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Remington SPS Varmint / 17 Rem Fireball

Pete Moore revisits Remington’s SPS Varmint model now chambered in their new 17 Fireball cartridge

I’m no stranger to Remington’s SPS range of rifles, which were initially the replacement for the old Remy 700 ADL synthetic. From this basic hunter the range has grown to cover a number of needs, perhaps the most interesting being the Varmint.

The gun looks a bit different as to my knowledge it’s the only model with what might be termed as a medium/heavy, factory-moulded stock. Usually on Varmint-type guns the furniture is either laminate, fibre glass or similar in a big, rigid build for added stability. The SPS does this with a far cheaper moulded design, with a sporting-style butt and a large/wide forend.

The forend is vented with three slots either side and the 26”, medium/heavy barrel is free floated but shows pressure beds at the front of the channel. This means that there are two, raised sections that it physically sits on; I have always wondered why they bother, as it seems to fly in the face of the free-float principle? The muzzle is threaded 5/8x18” but other forms are available to order and comes complete with a protector. Remington have fitted two QD sling studs up front and one at the rear along with textured panels to enhance grip though the ones at the forend are a bit far back. However, it would seem unlikely that this rifle is ever going to be used free-hand…

Firm but crisp

The butt shows a low, straight comb with a marginal cheek piece. However the line comes up well and you get good cheek weld and a comfortable, eye/scope relationship. At the rear is a thick rubber butt pad. The length of pull is 13 3/8” and combined with the shallow pistol grip angle gives a comfortable firing hand placement and an easy first pad, trigger finger position. From the box the trigger is not bad breaking at a firm but crisp 4-5 lbs, not light, but workable and like all Remy 700s, easy to adjust.

There are no real surprises on the Varmint apart from the fact it’s now available in a left hand option. What is really different is the calibre, as Remington has added their new 17 Fireball to the line up. In truth this is the more interesting part of the test, though the SPS is a decent rifle with a deal of potential.

Who is the daddy?

I say new, but this cartridge is very similar to the O’Brian Rifle Co’s 17 MACH IV (4000 fps), which first saw the light of day in the early 1960s not long after the launch of Remington’s original 221 Fireball, which it appears to take its inspiration from. Ironically the introduction of the hotter 17 Remington in 1971 pretty much wiped out the MACH IV. So it now looks like history has repeated itself with a copy of a modified copy of an original; a fact that Remington freely acknowledges…

The 221 Fireball is in itself an interesting cartridge, made from a shortened 222 Remington case it was originally designed for their XP-100, bolt-action pistol. Essentially a Remy 700 short action this handgun was a lot of fun to use on prairie dogs as I recall. 

These small varmint calibres are very popular in the USA who have a lot of critters to shoot and an industry based around hyper fast, light/frangible bullets in high accuracy rifles. In the UK we are a bit more constrained, as we don’t have massive prairie dog towns to go and ‘brass up’, so cartridges like the 17 Remington when it arrived were treated with some caution.

The small amount of dedicated varminters naturally took to the 17 Rem and it proved an effective if a little exotic calibre, much like the 204 Ruger is today. Though accuracy did suffer unless you adopted a regular cleaning regime and with such a small bullet wind is always an issue! The problem was the 17 - though fox capable at a push by a good shot - was not really the answer! After a brief spell of popularity you saw lots of 17 Rems in the second hand gun racks, today though not extinct it’s not top choice either.

A new approach

The 17 Rem is now 38 years old by my reckoning and in that time propellants have improved in respect of more efficiency and less fouling, likewise case design has come on too. So Remington decided to re-vamp their old 221 Fireball in 17 calibre and though visually identical to the MACH IV takes advantage of modern technology.

Comparisons to the old 17 Rem are unavoidable, as is its reputation in the UK, so you might think, why should I buy into this smaller 17 when the old one was not a massive success? To be honest you would be correct, but let’s take a closer look. To be fair you have to judge any calibre on its merits. The 17 HMR (Hornady Magnum Rimfire) is a good example, I have killed a lot of rabbits and hares with it out to a realistic 170 yards in good weather. I have also killed a few foxes but at much shorter ranges and generally used two shots to put it down and stop it moving. So for me it’s not a primary fox cartridge!

204 Ruger is similar and again I have killed foxes with it but mainly use it when the range is too much for my 17 HMR. On rabbits, hares and crows etc. and it’s sweet. But if I’m after Charlie then I reach for my 223 by choice.

20-grain @ 4000 fps

We must also not forget the 17 Fireball has been made for a real varminting market – the USA, where they talk the talk and walk the walk on this subject. As a 20-grain V-MAX-type doing a quoted 4000 fps is going to be a sweet little performer on prairie dogs etc.

Running both 17 Rem and the new Fireball (17 FB), firing the same 20-grain bullet over a ballistic calculator using Remington factory figures, shows the former is the better cartridge in terms of velocity and energy at all ranges. For example check out these muzzle figures:

Calibre     Velocity (fps)    Energy (ft/lbs)
17 Rem       4250             802
17 FB         4000             710

Out to 300 yards, which I consider getting on for maximum range with either calibre it looks like this:

17 Rem       2529             407
17 FB         2360             247

However and given we are shooting rabbits etc then the 17 Fireball still hits with near three times the muzzle energy of a 22 sub-sonic at 300 yards, so as long as you put the bullet in the right place – no problems… Remington make a big thing of the Fireball’s reduced recoil over the 17 Rem, but in truth both are marginal in this area anyway. Pulling a few rounds of Fireball shows an average charge weight of 19.4-grains of what looks like Hodgdon BLC2.

What is interesting is the case form, as the Fireball looks like a mini WSM (Winchester Short Magnum) with its wide/short body and reasonably steep shoulder. At the risk of sounding daft; you could get away with an even shorter action than the 17 Rem, which is reflected in the SPS’s magazine placement, which is fully forward. This would be good and offer a really sweet little rifle too.

Compared to the 20-grain 17 Rem at 4250 fps the 4000 fps Fireball load gives away around an inch on drop and windage out to 300 yards. For example:

Calibre       Range   Drop   Drift
17 Rem       300       6.27”  11.36”
17 FB         300       7.51”  12.23”

By comparison a 50-grain 223 Rem doing 3300 fps drops 10.93” and drifts 11.32” at 300 yards. Unsurprisingly it carries a lot more energy to the tune of 521 ft/lbs which is near double the Fireball and the 17 Rem at this distance. As an aside we can now see the rational behind the .20” cal 204 Ruger, as at 300-yards with a 40-grain V-MAX running at a realistic 3850 fps energy is 655 ft/lbs and drop a very 17-like 6.64” and windage a pleasing 7.97”. But I digress…

Real time results

The above data is from Remington who say that the 17 Fireball will do 4000 fps with the 20-grain load, so time to see if this was true. Well not totally, as results over the chrono gave 3875 fps/666 ft/lbs, so around 125 fps shy of the mark and that was from its 26” tube. I also get the feeling that cutting the barrel down to a more manageable 24 or 22” would be counter productive too!

I fitted the Varmint up with a Nikko Stirling side-focus, 6-24 x 56 Nighteater scope. The only two variables apart from the ammo would be the trigger and fouling build up. The gun would be shot rested so I could pretty much dial out the heavier pull. Plus I cleaned it prior to use and took my 17 kit with me to see if it would need a dig out before my ammo was gone.

After a few rounds to get the feel of the trigger, groups shrunk from 3/4" to ½”, which was pleasing. I have no doubt they would go SUB – ½” with a bit of adjustment. Recoil and report was very mild and fouling did not seem to be an issue for the 40-rounds I fired. 

It occurred to me that with such a flat shooting gun I could extend my zero point to give me a near one point of aim hold out to 200 yards. Feeding in the data to Sierra Infinity showed that with a 175-yard zero the gun shot approx ½” high out to 175 then dropped ½” below point of aim at 200. At 300 this gives a drop of 6.4”.

I have no complaints about the SPS Varmint, as it’s an effective rifle for the money and a nice place to start for a budget varminter. However, given the boom and bust nature of the 17 Rem here in the UK, I’m not sure that a less powerful version is going to get you that excited.

Like all the sub .224” small varmint calibres the 17 Fireball is very dedicated and certainly not a primary fox buster! As I already own a 204 Ruger I would not switch to it, but if I was looking for short/medium range small varmint/corvid basher then it would be worth a look.

We reckon:
• Do we need another 17 centrefire?
• Well behaved and potentially accurate
• Ammo a bit expensive

Technical Specifications
Name Remington SPS Varmint
Calibre 17 Fireball (on test)
Capacity 4
Barrel 26” medium/heavy
Stock moulded
Threaded/proofed Y
Price £867
17 Fireball £199.80 (per 100)

All Prices Are Guides Due to the Changes in US & European Exchange Rates

User Comments
  • Hi i have a 17 tikka rem . I shoot a lot of fox's.but i have fun with it in the wind no good at all.im thinking on geting a 204 or a 223 as will as my 17 just 4 when its to windy.what wood you recomend out of thows 2 guns 4 me as i have not uesd 1 of them.i did have a 222 one's thanks willy.

    Comment by: willy jefferys     Posted on: 27 May 2010 at 12:51 PM

  • 204 is a good calibre, as on paper it shows better ballistics than the 17 Rem and even the 223, though has never really made it in the UK. With factory ammo you can achieve near the quoted velocity, but not with reloading.

    In truth 223 Rem is probably the better cartridge; not as quick but with a wider bullet choice and is also small deer (muntjac & Chinese water deer) legal in England & Wales and also for roe but only in Scotland.

    Comment by: Pete Moore     Posted on: 28 May 2010 at 10:39 AM

  • These guys seem to have the cheapest Remingtons around, check out the prices.

    Remington SPS Varmint / 17 Rem Fireball £549.00


    www.dssrifles.com

    Comment by: Lee     Posted on: 30 May 2010 at 08:38 PM

  • We have purchased one in January 2010, it does not eject the brass. It has ben sent back to Remington three time. They send it back and say that there is nothing wrong.
    Remington know they have a problem.

    Comment by: howard null     Posted on: 28 Sep 2010 at 07:04 PM

  • I have a Remington 700 vtr in 223 for a truck gun to shoot coyotes and keep them away from my sheep and goats. The stock is the same poor cheaply made hunk of junk. I I removed the front pressure points and glass bedded the action and recoil lug. There was lots of space on the recoil lug. I also filled in some of the open spaces behind the lug to stiffen it up. The fore stock is loose and moves side to side so i glass bedded a steel rod into the fore stock to keep it from moving and truly free floating. Turned it into a shooter like Remington 700s were in earlier times. The next thing to do to this rifle is to get the muzzle brake cut off. I have owned two 17 Remington s. I always find the writing about them somewhat unfair in the north american media in my opinion. The one i currently own is a custom built on a Ruger number 1. This is my favorite varmint caliber. I find it funny how in north American media it is only good to a 150 yards and then the writings on the HMR it is good to 200 yards? A bullet that is 30 percent lighter and 30 percent slower has a 50 yard advantage? Birds are extremely impressive when shot with a 17 rem. We have ground squirrels that when they are hit with Hornaday s 25 grain hollow point all that is left is the head and a pair of back legs hooked together everything else is no bigger than they size of an eraser off a pencil I have never seen more damage to these little guys than with a 17 rem. Rabbits and hares the bullet most times does not exit and when you pick them up it is like picking up a bag of jello! It will certainly kill coyotes but i like a larger gun for that. I have owned or do own a few varmint calibers 22lr, 17rem, 22k hornet, 222rem, 223rem, 22 250rem, 243win, 6mmrem. I find the 22 250 the best all round caliber but i like the 17 better for the small animals and the 6mm or 243 better for coyotes. But if you want to keep the coyotes hides i would not use the 6mm 243 calibers huge exit holes. I would like to get a 204 one day the other thing i would love to get built is a 14 walker the whole 14 caliber thing is poor supply and high prices so not sure i will ever do it but after seeing what the 17 does i have always been interested in trying a 14 out.








    Comment by: tom     Posted on: 17 May 2014 at 01:47 PM

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Remington SPS Varmint / 17 Rem Fireball
Remington SPS Varmint / 17 Rem Fireball
Remington SPS Varmint / 17 Rem Fireball
Remington SPS Varmint / 17 Rem Fireball
Remington SPS Varmint / 17 Rem Fireball
Remington SPS Varmint / 17 Rem Fireball
Remington SPS Varmint / 17 Rem Fireball
Remington SPS Varmint / 17 Rem Fireball
Remington SPS Varmint / 17 Rem Fireball
Remington SPS Varmint / 17 Rem Fireball
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