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The Original Silver Bullet
Rifle Magazine
October - November 2004
Volume 39, Number 5
ISSN: 0017-7393
Number 231
On the cover...
The Freedom Arms Model 1997 (bottom) is chambered for a variety of cartridges from the .17 HMR to the .45 Colt and is a scaled-down version of the full sized Model 83 (top). The round butt grip and shorter barrels are custom options. Pistol photos by Gera
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With all the recent introductions, sometimes it’s difficult to get excited about a new rifle, never mind yet another varmint rig. But when I examined the action of the new Savage Model 40 single-shot Varmint Hunter, it was like a breath of fresh air.

Actually this is a brand-new rifle according to the good folks at Savage, but looking back there was another Model 40 introduced around 1928. It too was a centerfire model and, along with the fancier Model 45 (with better wood and upgrades), replaced the aging Model 20. At that time, according to some, the Model 20 was a superior rifle, but the Models 40 and 45 were easier to make. They were made in centerfire models only and chambered the likes of the .250-3000 Savage, .30-30 Winchester, 300 Savage and the war-worn .30-06. In many respects the “older” Model 40 was similar to this newer version in that it had a barrel that was threaded into the receiver and, like today, formed a sleeve that reinforced the action.

The first thing that will impress varmint shooters is that this Model 40 was made for them. No question about it! At a base price of $374 for the .22 Hornet, it is also chambered for the high-stepping .223 Remington and .204 Ruger. Since the first rifles off the line were chambered for the Hornet, my sample reflects that initial manufacturing run.

Out of the box, the Model 40 will certainly grab your attention. The lines are very sleek and represent a new avenue of design for Savage. Gone is the boxy, squared-up forearm. This rifle has a slimmed-down forearm that is perfectly designed for both weak hand holding and laying the rifle down on a backpack or make-shift field rest. I’m pleased Savage has designed the stock in this manner.

At the most forward part of the receiver, the stock enlarges outward to around 2 1/4 inches. From that point it tapers to around 1 3/4 inches and is finished in a rounded forend. You’ll notice there is a pair of sling swivel studs: one for the sling, the other for a bipod. Neat! Completing the stock, a rubber recoil pad was installed with a black spacer. The laminated stock is finished perfectly with a clear-coat, weather-resistant finish.

The pistol grip has more of a deliberate curve to it, suggesting this rifle is made for shooting in the prone position. There is no pistol-grip cap, but the stock does taper gently toward the butt end. There is no cheekpiece on the buttstock, but there is a very moderate monte carlo type comb. It is very subdued and is just right for lining up your eye with the center of the scope’s reticle without looking like a canoe paddle.

The rifle does come equipped with a pair of Weaver bases on which I attached Burris Zee rings that not only add a bit of style to the rifle but also mate perfectly with the Weaver system. I mounted a Bushnell 6-18x scope.

The action is new and warrants some attention. The engineers at Savage opted for a sleeve type arrangement between barrel and receiver. Most of us are familiar with such an installation, as many successful benchrest shooters use this type of system to stiffen the action for greater accuracy potentials. Less movement within the receiver and barrel (i.e., vibrations) lead to more consistent accuracy.

The barrel has been threaded so it screws into the front end of the receiver. The rear of the barrel is then press fit (in a manner of speaking) into the receiver. In effect there is a sleeve that covers the last 4 1/2 inches of the barrel for additional rigidity of the whole assembly.

The barrel is 24 inches and has a heavy contour that tapers from .805 inch at the receiver to .745 inch at the muzzle. It is button rifled and is free floating. The stock is relieved quite generously and finished inside for all-weather protection. Inside the stock, the receiver has a forward, circular recoil lug that is dovetailed into the base of the receiver then carefully fitted into the stock. Twin screws hold the action to the stock, and since the rifle is a single shot, there is no magazine or floorplate to mar the sleek underside. The receiver, barrel and related parts are polished brightly and blued to a high luster.

The bolt is rather long and measures 7 inches overall when cocked. The bolt handle acts as one part of the locking system as it locks into a recess within the receiver. On the opposite side, there is another locking lug that locks into the rear part of the receiver. The bolt body is finished brightly and is flattened on the bottom. On this part of the bolt, there is a guide that fits into a receiver raceway and a slot for the mechanical ejector that is housed at the rear of the “loading platform.” Ejection is very positive and throws empty cases forcefully.

The Hornet rifle has twin extractors held by an extractor spring clip and is very similar to what you’d see on a rimfire. Because the Hornet is a rimmed case, this type of system works well. On the other hand, the .223 Remington and the .204 Ruger are rimless, and on these models Savage employs the plunger-type ejector (off the Model 110) and a hook extractor. To remove the bolt for maintenance or travel, pull it to the rear until it stops. Then pull back on the trigger, thus allowing the bolt to be pulled out of the receiver.

The trigger is outstanding and is set at the factory for around 2 1/2 to 3 pounds. According to Savage this trigger assembly is imported from its Lakefield Canada facility and was used on its Biathlon rifle. Apparently Savage has recently tweaked this trigger system, as the sear let go without a hint of creep. The safety is located just aft of the bolt handle. Move it to the rear for “safe,” forward to “fire.”

Chambering the rifle in the .22 Hornet was a very smart move for Savage. Not only is this round a true varmint cartridge, but also with urban sprawl closing in all the time, it’s perfect for careful shooting of chucks at moderate distances. The brain-child of such great riflemen as Wotkyns and Whelen, it was a varmint round that could satisfy small game hunters out to 200 yards or so.

Factory ammunition is confined to 45-grain bullets in hollowpoint and softpoint versions, but handloaders have a wide choice of components. Most manufacturers include weights from 35 to 55 grains in a variety of designs. Powders range from Whelen’s original preference of 2400 to IMR-4227. Because of its very small internal (usable) capacity of approximately 12.2 grains of water, depending on the case brand, the Hornet is very economical to shoot. With 7,000 grains to a pound of powder, 9.7 grains of 2400 (a maximum load with some bullets) under a 45-grain bullet will yield about 721 refills per pound. That puts the cost at about $0.02 per round for powder.

This year Remington is offering its“Consumer Packs” of .22 Hornet brass (number RC22H). No longer do you have to shoot hundreds of rounds or purchase case lots from a distributor to get a cache of brass for reloading. The Hornet uses Small Rifle primers, and while the so-called “benchrest” type primer can be used, I’ve found that with a case of limited powder capacity like the Hornet, it’s unlikely you will notice any difference. Dies are no problem, and a neck sizer would be a good addition to your bench once you’ve fireformed the brass.

The Hornet is not, nor will it ever be, a high-velocity varmint round. That can be left to the likes of the .223 Remington, .220 Swift or even the .204 Ruger.


The Hornet rambles along at moderate velocities between 2,500 and 2,700 fps with bullets in the 45-grain range - faster with lighter bullets, slower with 50- or 55-grain weights. That’s just the way it is, and this is where the Hornet excels.

I loaded a batch of cases with 2400, W-296, IMR-4227 and Accurate Arms 1680. I used Remington’s 6 1/2 Small Rifle primers and made sure all the cases were trimmed back to 1.393 inches. When I set up at the range, the air was calm with temperatures in the mid-50s, whereupon the wind started to gust from 20 to 25 mph. While some of the groups were off (I tried to fire in between the gusts), it also goes to show graphically how the wind can affect the point of impact and group size. While the groups are a matter of record, the point of impact on the target shifted from one to 2 inches to the left of center depending on the bullet weight.

All three-shot groups were fired at 100 yards with the wind coming from the right. All in all I faired very well, and it would appear the Savage had a preference for lighter bullets that grouped tighter and traveled faster downrange. The star of the morning was the Speer 40-grain softpoint over 11.0 grains of Winchester 296. At 2,901 fps it was the fastest of the day. The other lightweight was a Nosler Ballistic Tip. It hit minute-of-angle with a velocity reading of almost 2,600 fps. Remington factory loads clocked almost 2,800 fps - with the hollowpoint version hitting the one-inch mark.

Considering the weather, I’m pleased with the Savage and its choice in the Hornet. For the small game hunter, this rifle is a natural.

The only feature that annoys me is that unless you insert the rounds perfectly into or on the “loading platform,” they will run afoul as they try to enter the chamber. The end of the barrel (breech end) is very sharp and well defined and may hamper feeding. Perhaps a little smoothing out in this area or even a well-polished feeding ramp would cure the problem. I will use my Dremel tool and with a polishing tip go after this area to see if it will help. In the meantime, and to help things along in the field, I’ll just insert the cartridge bullet first into the chamber and close the bolt. Other than that, I think Savage has a dynamite product here.

The way I understand it, Savage engineers started with a clean slate with the intent of designing and building an inexpensive varmint rifle chambered for the Hornet. As things progressed they added a little here, something there and installed a trigger assembly from a finely tuned, competitive rifle. In the end, they wound up with a truly everyday, full-blown (yet still inexpensive) varmint rig that will ride in the back window of any pickup truck with aplomb.

For more information contact Savage Arms, Sales and Marketing Department, 118 Mountain Road, Suffield CT 06878.

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