17 Rem Fireball Coyote
Finding myself in a new passion some 10 years ago has lead me on an incredible journey full of experiences and learning in hunting and hand loading. I went on my first predator hunt about ten years ago with my father in-law, who had been a predator hunter for decades. He handed me a Remington VSF in 22-250 and said, “That trigger is light so be careful. “ As I heard the sound of the rabbit start to play on that cold silent morning my senses achieved a level I had never experienced, I was wide-eyed and alert, moving my head from side to side watching every draw and every bush waiting for that critter to appear. Five minutes into the call as I began moving my head back to the right I saw movement, I immediately slowed my movement until, there he was, Mr. Coyote himself. Standing a mere 15 yards in front of my muzzle, luckily my father in-law was smart enough to equip my rifle with a 2-7x32, knowing full well he would be hunting with a greenhorn that day. I slowly lifted my rifle into position and placed the crosshairs square in Mr. coyotes chest, slightly touching the trigger immediately discharged my weapon and my first coyote hit the dirt, I was hooked.
The past ten years of my life have been spent thinking about varmints, the guns, the family time spent, and the population control. I have since found myself sticking with my 22-250 as many of us do with our first car, or girlfriend. Sure, I have bought many other rifles, built loads for them, shot amazing groups, but every morning on my way to call predators the same rifle always found its way into the truck. I trusted it and knew that if my bullet even touched its intended target that target would be dead on impact.
A few years ago I finally began to get serious about a new varmint rifle, one that would actually make it into the truck on hunting days and serve me well for coyotes as well as smaller varmints. I had a few desires that I had in mind for this rifle. I wanted accuracy, light recoil, and I wanted to see the point of impact through the scope, as I desired to sharpen my shot placement skills. I had recently become so good with my trusty 22-250 that I was craving new skills. So I started my journey for a new cartridge that would address all of these needs. I pulled out my loading manuals to begin a search for this new caliber; and discovered the .17 Remington Fireball. This cartridge amazed me with its performance, so I began my search, for a gun that promised 4000fps with a 20grain bullet and less than 20 grains of powder and was as flat shooting as a .204 Ruger. I got lucky in my first few months of searching and stumbled onto a Remington SPS Sporter locally and gladly paid the $500 asking price for the rifle with a polycarbonate stock and a 24in barrel.
My first step when acquiring a new caliber rifle is to read as much literature as I can find about what the bench rest shooters are using for propellant and projectiles. My findings pointed to Hornady Vmax 20 or 25-grain bullets and IMR 8208 XBR, after breaking the rifle in it wasn’t long until I had a load built that was consistently shooting .35in hole at 100yds. I was excited to say the least; I finished the rifle off with my routine trigger work and topped it with a 3-9x40 Leupold scope. I was off to hunt. The first varmint I came across was a lone Jack Rabbit sitting 75 yds. away from where I had just parked my truck. As I squeezed the trigger I instantly heard the “thwack” of the little 25-grain Vmax going 3700fps. I walked out to my harvest and saw total and utter destruction. The rabbit had been completely gutted and was instantly killed from the tremendous velocity. On my way back to the truck I realized that I didn’t see the point of impact in the scope like I was hoping for, this got me to thinking about a heavier rifle with better optics.
After watching for a long three years I finally found a Remington VSF in .17 Remington Fireball, everything about it resembled my 22-250, H-S Precision Stock, 26in Heavy Fluted Barrel. I had been so happy with the performance of the cartridge that I had to build the right rifle to accomplish the goal I spoke about previously, accuracy, visibility, and recoil. I ordered a Timney Calvin Elite that came at a crisp 8oz and was easy to install. I robbed the scope from the sporter and headed to the range with my box of hand loads. I headed to the range nervous that I had made a big mistake, because after hearing of my success with the Fireball my father in-law made me an offer on my sporter I couldn’t refuse. After breaking in the rifle I sat down to shoot my first few groups, disappointment, a 2 inch group was my best. I headed back to the loading room where I measured the throat and found it to be much longer than the sporters throat, my hopes were lifted. After adjusting my bullet depth to 5 one-thousandths from the lands I headed back to the range with high hopes of another tack driver, disappointment again. My best group from this range session was 1.3in. Back to the bench.
After 3 months of Saturdays, 4 different powders, 4 different projectiles, 2 different cases, 2 different primers, numerous seating depths and even a new high power scope my regret started to mount as 1.3in group remained my best. I was getting ready to wash my hands of this experience and reinvest in something else, I was frustrated and disappointed not only that I had sold the sporter but now I was stuck with a gun that would not shoot close to my standards for what I wanted to achieve. I put the gun up for several weeks in which time my local gun store got a shipment of 25 grain Berger FB Varmint bullets which I picked up as a final hope. I loaded the Berger’s in 6 different loads using Hodgdon’s Benchmark. I cleaned my rifle just like I had done every single Saturday and headed to the range again, on the trip to the range I couldn’t help but feel regret and sadness about the last few months, maybe even the years. Upon arriving at the range I humbly set up my equipment, which included a chronograph and stapled my targets up at 100yds. I was ready.
I grabbed my first 5 rounds and adjusted my newly acquired Leupold VX3i 4.5-14x50 to my target. I squeezed off the first round using the Calvin Elite, bulls eye. The second round touched off, bulls eye. I stayed pessimistic, as this scenario had happened before. Third round, bulseye. Fouth and fifth, bullseye. The cease-fire range horn sounded immediately after the completion of my first group. I walked out to verify my hopes, trying not to get excited about what I was so hoping to find. About ten feet from the target I looked up and saw the tightest group I could have ever hoped for. I couldn’t contain excitement as in that instant it was all worth it, I let out a yell for joy. I finished shooting my groups with my different powder charges and left the range with my worst of 6 groups at 1.2in!
My worst group was better than my previous best group! I drove home with a tremendous feeling of accomplishment and excitement to get the gun in the field, I have since repeated the rifles performance many times and upgraded the optics to a Leupold VX6 3-18x50. I now have everything I wanted, accuracy, visibility, and light recoil. The gun ends up in the truck, my shot placement is improving in pressure situations and becoming more and more reliable, and I get a front row seat to the Point of Impact.
By: Kevin Beckner