April 03, 2019
By Joseph von Benedikt
I must confess this vintage rimfire dates me, but it is dear nonetheless. You see, this particular rifle was my first firearm. My father presented my twin brother and me each with one for our eighth birthday.
Manufactured by Savage from 1972 to 1989 and sold under the Stevens name as the “Crackshot,” these fine little single shots were reminiscent of the Remington Rolling Block of yore—and, in fact, some have suggested that they are a modified, upgraded version. That’s not quite accurate. In simplest terms, the Model 72 is a lever-activated falling block with an exposed hammer. More on the mechanical function later.
Both charming and slightly ungainly in appearance, Model 72s sport 22-inch octagon barrels, straight-grip buttstocks, and iron sights. They are lightweight (4 pounds, 7 ounces) and handy. Courtesy of a 13-inch length of pull, they fit kids quite well. Interestingly, although originally sold under the Stevens banner, the Model 72 is rollmarked with the Savage name.
To load, lower the lever, which rotates the falling block and exposes the chamber, and insert a .22 Short, Long, or Long Rifle cartridge. Then close the lever. It’s that simple. The hammer is left in a halfcock position, with a hammerblock that prevents the hammer from contacting the floating firing pin unless the trigger is squeezed.
Because the Model 72 features a static hammer that is left uncocked when the lever is closed on a live round, it’s a very safe design. To fire, ear the hammer back to fullcock, aim, and squeeze the trigger.
Opening the lever exposes the breech. An extractor beneath the rim of the fired cartridge case draws it a quarter-inch or so out of the chamber, from which it is plucked by hand.
Only one safety hazard is inherent to the Model 72, and that’s when lowering the hammer on a live round after deciding not to shoot. Like any lever-action design with an exposed hammer, the shooter must hold the hammerspur back while squeezing the trigger and gently lower the hammer to halfcock. If it slips, the hammer can impact the firing pin and cause an accidental discharge.
Aiming is accomplished via a simple bead front sight and a U-notch rear on a stepped ramp. There is no provision for mounting a scope.
Wood-to-metal fit is left massively proud, but the walnut is oil-finished quite nicely. A simple, flat, plastic buttplate features serrations. The fore-end is pot-bellied, and while it’s not graceful, it feels good in the hands.
Because my father purchased this rifle new around 1983, its history begins with me. Although I was allowed no ammunition, I slept with it standing in the corner beside my bed. I learned to shoot with it, and after a lot of trying and failing that taught me the importance of knowing exactly one’s point of aim/point of impact, I took my first rabbit with it.
The rifle also served as the foundation for my study of ballistics. I grew up prowling the pinon-juniper mesa country of southern Utah and found a great deal of pleasure shooting my .22 at extended ranges off the edges of those mesas. I’d pick a big sand dune below with a bush or rock and experiment with how much elevation was required to hit the target. Distances varied, and I learned a lot about the rainbow trajectory of a projectile in flight, as well as how even just a breath of wind sent it off course.
Additionally, I spent a lot of time firing various roundnose and hollowpoint .22 bullets of different weights into wet phone books, stacks of pine boards, and gallon cans full of sand. Although I was young, I’d already subscribed to Shooting Times, and as best I could I replicated the tests Dick Metcalf, Layne Simpson, and Jim Carmichel wrote about. The surprising differences in the performance of the various .22 bullets taught me to never take terminal performance for granted and led to a lifetime of fascination with the subject.
Only one thing has always bothered me about my Model 72, and that’s the trigger pull. It’s robust, weighing a stout 5 pounds, 10 ounces on my Lyman trigger scale—and it feels like even more. I suspect a savvy gunsmith could stone it to a much crisper, lighter pull, and that’s something I should probably consider having done.
To generate an accuracy chart for this article, I fired a series of three, five-shot groups with four different .22 LR loadings and one .22 Short loading. Two of the five loads averaged sub-inch groups at 25 yards. The most accurate was CCI’s 32-grain Stinger.
Although the temperature hovered around a finger-numbing 20 degrees at the time of my shootout, the Model 72 cheerfully digested all the ammo I fed it without a single misfire or malfunction. Velocity extreme spread was rather wide, which I suspect was due to the cold temperature.
Point of impact at 25 yards is exactly atop the front sight bead, which is ideal for making precise headshots on cottontails and squirrels or for perforating cans. With ammo it likes, the little rifle possesses adequate accuracy for small game at double that distance.
In addition to its single-shot charm and the panache lent by its octagon barrel, the Model 72 Crackshot is simple, lightweight, robust, and accurate, and those qualities never go out of style.