I have a Marlin 917V that I bought several years ago for less than 200. It shoots fantastic! My wife and I have both shot many sub .5 moa 5 shot groups with it. The trigger isn't the best (on my specific gun / model - :( really don't like the trigger ), but is much better than a stock ruger 10/22 ( Hate the stock trigger! ).
Accuracy, I'm not sure it is fair to compare a .22 with a 17hmr. In my experience, cheaper guns in 17hmr tend to outshoot cheaper guns in .22lr (by a large margin). And I like to practice with a gun that is capable of good accuracy. It will show me very quickly if I am doing little improper things while shooting (varying cheek pressure, trigger control, etc..). If I am using an inaccurate rifle, it is more difficult to see the results of my error over the standard variation of the equipment I am using.
The ammo for 17hmr does cost more than cheap .22lr ammo, but I paid around 15$ per 50 (17hmr - not too bad imho) and it shoots great in my gun. Combine that with the cheap cost of the gun, and I get to shoot 1000 rds of near half minute performance (occasional flyer) rimfire plus the cost of the gun for less than $500 total, and still have a good gun at the end of it all!
A lot of people like the CZ 17 and 22, they even have a model with easy switch barrels from 17, 22lr and 22mag. I have looked at them and been tempted!
I've shot several Anschutz (great, but expensive), Winchesters, Remingtons, Rugers and Savages in .22lr. I've seen some great 17's in the Rugers and Savages. I really liked the price of my Marlin, and maybe lucked out with it, but it shoots very well.
If you are like me, you will shoot almost any rifle, but only really like the accurate ones. I have found my Marlin (and maybe I was lucky) to be a fantastic bargain for the accuracy it delivers. I don't know if the new Marlins are as good, but I wouldn't be surprised if they were (at least close).
That being said, it (my Marlin) certainly won't be the last rim-fire I buy. There are lots of good models out there that I am sure you will be happy with.
Happy shopping! I hope you get an accurate shooter!
I just picked up a CZ American 455 in 17hmr. I love the fit and finish of this rifle. It feels and handles like a solid centerfire. Good groups, but I hope to improve them even more once I bed the action and put in an inexpensive spring kit for the trigger. Resale on these should hold their value like the older model 452's have done. An additional bonus: these rifles are switch-barrel rifles, so you can add other rimfire calibers later if you desire.
A CZ 452/453/455 in your caliber of choice is a standard to go by. I paid $430 out the door for my CZ 452 .22LR. The action is not only extremely strong and precision made, but the accuracy is like a match rifle. My trigger is better than most centerfire hunting rifles you find on the rack, and it is adjustable.
I find the barrel to be rather tight on my CZ 452, so I am expecting exceptionally long barrel life. I think it is basically impossible to wear out this rifle, even if you shoot a box of ammo through it every day of your life. It was and still is a military basic training rifle in eastern Europe, and the overbuilt action shows that.
I would get the .17 HMR if you want a prairie dog rifle, but the other two calibers would be better for general use.
I will throw in a vote for a CZ 455 also...I have one and it is a literal "tack driver".
you CAN'T go wrong with a CZ. If you get a savage, you will find yourself wanting the CZ.....been there. And they shoot as well as or better than anything else.
The top is my $290, 4 year old, and zillion and a half rounds CZ 452 trainer. The rifle has lived behind the seat of my work truck and had a bore snake ran down the pipe about 5 times ever. It's been flawless, never needs a thing, and shoots anything you feed it like a match gun. The bottom one is a Savage 93r17fv 17HMR with a Richards Microfit NRA Meddalist Stock. The CZ just has a J&P spring set. The Savage has the fancy lookin stock, bedded, floated, trigger tuned, new bottom metal, etc. They both shoot great, but the Savage needs 50+fouling shots everytime it's cleaned, which it needs every 500rounds or so, doesn't feed right unless it's massaged just right, has to have exact action screw torc, shifts POI with the weather, etc... my kids don't need as much attention as it does. Oh yeah, I've got twice the money into the Savage. Buy the CZ, any CZ... it's the caliber that you need to think about.
I like things that go "bang"... I love things that go "BOOM!"
I was looking for a champagne .22LR on a beer budget a couple of years ago. I went a different route. I bought a used Anschutz 64 rifle from an importer in California. He buys up rifle club guns, checks them out, and resells them. I paid $350 at the time. The rifle has some "character" marks, but is nicely broken in. The trigger is simply excellent, and these rifles are spec'd to shoot 5 shots in 1 cm at 50 meters. That's 5 shots in .4 inches at 54 yards.
You can get a an adapter for a Harris bipod. The rifles have a rail where you can easily mount a scope. The barrels are fully free floating. The only downside is that the rifles are heavy and single shot.