Monday, 1 September 2014

.17 Fireball, shot down in flames


The new Twenty calibres such as the .204 Ruger and 20 Tactical are good illustrations that even after all these years just by tweaking a few dimensions you can still create something new. Remington offer the .17 Remington round a favourite still of mine but now there is the newer .17 Fireball based on a .221 Fireball case.

The parent .221 Fireball case has a small overall length of 1.40 inches and case capacity of just over 23 grains full. Its size and low recoil and noise make it suitable for vermin control in Britain but range is limited to 250 yardish. This fact was not lost on a firm from Las Vegas called Vern O’ Brien rifle company introduced a necked down version of the .221 Fireball case and this was called the .17 Mach IV in the mid sixties.

It’s taken some fifty years for a firm like Remington to realise its true potential and like so many wildcat calibres have legitimised it. To me though it will always be Vern`s old 17 Mach IV round, sorry Remington.

Ballistically the 17 Fireball is efficient and 4000fps with a 20 grain V-Max bullet can be achieved whilst the .17 Remington case can manage 4200 fps. At these speeds the extra velocity is pretty academic really and the Fireballs rationale is that there will be less barrel fouling, less barrel/throat erosion, noise and recoil whilst using less powder consumption.

I had two Fireball rifles both Remington`s, an SPS and a Predator so testing would be interesting and I still remember the days when I shot a .17 Mach IV Contender carbine for hooded crows in Scotland.

Reload choice

I tested bullets from 20 grains up to 30 grains with both hollow point and polymer tip varieties being the preferred choice.

Being a small case with a useable powder capacity when bullet`s seated of just 18-19 grains you can instantly see just how efficient this case is to launch a 20 grain bullet at over 4000 fps! Rather like the .14 Walker Hornet, that only takes 12.5 grains for a 15gr bullet at over 4000fps.

Powders of choice would be on the faster burning side so powders such as IMR 4198, RL 7, RL10X, H4227 or Vit N133 should work.

A special .17 calibre powder funnel helps guide the powder smoothly into the case and I used a precision Harrell powder dispenser that precisely delivers exact powder throws time and again although some may want to weigh each individual charge for accuracy.

Primer wise, I used as a preference Federal Match small primers although CCI were also very consistent.

No real attention to the cases is needed before reloading other than the usual deburring of the neck, cleaning of primer pocket and inside of neck area. Although an internal flash hole deburring is beneficial to consistent ignition and squaring the primer pocket is worth while also.

Bullet Choice

The 20 grain V-Max bullet is perfectly matched to this calibre and remains probably the best .17 bullet design to date in my view.

SPS data and Predator data

Reload data
SPS data
Predator data

Velocity fps Energy ft/lbs Velocity fps Energy ft/lbs
Hornady V-Max 20gr 15.0gr of IMR 4198 powder 3673 fps 599 ft/lbs n/a

15.5gr 3784 fps 636 ft/lbs 3733 fps 619 ft/lbs

16.0gr 3891fps 673 ft/lbs 3856 fps 661 ft/lbs

16.25gr 3952 fps 694 ft/lbs 3900 fps 676 ft/lbs

16.5gr 4003 fps 712 ft/lbs 3911 fps 680 ft/lbs

Hornady V-Max 20gr 14.5gr of Vit N133 powder 3455 fps 524 ft/lbs n/a

15.0gr 3550 fps 560 ft/lbs n/a

15.5gr 3666 fps 809 ft/lbs n/a

16.0gr 3801 fps 642 ft/lbs 3879fps 668ft/lbs

Hornady V-Max 20gr
15.0gr of RL7
3702 fps 609 ft/lbs n/a

15.5gr 3836 fps 654 ft/lbs n/a

16.0gr 3920 fps 683 ft/lbs n/a

Hornady V-Max 20gr 15.0gr of H4227 powder 3953 fps 694 ft/lbs 3911 fps 680 ft/lbs

16.0gr 4044 fps 727 ft/lbs 3987 fps 706 ft/lbs

Hornady V-Max 20gr 17.0gr of Vit N120 4216 fps CAUTION HOT LOAD 790 ft/lbs 4107 fps CAUTION HOT LOAD 749ft/lbs

Berger 25gr 15.0gr of RL 10X 3620 fps 727 ft/lbs n/a

15.5gr 3711 fps 765 ft/lbs 3644 fps 737 ft/lbs

16.0gr 3831 fps 815 ft/lbs 3786 fps 796 ft/lbs

16.5gr 3934 FPS 859 ft/lbs Hot load 3877 fps 835 ft/lbs
Hornady V-Max 25gr 15.0gr of IMR 4198 powder 3771 fps 790 ft/lbs 3724 fps 770ft/lbs

16.0gr 3896 fps 843 ft/lbs 3949 fps 866 ft/lbs

Berger 30gr 14.5gr of Vit N130 powder 3469 fps 801 ft/lbs 3488 fps 811 ft/lbs

15.0gr 3576 fps 852 ft/lbs 3591 fps 859 ft/lbs

15.25gr 3618 fps 872 ft/lbs 3648 fps 887 ft/lbs

Field use

Look at those results, you would think that some were reversed with the longer 26 inch barrel being the higher velocity producer but that 22 incher really performed well, this just goes to show until you shoot a rifle its own idiosyncrasies can only then be found. Tight barrel losses chamber who knows but results are results.

SPS:- The Remington SPS up first, I had on test was a Varmint model with 26 inch barrel. With factory 20grain bullet loads I had 4060fps velocity and 732ft/lbs energy, I was expecting more.

The SPS showed good accuracy with the 16.0 grains of Vit N133 producing 3801fps and 642ft/lbs and 0.85 inch three shots at 100 yard with the 20 gr V-Max.
I switched to 16.5 grains of IMR 4198 powder and now I had 4003 fps and 712 ft/lbs but accuracy was hovering at 1.0 inch.

Now 16.0 grains of RL 7 powder was a consistent load with 0.65-0.75 inch groups at 100 yards with 3920 fps and 683 ft/lbs whilst 15.0gr of H4227 with the 20gr V-Max gave a healthy 3953 fps for 694 ft/lbs and good 0.65 inch groups. I could eke 4044 fps with 16.0gr H4227 but accuracy went to 1.25 inch, interesting.

25 grain Berger`s shot very well with 15.5 gr RL 10X powder, not a top load but nice 0.5 inch groups. Whilst Hornadies 25 grain V-Max bullet sped along at 3896 fps for 843 ft/lbs with payload of 16.0gr of IMR 4198.

30 grain Berger bullets are really a bit large in this case size and velocities reflected this and also I have noticed that Berger’s are a bit tougher than the V-Maxes so penetrate better but do not expand as violently so choice for vermin or fox species will dictate your proper use here.

Predator: - As stated for a short barrel the Predator really shot well it uses a Remington Model Seven action and this design is a blend between the older model M600 and the newer M700 actions that also forms the basis of the solid receiver XR100 action. 

With only a 22 inch barrel the factory ammunition was shooting, 4105, 4163, 4150 and 4109 fps for an average of 4147fps and 764ft/lbs energy. Firstly that’s superb velocity from that short barrel in fact better than a 26 inch barrel from the above SPS. Accuracy too was just great, all shots consistently falling between 0.5 -0.75 inches with often three shots less than 0.5 inches. Interestingly enough after five boxes of factory ammunition and cleaning the barrel every second box the velocities actually dropped and stayed lower indicating to me the barrel was running its self in, another important lesson to learn. Figures for the factory ammunition now ran at 3987, 3951, 3981 and 3974fps for an average of 3973 fps and 701 ft/lbs energy, still very impressive.

Reload wise the 20 grain Hornady V-Max bullets and several faster burning powders such as 16.5grains of IMR 4198 producing 3911 fps delivered easily 0.5 inch groups all day, superb.

A very accurate load with shots almost touching at 100 yards was using16.0gr of Vit N133 producing 3879fps and 668ft/lbs and 20gr V-Max bullets.With the 25 grains V-Max bullet a load of 15.0 grains IMR 4198 produces 3724 fps and 770ft/lbs or try 16.5gr of Reloder 10X powder with the Berger for 3877 fps and 835 ft/lbs, again with nice 0.75 inch groups at 100 yards.

But I wanted that elusive 4000fps velocity which I finally achieved with a load of 17.0 grains Vit N120 powder and the 20 grain V-Max to achieve 4107 fps and 749ft/lbs energy with sub 0.5 inch accuracy but it was a hot load so work up to this. I ran this data through the excellent Quickload and QuickTARGET ballistics program. That translates into a trajectory when zeroed at 100 yards of only a drop of -0.9 inches at 200 yards with 378ft/lbs energy remaining and at 300 yards there is drop of -6.0 inches and remaining energy is 262ft/lbs energy so to me that’s its absolute maximum range ideally.


I love the calibre, even when it was called the Mach IV, doh! And I love the fast handling instinctive pointing and lightweight nature of the Predator and also the good accuracy, but the magazine feed needs to be looked at to be utterly reliable. In a rifle like the Predator the all over camouflage coating means there is no fussing with blooded or dirty hands rusting your nice blued barrel. It’s a rifle/calibre combination that will appeal to full time pest controllers and keepers alike. However the .17 Fireball on paper looks just as good as .17 Rem and better than the new .17 Hornet it would seem here in Britain we have not taken it to our hearts as sales have been very slow and I see that Remington supply ammo but not a rifle in that calibre any more, shame.

So really the .17 Fireball would still make a superb vermin calibre for a small light weight custom rifle say built on a small action Tikka or lovely old Sako Vixen or even a full custom Nesika, Stiller or BAT action.


Tel JMS Arms 01444 400126 / 07771 962121

Quickload and QuickTARGET

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