Ruger Model 96/17M Lever Action .17 Magnum
by Jeff Quinn

photography by Jeff Quinn & Becky Quinn

November 20th, 2002



As most readers of Gunblast know, I have been  a proponent of the .17 Hornady Magnum Rimfire since itís introduction.  The Ruger bolt action Model 77/17 was the first production gun tested here that fired the new cartridge, and proved to be an accurate and well-built performer. The accuracy of the .17 HMR in the Taurus Tracker revolver is amazing. The .17 HMR has proven to offer high velocity, good accuracy, and explosive terminal performance on small pests and vermin. Many manufacturers are now building rifles chambered for the new cartridge, and ammunition sales of the little .17 are brisk. It looks as if the .17 HMR is here to stay.

The latest .17 HMR rifle with which I have been working is the new lever action Ruger, and is the subject of this article, as most who have read the title have figured out by now. I first learned of the Ruger lever-action  .17 magnum at the SHOT Show in February of 2002. A Ruger executive had brought a prototype with him that had been assembled at the last minute, and I was instantly impressed with the idea of chambering their lever gun for the little cartridge.

Production had been delayed on the lever-action somewhat due to the great success of the 77/17 bolt action. All .17 caliber barrel production effort was going to fill the demand for the great little bolt gun, leaving the lever action model 96/17M on the back burner waiting for the barrels. Recently, after much begging and groveling, I was finally able to obtain a production gun for testing.

The model 96/17M wears a light profile 18-Ĺ inch barrel that measures .553 inch at the muzzle. The rifle has a deep blue/black metal finish and an attractive birch stock with a smooth carbine style butt plate. The trigger pull on the test gun released with four and three-quarters pounds of pressure. The magazine holds nine rounds of .17 magnum ammo, and is of the excellent rotary design. Rugerís rimfire rifles have the best magazine design in the industry. Most competitive .17 magnum rifles have a box magazine that looks like an afterthought, but the Ruger design fits flush with the bottom of the stock, and has about an eighty percent capacity advantage over most box magazines. The barrel wears a set of adjustable open sights, and is also supplied with a scope mount base that attaches to the pre-drilled receiver.

While the model 77/17 bolt gun is a fine rifle, I really love the lighter weight of the model 96 lever guns. They weigh about a pound less than the bolt guns, and are almost four inches shorter overall. This makes for a much handier package. The tradeoff, I suspected, would be lower velocity in the shorter barrel, and perhaps poor accuracy due to the barrel band on the stock of the new model 96. The lever action wears an 18-Ĺ inch barrel that is 3-Ĺ inches shy of the bolt gunís 22 inch barrel. Also, sometimes a barrel band can really screw up the accuracy of an otherwise accurate rifle.

The short lever throw on the model 96 is a real advantage to this design. The style and profile of the lever reminds me of the great Savage Model 99 lever, which I suspect was intentional, as Bill Ruger was an admirer of the Arthur Savage design. The short throw lever allows the shooter to keep a grasp on the stock while working the lever, adding greatly to the speed of getting off a follow-up shot. The cocking indicator at the rear of the receiver can be both seen and felt to allow the shooter to confirm the readiness of the rifle to fire.

To test the performance of the 96/17M, I mounted a Tasco Varmint scope atop the receiver, gathered a supply of Hornady ammo, and proceeded to the shooting bench. As stated earlier, I was concerned that the shorter barrel of the model 96 would result in lower velocity. This little cartridge relies on velocity for optimum performance, so I was anxious to see  how much velocity would be given away by using a barrel that is 3-Ĺ inches shorter than the one on the model 77/17 bolt gun. Setting up the PACT chronograph at a distance of ten feet from the muzzle, I proceeded to fire a few rounds over the skyscreens.  I was very pleasantly surprised to find the velocity readings from the model 96/17M were a bit faster than those recorded from the longer barreled rifles that I have tested! The velocities recorded ranged from a low reading of 2510 feet-per-second (fps) to a high of 2552 fps. This tells me that the Hornady ammo is very efficient in the 18-Ĺ inch Ruger barrel, and velocity is not compromised at all by using a barrel of this length.

My concerns of the barrel band upon the accuracy of the gun were also unfounded. Accuracy of the Hornady .17 ammunition in the model 96/17M is excellent. Three shot groups at 110 yards consistently went into just 9/16 of an inch. Rapidly firing the rifle for more than ten shots resulted in some vertical stringing of the group as the barrel heated, which is to be expected. Nine-sixteenths of an inch is great accuracy from any rimfire rifle, but from a lightweight lever-action is downright amazing! I have been very pleasantly surprised by the accuracy of the Hornady .17 in every gun in which I have tested it. The rifle performed flawlessly in all testing, with no failures to feed, fire, or extract any cartridge.

Another nice feature of the Ruger model 96/17M is that it sells for about 180 bucks less than the model 77/17 bolt action rifle. This places the price of the Model 96 lever-action in line with some of the lower priced bolt action .17 rifles on the market, while offering better handling qualities and great accuracy.

The bolt of the  Ruger lever-action carries dual extractors which add a controlled-round feed system to the rifle. As the cartridge leaves the magazine, it is picked up by the extractors and guided into the chamber, resulting in no bullet deformation for greater accuracy.

The advantage of the .17 HMR over other rimfire cartridges is that of greater velocity. The .17 HMR also has a better bullet shape for greater retained downrange velocity and a flatter trajectory than the .22 magnum. As a bonus, every .17 HMR gun that I have tested exhibited good accuracy, and this Ruger model 96/17M is one of the best in that regard.

The Ruger 96/17M rifle offers shooters a lightweight, handy, and easy to use rifle that is very accurate and carries nine rounds of .17 HMR ammo in itís excellent rotary magazine. Check out Rugerís extensive line of firearms online here.

For a look at the .17 HMR cartridge and other Hornady products go to:

In a very short time, the .17 HMR has taken the shooting world by storm. Ruger has embraced this little cartridge from the very beginning, and in the 96/17M lever-action, they have a real winner. I like it.

Jeff Quinn

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Click pictures for a larger version.


Ruger's long-awaited Model 96/17M lever-action rifle in .17 HMR is all the author hoped it would be: a handy, inexpensive and extremely accurate rifle that delivers the little Hornady .17 bullet with excellent velocity.



The action design of the Model 96/17M features a short-throw lever.



Ruger's venerable rotary magazine design has been adapted for use on the Model 96/17M. Jeff considers this to be among the finest magazine systems ever developed, offering good ammo capacity and smooth function in a design that fits flush with the bottom of the rifle.



The Model 96/17M's bolt features dual extractors, which adds a controlled-round feed system for maximum accuracy and reliability.



A nice touch: the Model 96/17M features a highly-visible and tactile cocking indicator in a position convenient to the thumb of either a right-handed or left-handed shooter.



The Ruger Model 96/17M also features a smooth plastic carbine-style buttplate.



While the accuracy of the Model 96/17M begs for a scope, the little rifle wears a nice set of iron sights, including Ruger's fully adjustable rear sight.



With a quality scope mounted, such as this Tasco varmint scope, the Ruger Model 96/17M is a real tack driver!



Three-shot group of 9/16" at 100 yards is representative of the fine accuracy of the Model 96/17M.



Author was pleasantly surprised by the level of accuracy shown by the Ruger Model 96/17M. Such accuracy from a production lightweight lever-action carbine is extremely rare. Ruger has done it again!