Legend has it that the .17s originated in Australia, during a time when they were overrun with non-native foxes, in pestilence plenty, but still with value on the fur market. The advantage to the .17 was, on fox-sized animals, the tiny, frangible bullet, pushed fast, would enter, do its work…but not exit, leaving the pelt intact except for one tiny hole.
The idea migrated to North America in the 1960s, with American wildcatters developing numerous .17-caliber cartridges on various small cases. In 1971 Remington necked down the 223 Remington case to create the 17 Remington. It is still the fastest factory cartridge, propelling a 20-grain bullet at 4250 fps.
Today’s factory rifles are, on average, more accurate than I thought possible when I started shooting. American hunters and rifle shooters have long been obsessed with raw rifle accuracy, probably more today than ever before because of the growing fascination with long-range shooting. How much accuracy is really needed depends entirely on what you intend to do. Bench-rest and thousand-yard competitors need all they can get, and so do varmint hunters. Most big-game hunters probably have more accuracy than is truly necessary—but it’s a wonderful confidence builder to know that your rifle is capable of producing teeny, tiny groups!
That’s a valid reason to demand extreme accuracy—and it’s amazing how many of today’s basic, inexpensive factory rifles deliver. I think this is because, with modern manufacturing, factory tolerances are tighter than ever, with more consistent barrels. When I was a kid, we figured a factory bolt-action that produced 1.5-inch 100-yard groups was pretty darned good. Rifles shooting one inch and better were cause for bragging. Today it’s amazing how many factory bolt guns retailing for less than $500 will consistently produce one-inch 100-yard groups.