Building the Ultimate A17 Rifle

Savage’s little sharpshooter is accurate out of the box, but we take it to the next level

savage a17 rifle and bullets
The A17 on its own is an affordable, good-shooting rifle that needs no work. But if do put some work into it, it can become something really special.Michael R Shea

AMONG GUN MANUFACTURERS, there are two schools of thought on semi-auto rimfires. The first: build a rifle as cost effective as possible, make it modular, and let the shooter dial it in with aftermarket parts and DIY gunsmithing. This is the Ruger 10/22 model.

The second school of thought: build an affordable, good-shooting rifle that needs no work. This is the Savage’s line of rimfire autoloaders. The first appeals to tinkerers. The second to hunters and plinkers who just want to shoot, not buy into a project.

But what happens when you apply the project mindset to the A17? I thought I’d find out.

a savage arms a17 rifle
The Savage A17 after the author got through with it. He replaced the optic, trigger, and re-bedded the action in the Boyd’s stock.Michael R. Shea

Savage has succeeded with semi-auto 17 HMR and 22 WMR rifles where others have failed, because of their innovative delayed blow-back action. Rather than pressure from a fired round simply throwing the bolt directly back and chambering a new round, the Savage bolt has a top lug that locks the bolt in place.

When a round is fired, the blowback is delayed a few milliseconds while pressure cams the lug down, before sending the bolt back, ejecting the spent shell, and loading a new round. This creates just enough delay for the high 17 HMR pressures to drop off for safe and reliable cycling.

Still, I wanted to do some work. Out of the box, my A17 didn’t group as I’d hoped.

I hold all my rimfires to an admittedly unrealistic standard: sub-MOA groups. Due to the very not-match quality of the 17 HMR ammo available at the moment, this is a tall order, indeed.

New Optic

a savage arms a17 rifle equipped with a bushnell forge scope
The author topped his A17 build with a Bushnell Forge 4.5-27x50mm scope.Michael R. Shea

With an inexpensive scope and CCI A17 ammo—hot .17 HMR loads designed for the rifle, that shoot 200 fps faster than most others—my A17 grouped at a 3.9 inches at 100 yards.

Breaking the rifle down, I noticed the factory installed screw for the rear scope base very slightly grazed the top of the bolt.

With my little finger, I could feel inside the receiver, a half-threads width of screw popping down.

So, I fitted the rifle with a now out-of-production A17 Weaver rail. If you're in the market, don't fret. Evolution Gun Works makes a zero and 20 MOA version.

For a scope, I bumped up the power with a Bushnell Forge 4.5-27x50mm. The side focus parallax goes down to 25 yards, perfect for a rimfire rifle, and with a 50-yard zero I can spin up 18 MOA of elevation for a dead-nuts hold at 360 yards—a long, but plausible shot with 17 HMR.

New Trigger

a jard savage a17 trigger system
The A17 comes with a relatively heavy trigger. For better precision, the author replaced it with a new trigger system from JARD.JARD

Much as I love Savage triggers, the bang switch on their auto-loading rimfires are not the stuff of legend. The early production runs of the A17 had triggers adjustable down to 2 lbs. with a short reset, but that combination caused unintended bump-fires for some shooters—meaning the recoil of the first shot, combined with the short reset and light trigger weight, led some shooters to unconsciously double-tap the trigger and fire more than one round very quickly.

Savage corrected this by swapping a very good trigger with a heavy monster that has an ungainly reset. Turned all the way down, mine pulled at 7 lbs. on my mechanical Timney gauge.

Last year, Iowa boutique gun builder JARD released a fix—an A17/A22 Trigger System. It comes set at 1 to 3 lbs., and costs about as much as a brand new A17 rifle.

The 1-pounder I tested had zero trigger movement—no creep or take-up—just a sharp, instant, single-stage break. There was initially some fitment issues (see below), but after talking to Dean at JARD, a new trigger was in the mail, and I was up and shooting in a couple days.

Target results for CCI A17
Target results for CCI A17 ammo through the Savage A17.Michael R. Shea

Being so light, and so short, I did initially have a few double taps as shooters did with the A17’s original trigger, but with some improved trigger discipline on my part, those ceased quickly.

That said, this upgrade takes a rifle you could easily hand to any kid for some afternoon plinking, and makes it enthusiast grade. The guys at JARD are serious prairie dog hunters, so their goal was to design a bang switch for grownups who need a long-range rimfire varmint gun. In that, they succeeded.

With good glass and a new trigger, I went back to the range.

That same box of CCI A17 shot 2.4-inches at 100 yards. An improvement, but far from the 1-inch I was after.

New Bed

a wooden riflestock for classic semi-auto a17 rifles
The author's rifle came with a Boyd's A17 Classic Semi-Auto stock, pictured here, but even if you have a different model you can buy the stock directly from Boyd's.Boyd’s

My rifle came with the Boyd's A17 Classic Semi-Auto stock direct from Savage, but the stock can be bought direct from Boyd's if you're starting with the less expensive soft plastic stock.

With a Wheeler Bedrock kit, I glass-bedded the action. YouTuber cavedweller1959 has an excellent video on how this is done:

This is not a difficult process, as the video above shows, but it’s easy to screw up. If you’re intimidated, most gunsmiths will bed a rifle for $100 to $200. For the accuracy-obsessed, it’s very much worth it.

This is where range time got interesting. These are five-shot groups recorded and averaged:

Stock Rifle, 100 yards Average Group Size
CCI A17 17gr 3.913
JARD Trigger, 100 yards
CCI A17 17gr 2.497
Bedded, 100 yards
CCI A17 17gr 0.729 0.38 1.275 1.278 1.823 1.097
CCI VNT 17gr 0.986 1.13 1.237 1.141 1.249 1.1486
Federal BYOB 17gr 2.054 1.004 0.697 1.198 1.198 1.2302
CCI TNT Green 16gr 1.235 1.165 1.525 1.054 1.24475
CCI Gamepoint 20gr 1.147 1.581 1.791 1.791 0.732 1.579
Bedded, 50 yards
CCI A17 17gr 0.654 0.949 0.45 1.131 0.823 0.8014
CCI VNT 17gr 1.056 0.801 0.833 1.094 1.014 0.9596
Federal BYOB 17gr 0.493 0.602 1.222 0.513 0.7075
CCI TNT Green 16gr 0.809 0.393 0.562 0.489 1.0306 0.65672
CCI Gamepoint 20gr 0.638 0.595 0.595 0.98 0.875 0.7366

The hot A17 ammo laid down a group in the .300s at 100 yards, but the average wasn’t yet a strict 1-inch at 100 yards.

Finishing Touches

shot groups for a savage a17 rifle
Some target results after all the upgrades.Michael R. Shea

Not satisfied to leave well enough alone, I went back to the Cavedweller bedding video, and took out my Dremel. I cleaned the bedding up, smoothing out rough patches. I cleaned the barrel, action, and slicked the bolt up with some Super Lube 21030.

After about 200 rounds through the cleaned up gun, I recorded new groups at 50 yards with the CCI A17, CCI VNT, and Remington Premier 17 HMR. The Remington loads shot so poorly when I first unboxed the gun, I didn’t consider them for later testing.

The CCI A17s didn’t shoot any better than before, but the VNTs dramatically improved, with groups ranging from 0.323 to 0.537, with a five group average of 0.411 inch.

The Remington’s threw down the best single group of 0.284 of an inch. It’s the best the rifle has shot before or since.

savage a17 rifle shot groups with remington ammo
The rifle produced its best groups with Remington 17 HMR ammunition.Michael R. Shea

Would I call the rifle sub-MOA? Eh, not really. But it is MOA, throwing 1-inch or a shade better groups at 100 with a good variety of ammo. It’s a varmint shooting son of a gun, ready to work, as accurate as any magnum rimfire I’ve found. In my book, that’s an accomplishment.

savage arms a17 rifle
A shot of the customized Savage A17 rifle.Savage Arms

Trigger Fitting Issues: Dimensions of the A17/A22 trigger group vary slightly rifle to rifle and year-to-year, the folks at JARD told me, so to ensure a good fit, it’s best to call and order the trigger group the old fashion way—over the phone.