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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Believe me, I wasn't looking to buy the weirdest shotgun ever made. Still, somehow, an ArmaLite AR-17 came home with me from a recent auction. Here's my report …



It's difficult even to explain what the ArmaLite AR-17 is. The closest comparable gun I can think of is the Browning Double Auto, and for a while, the analogy works.

Both are semi-auto, 12-gauge shotguns that work using a short-recoil (aka "inertia") system. Both hold just two shells, one in the chamber and one underneath. Browning offered the Double Auto from the early 1950s to the early 1970s. ArmaLite offered the AR-17 over a much shorter, but overlapping, period - 1964 to 1965. Both were lightweight guns created by famous designers, Browning's Val Browning and ArmaLite's Eugene Stoner.

But there, the comparison ends.

The Double Auto was a finely finished, otherwise traditional gun with lovely wood stocks and polished steel bits.

The AR-17? Well, you have to remember its maker was the original ArmaLite, the innovative but oft-troubled firearms engineering firm. And the AR-17's designer was Eugene Stoner, the genius behind the AR-10/AR-15, the guns that begat all the AR-pattern guns adopted by U.S. military and now beloved by American civilians.



And if the AR-15 was a "rifle by Mattel," the AR-17 is a "shotgun by Tyco." The AR-17 does make a few, feeble attempts to hide its true nature. However, it's plainly plastic, high-quality "engineering" plastic to be sure, but plastic none the less. The forearm is plastic. The stock is plastic. Key internal parts are plastic. Oh, some of them are brown, but there's no mistaking any of them for wood.

Like the AR-15, the AR-17's metal bits -- except for the barrel, bolt head and various pins - are aluminum alloy. Most are anodized. Even if you hate the pale gold tone, you have to respect the durability of the thing. The result? An extremely lightweight, yet extremely rugged gun. The weight? A fabulously slim 5 pounds, 4 ounces without the recoil pad (which we'll get back to in a moment).



Also like the AR-15, the AR-17 has a distinctive engineering feature: The bolt locks directly into the barrel. In fact, the bolt faces of the AR-15 and AR-17 are clearly cousins, both creations of Eugene Stoner. In each case, the bolt-in-barrel design allows a lighter receiver, simpler construction and the potential for greater accuracy. (Please forgive the punch obscuring the photo here. I didn't have a third hand available to hold the bolt in a good position.)

How does the AR-17 work? Loading is the first challenge. I have no owners manual, and the process is not obvious. However, after a lot of fumbling, I figured out everything happens at the bottom of the receiver …

- Start with the bolt locked back.
- Look for the large, brown plastic block on the front of the opening.
- Use the front of the shell to push the brown block forward.
- Tip the back of the shell against the black block on the back of the opening.
- Push the shell up into the receiver until it stops. (The "until it stops" is important. The bolt will not catch the shell and push it into the chamber if you don't.)
- Close the bolt by pulling the bolt handle back. Let the bolt go, and it will feed the first shell into the chamber.
- Load the second shell into the bottom of the receiver using the same technique as the first.

The process sounds a bit fiddly, and it is. (It's not nearly as nice as Val Browning's "Quick Load" feature on the Double Auto.) Still, it does work, and it helps if you recall the Stoner connection. Experienced AR-15/M-16/M-4 users will tell you those Stoner guns like to "run wet," that is, heavily lubricated, and my AR-17 example exhibited the same behavior.

When dry, cycling was slow and unreliable, even with game loads. When wet, cycling was fast and reliable, even with light target loads. Combine that load flexibility with interchangeable, Lyman-style choke tubes and you have a truly versatile, portable gun.

So, what are the flaws? Well, the mushy, heavy trigger is an annoyance, but you can get used to that.

But the recoil? Well, that's harder to handle. Unfortunately, my example did not come with the factory recoil pad. (At the auction, I just didn't notice. I was blinded by the gun's other oddities.) However, the pad is a simple, snap-on affair, similar to the one used on another Stoner creation, the AR-7 survival gun.

So for testing, I used a slip-on recoil pad, and indeed, one of the brown, rubber Pachmayr slip-ons might actually look good on the AR-17.

But still, you can't get around the physics of a 5.5 pound gun being launched at your shoulder at more than 1,000 feet per second. With target loads, it's no big problem. With game loads, well, two shots will be plenty. Of course, for many uses, two shots are plenty, and thus, I could see a role for this gun as a walking, hiking, upland-game-hunting gun.



However, it's real role is as a golden example of the creativity of ArmaLite and Eugene Stoner.

Enjoy!
Dave

A few minor notes ...

- The AR-17 has earned a coveted spot in the National Firearms Museum. See http://www.nramuseum.org/the-museum/the ... otgun.aspx

- For another view of the AR-17, see http://www.chuckhawks.com/ArmaLite_AR-17.htm

- To polish the plastic, use Armor All. The same stuff that's already in your garage. Really.
 

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Great write up. I also own one, more for nostalgic reasons than a using one. Armalite, when they were located on 16 th street in Costa Mesa, was my first job after I re-entered the civilian world. Hadn't worked there to long when I found I could check one out to hunt with, after a few field loads it definately made a impression on my shoulder, thereafter I reverted back to my old SxS Eibar for any hunting needs.

It is a very unique gun, one of the things I will always regret is not having worked there when Eugene Stoner was there, I started in 1969, a few years after he left. Considering only 1800 were produced, and 1000 were assembled for sale, it is a rare and unique piece of US gun history.

Gene
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
gthudspeth said:
It is a very unique gun, one of the things I will always regret is not having worked there when Eugene Stoner was there, I started in 1969, a few years after he left. Considering only 1800 were produced, and 1000 were assembled for sale, it is a rare and unique piece of US gun history.
Many thanks! It still must have been an interesting place to work. Are there any tales you can now tell?

Also, could you post a photo of your recoil pad? That way I'd at least know what I'm looking for.

Thanks again!
Dave
 

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Dave, send a email to [email protected], I will send you as many pictures as you want, I'll start with two, one from the side and one from direcly in back, yes they had their logo on the rear of the pad.

Except for my job as a assembler of the AR-18 line, I was one of the two selected to test fire each weeks production, about 30-50 rifles, a mix of full auto and semi (AR-180). Each rifle was test fired for accuracy, minimum of 5 shots in 3" and twenty rounds full auto with no stoppages. Other than the test firing it was just another job, in a place that historically means something to a few people that care for this type of fire arms history. Of interest, is the present Armalite has a brief hitory of the Armalite legacy on their web site and they solicite former employees to add information.

History has blamed marketing for the AR-17's failure, they tried to appeal to skeet/trap shooters, which this gun obviously is not designed for. In retrospect, it would have appealed more to a Upland hunting scenerio more than any other. I couldn't imagine shooting multiple rounds of Skeet with this gun.

Gene
 

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Dave, excellent write up, my friend. Now I know why you're in the newspaper business... {P^
 

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What's the bulbous thing on the end of the barrel?

Some sort of early screw-in or screw-on choke system?
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
BarryD said:
What's the bulbous thing on the end of the barrel?

Some sort of early screw-in or screw-on choke system?
You got it right. It's a screw-on choke tube. It's at least similar to the Lyman/Cutts choke tubes that are still available on eBay and through other sources (http://www.corsonsbarrels.com).

I've been told that the Lyman/Cutts tubes can be used on the AR-17, but I don't have one to test that claim.

Enjoy!
Dave
 

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Dave, just got back from a late Breakfast at Bill's! Was gonna stop by, but didn't see your car. Catch up with you later... Slugster
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Just a minor update on the recoil pad situation...

Gene has sent me some photos of the original recoil pad on his AR-17. So now, at least, I know what I'm looking for.

In the meantime, the good folks at Reeser's Gunsmithing hooked me up with a Butler Creek slip-on recoil pad, which actually looks decent on the gun and definitely improves the recoil situation ... probably more than the relatively thin original.

Indeed, the Butler Creek pad could probably be trimmed in such a way that it could pass as original, but if I do that, I don't want to be accused of fraud when I sell the gun.

Hmmm.

Thanks to all!
Dave
 

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Dave, a word of caution. Don't ever let Jake install a recoil pad. He's a great gunsmith with the mechanical stuff, but a finished carpenter he is not. I know a guy in Marrysville who can help and is an excellent recoil pad installer. He could do a grind to fit and match the stock exactly...
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Slugo said:
Dave, a word of caution. Don't ever let Jake install a recoil pad. He's a great gunsmith with the mechanical stuff, but a finished carpenter he is not. I know a guy in Marrysville who can help and is an excellent recoil pad installer. He could do a grind to fit and match the stock exactly...
Hey, I could use that name. Please post it here or email it to me. Thanks!

Oh, and while we're at it, a great Jake story ...

Jake is the senior gunsmith at Reeser's Gunsmithing, an ugly little place thrown between two nasty little strip clubs on an grimy stretch of road littered with cinders and packed with truckers.

It also happens that Jake is a genius and that Reeser's is one of the few Browning authorized service centers in the country.

So I went to Reeser's yesterday with the Browning Superposed I picked up at the same auction as the AR-17. The gun -- one of the first 20 gauge Superposeds made -- is in great shape. Well, except for the fact that the trigger was non-functional and the safety wouldn't move. That's probably why I got the thing for a song.

Anyhow, I walk in, and Jake's eyes light up. I always bring him odd old stuff, and he likes that.

I pull the thing out of the case, and he immediately starts with the speech about how the shop is jammed, about how they got three more guns to fix in the past hour and how they're stacking guns in the corner again.

But all the time, he's handling the Superposed. Before I even tell him what's wrong, he tells the other gunsmith to go get him his Browning screwdrivers. (Yes, old Brownings have special screws, weirdly tapered slotted screws that are amazingly easy to ding up.)

In a second, the recoil pad is off. Then the stock is off. Then my favorite part of a trip to Resser's begins: Jake's lesson on how this particular mechanism functions, and with Superposeds, that's quite a lesson. Browning struggled for years with the Superposed inertial trigger, and while they may have all looked the same on the outside, there were massive differences on the inside.

As as he's explaining the relationship of the sear to the inertia block to the safety lever to the thigh bone -- just kidding -- he's hauling out a little rubber mallet and banging on the safety lever. "Just stuck," he says. And in a moment, he's testing the trigger, showing how the block swings both back and forth and side to side to reset the trigger.

And at that point, the gun is fixed. Jake could screw it together, I could pay him and all would be right with the world. It could be one less gun in his stack and a quick fifty bucks in his pocket.

But no, as I go to reach for it, Jake draws it back and says, "We'll keep it." It was a statement, not a question. "I'll get it cleaned up. Take it apart. Look it over."

Now, I am not a gunsmith, but I'm perfectly capable of cleaning a gun ... and Jake knows that. He just wants to take it apart and play with it. See how it works. Bring it back to where it was when it left Liegé 65 years ago.

And I'm fine with that.

Enjoy!
Dave
 

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The gun will be in tip top shape when you get it back. Just no recoil pad work...
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
Two updates ...

First, in my original text, I said the barrel was steel. I may be wrong.

A friend of mine was looking at the gun yesterday, and questioned whether it was made from some alloy. We checked it with a magnet, and indeed, a magnet does not stick to the exterior. It could have a steel liner, but I don't think so. At the same time, there was enough burnt powder in the gun to know that it was used more than a few times, and yet, the barrel is in excellent shape.

Therefore, I can only conclude that it was made from some ridiculous unobtanium alloy to be that light and that strong.

Second, as regulars around Shotgun World may know, I'm a Browning guy, and this gun is waaaay outside of my normal collecting realm. So I'm offering the AR-17 for sale for a few days in the Classified section, the link is ...

viewtopic.php?f=74&t=348655

Thanks!
Dave
 

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The 1965 Gun Digest has a full article on this gun on page 207. It's very interesting, and there is a steel barrel extension for lock up with the steel bolt. They say the aluminum barrel is so hard, lead won't stick to it!

I happened to be reading that issue just last week, very surprised to see a thread about one of them.
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
Bullet Bob said:
The 1965 Gun Digest has a full article on this gun on page 207. It's very interesting, and there is a steel barrel extension for lock up with the steel bolt.
That makes a huge amount of sense. As you said the steel extension provides a mating area for the bolt, and it also would form the chamber, which is the maximum pressure area.

And realizing that, I now understand why the entire bore is bright and shiny ... after assembling and the barrel and extension, they chrome lined the entire bore ... just as was later done with the AR-15.

Good catch! Many thanks!
Dave
 

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Well, they don't say it's chrome lined, but I'm not sure how complete the article was.

After posting yesterday, I was reading the 1988 Gun Digest last night, and there's another article on the AR-17 in that issue, on page 178; a retrospective of sorts. That article says the barrel is anodized inside and out.

I swear I think I also read an article about it in one of my old American Rifleman's lately too, but I keep them in loose unsorted stacks and just pull one or two out randomly sometimes to read at bedtime, so there's no hope of me finding that article.
 
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