Perfect combo for tackling ferals

Rifle: Remington 700 CDL left-hand bolt-action
Cartridge: 17 Remington
Scope: Leupold VX3i 4.5-14x40 CDS

As we continue our feature on favourite rifle-cartridge-scope combinations, Paul Miller this month explains the reasons behind his selections

Keen shooters invariably have several rifles and shotguns for different purposes and pride themselves on choosing what they think is the ideal firearm for the job at hand. The idea of picking a favourite rifle, cartridge and scope combination throws up a whole bunch of curly questions about what one person thinks fits together to make the perfect personal hunting or target outfit.

I have four centrefire cartridges which work flawlessly for me and are in some ways related as they start at one end of the shooting spectrum and match each other remarkably well as I move through what I like my cartridges to do. First three are the 17 Remington, 220 Swift and 25-06 Remington and when you line them up they look remarkably similar but become bigger per calibre as though they’re growing on steroids. They’re all at the higher end of the performance curve for each calibre and work ideally for what I want them to do from small to medium game.

They also have remarkably similar trajectories with the various projectiles I load and in that way are well matched. You could achieve much the same with a 223, 22/250 and 257 Roberts but for some reason the more exotic cartridges have always appealed to me. The other cartridge is the famous 30-06 Springfield which covers anything I’m likely to do in the hunting field at the bigger end of the scale in Australia.

Thinking about these four cartridges I soon decided my favourite is the rather out of fashion and often maligned 17 Remington. The decision was easy as the 17 Rem is a fascinating cartridge which shoots like a laser beam with virtually no recoil and incredible accuracy. In my left-handed factory Remington 700 CDL it’s perfect for foxes and rabbits around where I live. For shooting in closer settled areas the report is not too loud and there’s minimal chance of ricochets with explosive projectiles running between an amazing 3900 and 4200fps.

It’s not the barrel-burner it was said to have been in the past now we have modern powders and projectiles and top quality barrels. It’s easy to reload for and no more difficult to maintain than the other three centrefires and is also incredibly accurate. Perhaps the most staggering thing about this cartridge and rifle combination is that on firing at your target you see the result almost instantly, meaning a hole appears on the target or the bullet actually hitting that fox, rabbit or feral cat.

This is not unique among cartridges. The 22 Hornet has much the same felt recoil but its level of performance is nothing like the 17 Rem or indeed the other smaller factory 17s available like the 17 Hornet or 17 Fireball. These cartridges offer amazing performance on small game as they push light 20-25gr bullets considerably faster than the smaller 22 centrefires with similar wind drift and the bonus, as noted, is virtually no recoil.

That’s why they’re easy to shoot well and so much fun as you see the result of the bullet impacting when you pull the trigger. The 17 Rem is the most potent of the bunch but can easily be reloaded down to match the other 17s if you want even less recoil and report.

My rifle was bought chambered for the excellent and versatile 223 Remington and was highly accurate but I’d always wanted a 17 Rem in a left-handed rifle, though no rifle brands have ever been factory chambered in a left-handed action in the 17 Rem cartridge to my knowledge. It was an easy route to buy the CDL and have my friend and barrel maker Robert Tobler screw on a little-used 17 Rem factory barrel I found inexpensively on a used guns site.

To say I was pleased with the outcome would be a major understatement. The Remington 700 series of rifles have always had an enviable reputation for strength and accuracy and the deluxe short action CDL was perfect for my little project. Coincidentally, my 220 Swift is chambered in a left-handed Remington 700 BDL long action with a fast one in 8” twist barrel made by Robert Tobler and target accurate - an exceptional outfit though it doesn’t get the use my 17 does.

When it comes to scopes I’ve always had a soft spot for the US-made Leupold brand. Each of my rifles sport a Leupold based on what I think the rifle’s best use is and what the appropriate magnification, tube and objective size should be. Magnification range is important when using any of my dual purpose-style rifles but my biggest consideration is how to mount each scope as low as possible to the action and therefore the rifle bore.

When it comes to mounts I’m again a Leupold man and I guess my fondness for them started as a young guy looking to obtain the best optics for my hard-earned cash. I never had the courage to ‘invest’ the sort of dollars the exceptional European brands demand but found Leupold a great compromise in terms of excellent optical quality and price. I also liked their look and cosmetics and that famous golden ring on their VX2 and especially VX3 models. For many, the look of our rifle/scope combination is an important part of the selection process and pride of ownership.

My first and only other 17 Rem many years ago was a brand new right-handed 700 BDL with a 6.5-20x40 Leupold Vari-X 111 and it was also a cracker. Perhaps a bit over-scoped but the combination was deadly and huge fun, though unfortunately for that outfit I succumbed to the younger man’s need for more power and sold it for a 22/250. That round was amazing and lead to me going all left-handed and buying the left-handed 700 BDL and converting it to the 220 Swift, another cartridge I believe has never been offered in a factory LH model.

My current 17 Rem had for several years an older but excellent 4.5-14x40 VariX 3 which I swapped for the latest 30mm-bodied VX3i 4.5-14x40 Custom Dial System (CDS) scope we reviewed recently and couldn’t resist buying. I’ve yet to buy a custom dial for my favourite load in the 17 Rem but with its limited range and incredibly flat trajectory out to 250m or so, I’m in two minds whether to bother (which means I will, of course, find one).

With this model Leupold I particularly like the change from front-focusing objective to side-mounted as it’s so much more convenient to adjust quickly for perfect focus in the heat of a hunting moment with a nervous fox about to bolt. It’s matte finished which I also think is practical in the field and the 4.5-14 power range covers most bases. The 40mm objective means I’ve been able to attach it in low Leupold 30mm mounts, which is good ballistically as well as achieving a firm cheek weld when mounting the rifle. This sort of gun-fit is important for consistent shooting, be it with rifle or shotgun.

The rifle came with a walnut stock thanks to Gary Georgiou from Safari Firearms who went out of his way to find the gun from the presumably limited number of left-handed rifles at the importer’s factory. Being a typical walnut shotgun stock fanatic, this lovely bit of wood really appealed to me - until I started humping it around in scratchy terrain or on the back of a truck.

Recently it occurred to me a ‘plastic’ stock might be better from a purely practical point of view. As you might imagine there’s little available in replacement stocks for left-handed rifles, but as luck would have it I was looking through the ‘left-handed’ section of the same online guns sales website and spotted an ad for a left-handed US-made black HS Precision stock in excellent condition which would hopefully fit like a glove.

The young guy I bought it from in Canberra was knowledgeable and an even bigger left-handed gun nut than myself so the deal was done and two days later the box arrived. I opened it with huge anticipation and slid out the stock which was in perfect condition and had been custom bedded for a 700 BDL action. Holding my breath I put my barreled action in and tightened the screws - the fit was perfect so the next question was how would it shoot? The answer was as accurately as ever so I now have a svelte black rifle with low-mounted scope which looks ever so slightly ‘tactical’ and totally businesslike.

While I’ve no problem with tactical rifles I’m a walnut and blued steel guy but this new stock  looks the goods and I’ve already had it out successfully whistling foxes. There may be temptation to revert to the fine walnut stock and see what effect that has on the point of impact then back to the black Precision stock. I guess that’s all part of the fun.

So there you have it, the favourite rifle, cartridge and scope combination of a left-hander who loves few things better than sneaking around local hills and valleys whistling up red coats with a couple of mates, in the process helping preserve local wildlife. The 17 Rem isn’t everyone’s cup of tea as it’s so specialised but it’s an extraordinary round devised at a time when there was a boom in commercial fox shooting. Smart fox shooting professionals and recreational shooters alike gave it a short but glorious life. It’s perfection for what it was designed to do and is all the more ‘interesting’ now there are more high-quality projectiles available for reloading in 20 and 25gr weights with plastic tips or explosive hollow-points.

In the super accurate Remington 700 CDL rebarrelled aftermarket in 17 Rem with an optically excellent but affordable 4.5-14x40 side focus Leupold CDS scope, it was an easy choice among my collection of rifles and cartridges as my number one. It’s the perfect combination for what I love doing and gives me enormous confidence and pride of ownership every time I take it shooting.

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