Raise your hand if you remember these electric novelties. Now raise your other hand if you ever actually fired one. I’m willing to bet that the number of AI who ever touched off a round of Remington’s ‘Etronx’ electric primer ammo can be counted on the fingers of a Yakuza soldier’s left hand. Where have they gone, and what are they doing there?
Firearms inventors may have some great ideas, but they can’t really start from a blank slate if they want their products to fit in the existing market. Few really new ideas have ever hit the jackpot in the civilian firearms market, so it’s not unusual to see a new products stumble out of the gate. It is unusual to see anything fall so flat on its face as electric primers, however. Especially when they’re backed by the engineering and marketing resources of Big Green.
Remington’s gambit to change primer technology was a huge flop. After years of research and development, they released the ‘Etronx’ electric primer and a special Model 700 designed to fire it and only it. In place of a cup and anvil design which ignited the priming charge under the impact of a mechanical firing pin, the Etronx used a 150-volt pulse to set off a proprietary electrically-ignited primer. The advantages of the system were that it allowed nearly-instantaneous lock-time and a very light trigger pull with almost no over-travel.
Model 700 Etronx rifles were chambered in .22-250, .220 Swift and .243 Winchester and built with 26-inch barrels. The rifles were externally similar to standard Model 700 rifles, but two features advertised the electric ignition system inside. There was a small LED light set in the wrist of the stock, and there was a key-actuated on/off switch on the cap of the pistol grip.
They cost $1999 when new, more than twice the MSRP of a similar Model 700 Varmint with a conventional lockwork. Ammunition cost about 25% more than comparable Boxer-primed ammunition, but the .22-250 Etronx delivered poor accuracy because their bullets were seated too deeply in the case neck. Handloaders could wring much better accuracy from their Etronx rifles, but the electric primers were priced about five times higher than similar benchrest-grade Boxer primers.
The system had several disadvantages completely unrelated to its cost, however. Etronx ammunition and primers were always scarce, and the rifle was dependent upon its electronic circuit board. It was powered by a 9-volt battery which performed poorly in cold weather, and the system would not boot up until the shooter inserted and turned a key in the bottom of the pistol grip. On top of all these problems, there was no cost-effective way to convert an Etronx rifle to fire conventional ammunition for those occasions when you couldn’t find (or couldn’t afford) Etronx ammo.
The Model 700 Etronx was only sold from 2000 to 2003. Primers and ammunition dried up quickly, although the rifles continued to be used by shooters who had stocked up on the expensive primers when they could. Today these Etronx primers are almost collector’s items; they cost at least $200 per thousand when they’re available (Midway had some at press time for $221.99) and there’s a decent collector’s market for unfired Etronx factory ammunition. Shooter’s forums have mentioned that prototype quantities of other rifle calibers and even handgun calibers were factory produced with Etronx primers (possibly in anticipation of idiotic ‘smart gun’ requirements in the late 1990s) and these cartridges are highly collectible.
Cartridge collectors seem to be the only people who like the Etronx system, though. Ordinary shooters weighed its small advantages against the disadvantages of scarcity, complexity and price. They (we) voted with their wallets and stayed with ordinary lead-styphnate Boxer primers.