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American Rifle
Rifle Magazine
March - April 2003
Volume 35, Number 2
ISSN: 0162-3583
Number 206
On the cover...
Savage offers an extensive lineup of bolt action rifles in short and long actions, including the package model (10/110GXP3) with scope, 16BSS with laminated stock and the 12FV with synthetic stock, blue barreled action and the revolutionary AccuTrigger.
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In 1995 Savage Arms Inc. was purchased by a private company that immediately began improving the manufacturing process and overall quality of the product line. Its flagship rifle, the Model 110 and its variants, was first to get an overhaul and has established a reputation of being accurate, reliable and smooth. It is produced in dozens of configurations and chambered in most popular calibers ranging from .223 Remington through .458 Winchester Magnum.

When it comes to bolt-action rifles, I prefer traditional actions that offer control-round feeding and handsome lines, such as the Winchester pre-64 Model 70 and Mauser 98s, and must admit to having paid little attention to the “new” Model 110 rifle and its variants. However, after hearing repeatedly from fellow shooters that rifles produced under the new ownership work flawlessly and are exceptionally accurate right out of the box, I decided it was time to see for myself just how good the Savage bolt gun is.

The Savage Model 110 was introduced in 1958 and sold at a much lower price than bolt-action rifles produced by Winchester and Remington of the same era. The rifle was designed to keep manufacturing costs to a minimum, yet was strong and reliable. Sales were good, but competitors responded by introducing their own “economical” rifles to compete. Over the next two or three decades, the company changed hands and management several times and, frankly, quality varied, which didn’t help its reputation.

Today’s receiver starts as a single bar of tubing, which is aircraft alloy 4140 steel, and is machined to accommodate the magazine (or a detachable magazine for models so equipped) and loading/ejection ports and then is heat treated. The receiver ring is naturally round, while the bridge is machined flat; each is about 1.5 inches in length (depending on the vintage of the rifle). This rather long bridge helps guide the bolt when it is open and extended to the rear, preventing excess bolt side-to-side wiggle, or slop. The designers of this action wisely cut the loading/ejection port high, nearly to the centerline of the bolt, to make the receiver rigid. (This can be a potential problem for bolt actions that utilize round receivers, as they lack the strength of actions that have a flat bottom, such as the Mauser 98 or Winchester Model 70 actions if the loading/ejection port is cut too low.) The bolt features twin-locking lugs with an approximate 90-degree bolt handle throw. One interesting feature is that the bolt head is detachable and is held to the bolt body with a large retaining pin.

The Savage rifle has a unique safety system to protect the shooter in the event of a ruptured case or primer, as it effectively blocks gas (or diverts it). Just behind the locking lugs there is a rotating baffle that is shaped similarly to the locking lugs and serves several purposes. When the bolt is closed and the rifle ready to fire, the locking lugs are at top and bottom, respectively; however, the baffle remains in the lug raceways and serves as a gas block. It also prevents foreign material from entering this area of the action when the bolt is closed and helps the action run smoothly with an anti-bind guide located on the right side.

The bolt body is drilled with a .150-inch hole that aligns with another hole drilled on the right side of the receiver ring. Should a case rupture, the gases would either be stopped or diverted harmlessly out the right side of the receiver ring. There is even a hole on the left (or opposing) side of the receiver ring to divert gases that have been stopped by the left side of the baffle. Finally there is another baffle behind the bridge and between the bolt handle base that partly encircles the bolt body. (A baffle of this design works because the bolt head or locking lugs detach from the bolt body.) It also covers the lug raceways from the rear, giving a finished look, but also helps in keeping foreign objects out of the action. And it serves as a last resort “wall” to protect the shooter from any possible gases that might have managed to get past the front baffle and gas vents.

Current Savage bolt-action rifles feature a plunger ejector; however, Express models feature a fixed blade ejector and controlled-round feeding. The extractor is mounted in the right (or bottom) locking lug and is a rotating type similar to the post-64 Winchester Model 70, but it seems stronger and certainly has more spring tension.

The Savage safety is tang mounted, but it is positioned high (or just under the bolt body when retracted) and will not accidentally bump off if the rifle is held or carried in the pistol-grip area, which is a common complaint with tang safeties. On the other hand, it is easy to operate and fast to get into action. The safety has three-positions with the back position locking the trigger and bolt; the middle position locks the trigger but allows the bolt to lift and unload the chamber; while the forward position is ready to “Fire.”

One of the unusual features of the Savage bolt gun is the barrel lock nut, which sparks some controversy. In short, the barrel has no shoulder to allow it to tighten into the receiver. Instead it is threaded and then screwed into a barrel lock nut. After the barrel is chambered, it is screwed into the receiver; minimum headspace is set and the lock nut tightened, a precise way to set exact headspace.

Savage produces its own button-rifled barrels, a system that came into widespread use shortly after World War II. It was one of the first companies to use this system, and according to its engineers, the process today has changed little, but the equipment has been recently overhauled and updated with the latest technology. It produces virtually no heat or stress to the barrels, and great emphasis is placed on quality, as skilled operators make certain the barrels are, for all practical purposes, perfectly straight to assure each rifle will perform to strict company standards. The steel used is a proprietary product made exclusively for Savage Arms but is similar to 4137 (or 416R in stainless rifles), but with an exclusive heat-treating process.

In reviewing the current Savage line, I was impressed with the wide selection of bolt-action rifles offered, which included both economically priced rifles with hardwood or synthetic stocks and highly finished versions with elegantly shaped walnut stocks and cut checkering. There are varmint rifles, scout rifles, innovative muzzleloaders for smokeless powders and stainless steel express rifles with three-leaf folding rear sights. While all these rifles are of the 110 family, they now carry additional model numbers such as 10, 11, 12, 16, 111, 112, 114, 116, etc. (The models with two digits are for short-action cartridges, while models with three digits are for long-action rounds.)

A Model 11G (short action) .22-250 Remington was selected for this review. It is one of Savage’s lower priced bolt-action rifles, which carries a suggested retail price of $405. (Keep in mind that practically no one sells new rifles at retail prices, and it can usually be purchased from a dealer’s shelf for a substantially lower figure.) It features a 22-inch free-floating barrel, a hardwood classic styled stock with checkering and open sights, which were a $7 option. In other words the same rifle without sights, the Model 11GNS, retails for $398.

Upon opening the box and shuffling through the paperwork, a factory test target was discovered, which contained a five-shot group measuring .527 inch center to center. There was no information as to distance or type of ammunition used, so a call to the factory confirmed the group was fired at 100 yards, but the ammunition supplier was unknown. This rifle already had my attention, and I hadn’t even fired a shot.

There are only a couple minor improvements I would like to see made to this rifle, such as the sight assemblies (both front and rear) should be changed from a hard black plastic to steel, or at the very least aluminum! Keep in mind these were only a $7 option and would be easy to upgrade with a quality replacement. Likewise the trigger guard is made of black plastic and should be changed to something more durable. The forend is just a bit bulky and would give the rifle a better feel if it were trimmed down. Other than these minor complaints, the rifle is well machined and of good quality.

Normally when working with a new bolt-action rifle, there is time spent tuning it by checking or improving bedding and adjusting the trigger pull, etc., before firing. But in this instance, the new Savage was taken from the box, shipping oils removed from the chamber and bore, then sighted-in at 100 yards with the open sights. (This is done so that if the scope should ever get damaged while hunting, it can be removed and the rifle is still sighted-in and usable with open sights.) Weaver bases and rings were used to mount a Weaver Grand Slam 3-10x variable scope, and it was again taken to the bench with a variety of factory loads and several handloads.

As can be seen in Table I, most factory loads managed to place four shots under one inch (at 100 yards) and two loads, Black Hills 50-grain Ballistic Tip and Remington’s 50-grain Green Tip boat-tail, produced groups measuring .52 and .55 inch, respectively. (The three factory loads that featured moly-coated bullets were tested after all other factory and handloads were fired, and the copper fouling was completely removed from the bore using Bore Tech Copper Remover.)

There were several handloads that also performed exceptionally well. For example 37.0 grains of Vihtavuori N140 drove the 55-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip 3,751 fps and produced one, four-shot group of just .45 inch! Another accurate load consisted of 36.0 grains of Hodgdon Varget with the Hornady 55-grain Spire Point for 3,588 fps, which grouped into .65 inch. This is impressive performance for a sporting rifle taken right from the box that weighs less than 7 pounds.

The question could be raised if this Model 11G were a special “hand-picked” shooter, sent by Savage to a gun writer. I suppose it is possible, but I doubt it, as I have heard reports from others who have had similar results with Savage rifles. And it’s probably no coincidence that Lazzeroni Arms Company (1415 South Cherry Avenue, Tucson AZ 85713) markets a rifle built by Savage chambered for its 7.82mm Patriot, a short-action, .30-caliber magnum driving a 180-grain Nosler Partition at 3,150 fps from a 24-inch barrel. Company representatives state this rifle is producing “exceptional accuracy.” Now I’m first to realize they are in the business to sell rifles, but I know John Lazzeroni, and it’s doubtful he would make a claim that his rifles can’t back up.

The Savage rifle functioned flawlessly throughout all shooting sessions. And even when the bolt was worked fast from the shoulder, it never bound in the slightest degree. As this is written, Savage is struggling to keep pace with demand. Obviously this old (or new) American company is making customers happy and doing things right.

Big Game Rifle
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