There are two dominant schools of thought on how to hunt tree squirrels: 1. Run through the woods behind hounds, and when a freaked-out bushy tail makes for a treetop escape, swing on him with a shotgun and blast away, or 2. Slip through the woods unseen, toward the sound of squirrel teeth cutting tree nuts, build a position unnoticed, draw a bead on those gnarly buckteeth with a scoped out rimfire rifle, and squeeze.
Hunting with shotguns and dogs is akin to an infantry storming a beach. Scoped rifle hunts are snipers’ work—the solitary but satisfying job of precision shooting. Where the former is social, chaotic, and loud, the latter is measured, steady precise and quiet—all adjectives I’d also use to describe the Volquartsen Summit in 17 Mach 2. I took this thoroughly modern squirrel sniper to an annual September bushy tail camp in Kentucky. It’s fast become my favorite hunting trip of the year, and the Volquartsen has become my favorite squirrel rifle.
The Summit Design
The Volquartsen Summit is a handy, accurate rimfire rifle built on the Ruger 10/22 platform, but much improved. Originally, Primary Weapons System created the design based on a 10/22 receiver, but rather than a blow-back semi-automatic bolt, they built in a straight-pull toggle bolt action. This straight-pull or toggle link—somewhat like the Browning T-bolt or Anschutz Fortner action in how the bolt draws straight back—has a couple big advantages over a standard 10/22.
Theoretically it is more accurate with more consistent bullet velocities thanks to a consistent lock-up. No energy is directed back to move a semi-auto bolt. Second, because the bolt locks up and stays locked on the shot, nothing slams back on report, so it’s a quieter overall package. With sub-sonic .22LR ammo and a suppressor the rifle is virtually silent.
A few years ago, Primary Weapons Systems sold the patent to rimfire specialist Volquartsen. They’ve offered Summit actions for builders since then, but in January at SHOT Show they rolled out a full rifle available in 17 Mach II—arguably the finest tree squirrel round ever invented. As the Summit is built for the 10/22 platform, any 10/22 magazine, stock, barrel and trigger group will plug right in.
The action itself has a milled-in 20 MOA pic rail—a clear sign that Volquartsen really knew their customer here. The complete rifle is now available in .22LR or 17 Mach 2, and ships with a very accurate carbon-wrapped barrel with a ½ x 28 threaded muzzle for a can. Stock options including the Magpul X-22 Hunter, Hogue, or Boyd’s laminates.
The very good Volquartsen trigger breaks just under 2 lbs. Retail price ranges from $1,135 for the Hogue version, to $1,383 for the laminate. Not cheap, not for a rimfire rifle, but with the Summit you’re also buying the satisfaction of knowing there’s nothing better in the squirrel woods.
If you’re interested barrel swapping between the 17 Mach 2 and .22LR, it makes sense to buy the Mach 2 rifle, and a separate .22LR barrel. Volquartsen and most other quality 10/22 barrel makers do not sell individual Mach 2 barrels, so to get both you calibers it’s wise to start with Mach 2 rifle.
The Straight-Pull Bolt
A traditional 90- or 60-degree bolt throw is slow. Straight-pulls eliminate the slam of an auto bolt, and are markedly faster than swing bolts.
To fire, the shooter holds the rifle with the thumb to the side, not wrapped around the stock—so the right thumb remains on the right side of the rifle for a right-handed shooter. After the shot, the bolt is drawn back with the index finger, and closed with the thumb.
It’s remarkably intuitive, and after a few magazines of practice, it’s easy to run the gun fast and accurate, while keeping your head in the scope. It’s easy to see why straight-pulls are the only competitive rifles in most Olympic events. The Summit, while not cheap, provides a taste of what that’s like. Try it—as me and all my shooting buddies have—and you’ll surely get hooked.
More on the 17 Mach 2
The Summit 17 Mach 2 was announced at SHOT earlier this year along with news from CCI and Hornady that lines of 17 Mach 2 ammunition were up and running. Mach 2 is a .22LR stinger case, necked down to 17 caliber. Launched in 2004 after the success of .17 HMR—a necked down .22WMR—the necked down .22LR didn’t catch as much fire as it’s big brother.
Then the little round fell victim to the ammo shortage a few years later, as all the ammo companies moved every available rimfire production line into .22LR. Today, there are currently three loads on the market for 17 Mach 2 and most local gun shops I’ve visited in the last year keep at least two of the three on the shelves:
- CCI 17 grain V-Max, at 2010 fps
- Hornady 17 grain V-Max, at 2,100 fps
- Hornady 15.5 grain NTX, at 2,050 fps
The 17 grain options shoot almost identical in my test Summit—with a couple smoke show groups in the .300s. 17 Mach 2 ammo is not match quality so one-hole groups like that at 50 yards are the exception, not the rule. Average groups were in the .600s and .700s with the 17 grains and a little worse off with the lead-free 15.5 grain California loads.
Some Mach 2 rifles, though, won’t shoot the 15.5 grainers anywhere close to that, but the Summit likes them. Besides accuracy, the biggest advantage of the round is its laser-beam trajectory without the wallop—and meat damage—of a magnum round. The 17 grainers climb and fall less than 2 inches out to 130 yards, and hit with enough power to mash small critter skulls. That kind of trajectory means hold on a tree squirrel’s head or neck from 15 to 130 yards, and he’s not going anywhere.
The downside of the little round: body shot squirrels—especially shot from a long way off—have been known to run wounded. No one wants that, so it’s imperative when hunting with this mosquito round to pick your shots, ensure they’re all headshots, and never rush.
Handling and Accessories
The Summit Rifle is light, short, and handles beautifully—it makes the very best of the caliber, in my opinion. With the Magpul stock mine weighed in at 5.8 pounds naked, and just about 7 pounds with a Nikon Prostaff P3 Target EFR and Magpul RLS Rifleman Loop Sling. (For my hunting kit I also carry a tripod with Hog Saddle for a rock-solid rest.)
I have other Mach 2 rifles, most came out in 2004 when the round was first announced, and they’re big—long, heavy barrels with beautiful, but beefy walnut stocks. The Summit gets the total 17 Mach 2 package perfectly correct with carbon fiber, aluminum and composite components, a modern rifle—short, light, fast, and deadly.
Hunting the Summit
Me and two buddies hunted four mornings along the shores of Kentucky Lake—boating in in the dark, and watching the sun rise over the timber, listen for the sound of cutting bushy tails. We knocked down 52 bushy tails—and ate a pile of squirrel fajitas—in that time.
With the tripod setup, the Summit barely moved on report. It took squirrels out to just over 80 yards. For those long shots, I held the crosshairs on forehead and ear tips, and connected every time. Inside 50 yards or so, the hold was muzzle or teeth. The rifle was sighted in at 35 yards.
The action, of course, was not as fast as a regular 10/22, but fast enough to double on young squirrels chowing down in a pignut tree. Midsouth squirrel hunting is like nothing I’ve seen in the northeast. Every bushy tail for miles, it seems, will mob one pignut, beech, or hickory, barking each other down, tussling, then finding a branch to settle in and eat. Shoot one off a tree like this, and be patient. In a few minutes they’ll all come changing back to feed. One morning, I shot all six from the same tree. It was great fun, precision hunting, long-range hunting, all within 100 yards. Can you kill squirrels with less? Of course. But for hunters who want the very best, the Volquartsen Summit in 17 Mach 2 is easily the ultimate, most modern squirrel rig available today.