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The Ruger American Compact .17HMR

By Luke Dixon

Periodically I am approached by someone for an opinion on what type of rifle to purchase. When you love firearms as much as I do, the challenge of narrowing down some options certainly gets the brain going. 

 

Essentially there always seems to be three main questions that need to be answered to narrow the focus. 

  1. What are you going to do with it?
  2. What features does it have to have?
  3. How much do you have to spend buddy?

 

Once you have these three answered, what comes next is usually a very narrow list. When I think back through these various conversations, I noticed that one particular company comes up quite often with me at least, Ruger. 

 

I can say quite honestly with hand on heart, that I do not consider myself a Ruger fan-boy. But there is something that has to be said for a company that has managed to consistently deliver quality firearms and be on the forefront as a popular choice. 

 

“This is a rifle that has provided nothing but stellar service for the last four years and best of all, it cost me only $749 and as it stands, it’s one of my all-time best value for money buys. I prefer stainless rifles, but I’ve always had great luck with Ruger’s bluing, and there wasn’t a stainless available, so I took the plunge with this one.”

 

Remaining relevant without slipping from the consumer’s mind is no small feat, there are no shortage of other major brands that drift in out of popularity; not to point out anyone in particular *cough* *Remington* *cough*. 

 

Like any other sports equipment market, the consumers (us) are a pretty fickle bunch if we be honest, and it takes a listening ear and an eye for innovation to stay on the right side of us. I have had three such conversations with three different people in the last few months about .17HMR rifles.

 

They were all centred around small pest hunting/recreational and a do-it-all bolt action rifle that was light and handy, and lastly affordable. In each case, one of the rifles I recommended was the Ruger American, specifically the Compact models.

 

Luke fitted a Tikka Over-sized Bolt Handle Knob for increased handling.

 

Now I have to be upfront and admit that I own one, so there is some inherent bias there, despite that I have had phenomenal success with it. This isn’t a rifle I’ve just seen on the shelves or borrowed for a couple of weeks.

 

This is a rifle that has provided nothing but stellar service for the last four years and best of all, it cost me only $749 and as it stands, it’s one of my all-time best value for money buys. 

 

I prefer stainless rifles, but I’ve always had great luck with Ruger’s bluing, and there wasn’t a stainless available, so I took the plunge with this one.

 

I hope what I share with you below serves you or someone you know, when looking for a competitive option in this space. 

 

WHY THE .17HMR?

I’ve always been drawn to the lightweight hyper velocity rounds; it would come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I love the .223 Remington.

 

I’ve caught more than the few videos on YouTube of some pretty decent long-range shooting on varmints with the .17HMR and it really whet my appetite to jump on the hype train and try it out. 

 

While perusing the shelves I spotted this Ruger American Compact and the overall length with that 18” threaded barrel fit the bill.

 

Suppressing a .17HMR is a must, the high-pitched crack from that round will damage your hearing and for that reason I wouldn’t consider a rifle without threading. 

 

“The .17HMR is obviously very susceptible to wind, so that must be a consideration when thinking about adopting it. A lot of guys of talked about the ‘inherent accuracy’ of the round, and while I can’t speak to that in any scientific sense, anecdotally there’s a quite a consensus, that it is in fact true. ”

 

Rabbits and Hares are my primary target when pest shooting, in addition to possums it’s always good night out firing away with my father, who’s got all the best spots.

 

Most engagements I’m making are between 50 and 250 metres. Wind isn’t too much of factor where I’ve been shooing as it’s reasonably sheltered, a perfect playground for the 17 grain CCI TNT to shine.

 

The bolt action/17HMR combo is an excellent setup for varmint and pest control.

 

The .17HMR is obviously very susceptible to wind, so that must be a consideration when thinking about adopting it. A lot of guys of talked about the ‘inherent accuracy’ of the round, and while I can’t speak to that in any scientific sense, anecdotally there’s a quite a consensus, that it is in fact true. 

 

Making ethical shots on critters has not been an issue when using a polymer tipped or CCI TNT, I did however have one incident with a shallow hollow point round. 

 

Sitting atop a fence post about 100m away was a fairly stout Magpie, I aimed and fired a 20gr GamePoint round which struck the left side of his chest, he immediately attempted fly, another shot closed the deal, but from that moment on I’ve stuck with the polymer tipped V-Max or CCI TNT. 

 

ROUNDS ON TARGET

I’m not one for hanging onto rifles that don’t perform, if it isn’t consistent with getting rounds on target, I’m not interested. If you do Facebook and are part of too many firearm groups as I am, it’s easy to feel somewhat insecure about your shooting results after seeing post after post of unbelievable one-hole targets. 

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And to be fair we all know that one guy who genuinely can shoot like that, there’s also no shortage of bullshittery and ‘one-ups’manship afoot too.

 

Knowing full well that many of you guys reading this can shoot better than me, I’ve put together a sample here of what an average shooter like me can do with the Ruger American. 

 

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Federal V-Shok, CCI TNT, CCI V-Max, Hornady V-Max.

 

All the rounds I fired on this occasion are 17gr rounds as it’s not only plentiful but perform just a hair better than the 20 grain rounds, it’s negligible though.

 

I don’t know if it was luck, but this round of shooting was some of the best that I’ve ever done, but I still feel they’re very representative. 

 

100m shooting, prone from bi-pod, supported at the rear.
Round Bullet type Best Group Worst Group 
CCI TNT JHP 17gr JHP 10mm 13mm
CCI V-Max 17gr Polymer Tipped 12mm 24mm
Hornady V-Max 17gr Polymer Tipped 12mm 22mm
Federal V-Shok 17gr Polymer Tipped 19mm 26mm

 

The best performing round in my rifle is the CCI TNT, a 17gr round with a group coming in at 10mm from outer edge of the hole to outer edge. That’s about as good I am able to shoot period. While I can grant you that this rifle is no target rifle, the accuracy is more than adequate for hunting and pest control. 

 

I have been personally, very satisfied with the accuracy of this rifle, I dare say it even makes my mediocre shooting look half decent. I’ll admit I used a few expletives and a joyous jaw hit the ground moment with the CCI TNT. 100m shooting, prone from bi-pod, supported at the rear.

  

THE BOLT

When I first examined the bolt, I didn’t exactly see anything ground breaking in terms of its design, regardless I cycled it a few times and I was pleasantly surprised at how smooth it felt and with almost no play to speak of. 

 

Common across the range of Ruger American rifles is the 60° bolt throw, it allows reasonable clearance even with low rings, attesting to this is my somewhat chunky Sig Sauer 4-12x40mm WHISKY3.

 

Admittedly that’s a damn big bell to have to clear, and with my very low rings not helping the situation, it just makes it. The same scope and rings combo didn’t pass the muster on a couple of other rimfires of mine.

 

The 60° throw bolt is robust and well constructed.

 

The bolt handle itself has a grasping knob 18mm in diameter which is adequate, but recently I have become quite accustomed to slipping on the Tikka rubber knobs

 

Cheap and easy to install, it fit perfectly increasing the grasping area to 30mm and I have to admit, it’s the bee’s knees out in the field. Extracting fired cases is effortless, which was quite a contrast from a mates .17HMR, I’ve had no issues making fast follow up shots and the lock up on the bolt is nice and tight.

 

The bolt release is of the preferred push button type on the side of the receiver, as opposed to the ol’ pull trigger to extract. Lastly on the bolt, while a little overlooked is the clearance between the stock and the bolt handle.

 

When you’ve got to whip the bolt open in a hurry it’s a real blessing to be able to have plenty of room to get your mitts up under there, it’s something I wish more manufacturers would adopt. 

 

A GOOD TRIGGER’S HARD TO BEAT

All rifles in the American series have Ruger’s take on the AccuTrigger, called the Ruger Marksman. These triggers are adjustable for a pull weight between approximately three and five pounds via a set screw on the front face of the trigger housing.

 

You will need to remove the rifle from the stock to get at it however. Turning anti-clockwise reduces the pull weight and vice versa, I have reduced mine down to my preferred three and a half pounds, a good balance when I’m bunny busting and tend to get a little hasty. 

 

The Ruger AccuTrigger showing release blade (left) and pull weight adjustment screw.

 

Centred in the middle of the trigger is the release blade, which as you may have guessed works as both a safety of sorts and a reference spot for your finger.

 

Unlike some other triggers of this style, where you feel the trigger weight on the blade bordering on obnoxious, mine seems almost weightless when pressed, which I like. The final snap is very short with no pull through, its pleasant enough that it feels like your finger has barely even moved. 

 

MAGAZINES

To get straight to the point, the magazine is classic Ruger rotary type. The JMX-1 is just an enlarged version of the BX-1 for the 10/22, designed for both the .22 Winchester Magnum and .17HMR with a nine-round capacity. 

 

These great little magazines last for decades with little to no maintenance, great for a working rifle. The retail price of these magazines tend to hover around $79.99 and are readily available. And that last part is really important, just how many rimfire mags out there are laying in the brush and paddocks? 

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Ruger's time proven JMX-1 9-shot rotary magazine.

 

Oddball magazines are notoriously difficult to find and if one does pop up on the radar: expensive, it’s a huge nuisance on a hunting rifle (Disgruntled Weatherby XXII owner here). You’d be hard pressed to find a gun shop that doesn’t have, or at the very least can’t, supply a JMX-1.

 

WHAT YOU GET WITH THE POLYMER STOCK

When getting your hands on a Ruger American it’s pretty hard not to be impressed with the great contours that the stock affords you. 

 

You get what most will have come to expect from a polymer stock in terms of pleasant feeling grasping groves and light weight, but it does add some extra value.

 

The Ruger American Compact is supplied with two types of interchangeable stock modules.

 

Included when I bought my rifle was an additional high-rise cheek piece as opposed to the straight-line stock piece pre-installed, something that doesn’t go a miss with someone like myself. Removing and installing it is dead simple, just unscrew the rear sling swivel and slide one of and the other on.

  

The stippling on the stock isn’t as aggressive as I’d like it to be, but at the very least there is something there. The American rimfire also makes use of the ‘Power Bedding’ V-Blocks present in the centrefire rifles.

 

The Power Bedding V-Block provides a stable bedding system.

 

While I have seen no need to modify my rifle, some people have suggested some minor semi-circular re-contouring the V blocks to better mate with the tubular receiver which can aid in accuracy. 

 

There are a few of the usual suspects providing aftermarket stock options that are worth a look, i.e. Magpul, Boyds, etc. But even Ruger is expanding the OEM stock range, so it’s best have a look at a catalogue before you buy. 

 

SIGHTS AND SWITCHES

A nice change from the usual brass beaded front sight of the 10/22 you are provided a pretty sharp looking green fibre optic front sight by Williams. Like all fibre optic front sights, it’s worth giving them a look over every now and then to avoid losing the pipe. 

 

The rear sight is the stock 10/22 rear with the white diamond below the V. The safety is positioned on the tang on the stock with an audible click between positions. The magazine release is standard Ruger rimfire fare, it works, and I haven’t lost a mag from it yet!

 

THE DESIGN GENESIS

Savage hit the market with a splash in 2011 with the Axis. It featured the adjustable AccuTrigger, contoured polymer stock, detachable magazine, low price point, great accuracy, and positive initial reports. 

 

Other leading manufacturers where hot on their tail, and it ultimately spawned a whole genre of affordable hunting rifles utilizing the same formula. There were the Marlin X7, Remington 783, Mossberg Patriot, to name a few, all successful and sold well, but in my opinion, there was one that really stood out.

 

“Ruger clearly saw sense in bringing this new series to the world of rimfire shooters in calibres .22 Long Rifle, .22 Magnum and .17HMR, unfortunately the jury is still out on the .17 WSM. ”

 

In 2012 Ruger had their competitor to the Axis in place with the American, chambered initially in .30-06, .270, .308 and .243, it was a huge success eventually it would have another 18 available calibres added to the line-up. 

 

Ruger clearly saw sense in bringing this new series to the world of rimfire shooters in calibres .22 Long Rifle, .22 Magnum and .17HMR, unfortunately the jury is still out on the .17 WSM. 

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

I wrote this as someone who isn’t sponsored by Ruger, and reading it back for spelling, I realise that I’m piling on a lot of praise on the company. But as you can see, I’m pretty fond of this wee rig, and for me it’s about giving credit where it’s due, I didn’t have a lot of scratch at the time and I feel like I did really well out if it. 

 

The consistent accuracy and overall build quality pretty much speak themselves. A lot of companies have bore a lot of models trying to put a good rimfire rifle in the hands of the everyman at this price point, I believe Ruger got it right. 

 

If you’ve got a need for .17HMR or .22 Magnum, it might just be worth your time to pop down to your local and have a look.

 

For a view on the Ruger American in 5.56/.223, NZGUNS has a great article I enjoyed that’s worth checking out by Mark Wheeler called “Searching for a Replacement Small Pest Control Rifle

 

Luke

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