as required. The firing pin cocks on closing, which is the opposite of nearly all modern guns, and it requires squeezing down hard to close and cock the firing pin. The bolt-face is deeply recessed with a rim surrounding the top of the .17 WSM cartridge, a firing pin to the left side (from a firer’s perspective), an extractor claw to the upper right side, and a fixed mechanical ejector emerging from the left underside of the bolt as it is drawn back. Ejection of fired rounds is therefore performed with enthusiasm relative to bolt operation speed, and I experienced no failures in any operational respect, but there is a gas escape vent ahead of the ejection port should the unmentionable occur.
The bolt handle is a tapered cylinder from 15-11mm. It’s hollow and, given the physical effort needed to operate the gun, a spherical ball would have been better in terms of spreading the force across the base of your thumb when cycling forwards at speed.
The second issue is the separation of the forward and rear handle area of the bolt, which remains unrestricted from rotating at any point in the stroke because you can push the bolt forwards and force down the handle, making a nice grind mark down the edge of the laminate material. Boyd’s laminates are hard and well sealed against moisture ingress and chemical damage from cleaning materials, but a steel bolt-handle ground along its edge soon removes material.
No matter how many rounds you shoot, this gun needs carefully closing all the way forwards, and then firmly down, to secure the twin rear locking lugs into their abutments within the rear action bridge; yet failures continue to occur, and if you own and shoot several traditional guns, Savage’s bolt cycle will never overwrite the muscle memory attributable to the rest of your rifles. It’s a shame, as there are so many simple, effective rimfire and centrefire bolt designs, but Savage’s attempt at reinventing the wheel here spoils the gun somewhat in my personal opinion.
Savage’s 560mm (22”) stainless steel barrel shows a ½” thread at the muzzle with a neat threading job. It’s almost parallel from 20mm to just above 21mm at the tapered reinforce, blending into the action with a pleasingly uniform matt bead-blasted finish. Weaver scope-mounting bases are bolted above the action for simple and secure scope mounting, and I’m sure a full Picatinny rail will appear from somewhere, as this is a calibre crying out for night-vision rabbit control.
This is the first time I have shot a totally new cartridge and rifle on the same test. Normally one can be judged against the known-average capability of the other. I have extensive experience with the rimfire .17 HMR and centrefire .17 Hornet, but the WSM is a bridge between the two. My initial scepticism was unfounded: performance straight out of the box was pleasing on a windy day, which I had assumed would cause severe problems. Groups of around 25-30mm at 100m were pretty much the norm and, unlike the HMR, I didn’t find any major ‘flyers’ spoiling the reliability of the gun. It shot this accurately on all occasions with the comfortable stock and zero recoil, and didn’t seem to generate much barrel debris, requiring only an occasional clean from the clean-burning powder with only fractions of copper deposited.
Speeds were surprisingly close to factory data with 914m/s (3,000fps) recorded straight away with a 5m/s extreme spread. The 20gr bullet is travelling 500fps faster than the common .17 HMR’s 17gr bullet, with a correspondingly flatter trajectory: 200m drop from a 100m zero is 12cm, versus 28cm from the HMR with 52, versus 108cm of predicted drift in a 10m/s crosswind at the same distance. The WSM does become a lot less critical for late-night judgement in the dark when controlling vermin.
I’m not really a fan of smaller .17s on foxes as testing in the past has shown me that a misplaced hit on a rib or shoulder can cause big problems; if I had to use one, I’d be going for a centrefire .17 with 25gr bullets.
On rabbits, however, the WSM is very capable accuracy-wise, particularly for head shooting consistently without the mysterious flyers I always seem to get with HMR and its more delicate case. The 20gr bullet is tougher than its 17gr cousin, and a misplaced shot into the guts of a rabbit at 50m showed full penetration with no expansion, and meant there was a runner that needed following up. That wouldn’t have happened with the fast-expanding 17gr V-Max, which is no fault of the bullet; it was my fault, but it is an interesting point to consider. Chest-shot rabbits showed clean kills and less damage than the HMR, which was purely down to the tougher bullet which travels a lot faster with greater ballistic efficiency.
I did find myself regularly closing the bolt without it being all the way into the action and, although it is sprung to hold ‘central’ and slide into position, any dirt, debris, corrosion or anything but delicate manual handling easily misaligns the two lugs with their entrances to the abutments. You have to release pressure and start again, ‘feeling’ for the sweet spot; by this time the rabbits had scarpered except for the single fallen comrade from the first shot. Familiarity with the action over time would help here.
MaccTec’s .17 calibre sound moderator did a superb job on the WSM. It’s probably a little higher spec than most .17 HMR’s, shod with an SAK or similar on board their likely shorter barrels, so not a totally fair comparison. It’s still a nicely made moderator. It’s 160mm long with 50mm overhanging the 560mm barrel. That long barrel is clearly credited with providing exceptional velocities and full, clean powder burn, and I’m keen to see what 100-150mm taken off the barrel will strip from the speed, and whether it will give similar handling dynamics to common HMRs.
The gun looks to have quite complex manufacture and assembly of parts, yet it’s clearly been designed for mass production; I wonder if the savings were worth the compromises? Little details such as sling studs securely fastened into the fore-end with Nyloc nuts show attention to detail for longevity, yet the injection-moulded magazine is less appealing.
Other stock variants are inbound – the sporter laminate in both heavy- and light-barrel models look to be the best options – but I can’t help but wish that it had a more traditional bolt-action. In the USA, this is a low-cost gun, but by the time it gets here it’s competing with Anschütz, Weihrauch, CZ, Browning and Ruger, which is a tough crowd. One thing is for sure: I’m looking forward to revisiting some of those rifles in .17 WSM – a cartridge I really liked a lot and more than I was expecting to, and which I can’t wait to use again.