Savage's Heavy Metal Precision
September 23, 2010
With a 10-round detachable-box magazine, aluminum stock, and monster optical rail, no one in his right mind would call the new Savage BAS "your daddy's Model 110." But this bad boy is sure to be a classic in its own right.
Walking through a jungle of booths at a wholesaler's show this past fall, a familiar voice caught my attention over the crowd noise. It was Bill Dermody, marketing manager for Savage Arms, and he was grinning ear to ear. He grabbed me by the shirt collar and practically dragged me into the Savage booth.
The reason for all this excitement sat on a table in the middle of the floor, directly under one of the can lights in the convention center's ceiling, giving it an air of the heavenly ordained. It was big, black, and bad, and I was curious why Dermody had another company's rifle in the Savage booth. Dermody had started the job one year before and had a reputation for shaking things up, but this was the kind of stunt that could get you unemployed.
"My friend, that is certainly not your daddy's Savage," he said. It was not my daddy's Savage for sure, but despite the radical looks, it was a Savage rifle.
Indeed, the Savage Bolt Action Sniper (BAS) and its Bolt Action Target/Sniper (BAT/S) variation scarcely look as though they rolled out of the storied Westfield, Massachusetts, plant that has been producing one of America's most accurate and inexpensive factory bolt-action rifles for more than 50 years. The familiar Model 10 action was paired with a heavy, fluted bull barrel affixed with an aggressive muzzle brake. A monster Picatinny rail crawled down the receiver and across half the length of the barrel--two additional railed sections sat opposite one another ahead of the ejection port. There was not an iota of wood, polymer, or plastic to be found on the stock; it was all machined aluminum. A detachable-box magazine sat ahead of an AR-style pistol grip, and an any-which-way-you-want-it target stock completed the package.
After having looked over the rifle for five minutes, the shock wore off, and I realized my surprise was misplaced. In the past few years, Savage had undergone a renaissance, taking advantage of the Model 10's inherent abilities and focusing the tremendous manufacturing capabilities at hand to produce some fantastic new rifles. No other major firearms manufacturer produces an off-the-shelf F-Class rifle, chambers custom cartridges like 6.5-284 Norma, or offers varmint shooters multiple twist rates for the same caliber. While the Precision Target and Predator series rifles were a step ahead of the competition, the BAS and BAT/S variation raise the bar even more. I posed the obvious question to Dermody, "Why?"
"We build some of the most accurate factory rifles in the world, and the military, law enforcement, and civilian shooters want precision rifles," Dermody said. "Black rifles are all the rage, but we don't build AR-15s. We are a bolt-gun company. So we pulled bits and pieces from the black-gun world and put them in a bolt gun that really shoots."
The BAS Up Close
The BAT/S variation arrived a month later. I laid it on my desk and called Dan Borecki, a product design engineer at Savage, who helped turn an idea on paper into a rifle that works. Borecki explained that each week, engineers, salesmen, and marketing guys sit down and talk about what the company should build next and how they will build it, often taking their cues from custom-gun builders. Such meetings are where the AccuTrigger, the Predator rifle, and the Model 12 F-Class rifles were born.
"This rifle had to look bad, unlike anything we had produced before, but still perform," Borecki said. "It had to incorporate AR-15 components and have the ability to change. The obvious answer was a modular system."
The silver wedge prevents the recoil lug from moving under recoil and is one part of the new AccuStock design that provides three-dimensional bedding for the BAS's action. The three main sections of the stock are machined from aluminum and can be disassembled in a few minutes by removing Allen-head screws. The modular design will make caliber and part swaps a cinch. The target-style pistol grip is the same as used on AR-style rifles. The difference between the BAS and BAT/S is the type of stock; the BAT/S (rear) has a target model stock, and the BAS has an M4 six-position stock. Both have adjustable cheekpieces.
The BAS system has a four-piece stock. The fore-end, receiver, and pistol grip sections are machined from 6061 T6 aluminum alloy and connected with Allen-head screws. The stock is extremely rigid but can be disassembled in a few seconds. The fore-end section is essentially just a U-shaped tube that does not contact the barrel along its entire length and has left- and right-side sling swivels and one underneath for a bipod. A 1â„2-inch-wide cut runs the length of the section to help reduce weight.
The receiver section is just shy of 10 inches long and holds one of the platform's more interesting features, one that Savage hopes takes the shooting world by storm the way the AccuTrigger did. One of the most important contact surfaces on the entire rifle is where the recoil lug sits in the stock. Most custom-rifle makers glass bed this contact area so the lug has no way to move under recoil, but the operation takes a lot of time and three days to cure. Savage engineers figured out a way to mechanically bind the action to the stock, a system they call the AccuStock.
"When the action is drawn into position with the action screws, the side rails of the chassis displace and cradle the receiver under tension," Borecki said. "An additional screw pulls a wedge against the recoil lug, and this eliminates the recoil and counter recoil motion of the lug, locking the lug into place against a known surface. It's essentially three-dimensional bedding."
|Savage Bolt Action Sniper|
|Model:||BAS (BAT/S tested)|
|Purpose:|| Precision tactical rifle|
118 Mountain Rd.
Suffield, CT 06078
|Action Type:|| Bolt-action |
|Magazine type and capacity:|| Detachable box/10 rounds |
|Receiver Material:|| 4140 steel alloy|
|Caliber:|| .308 Winchester|
|Barrel Length:|| 24 inches plus muzzle brake |
|Rifling:|| 1:10 RH twist|
|Sights:||Drilled and tapped for scope bases, M1913 Picatinny rail provided|
|Metal Finish:|| Matte black oxide|
|Trigger Type:|| AccuTrigger|
|Pull weight:|| User-adjustable, 1.5-6 pounds|
|Stock:|| Machined aluminum, modular|
|Stock finish:|| Powder coat|
|Drop at heel:|| Adjustable|
|Drop at comb:||Adjustable|
|Length of pull:||Adjustable|
|Buttpad:|| Stippled grip|
|Sling studs/swivels:|| One read, three foward sling studs|
|Weight, empty||13.3 lbs. (14.2 as tested)|
|Overall Length:|| 47 in. |
|Price:|| $1,852 ($1,991 BAT/S)|
For more details on the Accu-Stock/AccuRail system, see Senior Field Editor Layne Simpson's article on bedding on page 44.
On standard rifles, the AccuRail extrusion is molded directly into the stock. Working this element into the BAS stock was a challenge. Borecki said the extrusion was eliminated, a similar chassis was machined from barstock, and the receiver was modified so it would fit. The wedge tension screw sits ahead of the forward action screw and requires about 40 inch-pounds of torque to lock the new recoil lug into place.
If the pistol grip section looks like an AR-15 lower, it is no accident. The section uses an AR pistol grip and buffer tube/castle nut arrangement to attach the buttstock. Obviously, there is no buffer, but the tube diameter and threads are the same. To remove the stock, simply loosen the castle nut and spin the attachment tube out of the pistol-grip section.
"We didn't want to reinvent the wheel, and the M4 buttstock on the BAS is a great example," Borecki said. "The rifle would feel very similar for shooters who are familiar with AR rifles."
Blending AR components into a bolt-rifle stock took a tremendous amount of design work, over a month of modeling, according to Borecki. The end result is a system that is robust and good looking.
"We wanted it to look like a Lamborghini, but that wasn't easy," Borecki said. "The hand has to be comfortable, but the grip can't look out of place. We used the same angles everywhere we could to help the components blend."
The only difference between the BAS and BAT/S is the buttstock. The BAS utilizes a six-position M4 stock with the important addition of an adjustable cheekpiece that helps a shooter line up with an optic. The "T" in BAT/S stands for target since the riflestock steals its inspiration from the Model 12 Palma rifle. The Palma stock is laminate, and the BAT/S is aluminum, but just about everything is adjustable from the length of pull to the height of the cheekpiece to the recoil pad's cant.
Into this space-age stock fits a shockingly standard barreled action--there are no major differences between the BAS and any other LE Model 10. The tubular receiver is turned from 4140 carbon steel round stock and is cut to accept a detachable, sturdy 10-round box magazine. The magazine-release mechanism is housed in the pistol-grip section and consists of a simple paddle that is pushed forward to drop the magazine. Most importantly, the magazine does not rattle. The release lever can be reached with the middle finger without much repositioning of the firing hand.
The detachable box magazine is a huge plus, and it locks solidly into place. It allows quick magazine changes and gives snipers or target shooters an easy way to switch loads.
The bolt is fairly complicated. The bolt head, with its dual, opposing locking lugs, is affixed to the body of the bolt with a large through-pin. A wave washer puts pressure on the bolt head, but it essentially floats into the locking-lug mortises. Extraction is accomplished with a claw extractor that sits in a recess in the face of the right locking lug, and a plunger-style ejector kicks the empty clear. The front and rear baffles and oversized bolt handle are cast parts. The rifle comes with the LE AccuTrigger, adjustable from 1.5 to 6 pounds with a provided tool. A three-position safety is mounted on the tang just behind the bolt shroud.
The 24-inch, fluted, button-rifled barrel is locked into pl
ace using Savage's patented barrel nut. The barrel is threaded into the receiver, and a "go-gauge" cartridge is loaded into the chamber. The barrel is then screwed down on the go-gauge, and the barrel nut is tightened. This allows for fast but extremely accurate head spacing and has been lauded as the reason Savage rifles are so accurate. Savage installed a muzzle brake of the company's own design but used threads that are common to other brakes and many suppressors on the market. A crush washer assures the brake comes off only when you want it off.
Another key feature of the BAS is the huge M1913 mil-spec rail that is mounted on the receiver. Starting at the back receiver bridge, it extends a full 18 inches. As indicated by the objective bell relief cut, it was intended to extend well beyond the optic's objective. This allows the easy mounting of thermal- or night-vision devices, such as the PVS-22 or PVS-24. The military prefers to fight at night, and many LE call-outs occur in the dark, so it made a lot of sense to simplify the mounting process and provide a place for night-vision equipment.
As I mentioned earlier, two additional, 5-inch sections of rail saddle the receiver, starting just ahead of the ejection port. These "wings" would be great locations to mount PEQ-2 and PEQ-5 infrared aiming/illumination devices, should there be one lying around the armory. Four 6-48 screws hold the rail onto the receiver.
"Everyone is rail crazy these days, and there are a lot of rail systems out there," Borecki said. "We knew our rail had to accept a wide variety of optics and image intensifiers, so we designed one that would cover all the bases. It currently is machined from 6061 T6 barstock, but we will probably use an extrusion in the future."
The entire gun--both stock and action--is put through an abrasion process. The stock is given a matte-black powder-coat, and the action is in black oxide. The finish is rough to the touch but is intended to withstand nasty environments.
Shooting The BAT/S
After talking about the BAT/S for a couple of hours, I was anxious to see how it shot. The rifle was paired with a U.S. Optics SN-3 3.2-17X T-PAL scope mounted in rings by the same company. U.S. Optics makes one of the best long-range, precision scopes on the market, custom building each scope to the customer's specs. With the best ammunition and optics money could buy, it would be up to the rifle to deliver.
Despite wind gusts of up to 20 mph, the BAT/S performed exceptionally well. Since they are designed for the world's toughest shooting conditions, I always run the Fallujah drill when testing tactical rifles. The five, five-shot groups are shot consecutively without allowing the barrel to cool. The rifle is given a 10-minute cooling period then hammered with the next round of test ammunition. With the new Savage rifle, I did occasionally wait for the strongest, full-value wind gusts to die down between shot strings, but otherwise, I did not give the BAT/S a break until my ammunition supply was exhausted.
Opposing sections of Picatinny rail are machined into the optics rail and could be used for mounting infrared laser pointers and illuminators. Underneath the rail, the iconic Savage barrel nut allows for precise and fast headspacing during manufacture.
The accuracy results speak for themselves. This particular rifle preferred 168-grain match bullets, but most .308 rifles do. It shot consistently, hot or cold, with group sizes changing little from first group to the last. With the U.S. Optics scope and Harris benchrest bipod, the test BAT/S weighed in at 15 pounds, 8 ounces. Because of the rifle's substantial weight and aggressive muzzle brake, recoil was nil. The shooter is treated to a strange pinging sensation with each shot, something I have found when shooting other metal-stocked rifles.
I met up with my neighbor who is the sniper for the local SWAT team, handed him the rifle. Between my range time and his once-over, we only came up with a handful of possible improvements. The adjustable cheekpiece on both the BAS and BAT/S stocks, though comfortable, is a little flimsy. The rifle is heavy, but since the stock is aluminum, there are plenty of places for lightening cuts if weight is an issue. Recreational shooters could eliminate the forward and side rail sections and save a ton of weight if they knew their chances to purchase a $10,000 night-vision attachment were pretty slim.
If the rifle is a commercial success, Dermody said Savage will follow up the .308 with other calibers in other action lengths. Target shooters or snipers who wanted the long-range punch of a .300 Winchester Magnum or .338 Lapua would simply have to remove the screws holding the receiver section in place and bolt on the pistol grip and fore-end sections to the new action/receiver section. Loss of zero would not be a problem since the rail would stay with the action. Creating a completely new rifle would take just a few minutes, and the savings would be substantial.
Savage's new "black rifle" certainly meets all the design goals set before the first part was machined. The BAS and BAT/S are tackdriving, modular rifles that bring new features and new possibilities to the world of precision shooting.