September 23, 2010
By Paul Scarlata
While today's sportsman might find it hard to believe, there was a time when hunters in this country paid scant attention to the bolt-action rifle.
By Paul Scarlata
Ever since an entrepreneur from Connecticut named Winchester turned his attention from manufacturing shirts to producing firearms, the lever-action rifle had been the darling of American sportsmen. The lever-action's popularity was such that during the latter half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, if you wandered afield during big-game season, chances were that most of the hunters you encountered were armed with lever-action repeaters.
That began to change, albeit slowly, in the 1920s. Tens of thousands of Americans had been exposed to bolt-action rifles while serving in the armed forces during the Great War and were favorably impressed. With improvements in telescopic sights, it was realized that the bolt-action rifle provided far superior, long-range accuracy, and the more powerful cartridges were much more effective on large game. However, while scoped, bolt-action rifles became increasingly popular for hunting in the West and mountainous areas, most Americans were woods hunters, so the lever gun's popularity and dominant market position remained secure.
It wasn't until after World War II that the popularity of the bolt-action sporting rifle really took off, and rifles such as the Winchester Model 70 and Remington Model 720 were in great demand. With both Remington and Winchester just coming off war contracts and tooling up to produce civilian firearms again, supply was low while demand was high, and as anyone who has taken Economics 101 knows, small supply plus high demand equals high prices.
Savage Arms Co. of Utica, New York, was founded in 1884 by Arthur Savage and was best known for its Model 99 lever-action rifle, a favorite of American hunters for many decades. In fact, the Model 99 was one of the top three best-selling rifles along with the Winchester 94 and the Marlin 336. Between 1920 and 1928, Savage had produced the bolt-action Model 20 sporting rifle to compete with Winchester and Remington guns, but it did not prove popular, and production was limited.
Seeing the new demand for bolt-action rifles, Savage decided to enter the market again, but the company's marketing gurus made a shrewd decision. Instead of building a high-end rifle to compete with the Model 70 and Model 720, Savage introduced an economy-priced bolt gun in the hopes that it would appeal to a wider market.
Introduced in 1947 through Savage's subsidiary, the Stevens Arms Co., the Model 330 was a simple, rugged, and economical bolt-action. To say that this was a wise business decision would be an understatement being that the rifle remained in production for almost 20 years under various guises. In excess of 100,000 units left the factory in Massachusetts.
The Model 330's receiver was machined from seamless steel tubing and featured a split receiver bridge and an ejection port on the right side. It was threaded on the inside to accept the barrel shank. Dual gas-escape holes on either side of the receiver ring allowed safe venting of powder gases in the instance of a split cartridge case. Later production rifles were drilled and tapped for a Weaver side-mount scope base.
The barreled action was held in the one-piece stock by a bolt in front of the magazine well, which entered the recoil lug on the front of the receiver, and a barrel band that was retained by a bolt in the forearm. A simple, elevation-adjustable, U-notch rear sight was standard as was a brass-bead front sight.
The bolt was a two-piece affair. The front piece, known as the bolt head, contained the single locking lug. The rear piece, or bolt handle, slipped part way into the tail of the front, and both parts were held together by a cross pin. Lockup was by the front lug mating with a mortise in the receiver and the bolt handle turning down into a notch at the rear of the receiver. The boltface was flat, recessed for the cartridge head, and contained a pivoting extractor and a spring-loaded plunger ejector. A pivoting safety lever was conveniently located on the right side of the receiver behind the bolt handle, and on later models, the bolt could be opened when the safety was applied, permitting safe unloading of the rifle.
Unlike most other centerfire, bolt-action, sporting rifles of the time, the Model 330 utilized a three-round detachable-box magazine made from stamped steel. It was held in place in front of the trigger guard by a spring-loaded catch. In keeping with its economic bona fides, the Model 330 contained a number of stamped-steel parts, including the trigger guard, barrel band, trigger mechanism, safety lever, magazine, magazine housing, and rear sight. The material and style of the stocks varied over the line's production life, but all had a pistol grip. Both walnut and beech were utilized over the years, and while some stocks were smooth, others had cut or impressed checkering on the grip and forearm.
The Model 330 was offered chambered for the popular .30-30 Winchester cartridge with a 22-inch barrel. It was quickly followed by the Models 322 and 325 that were chambered in .22 Hornet and .250 Savage (a.k.a. .250-3000), respectively. The Hornet chambering proved very popular, but the Model 325 was quickly abandoned when it was discovered that the bolt was not strong enough the for the high-pressure cartridge.
While never as popular as the lever-action competition, the Model 330 was a steady seller among those woods hunters who wanted an economical bolt-action rifle but who did not want, or require, a more powerful cartridge than the .30-30. For the same reason, the .22 Hornet Model 322 was popular with economy-minded varmint hunters, trappers, and farmers.
In 1950, Savage began marketing the rifles under the Savage name, calling them the Savage Model 340 and 342. The company offered variations of the popular rifle, including the Models 340S and 342S (both introduced in 1950), which featured better wood, cut checkering, a Lyman aperture rear sight, and quick-detach sling swivels. When a .222 Remington chambering was released in 1955, all rifles, regardless of the caliber, were referred to simply as the Model 340.
In 1962, the Model 340C carbine with a 20-inch barrel was offered, but poor sales led to it being dropped after only two years. In the 1970s, rifles chambered for the .223 Remington and .225 Winchester with 24-inch barrels were added to the line. The overall length of the Model 340 with a 22-inch barrel was 43.5 inches. Weight was 7.25 pounds. Magazine capacity was either three or four rounds depending on the chambering.
Savage also sold Model 340 rifles to Montgomery Ward (a.k.a. Wards), which marketed them under its own trade name as the Western Field Model 712.
With declining sales in the early 1980s, Savage redesigned the rifle, returning to the original no-frills concept. The Savage/Springfield Model 840 featured a plain, uncheckered, beech stock and a simple, stamped-steel rear sight. It was available in .223 Rem. and .30-30 Win. Production ceased in 1983, although rifles were assembled from parts on hand and carried in the catalog until 1985.
Shooting The Model 840
My nephew is the proud owner of a Savage Model 840; he received it as a Christmas gift last year. It is a late-production rifle in very good condition with a smooth, beech stock. It is chambered for .30-30 Win. It is a lightweight, well-balanced little rifle, and while the trigger pull is a bit heavy, it has a crisp letoff. The magazine is easy to load and insert, and the bolt operates with the smoothness one would expect from a much more expensive rifle. A previous owner had installed a Weaver side mount and rings, which I used to mount a Burris 4X Mini scope.
Considering its intended role in life as a woods rifle, I decided to test-fire the Model 840 from my shooting range's benchrest at an intermediate range of 75 yards. It took about 10 rounds to zero the scope, and then I settled down and proceeded to shoot for score. When
I had finished, I was pleasantly surprised.
The Savage produced some nicely centered, sub-2-inch groups with boring regularity. While the Federal, Winchester, Hornady, and Remington ammo shot to point of aim, the rifle showed a slight preference for Remington's new Managed Recoil load. To my way of thinking, this is a pretty impressive performance from an economy-model rifle. A bit of trigger work and a more powerful scope would turn this little rifle into a real performer.
All in all, I found the Savage Model 840 to be a very admirable little rifle. It is lightweight, accurate, easy to operate, and reliable. While it was intended to fill a specific market niche, I think it's fair to say that it could easily perform the duties of more expensive rifles with aplomb--and at a considerable savings to the shooter. As the old adage goes, "You get exactly what you pay for," and in the case of the Model 340/840 rifles, I think you got quite a bit more. It was inexpensive, and it was worth every penny.