• Savage B-Mag Target .17 WSM Review

    In January of 2013 Savage Arms announced an all new rifle chambered for an all new rimfire cartridge. The rifle was their new B-Mag bolt action, and the cartridge was the .17 Winchester Super Magnum. The first B-Mag rifles started showing up at the dealers in late summer and initial reports for the sporter barreled synthetic stocked model were ho-hum to say the least. Accuracy was sporadic and a good number of buyers experienced feeding and ejection issues. In short, the B-Magís launch was less than stellar and quite a few of the early units found their way back to Savage for warranty repair or replacement. Savage Arms acknowledges that the B-Magís launch didnít go as smoothly as they had hoped and that there were a few quality control issues that popped up once production began.

    Now two years later Savage has had time to work the bugs out of the B-Mag platform and have released their first expansion model in the form of the B-Mag Target with an MSRP of $566. This new model features a 22Ē heavy varmint contour barrel with recessed target crown and a Boyds Featherlite Thumbhole stock to set it apart from its sibling. Overall length is approximately 40-1/4 inches, and the weight with scope and empty mag was eight pounds on the nose. All B-Mag rifles now come equipped with the updated rear bolt components that were developed to address a safety issue that resulted in the recall earlier this year.

    The action on the B-Mag features a cock-on-close design, whereas most other bolt action rifles cock on opening. This design feature was necessary given the much higher rate firing pin spring needed to ignite the new cartridge with its substantially thicker rim compared to existing rimfire cartridges. This is also why most existing rimfire rifles canít simply be chambered for the .17 WSM cartridge as they donít generate enough firing pin energy to ignite it.

    The new B-Mag action deviates from other Savage bolt guns in that it has a push-button bolt release on the rear left-hand side of the action. The locking lugs for the bolt are at the rear and are integral with the bolt handle. One downside to this configuration is that the bolt can be rotated downward anywhere along itís forward/rearward travel which can result in small dents in the stock if/when the bolt handle comes into contact with it. The sample I received already had two such small dents along the edge of the comb when I removed it from the box.

    The safety on the B-Mag is a two-position design, and on this particular model seemed to be a little stiff. Being a Savage the B-Mag naturally has a user-adjustable AccuTrigger. The example on this rifle came set at around 2-3/4 pounds which is more than adequate for a field rifle. The pull was cleaner and crisper than Iíve experienced with other rimfire AccuTriggers in the past which was a pleasant surprise, and there was minimal over travel.

    The B-Mag is fed from a unique 8-round rotary magazine that is specific to this rifle/cartridge. The rear third of the magazine consists of a metal housing, while the internal rotor and front 2/3 of the housing are plastic. The magazine is retained in the rifle by a plastic retention tab similar to the one found on Axis and Trophy Hunter magazines.

    As noted previously, the laminate stock found on the B-Mag Target is a Boyd's Featherlite Thumbhole pattern in pepper laminate. The stock features a ventilated beavertail-style forearm, semi-vertical thumbhole pistol grip, and roll-over cheek piece. The recoil pad is 3/8Ē thick hard rubber piece and it comes fitted with a plastic trigger guard. With average size hands I found the reach to the trigger to be a little on the long side and the thumbhole placement seemed a little high. The whole grip could almost be moved down and forward a half-inch each to provide a much better and more natural feel. Given the odd geometry and proportions I almost wonder if Boyds didn't bother to design a dedicated pattern for the B-Mag and instead just changed the inlet on the existing centerfire pattern to accept the B-Mag.

    For the purpose of this review I mounted an old Pentax GameSeeker 6x42mm scope with their Precision Plex ballistic reticle using a set of Burris Signature Zee rings and the supplied mounts. Itís a fairly cheap scope that I purchased new more than 10 years ago for around $100, but itís a decent scope for the money and it's all I had available without pulling a scope off one of my other rifles.

    Ammunition used for this review consisted of four different factory loads from American Eagle, Hornady and Winchester. The loads are as follows:

    • American Eagle 20gr Tipped Varmint (3,000 fps)
    • Hornady 20gr V-Max (3,000 fps)
    • Winchester Varmint HV 20gr Poly Tip (3,000 fps)
    • Winchester Varmint HV 25gr Poly Tip (2,600 fps)

    Sight-in and preliminary shooting was done at fifty yards with a steady 15-mph wind coming out of the southwest (my eight o`clock). Groups at this range were consistently in the Ĺ-inch to ĺ-inch range with all four types of ammo. Best group was a ľĒ group shot with the Hornady V-Max load, and the worst group measured just over 1Ē which was shot with the Winchester 25gr Poly-Tip load.

    Moving out to 100 yards things remained just as consistent with groups averaging just under 1-1/2 inches. The 15-20mph crosswind was clearly evident on the targets as all the groups were blown right of center by about half to three-quarter of an inch and led to a lot of horizontal spread. Best group was 7/8-inch shot with the Winchester 20gr load and the worst group measured 2-1/8Ē shot with the American Eagle 20gr load.

    The B-Mag Target performed just as is should with no feeding or ejection issues. The heavy firing pin spring requires significant force to close and as a result the rifle is disrupted in the bags after working the bolt on each short. This makes it very difficult to be consistent from shot to shot, which could be a contributing factor in group spread.

    Overall I was happy with the accuracy and consistency displayed by the B-Mag Target. Between the less than ideal weather conditions, a low power scope with heavy reticle and a lefty shooting a rifle with a dedicated RH stock as handicaps I still felt the B-Mag Target shot well enough to dispatch any groundhog, prairie dog or ground squirrel you could put the crosshairs on within the .17 WSMís effective range of about 300 yards.

    The real dilemma here lies with the .17 WSM cartridge. If you already have a .17 HMR and/or a .223 Remington youíre going to find it very hard to justify adding a .17 WSM to your arsenal unless you just want to play with the cartridge. The .17 WSM offers a fair gain over the .17 HMR, but given how easily wind pushes these tiny bullets the additional speed really doesnít gain you anything in terms of usable range. Price-wise the .17 WSM ammunition at $16-17/box is just barely cheaper than several varieties of budget .223 Remington hunting ammunition when purchased on sale (i.e. Fiocchi 223HVA50, American Eagle AE223GTV and Hornady Steel Match #80274). Combine that with the fact the .223 also gives you more energy and offers a much larger selection of ammunition makes it a much more versatile round. In short, the void that the .17 WSM is/was intended to fill is pretty much non-existent. Much like the .17 Mach2 of a decade ago, the .17 WSM is a neat round but it really doesnít have much to offer to set it apart from well established, proven and more versatile cartridges.

    Additional Photos:

    Contact Information
    Savage Arms, Inc.
    100 Springdale Rd.
    Westfield, MA 01085

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. bighslb's Avatar
      bighslb -
      I am an avowed fan of the .17 sub-caliber and as much as I hate to admit it, I am pleased to see this very honest assessment of both rifle and round. There is clearly a shade of understatement regarding the merits of the .17 hornet here; it is well in excess of 500 fps (elevation and load dependent) faster than the WSM and can be much more accurate. Brass apparently lasts forever in the M25 and costs about 1/5th the price-per-round to reload once the brass cost has been accounted for (say 2 reloads worth) relative to the WSM. I'm no fan of the m25 action but it's a **** sight smoother than the b-mag. I'm no hater of .223 either. Both rounds (.223, .17 hdy hornet) are amongst my very favorites and clearly own any terrain the WSM sought to discover. It seems the .17 WSM is the answer to a question no one asked, and while I applaud the innovation, innovation for its own sake is not a business case. Even after the hangover of .17 HMR (relative to the .22 WMR), it is obvious that the round is a true innovation and will be with us for a long time. The WSM, not so much. I hope this investment doesn't force Savage to step harder on the throttle in the race to the bottom along the rest of its lineup to cover the loss.

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