Stuart Wilson sets up in his pick-up for a proper field test of the Lithgow Arms LA101 .17 HMR Synthetic Stainless, decked out with Nikko scope and Aimsport mod.
I reviewed the laminate stainless variant of the Lithgow Arms LA101 in .22LR in the past. It was a superb rifle, proving both accurate and pleasurable to use, and I felt that the next progression would be to try out the synthetic stainless .17 HMR.
Highland Outdoors, the UK importer and distributor, put together a solid package to allow the Lithgow to shine: rifle, scope and moderator, which after initial zeroing and range work might just allow me enough time to get on to a field where some rabbits had been making their presence known on some freshly drilled grass.
The package included the Lithgow LA101 Stainless Synthetic, the Aimsport rimfire moderator, and I asked for a scope with a good magnification range. Unboxing revealed the FFP (first focal plane) Nikko Stirling Diamond 6-24×50 IR, which would pair nicely with the rifle and should prove especially useful with a .17 HMR.
First focal plane reticled scopes are useful for holdover situations, and work like a ballistic reticle for those willing to learn the various drops for their chosen ammunition.
The clincher comes from the reticle, occupying exactly the same dimensions regardless of the magnification selected. It’s hard to explain and sounds far more complicated than it is. In essence, the central cross is used for the standard zero.
After that, the graduations, which in this case are half mil dot size, can be used as accurate holdover marks for further ranges. It’s a neat solution for a vermin rifle that will be engaging quick targets at varying distances – and .17 HMR should prove capable out to 150 yards and maybe more.
Initial zeroing is quick and effortless. The turrets are tactile and positive, and feeding the Lithgow a diet of 17gn V-Max rounds from Hornady and Winchester saw some sub-inch groups.
Pushing the target out to 150 yards and 200 yards resulted in fairly consistent results, with the drop proving more consistent than my judgement of the wind, at 200 yards the group was four inches wide but only 2.5in high, so more than workable for bunny control.
The average drop at 200 yards was 8.5in, which translates to 1.16 mil – so the first full mil line down on the reticle – while at 150 yards it quite nicely fit the first half mil line with an average drop of 0.47 mil. Using a 100-yard zero, the 150- and 200-yard marks plotted onto the next two lines below the crosshairs, very convenient when things coincide so usefully.
The synthetic stock is similar to the laminate stock in its dimensions, and the synthetic variant tested here features 20mm of length adjustability by adding or removing spacers between the stock and buttpad.
The pistol grip and forend have inlaid panels that offer better grip to the shooter. The pistol grip is set at a good angle, positioning the trigger finger within easy reach of the blade, which is guarded by the integral moulded trigger guard.
The forend is a subtle blend of sporting and benchrest styles. It is more than at home when you are using a set of quad sticks, and a bipod seats against the bottom of the forend really nicely.
Perhaps more importantly, it also sits nicely in the wing mirror of my truck. The butt stock has a straight surface that will help the rifle ride in shooting bags, and small step just in front of this flat portion naturally takes the non-trigger hand to further stabilise the rifle for any prone or bench shooting.
Action and barrel
The stainless barrel and action contrast nicely against the black stock, even more so because the flat grey Cerakoted finish not only looks good but offers very good corrosion resistance to protect your rifle investment.
The .17 HMR barrels are button rifled and target crowned, not hammer forged like the rifle’s .22LR cousin. No issue really – my own preference in a custom barrel for rebarreling has always been button rifled, and I have had some huge round counts with some usually notorious barrel burners.
The main thing to get right with a .17 HMR is the cleaning regime. Monitor accuracy, see what your barrel needs, and use bore guides and good quality rods, jags and patches or you are in danger of killing your barrel.
I doubt I will get through enough rounds to warrant any cleaning until my shooting is finished, and the stainless barrel should shoot in quite nicely with care.
The barrel profile is best described as semi-weight, 531mm in length with a 1-in-9in right-hand twist, finished with ½in by either 20 or 28 – the review rifle was ½x20UNF.
The action comes with weaver bases installed, which makes for easy scope installation, and the bolt glides when cycled, spitting spent cases out with authority before plucking the next round from the CZ452/455 compatible magazine, which is a bonus for ease of sourcing spare or new magazines.
The safety catch sits to the right side of the action just in front of the bolt handle’s closing recess: forward for fire, rearward for safe, simplest and easiest to remember.
Should there be any confusion, red dots signify the ‘fire’ position of the catch and also highlight the cocking indicator that sit centrally in the bolt, both clearly visible.
The trigger is good – straight out of the box and not even a hint of creep or drag, and certainly no need to change anything here. It is listed as a 1.5kg pull in the specification, but it really did not feel heavy. The slight curve to the blade and its width are solid designs that deliver.
In the field
With the rifle zeroed and a couple of drops established, and some good accuracy, it was time to get the Lithgow into the field. I had a spot earmarked where the grass has been re-drilled, and the beautiful new green shoots were getting a serious hammering from the local bunnies, further concentrated because the new muck hill was blocking their path to the pasture, resulting in noticeable damage.
With the magazine loaded up and the Lithgow propped on my truck’s wing mirror, I got into position, loaded up, closed the bolt and was quickly on to a brace of half-grown rabbits that appeared within minutes.
The first rabbit sat 60 yards away with a mouthful of grass, and chewed almost indignantly as I pulled the magnification of the Nikko Stirling to 12x, slipped off the safety catch and let the first round fly, connecting with a stinging under-the-chin shot, sending the rabbit spinning through the air and spooking his pal, who raised up on to his back legs to get his last look at the Lithgow.
As he flicked his last, I was reloading and a fox bolted off the muck hill – no doubt he was rudely awakened from his evening slumber. The fox never put in another appearance, despite a little calling to try and draw him into view – a minor distraction before the rabbit control resumed.
I took a moment to appreciate the moderator. It’s safe to say the little Aimsport moderator tames the muzzle report nicely, and it is compact to boot, not upsetting the balance of the LA101 at all.
Dark rain clouds loomed, which was part of the reason for remaining in the truck. As the third rabbit popped into view, the range pinged at 157 yards, allowing me to take my first holdover shot.
Placing the first half mil line down onto the chest of the unsuspecting bunny saw a close miss in front of the rabbit’s chest. A swift reload and hold off saw the second bullet find its mark after the rabbit had turned and given that fatal last look.
I hoped a fox may smell the bunnies as I continued to shoot. Optimism is a good driving force to get us doing things, and even better at keeping us doing certain things.
A couple of larger bunnies showed and were duly taken at good distance, and a final half-grown rabbit showed at exactly 100 yards, so a clinical head shot was the order of the day.
The Lithgow/Nikko Stirling combo did a fine job of delivering the bullet with authority, launching the rabbit into a triple somersault. If he had landed it properly I would have given him a big 10.
The rifle is a very well designed model, and I like the unfussy magazine compatibility that Lithgow have built into their range of rifles – a refreshing change in a world where some companies try to capitalise on add-on sales at expense to the customer, so well done Lithgow.
The feeling I am left with again from this little rimfire is one of a bigger rifle. It is solid, accurate, and the usability that comes from some of the stock’s design features is sound.
The Nikko Stirling FFP scope is fantastic for this rifle and would enhance any .17 HMR – it rounds this combo off into what would be the front row of my gun cabinet, never to be lost at the back through lack of use. Genuinely a pleasure to use, this a good calibre in a superb rifle.
More information on the Lithgow combo:
0845 099 0252