Gun Review: Franklin Armory F17-L in .17 WSM

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Centerfire cartridges are great, but sometimes a little rimfire lovin’ is what you really need to get the job done. Winchester has developed a pretty kick-ass rimfire cartridge in the .17 WSM or “Winchester Super Magnum.” It’s a higher-powered .17 caliber rimfire round with an insanely flat trajectory and a muzzle velocity equal to most 5.56 rounds. The caliber means you can pack more ammo and more power into the same space, but the only rifles set up to fire that new cartridge have been bolt action guns. Until now . . .

Franklin Armory are the same people who custom-machined the lower receiver I’m using in my 300 BLK SBR rifle, and I’ve been a fan of their design ever since. They have a penchant for outside -the-box thinking and nifty designs, and the F17-L is another example.

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It all started with the caliber. Like I said, the .17 WSM is a great little round for varmint hunting, but when you set foot in California there’s another benefit that it has over the standard 5.56 round. In the Golden State, rimfire guns aren’t as highly restricted as centerfire guns. So while a varmint rifle in 5.56 would need to confirm to all of the ludicrously restrictive “assault weapons ban” requirements like bullet buttons and fixed stocks, an AR-15 chambered in .17 WSM gets to thumb its nose at all of that hogwash. The benefit to California residents (where Franklin Armory is located) is obvious, and so they set to work making it…well…work.

There are two huge hurdles to a rimfire cartridge in a semi-auto rifle: cleanliness and capacity.

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Rimfire is the dirtiest of the ignition systems. Typically a .22LR rifle will be completely coated in carbon and nearly useless by the end of an extended range session, but with the F17-L, Franklin Armory has baked in a little extra ingenuity from Osprey Defense. Instead of using a straight blowback design like most rimfire rifles, the F17-L uses a piston system like many 5.56 AR-15 rifles. This allows the bolt to remain closed longer, which means lower pressures when it finally does open and less gas (and filth) blowing back into the chamber.

Out on the range, that piston system really showed its worth. After firing hundreds of rounds, the chamber (shown above pre-cleaning) was still pristine. If I had tried that with my rimfire AR-15 barrel, the guts of the rifle would have been pitch black.

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The other problem to contend with using rimfire is in the magazines. Rimmed cartridges have a huge issue when it comes to feeding systems, as anyone who owns a Mosin Nagant will tell you.Rims not only make the gun malfunction if loaded improperly, but also require a much more pronounced curve to the magazine to load more than a couple rounds. The magazine well on the AR-15 platform was designed for the relatively straight-walled 5.56 NATO cartridge, so getting a mag with the proper curve to fit is a difficult proposition.

To solve that, Franklin put pencil to paper and designed their own proprietary magazine from the ground up. The version I tested sported an aluminum magazine design that holds 10 rounds in a semi double-stacked configuration, and seemed to work pretty well. However, I did have a few hiccups. There were a couple times when the last round failed to feed, and the process of inserting and removing the anodized magazine was a little difficult due to the friction between the parts. Franklin Armory has told me that this is a common problem and they’re working on some polymer magazines to address it.

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On the range, the gun works as advertised. The AR-15 design has been around long enough to be largely perfected by now, so that’s no surprise. However, the little things about this rifle are what make it really nice. For example, the matching milled upper and lower receivers that are available in multiple colors are a great addition and sure to be a welcome option for hunters. The styling is pretty slick as well, with the flowing shell deflector and forward assist molded as one continuous piece. I appreciate little details like that. The trigger as well is much nicer than the standard “mil-spec” switch most rifle makers drop in their guns, and makes shooting accurate groups pretty easy.

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The barrel is a thick piece of 4140 chrome moly with a nice target crown on the front for accuracy. This is California after all, land of the incomprehensible and ever shifting gun laws, so a muzzle device might not be the best first choice. With the popularity of silencers for varmint hunters elsewhere in the US, I’d love to see a model with a threaded barrel, but a standard target crown makes sense, too. It’s all about what you plan to do with the gun, and this one seems pretty well designed for killing large numbers of four-legged pests.

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Surrounding that barrel is a solid free-floated tube, which not only isolates the barrel from hands and bipods, and also keeps the heat from the barrel from screwing with the sight picture. There’s another nifty party trick, too: a camera tripod adapter built into the handguard and perfectly positioned to balance the gun, so you can take well-stabilized shots even while standing up.

The effect of those design changes are pretty obvious on the range.

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Shot from 100 yards, this group measures about 1/2 inch from center to center. The gun does this all day long with some good glass and a steady bipod, which is perfect for varmint hunters shooting small targets at great distances.

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For a varmint rifle, the F17-L is pretty darned good. Firing slippery little rounds, the gun is both accurate and deadly. There are still some teething problems to contend with, specifically the magazine (Kevin Brittingham at SIG SAUER jokes that the best way to make a gun is to find a magazine that works and build a gun around it). The magazine in this case wasn’t quite up to the same standards as the rest of the rifle, but there’s a magazine re-design in the works so that should change shortly. But until then, the current product shows a ton of promise.

Franklin Armory F17-L

Specifications
Caliber: .17 WSM
Action: Semi-auto Osprey Defense piston
Barrel: 20″ 4140 chrome moly bull barrel with 11 degree target crown
Trigger: Franklin Armory custom factory tuned trigger
Magazine: Custom Franklin Armory aluminum
MSRP: $1,999

 

Ratings (out of five stars):

Accuracy: * * * * *
1/2 MoA with a semi-auto rimfire rifle. What’s wrong with that?

Ergonomics: * * * * *
It works. It’s an AR-15 at heart, and the AR-15 is pretty great ergonomically.

Ergonomics Firing: * * * * *
Zero recoil, low noise, and a positive reset. The bolt even locks back after the last round.

Reliability: * * * 1/2
There were a few feeding issues, but a new magazine should fix that.

Customization: * * * *
It’s an AR-15. The only thing costing the gun a star is the proprietary magazine.

Overall Rating: * * * *
The gun still needs some work. But not only is it a nice varmint hunting rifle, it’s a gigantic middle finger to the state of California. What’s not to love about that? A little on the expensive side, though.

comments

  1. avatar fta says:

    “the F17-L uses a piston system like a standard 5.56 AR-15 rifle.” Last I checked, standard AR’s utilize direct impingement.

    1. avatar SigGuy says:

      Leghorn gets confused.

      1. avatar Nick Leghorn says:

        I blame the editors. Then again, I always blame the editors.

    2. avatar Brian says:

      Most are. Some are built with a piston.

  2. avatar DrVino says:

    You lost me at $1,999

    1. avatar Anonymous says:

      agreed!

      .17 WSM might shoot flat in the 200 yards or less. – but a .223/5.56 will carry much farther with greater energy. Why would I drop 2000 bucks on a rifle that uses the … (insert expensive non-reloadable odd ball cartridge here) when I can get/build a ballistically better and cheaper rifle with a more readily available cartridge and cheap standard mags. The above rifle is a novelty item for me. Pass.

      1. avatar Anon in CT says:

        Well, in would be legal in CT, so that would be an advantage for those of us stuck behind enemy lines. It might be appealing for those who don’t have any grandfathered ARs. Me, I am looking at that Troy PAR.

        1. avatar sagebrushracer says:

          as a rimfire, they will be making sales to the UK i believe. unless the self-loading rifles are evil, then the bolt actions will at least sell like hotcakes.

      2. avatar wvruger71 says:

        While a novelty to some, its a legal way to hunt coyotes in the cover of darkness where I live. Centerfire is illegal to hunt with at nighttime here at the current time. So this set up with a armasight drone pro will be my next set up.FYI its also illegal to hunt by a corded lighting device here.

      3. avatar John Q Public says:

        It’s pretty easy to speak of things like, “Why would you do this when you could do that”, but if you lived in California you may just have a complete understanding. I myself am mildly considering one of these ARs for a number of reasons. The biggest being that it sort of gives me a feeling of giving the finger to California legislators and the absurdity of their gun laws.

        Is it a perfect alternative to a nicely set-up AR 15 you can legally have in another state? No way. Not even close. But it is something. I think it’s just simply hilarious when you think of this gun being legal in California as it’s not considered an AW under current law. It’s a very strong graphic representation of just how foolish our lawmakers are, and of just how leftists have turned their political views into a religion. That’s not even meant to be hyperboly. The left have dismissed religion or Judeo Christian belief systems and replaced it with the “Religion” of the Democratic party.

        Hillary squirted out Bill Clinton like Mary gave birth to Jesus and the rest is history. Later came the miracle of Barrack Husein Obama, the first, and only Communist, Muslim, half white anti Christ.

        But I digress severely. Yeah, I might buy one these little bad boys. Just so I can show people all over the neighborhood the extreme folly of the democractic party and it’s desire to control every move we make. George Orwell was on the dot. The ONLY thing he had wrong possibly was the date. Other than that, well it’s group think at it’s finest.

        I’m curious, impatient, and a bit scared of just how things will eventually calm. Will it be outright civil war? If so, my little rimfire AR can help to erradicate some democratic varmints yes?

  3. avatar Tim says:

    I will never understand why more AR-15s don’t use the piston system. Year after year I’ve read about the improvements and how it’s hardly more expensive at this point, and still the grouchy older shooters are downplaying it and trashing it as a fad. Anybody got a well-reasoned opinion?

    1. avatar Tex300BLK says:

      Cheaper? I have yet to see a stand alone piston system that costs less than 2-300 anywhere. That is nowhere near a $50 gas block and 12 gas tube.

      If you are talking uppers something like a PWS Mk116 is basically $700 more expensive than their 16″ Modern Musket (DI) upper.

      I agree, I wish more would go to piston drive but they are hardly even close to as cheap as a DI gun. Aint hapn’n

    2. avatar Sian says:

      I’d say the vast, vast majority of AR15s go less than 1000 rounds between cleanings. There’s probably very few that go 300 rounds between cleanings.
      The DI gas system has shown to be reliable for several thousand rounds before fouling gets bad enough that it starts impeding function so really, it’s a non-issue.

      If you like the different recoil impulse and relative cleanliness of a gas piston, then go for it. It definitely puts more weight down the barrel though. My cousin stopped using his piston AR in 3-gun because the thing weighed over 10 lbs loaded.

      1. avatar KB Dave says:

        My LWRC with an Elcan Specter on it has to weigh about 37 pounds.

        It makes my BCM ELW feel even lighter by comparison.

        1. avatar Sian says:

          Well that’s one way to do it. XD

    3. avatar OODAloop says:

      DI is lighter weight, less moving parts, cheaper and excellent for 90-95% of the ARs I have or folks I know have. I have an Adams Arms piston AR and the only place it shines over a DI gun is with a silencer mounted. Chamber stays cleaner and less backflow of gasses. Apart form that, I run 4 different AR calibers and none of my other guns have pistons, just the silencer gun…

    4. avatar Accur82 says:

      I own piston and DGI ARs. The short version is that piston gun are more clean and reliable. The DGI guns are typically lighter, more accurate, and less expensive.

    5. avatar John Angioli says:

      I agree, the piston system is much better and should be common! Heck, I paid $175 a few years ago for a 1954 Russian SKS, which they began making in 1948, and it uses a piston system. Is it that hard for US makers to build gas piston semi autos, for a reasonable price, with 2014 technology?

  4. avatar Tex300BLK says:

    Looks like an awesome rifle Nick! Do they make uppers that would work on a standard lower?

    1. avatar Stompy says:

      Not yet but it’s in the works.

  5. avatar pc_load_letter says:

    “this is California, after all — muzzle devices need not apply.”

    What the heck are you talking about? Both muzzle brakes and flash hiders are allowed on AR rifles here in CA.

    Once again, TTAG shows true lack in writing prowess.

    1. avatar Rakrom says:

      I believe he meant they are not required, not that they are illegal.

      1. avatar Aaron Bailey says:

        No, his comments on “bullet buttons and fixed stocks” show he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

        Nick: CA law is a 5 element test. Remove any one element and assault weapon status is avoided. Put another way, pick any 4 out of 5. (Going with rifles here, not pistols or shotguns which have different multi element tests).

        1: semi automatic; (bolt guns exempt, lever guns exempt, etc)
        2: centerfire (the whole point of this rifle is that by avoiding element 2 you can do whatever else you want);
        3: rifle; (non stocked belt feds and other non stocked weapons win on this count; similarly, it’s why a .50BMG semi auto M2HB is legal but a bolt action .50BMG is not; the M2 isnt a rifle);
        4: with capacity to accept a detachable magazine (bullet buttons exist because they’re a simple way to avoid count 4; just make it a non detachable mag and everything else is G2G); AND
        5: certain “features” (pistol grip, forward pistol grip, thumbhole stock, folding or telescoping stock, flash hider, grenade launcher muzzle device).

        Two exceptions are fixed 11+rd mags and any rifle under 30″ in its shortest fireable position (instant assault weapons regardless).

        Miss any one element above and you can break the other 4 to your heart’s content. So no, Nick, you don’t have to have a target crown or a fixed stock (on a bullet buttoned rifle, or on a rimfire rifle). The whole point of building a rimfire rifle is to avoid those hoops.

        I on the other hand build featurless rifles; by using fixed stocks, muzzle brakes, non-pistol grips, and the like, i can use detachable mags, including prebans.

        1. avatar Stompy says:

          30 inch overall length doesn’t apply to rimfire. Now Californians can get a non bastardized scar, tavor, folding stock ak other bullpups in .17 wsm as long as it meets the federal oal requirement for rifles.

        2. avatar Mark N. says:

          Excellent summary. Most people go the bullet button route, as then all the options for building or modifying your AR are legal. (Except mags and silencers.) NY’s SAFE Act is far worse than
          California’s current law

        3. avatar Tex300BLK says:

          Here it is straight from the penal code:

          (as it pertains to rifles) A semiautomatic, centerfire rifle that has the capacity to accept a detachable magazine and any one of the following:
          (A) A pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon.
          (B) A thumbhole stock.
          (C) A folding or telescoping stock.
          (D) A grenade launcher or flare launcher.
          (E) A flash suppressor.
          (F) A forward pistol grip.Remove the “detachable” magazine and it doesn’t matter what else it has on it as long as the magazine holds 10 or fewer rounds. otherwise it is subject to the “one feature test” so I think Nick is actually spot on.

          A bullet button removes the “detachable” magazine so it falls into the second category where it can have any feature you want as long as the magazine holds 10 rounds or less and the rifle is longer than 30″ overall length.

          Neither of these apply to rim fire though.

        4. avatar Paul Rain says:

          It may be.. factually inaccurate. But it cuts to the root of the problem.

          This commie crap could get worse at any point. California is at particular risk of worsening gun laws due to having demographics increasingly made up of the same people who brought in certain innovations to marriage in 2009 in Mexico City, and who have no problem with restrictive gun laws (that are repeatedly broken by actual criminals).

    2. avatar Jeremy S says:

      I lived in CA for 11 years so have a very solid grasp of the firearms laws there. However, I have no expectation that somebody outside of the state has any F’ing clue what’s going on, because the labyrinth of BS is a mind boggling nightmare. Maybe Nick was under the impression that threaded barrels or ‘muzzle devices’ were not legal. Or maybe he was talking specifically of suppressors or didn’t fully grasp how being rimfire exempts the rifle from even more of the things that would turn a semi-auto centerfire rifle w/ removable mag into an “assault weapon,” including pistol grip, adjustable stock, flash hider, etc etc. Also, as a threaded barrel instantly turns any semi-automatic pistol with a removable magazine into an “assault weapon,” the confusion is compounded.

      The bottom line is that this gun DOES circumvent many CA AWB laws and, thanks to it being rimfire, it can be enjoyed with a pistol grip and adjustable stock and removable mag and threaded barrel and many other things.

      The other bottom line is that expecting anyone outside of CA to know and really understand the myriad horrific, confusing, and overlapping CA laws and ways to circumvent them is pretty ridiculous.

      To further drive home how complicated the laws in CA are, even PC_Load_Letter, in his scathing remark where TTAG sucks and he’s the CA law expert, made a *big mistake* about CA law! Muzzle brakes are allowed but flash hiders ARE a “feature” of an assault weapon in CA. The law lists “a flash hider” specifically and adding one to a semi-automatic rifle with a removable magazine that has zero other “features” would immediately turn it into an assault weapon. Unless it’s rimfire. Ergo, Nick has a point and PC_Load_Letter would have committed a felony had he done this on a centerfire rifle that was otherwise legal!

      1. avatar Anon in CT says:

        He may have been thinking of rules in other stats – FWIW, that configuration would be legal in CT, because rimfires are regulated under the pre-2013 AW ban, which permitted two evil features (in this case the pistol grip and the removable mag) – a muzzle brake would be ok, but a flash suppressor would be a third evil feature, and the gun would be banned.

        For centerfire rifles, the test is now one evil feature allowed – the removable mag.

    3. avatar lolinski says:

      I thought flash hiders were an “Assault Weapon” feature?

      1. avatar Jeremy S says:

        They are. It sort of makes pc_load_letter’s comments a little bit embarrassing. Not that I blame him AT ALL, because the CA laws are so deep and confusing that they’re almost impossible to memorize. But his comments could lead somebody to commit a felony in CA. Maybe a revision to the “writing prowess” insult is warranted at this point? I gotta say, if you’re going to err you’re better off on the safe side than the felony side. Unfortunately, this same mindset keeps a lot of people in CA from even attempting to own a firearm in the first place. Too many ways to innocently and accidently violate some arbitrary law that could actually turn you into a felon.

        1. avatar publius2 says:

          Nice review Nick. Looks pretty cool for the right buyer.

          Very easy for even knowledgeable CA gun buyers to make a mistake and LEOs are reputedly not forgiving of same, as an AW arrest is good stats.

          Here is a good post that includes flowchart to determine what makes a CENTERFIRE rifle
          an Assault Weapon, or not.
          http://www.calguns.net/calgunforum/showpost.php?p=14857541&postcount=3

          Rimfires dont fall under CENTERFIRE limitations, but do require 26″ length overall min, 16″ barrel min, no more than 10 rd mag.
          http://www.calguns.net/calgunforum/showthread.php?t=566691

          Thus, you can have threaded barrels, flash hiders OR muzzle brakes, extra grips,
          and as Nick points out, no bullet button on mag. That makes the Franklin AR-17L special in CA.

          Here is another review: h/t Eric Mayer, member at Calguns.net
          http://www.calguns.net/calgunforum/showthread.php?t=986374

  6. avatar The Trouble with Timbo says:

    A little on the expensive side??????? Ya think?

    1. avatar johnb says:

      It’s Kalifornia money….a cup of coffee is like $20 there….

  7. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

    .22 mag please!

  8. avatar Stompy says:

    Franklin armory said they will soon be producing cheaper uppers with 16 inch barrels. Great for California owners with extra lowers sitting around. no bullet button or 30 inch overall length required. Some one needs to make an ak version with a folding stock or a faxon arak21 in .17 wsm.

  9. avatar HiddenHills says:

    Some hunting regulations, like TN, only allow rimfire in many circumstances (example coyote is rimfire or shotgun only during small game season on WMAs..no 250 yd+ shots…) … So it is nice to see new cartridge performance exceeding the expectations of stupid regulations and legislators. Now, to get a .22-250 or .308 Win equivalent in rimfire.

    1. avatar Stompy says:

      Exactly. There was a 44 cal rimfire that’s not made any more. Need a .17 wsm tavor conversion also.

    2. avatar Jeremy S says:

      Yes. Everyone asking “what’s the point” of this rifle if you live in a state without assault weapons laws that are circumvented by it should know that there are way more states with rimfire-only hunting laws and this rifle should prove incredibly popular for that. Rimfire-only laws can be type of game, hunting location, and/or also hunting season laws, as sometimes there are areas open only to rimfire or early and/or extended seasons that are open only for rimfire, etc etc

  10. avatar lolinski says:

    Half MOA semi auto rimfire? Could they build a cheaper, smaller .22 LR version? Y’know, for us in other countries that want an accurate semi auto rimfire but don’t want to spend a lot of money modifying a Ruger 10/22.

  11. avatar Lox Thomson says:

    Why not compare with a Volquartsen 17 WSM? It is semi automatic, crazy accurate, and probably lighter weight. Blowback from what I can tel, but it should run 100%. Also priced about the same. This is what I would get in this space.

    https://www.volquartsen.com/products/1164-17-wsm-semi-auto-rifle

    1. avatar Stompy says:

      Very nice. Would like a pistol to go with aka PMR 30 in .17 WSM with a rifle that takes the same mags.

  12. avatar hi and 2 the right says:

    Looks pretty cool… just a tad out of my price range for that use however.

  13. avatar Jim Barrett says:

    I don’t know. Since I live in a free state, this seems like a solution in search of a problem (which admittedly it finds in those states with stupid anti-gun laws). I’ve never been all that enamored by the .17 WSM. If I want rimfire, I’ll go with inexpensive .22. If I want performance, I’ll shoot 5.56 or .300BLK. I guess I don’t varmint hunt, so I don’t see the need for a $2K rifle that shoots .17 rounds from a 10 round mag.

  14. avatar Alaskan Gunner says:

    No threaded barrel? No thanks.

  15. avatar Toasty says:

    $1999

    Who in the fucking world is going to buy this? Where is the market out there demanding a $2k semi auto in .17 WSM?

  16. avatar ensitue says:

    If the POU is small varmint shooting what does this insanely expensive rim fire offer that BA’s don’t offer?
    In the end cost is the deciding factor

  17. avatar Ralphie says:

    Let’s cut to the chase this is just another boutique AR with proprietary parts and an odd ball cartridge. Stay away unless you got have loads of time and money or you live in one of those restrictive states.

  18. avatar Jug says:

    The Volquartsen is blow back operated, and still in development where they seem to be having problems. No wonder, 33,000 psi is just too high for blow back operations. Even the semis in .17 HMR are reported as problematic. Plus the Volquartsen is reportedly even higher priced.

  19. avatar Jug says:

    Plus, from what I hear, these .17s are a lot less alarming to both game and the neighbors in loudness of report.
    A can may well not be needed. I am going to find out in any case.

  20. avatar J in Ga says:

    Can we get a decent rifle at a rimfire price please before this round gets dropped because no one is buying rifles and ammo?

    Ruger help! Please make a 10/17WSM!

    1. avatar jug says:

      Not going to happen!
      Blowback operation just is not safe at those working pressures!
      Even all the makers of autoloading .17 HMR rifles,(except Volquartsen), have now dropped the autoloader line.
      And apparently they are having major problems with the .17 WSM design. And they have been working on it far longer than Franklin.
      Too many magazines being blown out when the bolt either didn’t close all the way, or opened too quickly.

      The Franklin F.17 is a locked breech and gas operated.
      Much, much safer, because of the breech opening somewhat slower.

  21. avatar Jay in Florida says:

    Id love to have a rifle such as this.
    Unfortunately at $2K. Its never going to happen. For me anyway.

    1. avatar jug says:

      That is more than the actual going price, just like everything else, but still $300 under the Volquartsen.

  22. avatar publius2 says:

    PS: .22lr at ten cents a round…found at calguns, couldnt resist…

    http://www.shop.civilammo.com/Pallet-of-Raptor-22lr-Ammo-200000-rnds-at-109-cents-a-rnd-Raptor-Pallet.htm

    …must bring own forklift.

  23. avatar TheYetti says:

    I’m definitely interested but that price tag is pretty gnarly.

  24. avatar Phil COV says:

    Great. One more item for the “when I hit the lottery” list! Pretty soon I’m gonna have to start a “when I hit the Second lottery” list.

  25. avatar Will Wright says:

    Thanks for the write up, the .17WSM is an outstanding rimfire though the ammo is only a little easier to find this year than last. Maybe Santie will bring me one of those!

  26. avatar dennis says:

    Nice firearm. Well designed. But….. tooo damned expensive. $500.00 or less and you would be in business like glock. How about plastic parts like glock and good craftsmanship
    Savage has a bolt action as well ad ruger. $350.00 -400. Shoots EXCELLENT!!! Help us out guys. I am buying one, either ruger or savage. But not $2000.00 !!##
    Dennis

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