The Model 597 in .22 Mag proves its worth on small game in Wyoming’s sagebrush country.
Except for a few stunted clumps of sagebrush, there was no place to hide in Wyoming’s high desert country. Tim Jansen and I simply lay in the snow, relying on our white camo clothing to keep us unseen.
It was the second day of a coyote hunt that had come off the tracks. The February weather had turned particularly brutal. Single-digit temperatures and gale-force winds were keeping yodel dogs close to home. Areas that had produced in the past came up empty this time around — a frustrating turn of events.
Holding my rifle across my lap, I scanned the desert for movement while Tim blew his call. With no cover to mask my movements, I did my best to keep perfectly still. Except for the shivering I couldn’t help, only my eyeballs moved. The 8x42mm Brunton binocular lying on my chest was useless. Any motion I made bringing the binocular to my eyes would immediately give away my position.
Through partially fogged eyeglasses, I noticed an indistinct yellow clump alongside a sagebrush maybe 250 yards away. “Could that be a coyote?” I asked myself. Avoiding the temptation to raise my binocular, I stared intently for a good three minutes. The yellow clump didn’t move. “I’m turning stumps and rocks into game again,” I thought.
The next time I glanced at the sagebrush, the yellow clump was gone. A few minutes later, Tim and I rose to our feet and headed for the truck. “Didn’t you see that coyote?” he asked. “I was surprised when you didn’t shoot!”
We made two more stands that morning, each several miles apart. The terrain looked like a place coyotes would visit, even if they didn’t hang around long enough to set up housekeeping.
Each time the drill was the same. Tim and I would hike far enough to be well away from the truck, which we made sure was hidden from view. Then we’d separate. I’d place my remote electronic call several yards away, then settle behind a sagebrush and wait for Tim to get set. Next, I’d turn up the volume on my call, which brayed enticing fawn-in-distress cries. I’d let the call run for 15 seconds or so, then turn it off for five or six minutes before repeating the process. If there were hungry coyotes around, you couldn’t prove it by me.
After lunch we drove to a new area, looking for another likely calling spot. The desert extended to the horizon on the right side of the road, while miniature cliffs lined the left. As we passed a broken-down corral long since abandoned, Tim braked to a stop and pointed.
“See those two rabbits just off the road?” he asked. “And what about all those tracks?”
It looked like a herd of cottontails had stampeded down the dry-powder Jeep trail. We’d been looking for song dogs, but found rabbits.
Coyotes momentarily forgotten, I uncased the Remington Model 597 .22 magnum I’d stowed in the back seat of the truck. We had optimistically figured that, once weary of shooting yodel dogs, we could get in some rabbit hunting.
I have some history with the Model 597. When this rifle was still on the drawing board, I was flown to Remington’s headquarters, where engineers picked my brain for suggestions or improvements. I’m not sure how valuable my limited input was, but it was fun to be included in the discussions. Later, Remington invited me to watch through one-way glass as a focus group examined and critiqued the new (purposely unidentified) gun.
When the Model 597 was finally introduced in 1997, I had a proprietary interest in how the new autoloader would fare. Both .22 Long Rifle and magnum versions were offered, presenting an interesting challenge to Remington engineers.
In both magnum and non-magnum rifles, the bolt rides on a pair of steel guide rails. This was intended to provide stability, reliability and improved accuracy. The extra power produced by .22 WMR cartridges results in significantly greater bolt thrust. To compensate for this, the .22 magnum bolt is considerably larger and heavier than the bolts used in .22 Long Rifle Model 597s. The action springs and some other components are similarly beefed up.
The barrel is rigidly clamped — not pinned — to the action, and the bolt remains open after the last shot has been fired. The .22 LR version has a 10-shot removable magazine, while the magnum sports an eight-round magazine. Model 597 magazines were originally made of some synthetic material, but they’ve since been replaced with magazines featuring hard alloy feeding lips, which considerably improve reliability.
Loading these magazines requires some care. Rounds are staggered within the magazine. If you hold it backward while attempting to load it — trust me, this is easy to do if you’re not paying attention — you’ll wind up with a partially filled magazine and a round jammed upright between the lips. Even if you hold the magazine the right way around, you must make sure the cartridge rims don’t overlap. These problems can be annoying, but load the magazine correctly and it’ll work fine.
I’ve put a lot of .22 magnum rounds through this rifle, which I acquired in 1999. I also own a near-twin synthetic-stocked version. The laminated rifle gets more use simply because it’s better looking and feels more substantial in the hands. The rifle’s trigger breaks cleanly (almost crisply) at 41/2 pounds. Five-shot groups fired from 50 yards consistently measure under an inch between centers — sometimes less — with the .22 WMR loads I’ve used.
This year, Remington offers some snazzy new .22 LR Model 597s, including one with an eye-catching Blaze Camo stock. For women shooters (or men secure in their masculinity), there’s also a Pink Camo 597 that’s guaranteed to turn heads at the range.
An even wilder version is the Model 597 TVP (Target-Varmint Plinker) with a cantilevered fore-end and a thumbhole buttstock you could throw a cat through. The TVP sports a brown-and-gray laminated stock, while the equally new Yellow Jacket model is basically the same rifle but with a yellow laminate handle.
I like the man-sized heft and feel of my M597 magnum. With a 1.5-5x20mm Brunton scope attached, it weighs a solid 7 pounds. The generous fore-end feels good in my hands, although the pistol grip wrist could stand some thinning. The height and width of the comb seems just right for scope use. Length of pull is an even 14 inches.
The two rabbits we’d spotted were on Tim’s side of the truck, so I handed the rifle to him. The first cottontail simply sat and stared until Tim dropped it at less than 30 yards. Startled by the shot, the other rabbit shifted into high gear, heading for better cover. Tim hit it on the run before it got very far.
The .22 magnum was the only rimfire we had, so Tim and I took turns using it. It was a good thing I’d brought along several boxes of Remington 33-grain V-Max ammo and 30-grain Federal hollowpoints.
As we walked toward the sandstone cliffs, two more cottontails rocketed out from virtually underfoot. Tim had passed the Remington back to me, and I rolled the first rabbit at badminton range. Designed for gobbler gunning, the reticle in the Brunton scope features a set of Duplex crosshairs terminating in a broad circle at the center. Inside this circle is a single dot. This proved an ideal setup for shooting running rabbits — just center the circle on the bunny and pull the trigger. Fast-stepping .22 WMR rounds did the rest.
The cliffs were a natural windbreak for animals living in Wyoming’s high desert country, where icy winds howled night and day. The sandstone was pockmarked with countless tiny caves that could serve as ready-made rabbit burrows. Add the ramshackle corral and falling-down shed 100 yards down the road, and you had perfect habitat for cottontails and jackrabbits.
Tim took a long shot at a cottontail that made the mistake of stopping where we could see it. As Tim walked 70 yards to retrieve it, he spooked four others that were hiding along his path. Rabbits appeared to be everywhere!
I patiently watched and waited as Tim followed and dispatched the quartet, and then did the same with three more that ran from cover. By the time he returned and handed back the rifle, the Remington rimfire had accounted for a dozen rabbits.
I had much the same experience. Shoot one rabbit as it ran from behind a sagebrush, and another — sometimes two — magically appeared. Most were fat cottontails, although we added a few rangy jacks to the count. No doubt about it, we were in rabbit heaven.
Rabbit populations are said to wax and wane over a 7- or 8-year cycle. If that’s the case, we’d hit Wyoming in a peak year. Maybe the area coyotes couldn’t eat them fast enough to keep ahead of the curve.
The Model 597 magnum functioned well. After shooting our limit of cottontails, we took turns plinking at fist-sized clods of sandstone lying below the cratered cliffs. When hit, they disintegrated into satisfying puffs of tan smoke. We experienced only a couple of stovepipe jams while burning through more than five 50-round boxes of ammunition. When we put the rifle away and climbed back into the truck, all the rabbits we could see running around proved we hadn’t put much of a dent in the cottontail population.
In my opinion, nothing beats a .22 magnum rimfire for hunting rabbits. Over more years than I care to admit, I’ve taken an astronomical number of desert jacks with .22 Long Rifle loads. I began hunting rabbits when I was 5 and was allowed to wander my grandfather’s ranch with his single-shot Winchester and a pocketful of shells. I’ve lost count of the .22 rimfires I’ve owned and the even-larger number of double-deuce rifles I’ve tested on loan for magazine articles.
I’m a longtime fan of .22 rimfires and Long Rifle ammo. However, a 40-grain lead round-nosed bullet leaving the muzzle at 1,255 feet per second simply lacks the drop-dead punch a 40-grain pointed soft point or hollowpoint projectle launched at 1,900 fps delivers.
This is more than theory. I’ve seen firsthand how even a well-placed .22 Long Rifle bullet often only wounds, with mercy requiring a fast follow-up shot or two. The .22 magnum simply kills with greater finality. Properly hit with a .22 WMR bullet, rabbits (ground squirrels, prairie dogs, or similarly sized beasties) usually expire on the spot. Even at 100 yards, the .22 magnum still packs nearly twice the punch a .22 Long Rifle delivers.
Some .22 magnums shoot better than others, giving the round an undeserved reputation for less than stellar accuracy. Remington’s Model 597 autoloader offers plenty of precision for even fussy rabbit hunters. At the same time, I admit some of the top-quality .22 bolt rifles I own can deliver tighter groups when fed the ammo they like. Because of this, they get the nod when I want to head-shoot squirrels.
In either .22 WMR or Long Rifle form, the Model 597 appears to be a solid success story. Remington tells me these autoloaders are selling well. I can understand why.
This article was published in the September 2008 edition of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine. Subscribe today to have GunHunter delivered to your home.