The Savage Model 110 bolt-action rifle is that company's mainstay these days, and a good one it is. They have long made good rifles. Their Model 99 lever-action rifle has earned them a lot of fans over the years, but in recent times they've relied on their 110-series guns to provide their bread & butter.
My first experience with such a rifle was a Model 110 "package gun" chambered for 7mm Rem Mag. A buddy had bought the rifle brand-new and needed to zero it. So he brought it to our deer camp and we headed down to the pit.
Against advice from Dad and me, he had been talked into the 7mm Rem Mag cartridge. We'd advised him to get a 30-06, but a salesman had swayed him and that was that. The 7mm Rem Mag is a fine cartridge, but we prefer the '06 for a number of reasons. Anyhow, now he had the rifle and some ammo, and it was time to shoot it. Problem is, he was somewhat afraid of it.
We drove to a nearby clay pit and set up a target on the sandy bank. I dug out my war bag from the back of the truck and laid it on the hood, nestled the rifle into it, then removed the bolt and boresighted the scope by eyeballing down the rifle's bore. Then I fired the gun for him, since he was hesitant.
I went ahead and zeroed the scope, as he and his buddy stood off to one side, in awe of the muzzle jump. I didn't really notice the recoil, though - what impressed me was the accuracy of the rifle. It was shooting nice tight groups from the get-go, and the price was a whole lot more reasonable than other popular bolt-action rifles.
About the Savage 110
The Savage 110 hunting rifle is not very pretty by most folks' standards. The blonky barrel locknut looks kind of crude; their wood stocks are plain, made from birch or similar wood rather than walnut; and exterior metal surfaces usually aren't highly polished. But man, do they ever shoot! They are tough, well-designed, and accurate right out of the box. They are built to perform in the field rather than to decorate your gun cabinet.
Later, a friend bought his son a Savage 110 package gun in 30-06. (Package guns came with some cheap accessories, including sling and scope.) Until the cheap Bushnell scope that came with it suddenly gave up the ghost, he loved to shoot Hornady Light Magnum ammo in that rifle, and he'd keep it inside a minute of angle (2" or less at 200 yards) almost every time. Great performance from a relatively cheap gun, with a very cheap scope.
My First Savage
After a bad experience with a Winchester Model 70 in 30-06, I replaced it with a new Savage 110 30-06 package gun I bought from a friend who had won it in a raffle. I fully expected good performance from the Savage, and I got it. This wood-stocked rifle did very well with the Burris Fullfield II 3x-9x scope that I mounted on it, and I used it to nail a nice buck at 130 yards, with a handloaded Hornady 180-grain pointed soft point bullet.
After that, I horse-traded for another Savage 110, a slightly used synthetic-stocked package gun chambered for 270 Win. I owned it for several months before I even shot it, because I wanted to replace the cheap "package" scope with a better one.
I found a used Redfield 2x-7x wide view scope at a local gun show, bought it and mounted it on the gun just in time for my springtime trek to Georgia. A quick boresight check with my Spot Sight showed the scope was dead-on without any adjustment, something that had never happened to me before when dealing with a new gun-scope combination. I took it as a good omen.
My initial shooting of this rifle showed good accuracy and a better-than-average trigger. I'm sure accuracy will improve some with handloads or premium loads, and it will probably help if I can make myself allow the barrel to cool completely between strings. Groups from this rifle do seem to open up some as the barrel heats up, moreso than the '06. That's fine - this will primarily be a hunting rifle, so the really important shots will be fired from a cold barrel.
Carrying the 270 was a pleasure compared with my wood-stocked '06, since it is about a pound lighter. I was wary of recoil because it's so light, and its previous owner swore it tried to take his shoulder off, but it really isn't bad at all, to me.
More Recent additions
I've since traded away the wood-stocked '06, but I replaced it with a newer Savage - one that has an AccuTrigger and synthetic stock. After toting the 270 in the woods, I just couldn't go back to the blonky, heavy wood stock on the '06.
My next Savage was a Model 10 Sierra in 308 Win. It's a synthetic-stocked short-action rifle with a stumpy barrel. It lacks an AccuTrigger, but doesn't need it. This gun is nice and light and handy, and works great. It has put a good number of whitetails into the freezer, and eliminated some vermin along the way. Although I built up a newer Savage (see below), I can't help loving my handy little easy-to-carry short-barreled Sierra, which has reached out and touched 'em well beyond 200 yards.
By the way, a short model number (10, 11, 12) on a Savage bolt action rifle means it's a short action. A long action Savage would be a 110, 111, 112, etc. All are members of the same 110 family, and share the same basic "guts."
Building a Savage
After toting Savage factory rifles over hill and dale for years, I finally bit the bullet and decided to rebarrel one. Rebarreling a Savage 110-class gun is usually not difficult, and I wanted to throw bigger hunks of lead downrange - so I rebarreled an AccuTrigger-equipped 110 30-06 to 338-06 A-Square. I cut the barrel down to keep the gun's length manageable, but its weight is heftier than I'd like. I did use it to put a nice doe in the freezer towards the end of the 2010-2011 season, but it will require more use before I decide whether I can love it properly, or will need to make the gun lighter by skinnying-up the barrel.
I Like 'em All!
My love affair with Savage bolt-action rifles does not preclude my owning other brands - not by a long shot. In bolt-action centerfires I also own Remington, Browning, Krag, Mauser, Arisaka, and custom rifles.
I have shot and loved a number of other bolt-action centerfire hunting rifles, but for pure practicality, utility, and affordability, I haven't found a thing that matches the Savage 110 series of bolt-action centerfire rifles. And believe me, I've been looking.
Edit: As Savage's prices creep upward, other companies have introduced rifles to fill the low-price gap they're leaving in the market. Mossberg's ATR and Marlin's XL7 centerfire bolt-action rifles are affordable and accurate, and I wouldn't hesitate to hunt with either one.
- Russ Chastain