Review: Savage Model 11 Hunter XP
July 27, 2018
For some of us, figuring out which rifle and scope to buy is almost as much fun as actually having the new rig. (Okay, I said almost.) But with all the new rifles and cartridges and scopes with all sorts of dials, lighted reticles, and other doodads, picking and choosing the "right" combination can be a job. Mostly, we hunters just want a dependable rifle, chambered for the most modern, or perhaps a classic, cartridge, from a reputable firm that stands behind its products. A rifle that comes with a nice scope mounted and bore sighted is a bonus and easy on the pocketbook. Several firms offer rifle and scope combinations that meet these criteria. Savage is one of them.
Recent offerings are the Model 11 (short action) and the Model 111 (long action) rifles that come complete with a Bushnell 3-9X 40mm Trophy scope mounted in Weaver-style top mount rings in Weaver bases and bore sighted and ready for a final range zero. The Model 11 and Model 111 are chambered for 15 cartridges from the .243 Winchester to the .338 Winchester Magnum.
Savage Model 11 Hunter XP
When I recently got the chance to hunt black bear for the first time, I selected a Savage Model 11 Hunter XP chambered for the efficient and popular 7mm-08 round. The Bushnell Trophy 3-9X 40mm scope mounted and bore sighted on my rifle had the DOA 600 CF reticle. DOA doesn't stand for "Dead On Arrival," but rather "Dead-On Accurate." Unlike some reticles that are cluttered up with bars and hash marks that look like miniature Christmas trees, the DOA 600 is clean and open but has plenty of "helpers" on it to aid shooting.
Below the horizontal crosshair of the DOA 600 reticle, the vertical crosshair has four little "dots," spaced to offer aiming points at distant ranges. The ranges represented by these dots are not specified because the reticle can be tailored to a wide range of loads. Each dot has a thin line extending to the side, with tiny hash marks near the end of each line for reference. These lines vary in length and represent holds into the wind at different ranges. The Trophy has a second focal plane reticle, so the user can easily "calibrate" the spaces between the dots for his load by changing the power up or down and comparing the hash marks with the trajectory of his load.
The Model 11 is a lightweight, trim rifle that functioned perfectly over the several weeks of my testing. With the Trophy scope, the package weighs less than 8 pounds, so it would not be burdensome to carry on a long hike in the hills. The action and barrel have a pleasing matte black finish, and the bolt is Damascus jeweled.
The rifle has Savage's remarkable AccuTrigger, which is user-adjustable with the provided tool. The weight of pull on my test rifle was 4 pounds, 4 ounces. I briefly considered adjusting the pull weight to something a little lighter, but it broke so crisply and felt so light that I decided not to make any adjustments to it.
The three-position safety is on the tang and works easily and positively. The back and middle positions are "on safe." The back position also locks the bolt. In the middle position, the bolt can be cycled, but the rifle is still "on safe," so the chamber can be unloaded safely. With the safety pushed all the way forward, a red dot is revealed, indicating that the safety is off and the rifle is ready to fire.
The 22-inch barrel is chrome-moly steel. It's button rifled and has a 10-inch twist. I checked the bore with my Hawkeye Borescope, and the rifling looks smooth and uniform. Subsequent shooting showed little copper fouling, confirming my suspicions about the bore. The detachable box magazine holds four standard-diameter cartridges and three of the fatter magnum rounds.
The bolt release is a large button in front of the trigger guard. It works fine, but it wouldn't hurt to have three hands to use it. First, make sure the rifle is unloaded and the safety is "off." Then, raise the bolt handle; this will cock the rifle. Next, at the same time pull the trigger back and push the bolt release button. This is best done with the middle finger on the trigger and the index finger on the bolt release. Finally, with the other hand on the bolt handle, withdraw the bolt. To replace the bolt, just push both the trigger and the bolt release simultaneously and insert the bolt.
As my readers know, I am not fond of black plastic stocks, so I experienced considerable trepidation before I saw and handled the Model 11. Now I have to admit that the stock is not pretty, but it is functional. There are plenty of sturdy cross-members of synthetic material that support the action, and these create several cavities that are perfect for future glass bedding, if desired.
There is ample "checkering" on the sides of the fore-end and on the pistol grip. It is molded in, but it's surprisingly well done and offers a solid handhold. The panels of checkering are subdivided with futuristic-looking smooth bars that enhance the appearance. Sling-swivel studs are provided, and the pistol grip has a synthetic cap. A great feature is a 1-inch-thick recoil pad that is soft enough to do some actual good.
The barrel is completely free-floated from the receiver ring to the muzzle. This aids accuracy and helps maintain a constant zero. However, it does have a potential downside. The fore-end is a bit flexible, and if you grasp its tip and squeeze, you can make the tip of the stock touch the barrel. Upon firing, rifles chambered for magnum cartridges can recoil violently enough to make the stock flex and touch the barrel. Of course, this is just like having a free-floated stock that touches the barrel here and there and can cause accuracy problems. I have had this happen to me with other rifles, and it's maddening until you figure it out. (The cure is a healthy dose of Acraglas Gel in those cavities under the first 3 inches or so of the barrel.) This is not a problem with mild cartridges like the 7mm-08, but it's something to be aware of.
After firing a few break-in rounds to get the rifle and scope synced up, I settled down and did some serious shooting. I surmised that shooters who pick a package rifle might not be inclined to do extensive handload development but would rather go with factory loads, so I concentrated on many (but certainly not all) of the great factory loads available for this popular round.
I tested 12 factory loads and six handloads, and frankly, I was astounded at the level of accuracy I obtained from such an inexpensive rifle. The factory loads averaged 1.16 inches. Overall, all but three of the factory loads averaged 1.20 inches or less, so there are plenty of good options.
The smallest overall average was an eye-popping 0.55 inch with the Federal Premium ammo loaded with the 140-grain Trophy Bonded Tip bullet. This is a terrific big-game bullet, so if your 7mm-08 rifle shoots this load, you're in business. The velocity was 2,805 fps, which developed 2,447 ft-lbs at the muzzle. The Federal Premium 150-grain Ballistic Tip was close behind with an average group size of 0.71 inch.
Two Hornady loads were also very accurate. The Superformance 139-grain GMX chronographed 2,922 fps and averaged 0.94 inch. The company's new American Whitetail load features the 139-grain softpoint InterLock bullet at 2,773 fps. It averaged 1.02 inches.
Another winner was a newcomer to the ammo world. The Pure Copper Spun bullet in Fort Scott Munitions loads is designed to tumble on impact—but not expand or break up—and penetration is on par in ballistic gelatin with typical cup-and-core bullets. This flies in the face of ballistic doctrine, but during the black bear hunt I mentioned earlier, this ammo in various calibers took 11 bears with 12 shots. (The sole second shot was with the .300 Blackout on a very small bear that didn't know it was dead.) The 7mm bullet weighs 120 grains, and at 3,190 fps, it was the fastest load tested. Accuracy was right up there, too, at 0.99 inch.
After the good accuracy with factory loads, I was optimistic about handloads. I wasn't disappointed. The six handloads averaged 0.90 inch, and four of them averaged under 1 inch. The highest velocity and best accuracy was with the Barnes 120-grain Triple Shock-X over 48.0 grains of Alliant Power Pro 2000-MR. Velocity was a sizzling 3,172 fps, and groups averaged 0.70 inch. Another winner was the Sierra 140-grain Spitzer with VihtaVuori N160 powder. At 2,723 fps, it averaged 0.71 inch.
I should mention that bullets in most of the handloads were seated 0.010 inch off the lands. I think this helped accuracy. This made the cartridge overall length of some loads longer than the SAAMI maximum of 2.8 inches; however, the Model 11's box magazine is just a hair short of 3 inches, so the magazine will accept rounds as long as those listed in the load table. The Barnes 120-grain TSX bullets were seated 0.050 inch off the lands, and they also shot very well.
So how should I sum up my impression of the Savage Model 11 Package rifle? It is plenty accurate. It is lightweight and well balanced. As to functioning, it was 100 percent reliable throughout my tests. The stock is properly proportioned, and the soft recoil pad effectively soaks up recoil. Best of all, at an MSRP of $684, the cost of the whole package is extremely reasonable.