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An American Gun Maker Steps Up!

by Mark Trope


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 Figure 1.  Savage Model 12 Benchrest, Weaver 36X scope, SEB rifle rest, SEB rear bag, Caldwell arm & elbow bags, Caldwell coated cleaning rod


In the last century there were two large, American manufacturers that produced centerfire rifles that were match-ready, right out-of- the-box (Note.1). All one had to do was mount the metallic sights or scope of his or her choice; and go compete. (Note.2). 


Because there were no computer numerical control (CNC) machines in those days, building such arms was actually a loosing proposition!  The factory’s made no real profit on such guns! Each one required major hand fitting.  Only the very best (and most expensive) men could fit a gun that was ready to compete when the customer received it. 


Of course it begs the question: why even bother producing an arm that actually lost the company money for each rifle shipped?  The answer is simple.  Producing an arm that wins national & international matches is on of the very best forms of advertisement!  


Although every one of those arms actually cost the factory money, they more then made it back by selling literal train carloads of bread & butter sporters for each match rifle produced.   The reputation gained by those winning match rifles caused fellows to look to the same company when a new deer rifle was needed. But, times changed.  Many factors juggled for position, and in the end, the big factories slowly got out of the business of producing true match rifles (Note.3).   However, one other large American company decided to get into the factory-built, match rifle business.


Savage Arms sat up and took notice.  They saw there was a huge need for a factory-produced rifle, which, right-out-of-the-box was capable of winning factory-class matches.  Savage talked to the men and women that were competing in these events.  They were not shy in telling Savage the most desirable features of rifle actions; stocks, triggers and barrels.    Savage got a picture of the type of guns they should be producing to get a factory-class shooter into the winner’s circle.


Savage Arms actually listened to their customers!  Instead of giving the customer what the company thinks you need; they give the customer what the customer wants, and in doing so, satisfied a growing segment of the shooting sports.        


They also understood that such rifles needed to be regular production items.   Dealers specializing in match guns would have them on the shelf.  However, any man or woman wanting one would only need to see their local dealer and place an order.   The local dealer could get the gun in short order.       


Of course, there is always the customer that just has to build his or her own!  For those folks, Savage wisely decided to make the action available as a separate item (Note.4), and let the customer barrel and stock it as they please.        


Triggers are always a sticking point on factory guns.  Even the arms available with adjustable triggers usually suffer from very limited adjustment range; or even more odious, the adjustable trigger is sealed with an epoxy so strong, heat is the only way to loosen the screws!  Usually, these triggers are simply replaced with an aftermarket unit on match rifles.   The match rifle wants a very light, crisp pull.  The way to achieve that is with minimal sear engagement.   In a traditional trigger, minimal sear engagement can be a bit dodgy.  If dropped or jarred hard, the gun can discharge.                                                                          


Savage already had its revolutionary AccuTrigger.  The AccuTrigger has minimal sear engagement, but a very clever way to make sure the only way the rifle is going to discharge is when the shooter wants it to. The AccuTrigger has a steel lever, (called the AccuRelease) inside the trigger that must be depressed before the arm can fire.  Unless the AccuRelease is depressed the sear is positively blocked! 



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Figure 2.  Savage warning, the trigger is light


Savage took the AccuTrigger one step farther in their target rifle series.  They produced a special version that adjusts from about 6 oz to 2.5 lb.


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Figure 3.  Front of Savage stock is a full 3 inches wide


Stocks are another area where builders almost always tossed the factory stock aside.   Savage watched & listened.  They produce stocks with the features and shape that are in line with current state-of-the-art ideas.  The front is a full 3-inches wide, and has vents on the sides and bottom.  The proportions and angle of the palmswell put the hand in a natural position. Savage’s benchrest stock is made to not only be functional as far as how a shooter holds and interacts with it; but it also fits and interfaces with the current state-of-the-art rests and rear bags.  It’s also very attractive!

Savage Arms brought it all together in the new series of rifles.  Quite frankly, there is no secret or trick to making an accurate, match winning, ma’am-a-jama rifle!  The information is in the open.  All it takes is bringing all the best design features of barrels, actions, triggers, stocks, etc. together.  Under no circumstances should there ever be any compromising on quality assurance.  Do those things, and a rifle will succeed. 

With all this going for it; Savage Arms has taken the factory class by storm.  Team Savage has racked up an impressive list of wins! Team Savage recently won the 2010 F T/R National Championship by taking the team competition. Team Savage won both the 600 and 1,000-yard events, establishing a new 1,000-yard record of 778-21X.  Consider:  Team Savage is shooting stock, regular production Model 12 rifles.  They are shooting against many men and women that paid important money for custom built rifles.  But, Team Savage is winning with rifles exactly the same as a rifle you or I can buy off the shelf.   That says a lot!

Savage Arms got into this market niche at just the right time.  Things are easier today then ever before.  Steel, both stainless and carbon are light years ahead of the steels of 50, and even 40 years ago. Remember the days when a car that had 90,000 miles on it could almost be counted on to have some bad valves and burn some oil?  Today, a car with 90,000 is almost a virgin!  The metal technology is simply better today.  Now, a CNC machine can’t hold tolerance any better then a skilled, dedicated man.  The difference is the CNC machine can do it much faster.  That translates into a lower cost to the customer, and a profit to the manufacturer.  


Synthetics in the past meant inexpensive plastic.  Today’s Polymer’s are a different breed of cat altogether.  The resins used to make today’s laminate stocks produce an extremely stable platform.


I decided it was time to add a Savage Model 12 Benchrest in caliber.308 Winchester to my posse.  Less then a week after my order was placed, I had it in hand!


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Figure4.  I love it when my local dealer says: “Your new rifle is in!”



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Figure 5.  Savage Model 12 Benchrest, single-shot. Accessories box contains the bolt.



Before I could start burning powder, there were a few things to be done to the Savage.


► Give it a proper cleaning to remove all shipping preservative. 


► Lightly lubricated the bolt.


► Check the tightness of the action screws.


► Mount bases, rings and scope.


I usually chuckle when I see adds on some well-known auction sites touting an out-of-production gun as: ”absolutely new-in-the-box, unfired”.  Rubbish!   Every gun is proof- fired at the factory.  This is law.  What the ad really means is the arm has not been fired since it was proof-firing at the factory.  The factory does a quick (very quick) cleaning of the barrel.  The factory cleaning removes some (but not all) of the powder residue.   The factory has many, many arms to proof fire.  They don’t have the time to detail-clean a new arm.  The factory puts a good coat of preservative on and in the arm to keep rust from forming during shipment and storage.  It’s left to the retail customer to properly remove the shipping preservative and clean the barrel prior to shooting.                            


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Figure 6.  Proper cleaning & range equipment: Bore guide (with solvent port), quality, one-piece cleaning rod, caliber specific jag, powder and copper solvents.  SEB front rest, SEB BigFoot rear bag, Caldwell elbow bag

Proper cleaning equipment is essential.  That means a bore guide made to fit the action, a quality; one-piece cleaning rod of the proper diameter, good jags, correctly sized patches, and both powder and copper solvents.  I’ll not get into cleaning procedures, there’s thousands of articles on that.  One thing I will say, once your optics have been mounted; always cover your scope when solvents are used (caps, cover, even an old T-shirt or towel).  Those chemicals should never touch a lens! Any good gun oil is sufficient to lube the bolt. 


I like that Allen-head screws are used on the action.  I’ve seen too many slotted-head screws buggered up by an ill-fitting screwdriver


Scope bases and rings are strictly a personal choice.  I will say this:  whatever style and brand you choose, make sure they are quality products!  Quality, in this case does not mean they have to cost hundreds of dollars!  I use basic Weaver (true Weaver) bases. The bases that fit the Model 12 benchrest are Weaver # 46’s.  The rings are Burris Signature Zee rings (with floating, synthetic inserts).  The scope is a Weaver 36X.


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Figure 7.  Weaver # 46 bases, Burris Signature Zee rings, Weaver 36X scope


Again, there are plenty of articles about mounting a scope & rings.  There is one thing to remember when putting rings on Weaver bases. With a Weaver (or Weaver style) base; always start the cross-screw of the ring in, then turn it to the point just before it locks down on the base.  Then push the base forward with your thumb, and finish tightening the cross-screw.  This insures the cross-screw is flush against the front of the slot in the Weaver base.  


One interesting feature of the savage that I really like is the way rounds are loaded and ejected.  In most right bolt / right hand rifles, the bolt handle and the action opening is on the right, requiring one to reach around the action to load rounds.  The Savage has openings on both sides!  Load a round from the left, and the empty ejects to the right!   The top of the receiver has a solid bridge across it.  What could be easier?  And, what took so long for someone to build it?


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Figure 8. Target version of the AccuTrigger releases at a slick 8oz’s (factory setting)


The target version of the AccuTrigger seemed very light indeed.  I broke out my trigger gauge and found it released at 8 oz’s as set by the factory (Note.5). 


When I set my rifle up at the range, I put a target with a 1-inch orange sticky at 25 yards for bore sighting purposes.  I had already made sure the scope turrets were centered, and 0/0 inserts were in both sets of rings.  I removed the bolt, and centered the rifles bore on the dot.  Then I peered through the scope, and did a double take!  It looked like the windage was, as they say in machinist circles, ‘deadnutz’; that is: the windage appeared perfectly centered!  I could not believe it!  I checked, and checked again.  Yeppers, it was straight!  Sure I mounted the bases, rings & scope very carefully, but it’s almost unheard of for the windage to be perfect. 


Once your new rifle is cleaned, tightened, lubed, scoped, and set up at the range, it’s very tempting to try for a group right away!  After all, you spent hard earned dollars, and spent some time getting it ready.  It just has to be winner, right?  What’s wrong with a few quick groups?  Everything is wrong with trying for a few quick groups!  Break the barrel in the right way. Yes, it takes time and patience, but do it anyway.  It will pay off in the long run with better accuracy, and a barrel that cleans up quicker in the long run.


Step 1:  Fire ONE round.  Put two patches with powder solvent through the bore and dry patch it out.  Put a patch soaked with copper solvent through the bore.  Wait a few minutes and put two dry patches through the bore.  Do this procedure for FOUR more rounds.  


Step 2:  Fire TWO rounds.  Put two patches with powder solvent through the bore and dry patch it out.  Put a patch soaked with copper solvent through the bore.  Wait a few minutes and put two dry patches through the bore. Do this procedure five times.   By now you will have fired a total of 15 rounds through the barrel. 


Step 3:  Fire THREE rounds in succession, put two patches with powder solvent through the bore and dry patch it out.  Put a patch soaked with copper solvent through the bore.  Wait a few minutes and put two dry patches through the bore.   Do this one more time.  Now you will have a total of 21 rounds through the barrel.                                               


If no blue or green is showing on the patches, then fire some 5 round groups.  But, shoot them slowly at first, so as to give the barrel a bit of cooling time


I’ll say it again.  Barrel break-in does take a bit of time, but pays dividends in tighter groups, less fouling & longer barrel life.  It is well worth the time & labor invested.


I’m quite pleased (but not particularly surprised) to report the Savage barrel broke in rather fast.  Their barrels are very smooth!  Hardly any copper showed up on the patches. 


My load is 43 grains of IMR 4064 over a J4 Nosler 168 grain BTHP.  The bullet is .005 shy of the rifling.  The primer is Magtech 9-1/2.   My brass is new Winchester.  The brass has been trimmed, inside and outside de-burred (30 degree on the inside), and the flash holes de-burred.   I did not weigh brass.  My loads were not individually weighted.  I use an old Redding Master #3 powder measure that came out of the plant in Cortland NY right about the time the Woolly Mammoth went on the endangered species list! 


Firing at 25 yards for break-in purposes disclosed the windage was in fact perfect!  The elevation was about 5-1/2 inches low.  I put a  +. 005 insert in the bottom of the rear ring, and a -.005 insert in the top of the rear ring. This literally points the scope to coincide with bullet point of impact.  I moved the target back to 100 yards.  Just a few clicks of elevation were required to bring the rounds center.


Since I’m used to good triggers (one Kenyon, a double set-trigger Hämmerli and three Micro-Motions) I familiarized quickly with the target version of the AccuTrigger.  Get the X hair where you want it, then gently press the trigger, and the shot is gone.  None of that: get the X hair settled and watch it move around while you fight a trigger designed by a litigation lawyer (my apologies to the learned, and noted ladies & gentlemen of the bar that are reading this).  During my first range session, I had 2 instances of the trigger going ‘click,’ but the rifle not firing.  I just reset the bolt and both rounds fired.  This   only happened these two times.


Years before, one of the old-timers had shown me how to check a stock to see how it would really handle benchrest shooting.  He said: “First, you have a proper front rest and rear bag for bench shooting rest.  Once you have that, lay the rifle on and settle it in.  Push it forward; all the way against the stop.  Slide it back & forth several times.  Now, push it forward against the stop again.  See where the X hair is on the target.  Slide the rifle back, then forward again.  See if the X hair is in the same spot.  Do this several times.  If the X hair settles in the same spot on the target, or extremely close to it each time, that stock will work for bench shooting.   The Savage 12 benchrest passed the test!


Now, I live in windy West Texas.  Wind is constantly blowing across the range where I shoot.  That would not be so bad, but there are usually 3 or 4 different conditions working against you all at once.  It’s a matter of watching the flags, and making your best guess.  If you waiting for the wind to die down here; you’ll never get off a shot!  So, please give the Savage, (and old, shaky, trifocal-wearing me) a bit of charity when you view the targets! 


Thought the website lists the un-scoped 12 benchrest at 12-3/4 lb.  I found my scoped rifle came in at 12-1/2 lb.   There isn’t ‘recoil’ per-se; not in terms of that jarring, slam-into-into-your-shoulder, while the muzzle flips skyward type of recoil, as is seen on ultra-lite sporters with abbreviated, pencil-thin barrels.   The sensation when firing the Savage is one of steady, subdued push, sans the muzzle flipping.  The heavy, 29-inch barrel provides excellent balance for a gun made to ride a rest and bag.  I got used to the Savage very fast!  The angle of the grip fits my average-size hand about perfectly. 



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Figure 9. 100-yard target, first range session. Hole below dime is 3 rounds!  The wind shifted, and I didn’t shift my hold for the last 2 rounds.

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Figure10. 100-yard target, second range session


After seeing how easy the Savage rode the bags, I had a wicked thought.  I have shot .22 long rifle match guns ‘free-recoil’, that is: one simply puts the finger on the trigger, the thumb behind the trigger guard, and ‘pinches’ off the round.   Could this be done with the Savage?  It seemed docile enough.  So I did it, and wow, it worked!


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Figure 11. Shooting the Savage free recoil!  My shoulder is not touching the buttpad.  It’s about ½ inch away from the pad. 


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Figure 12. ‘Pinching’ the round off between my finger and thumb.


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Figure13. 100-yard target, shot free-recoil


If I could change anything, it would be to add a pair of steel, Weaver-style bases in the box with the rifle, or possibly a 1-piece base with a continuous series of Weaver slots. 


Speaking of the box; a fine rifle like this should be shipped in a fitted, hard-shell case with a cutout in the foam for the rifle, and a cutout where the scope will go.  Yes, I know the cost for bases and a fitted, hard-shell case will be passed on to the consumer.  However, one will have to purchase bases anyway, and who takes their gun to the range in a cardboard box?


All in all, I could not be happier with the Savage 12 Benchrest!   Savage has really dialed in on features, quality assurance, design and material.  It’s refreshing to see a large factory back in the game!


NOTE.1 These same two American manufacturers also used to produce rimfire rifles that were match-ready right out-of the-box.


NOTE.2 Some versions could be ordered with metallic sights.


NOTE.3 One company slowly dropped their match-guns.  Another factory still makes them on a rather limited basis.                                                              


NOTE.4 One certain company has steadfastly refused to release actions, though customers have been asking for decades!  The only alternative is to buy a complete gun and take it apart!


NOTE.5 Some have reported problems while attempting to adjust the AccuTrigger to the lowest weight-of-pull. It seems some rifles will not function properly when set at the lowest setting.  However, some shooters have wanted an even finer trigger then the AccuTrigger.  There are after market drop-in replacement triggers that offer even more adjustability then the AccuTrigger, many shooters use them. 

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