|March - April 2003
Volume 35, Number
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.
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 didnt help its reputation.
Todays 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
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 Savages 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 dealers 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
hadnt 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 Remingtons 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
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 its 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 Im first to realize they
are in the business to sell rifles, but I know John Lazzeroni, and its doubtful he
would make a claim that his rifles cant 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.