Smith & Wesson’s Model 17 is not new at all.
It was, in fact, designed in 1947. The original revolver had a 6-shot cylinder, and was actually dropped from production in 1998, ostensibly because of poor sales. Fortunately, the company discerned a resurgent demand for good .22 revolvers, and the model was resurrected in 2009 with the now-iconic 10-shot cylinder.
My particular example of the Model 17 is a resurrected version, designated as the Model 17 Masterpiece. It comes from the factory wearing rubber target grips with comfortable finger grooves, one indication that it was designed for target shooting.
This revolver is built on S&W’s sturdy K-frame, and has an all-steel 10-round cylinder. It’s officially designated as a Model 17-8 in S&W nomenclature, and features a semi-matte finish on the frame. It also lacks any sort of key-activated locking device, which I particularly like.
My example of the Model 17 features a fully under-lugged 6-inch barrel, which completely tames recoil, and a rear sight with comprehensive windage and elevation adjustments.
Like most revolvers chambered for .22 LR, it will fire practically every kind of .22 rimfire ammunition on the market, from .22 CB to .22 Shotshells. I normally feed it .22 standard-velocity solids, but I will occasionally run some of the newer .22 hyper-velocity stuff through it when I want some extra power.
Superb Trigger Action
As any Smith & Wesson revolver aficionado will testify, the trigger action on a K-frame revolver has to be experienced to be fully appreciated.
Like all regular K-frames, the Model 17 has two firing modes — double-action and single-action.
To fire the revolver double-action, you apply steady pressure on the trigger until the hammer moves backward and then drops to fire the cartridge. The test of a good double-action revolver is how smoothly this movement can actually be achieved. The reasoning behind this is simple: the smoother the movement, the less the sights move off target, and the more accurate your shot becomes.
Smith and Wesson K-frames (especially the vintage examples) have always been renowned for their smooth double-action pulls. You never feel that there is anything snagging or catching as you squeeze the trigger back to raise and eventually drop the hammer. Even at the very end of the stroke, the gun provides no indication that the hammer is about to drop, and you get the “surprise break” that is so conducive to accurate shooting.
To fire the Model 17 single-action, on the other hand, you thumb the hammer back until it locks into its cocked position. Then you squeeze off your shot as gently as you can. The test of a good revolver is how cleanly the trigger releases the hammer, and how far back the trigger actually moves before dropping the hammer. The less movement, the better.
In a Smith & Wesson K-frame, the trigger movement is almost imperceptible. In my particular revolver, the hammer drops when you apply 3.5 pounds of pressure, which is hardly enough to cause tremors in your shooting hand. The sights stay on target, and the bullet goes where it’s supposed to.
This is what makes an S&W revolver’s lockwork appear magical.
Using .22 Shorts
When teaching youngsters who are shooting for the first time, I will often load the revolver with .22 Shorts. This removes any sort of recoil impulse when the gun is fired, and cuts the noise down significantly. Taken together, it makes for a gentler shooting experience. Standard eye and ear protection is still worn, of course, in spite of the .22 Short’s relatively low noise level.
The only downside is that the residue from .22 Shorts seems to be particularly dirty, and leaves a lot more fouling to clean up after an extended range session. The shorter cartridges also appear to produce an inordinate amount of smoke, for some strange reason!
When you use .22 Shorts in a revolver chambered for .22 LR, you’re bound to discover that cleaning the gun after a range session is a lot more tedious than cleaning a semi-automatic pistol. A revolver has holes in the cylinders, and if you like to clean each one as thoroughly as the barrel itself, it takes a lot of time and patience. Considering that the Model 17 has 10 such holes to clean, the job is even more tedious.
Nonetheless, the Smith & Wesson Model 17 remains my favorite .22 revolver today.
Scope-Mounting the Model 17
I have always believed in the accuracy of 6-inch barrels, and after I got this gun, I was determined to find out just how well it would shoot with decent optics.
I ran into two problems here:
1. The Model 17 doesn’t have provisions for scope mounting as it comes from the factory, and
2. I couldn’t find a 4X pistol scope, which I figured would give me the best chance of maximizing the revolver’s accuracy potential.
Eventually, I did find a fixed power 4X scope with about 6 inches of eye relief, and decided that it would have to do. But the problem of getting it mounted on the gun still remained.
I instinctively felt that there had to be some kind of drop-in scope mount fitting for this gun, but could not locate any at the time.
Removing the revolver’s rear sight, I discovered that it actually fit into a narrow channel on the gun’s top strap. I figured that if I could machine a metal bar to fit precisely into that channel, then attach a mounting rail to that, I would have a workable scope mount. This was done in due time, and with the mount duly screwed onto the revolver’s top strap, I mounted the 4X scope on the revolver.
The results were eminently satisfying.
With the 4X scope mounted, the gun produced 10-shot, one-hole groups at 15 meters with almost every brand of .22LR ammunition, and 1-inch groups at 25 meters from a sandbagged rest.
Tiring of the 4X scope after a while, I decided to try something else, and replaced it with a Tasco red-dot reflex sight. This negated the bothersome issue of having to maintain the correct eye relief for every shot, and still produced better groups than were possible using the gun’s open sights.
It felt like a reasonable compromise, and the revolver has worn the big Tasco sight ever since.
Finding the Best Ammo for the M17
The next issue was finding out what brand of ammunition my particular revolver favored. To factor out as much human error as possible, testing was conducted from a sandbagged rest on the shooting bench.
I tried six different types of .22LR, ranging from CCI Stingers to Eley Tenex. What I finally settled on was RWS Pistol Match ammunition. This soft-shooting load produced one-hole groups at 15 meters, and 3/4-inch spreads at 25 meters for every cylinder full of cartridges (10 shots).
Bear in mind, however, that this is the ammunition that my specific example of the Model 17 prefers. The Model 17 you own is likely to have an entirely different preference from mine. It may actually like Stingers! So as they like to say on the gun forums, your mileage may vary.
Later on, I experimented with .22 Shorts, to see how the revolver performed with them. For some reason, however, accuracy wasn’t quite as good, so it was back to regular .22LR from then on.
Right now I’m still on the lookout for the match-grade stuff they used to run through Olympic rapid-fire pistols like the Walther OSP. This sort of .22 Short ammunition now appears to be in short supply, ever since Olympic rapid-fire pistols switched to .22 LR.
The Fun Factor
In my book, a plinker is supposed to be a “fun” gun, not one that’s meant to be shot at paper bullseyes all the time.
The most fun you can get out of a plinker is with shooting reactive targets—metal plates that ‘ping’ when you hit them, and small animal silhouettes that get knocked over when hit by .22 projectiles.
Empty plastic bottles are also particularly engaging. They bounce around when you hit them, and will oftentimes land a few meters further away after every hit. The challenge is to keep nailing them as they keep moving further away, until they disappear from sight in the rocks or in the tall grass.
I took the gun to an open range which provided such an assortment of targets, and my fellow shooters and I had the time of our life. It’s funny how easily you can go through 100 rounds of .22 LR ammunition each, when you’re having fun!
We actually made a game of shooting plastic bottles—we’d let everyone shoot for as long as he or she hit the bottle. On the first miss, the next shooter in line took over, starting with a fresh and empty hand-thrown plastic bottle. (We used the smaller, 500-ml. water bottles to keep things interesting.)
Keeping It Environmentally Friendly
A cautionary note here: don’t be tempted to use glass bottles, ever! Glass bottles shatter, and they tend to make a mess that can’t be cleaned up afterwards. Stick to plastic, and if you get the chance to do this on public land, make sure to clean up after yourself.
Do everyone a favor and take the perforated plastic bottles away with you when you leave. A plastic bottle with bullet holes in it leaves very little doubt that a shooter is responsible, and leaving something like that behind tends to give ALL shooters a bad rep (!)
The problem when you fire hundreds of rounds through the gun in one session is, quite simply, fouling. The cylinder holes of the Model 17 are relatively tight, and they get so dirty that it becomes difficult to eject the empty cases, and almost impossible to shove fresh .22 rounds into the cylinder holes.
If you intend to fire more than a hundred rounds through a .22 revolver, it pays to bring a .22 cleaning kit along to the range with you, and to perform the requisite cleaning after every hundred rounds or so, to keep the gun functioning properly.
You’ll also find that a bit of lead and firing residue will accumulate on the underside of the top strap, right about where the bullet jumps from the cylinder into the barrel’s forcing cone. Unless you clear up that accumulation from time to time, the build-up will eventually touch the cylinder and cause it to bind, or fail to rotate normally. Just a little something to check on, whenever cylinder rotation becomes an issue.
Definitely a Keeper
All told, this is definitely one gun I intend to keep.
It’s accurate, it has demonstrated durability, and it fires 100% of the time. It feeds an impressive variety of ammunition, and will fulfill a number of divergent roles, from competition shooting to small-game hunting.
At 45 ounces, Smith and Wesson’s Model 17 might seem a little heavy for newbies to shoot unsupported, but if you let them lay that heavy barrel on a sandbag, you’ll see just how much they’ll love it!