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Fire Eater

Fire Eater

The smokin' .17 IV wildcat has been legitimized and now bears a Remington headstamp.

By Ralph M. Lermayer

Two hundred yards and coming in at a full-out dead run . . .

I'd barely taken up position behind some jutting rocks, turned on the wailing rabbit sound, settled down, and in the coyote came. At 80 yards, the 20-grain bullet moving just shy of 4,000 feet per second connected, and the mature Wyoming song dog piled up. It had succumbed to a cartridge bearing a brand-new headstamp - the .17 Remington Fireball.

The latest entry from Remington is one of many modifications based on the superb little .221 Fireball case. A companion to the single-shot
XP-100 bolt-action handgun, the .221 Fireball came onto the scene in 1962. Remington wanted a piece of the burgeoning silhouette-shooting market, and the XP-100 was their challenge to the T/C Contender pistol.

Based on a shortened .222 case, the .221 Fireball delivers 40- to 55-grain bullets with deadly accuracy. Fired from a 10-inch barrel, those bullets attain velocities of more than 2,600 fps. When the silhouette shooting craze faded, Remington discontinued the XP-100. And despite the introduction of the faster .223 Remington, the tenacious little round refused to go away. It could easily get within 300 fps of the .223 with a lot less powder and not nearly as much bark.

In addition to becoming a standard offering for the T/C Contender, the .221 Fireball found its way into many custom rifles. The well-balanced case seems accurate and efficient in whatever barrel length it's chambered.

Almost immediately, the wildcat crowd went into "what if" mode. The .221 case was necked down as small as .14 caliber and necked up as large as .30 caliber. The resulting cartridges didn't disappoint, and the emerging star of all that experimentation, a .17 bore with a 30-degree shoulder known as the .17 Mach IV, gained a solid following. Two other wildcats, the .204 Fireball and the .300 Whisper, also became darlings of the wildcat crowd, but it's the .17 that leads the pack.

The Mach IV will crank a 20-grain bullet at 4,000 fps and a 25-grainer at 3,700 fps. Firing either from a rifle, the muzzle never jumps, and the scope picture doesn't budge. Shoot targets out to 300 yards, and you simply watch bullets strike where you aim.

Fast forward to today. Predator hunting is on a fast track. The .17 Hornady Magnum Rimfire (HMR), .17 Mach II rimfire and the upstart .20 bore, the .204 Ruger, are selling at a phenomenal rate. The .17 Remington is doing well, but the big case is high-maintenance. Remington needed something to compete with the small .17s and the .204, and the .17 Fireball (.17 Mach IV) was the perfect choice.

It is one of the quietest centerfires I've ever used, and unlike its bigger .17-caliber cousins, it doesn't foul barrels quickly. I have shot both of my Mach IVs up to 75 times without cleaning with no significant loss of accuracy. Out to 300 yards, the cartridge shoots as flat as a .22-250 Remington.

Fire EaterA .17 Mach IV shooter can work a prairie dog town or squirrel-infested field all day. It dumps crows and pests with a vengeance, and with well-placed shots, punches through coyotes and foxes out to 200 yards with no problem.

It is ideally suited for building an ultralight walk-around rifle on a short or ultra-short action, and is the perfect setup for those who prefer single-shot ultralights or T/C Contender carbines.

The Mach IV deserved commercial status from the very beginning, but a curious chain of events held up its popularity. First, Remington discontinued the XP-100, and along with that decision, stopped making .221 Fireball cases. Brass became scarce and pricey. Second, the .17 Remington - a .223 case necked down to .17 with a slight change in the shoulder - was introduced. And last, except for Hornady, no one made a selection of .17-caliber bullets. That put the brakes on the Mach IV, a great cartridge nearly made obsolete by factors that had nothing to do with its performance.


It was outside influence that almost put the kibosh on the .17 Fireball, and it was a series of outside factors that brought it back. Hornady's introduction of a .17-caliber rimfire was so well-received, it caught the whole shooting industry by surprise.

Ruger's .204 was equally accepted, proving to manufacturers what many of us already knew: Predator and varmint hunting is the fastest-growing segment of the shooting industry. Shooters were moving to varmint and predator hunting across the country, and these rounds are fun, effective and well-suited for hunting around populated areas. It was time for Remington to jump in, and the .17 Remington Fireball was the ideal choice.

Bench & Field Tests

I have two rifles chambered in .17 Remington Fireball (formerly the .17 Mach IV) and have been hunting with them for several years. One is a Remington Model 700 LVSF I rebarreled, and the other, a 21-inch barrel for my T/C Contender carbine that has been offered in the Mach IV chambering for quite some time. The T/C barrel was an easy way to get into a Mach IV, and orders have always been steady.

For the large and small rat population, I load the 20-grain Hornady V-Max over 16 grains of H4198. That gives me about 3,900 fps in both rifles. Groups range from 3/4 to 1 1/2 inches, depending on my shooting mindset on any given day. Off a solid bench, they rarely exceed an inch and often hold to half that. Past 200 yards, wind becomes a factor, but I rarely shoot that far with these rifles. For coyotes, the 25-grain Hornady HP (#1710) over 15 grains of the same powder is just a tad over 3,600 fps and a sub-1-inch shooter in both.

Creating a proper case from the parent .221 Fireball is a two-step process, but it's a relatively simple one. The .221 case has a 23-degree shoulder, and the .17 needs a 30-degree shoulder. That means you can't simply neck it down.

Fire EaterThe first step is to run all your brass through a simple form die. This step pushes the shoulder back slightly and reduces the neck diameter from .224 to about .195. Then, finish by running the case through the standard full-length sizing die. This leaves the shoulder a bit rounded, but after a single firing, dimensions are sharp and well defined. After that, full-length sizing is all that's necessary. This gives you a 30-degree shoulder with .2054 inch of neck length, plenty long enough to hold that bullet in alignment.

As with any small case, very slight increases in powder (as little as a tenth of a grain) can send pressures rising fast. I weigh every charge, choose the slowest powder that gives me good accuracy and seat well off the lands. If I dink around with faster powders and seat farther out, I can get better groups, but I prefer to ease well off of max or redline loads so I never have to worry about blowing a primer or a dangerous rise in pressure a fouled barrel could create. Medium loads keep it fun and make for a worry-free session on the hilltops.

My loading experience with the Mach IV has proven you don't want a lot of primer power. Small rifle primers of low power like the old 6 1/2 or 7 1/2 work best by far.

I've used both rifles for coyotes called in close, taking about a dozen with the heavier load. All were called within 150 yards and shot through both lungs. Under those conditions, they piled up within 30 yards, with minimal hide damage.

I've never been an advocate of using ultralight bullets on coyotes, regardless of the cartridge. These varmints can be very tenacious and hard to kill. But, if you're willing to pass on iffy frontal or rear shots, take your time to place your bullet and stay within 150 to 200 yards (so that you still have high velocity working for you), the lightweights will get the job done. If you want to shoot at longer ranges, take risky shots or hunt in high winds, stick with a .22-250, .224 TTH or a .220 Swift with 55-grain bullets. If you prefer to stay in the fun zone, up close and personal like I do, the .17 Remington Fireball is more than enough gun.

The Offerings

The first rifles chambered for the new cartridge will include the short-action Varmint Stainless Fluted (VSF). This is the ideal platform for that round. The Model Seven CDL also is a natural, as is the SPS Special Purpose Synthetic. In a fitting tribute to the handgun action that started the whole Fireball family, the single-shot XR-100 will give shooters the short, classy XP-100 action matched to the 40X Target Trigger. With the benchrest performance of that rig and the round's inherent accuracy, the combination should make the accuracy buffs ecstatic.

Subscribe Today!The first factory loads will be the 20-grain AccuTip V-Max at about 4,000 fps from a 22-inch barrel. Those rounds will be stuffed with 18 to 20 grains of a proprietary powder. I hope the folks at Remington see fit to load this round with a 25-grain bullet at about 3,600 fps. While it might not break any speed records, it is far better suited for larger predators, a bit easier on hides and more than fast and flat enough for anything you would want a .17 to do. It is the perfect bullet weight for the case.

While the parent .221 and its No. 1 son, the .17, will be the primary calibers for this case, don't overlook its two up and coming siblings. The first, a .20 bore (.204) has been thoroughly explored in the wildcat world. It will easily push a 30- or 32-grain bullet to 3,700 fps and the bigger 40-grain to 3,400. That bumps the .204 numbers close enough to make the Ruger fans nervous. And the sleeper, the .300 Whisper, is one of those rounds few like to talk about. It is subsonic, extremely quiet, very accurate and capable of reaching out to 200 yards. For stealthy hunting of bigger predators, it's fast gaining a big following. The Fireball family is a very prolific one.

I began this treatise with a description of the performance of the new case on its maiden run on the very windy and stormy Wyoming flats. Before that trip was over, three more coyotes and a score of jackrabbits fell to the .17 Fireball. Shots ranged from 60 to 200 yards. There were many misses in the frigid 60-mph wind. This little 20-grain bullet doesn't buck high winds well. Not many rounds do, but when it connected, it proved more than up to the task. The .17 Fireball was legitimized and introduced at a perfect time. It will become one of the most popular .17s ever, but it will take a factory load with a heavier 25- to 30-grain bullet and the availability of lower-priced, bulk-loaded factory rounds to really move it up in stature fast. If I know the Remington gang, both are on the drawing board!

Reprinted from the July 2007 issue of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine. Subscribe today to have GunHunter delivered to your home.

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