February 18, 2011
By Joseph von Benedikt
To gun-savvy hunters and range-rats across this great nation, custom rifles are the gear-dreamer's summit of Everest.
By Joseph von Benedikt
To gun-savvy hunters and range-rats across this great nation, custom rifles are the gear-dreamer's summit of Everest. Unfortunately, many shooters simply can't afford to own one. I say unfortunately because owning a rifle built exactly to your specifications is a wonderful thing.
There's a solution for shooters like me, who can't afford to buy a new bolt gun--pick your flavor--just for the action, only to strip the barrel and stock off it and ship it to a guru of the gun trade who, after months of working his magic, returns the trued-and-tuned action adorned with a new barrel exactly the length, diameter, caliber, and finish you'd seen in your dreams bedded into a stock of the finest Kevlar, graphite, fiberglass, aramid fibers, or whatever flavor your particular poison is, along with a toxic-high bill, too.
That solution comes from a rifle manufacturer rich in history and known for its ability to build rifles that shoot better than they have any right to for a price that is better than it should be: Savage.
Last year at a manufacturer's event I found, much to my surprise, that Savage will cheerfully mix and match parts--any and all parts, as long as they fit together--for customers who wish for a configuration not available in the company's standard line of products. While the result will not be a true "custom" rifle, it does enable one to build a rifle with exactly the specifications desired.
While the concept (as long as it fits and functions--for instance, don't ask for a .338 Winchester Magnum built on a short-action Model 16 action--Savage will build it) is incredibly simple, the concept has also got to be incredibly inconvenient for those running the factory. Doesn't matter; ask and you shall receive. Service like that just doesn't exist in many companies today.
|Manufacturer:||Savage Arms, 800-370-0708, www.savagearms.com|
|Magazine Capacity:||4 rounds|
|Barrel:||22 in. fluted stainless; rifling: 1:8 twist|
|Overall Length:||41.75 in.|
|Weight, empty:||7.5 lbs.|
|Stock:||Synthetic AccuStock, walnut spare|
|Length of Pull:||13.75 in.|
|Sights:||Front bead, rear on scope base|
|Safety:||Three position on tang|
|Price:||Varies depending on configuration|
Being a father with little children and a correspondingly little budget for custom guns, the chance was too good to pass. I ordered a rifle built on a stainless Model 16 short action, with a short-ish 22-inch medium-heavy barrel chambered in .260 Remington and rifled with a 1:8 twist. I love the way a nice walnut stock sets off stainless hardware but prefer the durability and consistency of a good synthetic stock. At the price, I was able to get the best of both worlds: I ordered a nice stick of walnut for sunny days and an AccuStock for blustery times. With five minutes and the right Allen wrenches, switching from one to the other is as easy as eating 1,000 calories worth of my wife's chocolate chip cookies.
Just to demonstrate the plethora of options that will open to shooters that pick up the horn and dial up the friendly representative at Savage, here's a list of the barrel contour options I was given upon stating the caliber rifle I wanted to build:
Barrel contours available in stainless:
€¢ 22-in. Sporter with muzzle brake
€¢ 30-in. Bull (No Taper)
€¢ 26-in. Bull (Taper to .75)
€¢ 24-in. Sporter
€¢ 26-in. Magnum (heavier than sporter, but lighter than medium-heavy)
€¢ 22-in. Medium-heavy
As you can see, I was presented with options enough to fill any reasonable need.
Lastly, just because I grew up horse packing into and hunting country that no ATV will ever see, and have seen scopes destroyed in any number of ways that only ice, tired hunters, and those of equine nature can contrive, I ordered the barrel mounted with a front sight. Though it's not shown in the photogra
phs here, I eventually intend to install Talley scope mounts with Jim Brockman's pop-up peep sight modification (www.brockmansrifles.com).
As an extra bonus, the Savage representative invited me to come to the factory to tour the plant and assemble the rifle myself. I booked tickets, but only after he assured me that a qualified individual would walk me through the process and ensure that I didn't screw up my gun. Upon arrival I was handed a bag of parts and the barrel, which had been previously rifled, contoured, and turned to length, and led to a stack of walnut stocks to choose one. By evening I was test-firing my completed rifle, and shortly after I returned home the rifle turned up here at the Shooting Times office.
In the good old tradition of excellent service, Savage Arms prefers to discuss and take these special orders via telephone, which allows a frank discussion of what is and what is not possible. In the words of one representative, "If this [discussion] is done by email, the conversation can go back and forth for days." The number to call is 800-370-0708, which takes callers to an automated system. Press 6 and you'll be transferred to Effie Sullivan, an uber-capable lady who will help you iron out the details of your future made-to-order (as I like to call them) rifle.
Proof In The Pudding
Shortly after receiving my own rifle, I headed to the range with the AccuStock affixed, a concession to the damp and sideways-blowing sleet. Thankfully, the gale abated to gusts by the time I got set up, and frozen fingers notwithstanding, the rifle shot some very respectable groups. The results are listed in the accompanying chart. I had only enough ammo to shoot three, three-shot groups with three different loads as well as chronograph three rounds of each. Not exactly a hardcore accuracy test, I'll admit, but with a deadline looming it did at least give an indication of the rifle's capabilities.
The Savage Arms AccuTrigger adds to the appeal of these made-to-order rifles by providing shooters with a trigger that rivals match-grade units without adding $100-plus dollars to the project. The trigger on my rifle came adjusted to 3 pounds, 5 ounces and averaged only 3 ounces of variation. Ergonomics of the entire package are good, and reliability and function of Savage's bolt actions have been well proven over the past 50 years.
Though I'll always dream of custom rifles, my made-to-order Savage is everything I could ask of it. It's lively between the hands, stable off the daypack, shoots little bitty groups with its favorite ammo, and goes bang with enthusiasm every time.
|Savage Model 16 Accuracy|
|Factory Load||Velocity (fps)||Standard Deviation (fps)||100-yard Accuracy (inches)|
|Nosler Custom 125-gr. Partition|| 2871 || 2 ||1.26|
|Black Hills 139-gr. Lapua Scenar|| 2679 || 40 || 0.91 |
|Speer Nitrex* 140-gr. Grand Slam|| 2691 || 5 || 1.78 |
|WARNING: The loads shown here are safe only in the guns for which they were developed. Neither the author nor InterMedia Outdoors, Inc. assumes any liability for accidents or injury resulting from the use or misuse of this data. NOTES: Accuracy is the average of three, three-shot groups fired from a Sinclair benchrest. Velocity is the average of three rounds measured 15 feet from the gun's muzzle with a Shooting Chrony chronograph. (* This load is no longer in production.)|