The pointless debate over which pump-action shotgun is better, the Remington 870 or the Mossberg 500, has raged on for so long that no one cares anymore. Still, as a result of that debate, Mossberg is widely known for making some great shotguns. Their rifles may be some of the most underrated on the market, too. I’ve yet to read a bad review, and every one I’ve ever shot was really nice. That’s why when I decided we needed a new .17 HMR in the family; I knew where I was going to look first: at the Mossberg 817. As it was, the first place I looked was the last.
It started with my father-in-law, Brian Sheets. He really coveted my H&R Sportster .17 HMR, and wanted one of his own. I had a project coming up that I needed a new one for, so I hatched the idea with my wife that we’d get one and then give it to him when we were done. How else could I cement my place as best son-in-law ever?
I obtained a Mossberg 817 bolt-action rifle in the brushed chrome finish. It comes with a thumbhole synthetic stock and built-in, Weaver-style scope bases. The rifle has a 21-inch barrel with a 1:9-inch twist rate, a six-round detachable magazine, and weighs 4.5 pounds out of the box. Its overall length is 40 inches. I equipped the 817 with a Simmons 3-9x rimfire-specific scope. The Simmons is a lower price-point scope and fit in with the project I had in mind: I wanted a low-cost, accurate varmint rig that anyone could afford. Mission accomplished.
You paid how much?
I’ve lauded the performance of the .17 HMR before. It’s a little bullet that moves fast and is accurate, and does a pretty good job on varmints out to a decent range. The best part is that there is next to no recoil, so it makes for a great round for kids to shoot with their parents. My son is a sniper with our H&R Sportster .17 HMR, and he’s just as good with the Mossberg.
The 817 combines the spectacular performance of the .17 HMR with an affordable price point—it has a list price of only $228 for the brushed chrome model, which is the most expensive .17 Mossberg makes right now. Yes, you can get this gun even cheaper—not to mention deals you’ll find on the current gun market. I did a ton of research on the scopes available for rimfires, and yes, I could have gone through the Top-Secret Outdoor Writer Handshake Plan and acquired one for next to nothing, but that didn’t fit my project. Plus, I found the Simmons on sale at Cabela’s for only $30. Not counting ammo, that’s a complete price of $258—not bad!
For ammo, I went with Hornady’s 20-grain HP XTP rounds. Hornady claims that their 24-inch test barrel yields a muzzle velocity of 2,375 feet per second, so it’s a screamer. At 20 grains, it’s one of the heavier .17 bullets on the market and is a hollow point, making it devastating on varmints. This isn’t a squirrel round, unless you don’t want to eat them!
At 100 yards, the velocity drops off to 1,776 feet per second—the patriot in you should dig that! With a little extra weight, it bucks the wind a little bit better, but on windy days, you’re going to have issues being “on.” At 200, it drops down to 1,304. Still pretty respectable. The bullet drop averages (according to Hornady and with a 100-yard zero) 9.9 inches at 200.
When we first shot the Mossberg 817, we were shooting at targets 100 yards distant and with no wind. That produced a sweet five-shot group of 1.5 inches. We had another day in which we landed all five shots within an inch—and three were touching. I haven’t been able to do that again, but when spring gets here, I have no doubt I will be able to.
The bolt is stiff, as I expected. It needs some break-in time. It’s not bad, mind you. I’ve had some new guns that were much worse. The same goes for the magazine release—it’s better every time we shoot it and with good cleaning and maintenance, there are no worries. The trigger is surprisingly decent. I didn’t expect the trigger to be great in a cheaper gun, but it is pretty good—after it is cleaned.
The important thing is to clean the snot out of the gun. It needs to be cleaned well and carefully inspected. I cleaned out the trigger assembly and it worked better than the first time I used it. Out of the box, everything feels a bit rigid.
The stock is plastic, but feels pretty good. The brushed chrome finish looks great. I’ve heard a few reports of extreme long-distance shots with the exact same setup I have. I’m going to try to replicate them this summer.
Is it perfect? No, but it is darn nice for the price, especially after a good cleaning. I have no problem saying that I would recommend one of these to anyone looking for a good, lightweight .17 HMR at a great price point. Match it with a decent scope and some high-quality ammo, like the Hornady HP XTP, and you’re good to go. Now I have to decide if my father-in-law actually gets it.
Images by Derrek Sigler