September 29, 2020
By Steve Gash
With all the hubbub surrounding chassis rifles with monster scopes, long-range shooting, and pencil-length bullets with stratospheric ballistic coefficients, it would seem that .22 rimfires have been left in the dust. Not so. They are alive and well, and this year many companies have fleshed out their rimfire lines with new models and updates of old ones.
Throughout its 126-year lifetime, Savage Arms’s working principle has been to “design each firearm for a specific purpose,” and the new Minimalist rifles are true to that tenet. These new bantamweight bolt-action rifles advance a refreshingly different approach to rimfire rifles.
Lightweight Yet Strong
I got a look at them at the 2020 SHOT Show, and as soon as I escaped Las Vegas, I ordered two of them, one in .22 LR and one in .22 WMR. The .22 LR’s barrel is marked “Mark II,” while the .22 WMR barrel has “Model 93” roll-marked on it. A Minimalist chambered for .17 HMR is also offered. Like most of Savage’s rimfire rifles, the Minimalists are made at the plant in Lakefield, Ontario, Canada.
My new Minimalist rifles are indeed unique and, well, darn cute to boot. They are sleek bolt-action repeaters with distinctive laminate stocks that are super-strong yet lightweight. The stock comes in either brown or green, according to Savage, but I would describe them as “light brown on dark brown” and “green on dark brown.” I think they’re attractive, particularly the green version. Either color pattern can be had in any of the three chamberings.
The butt portion of the stock has a large cutout right behind the pistol grip, which has stippled gripping surfaces on each side, and the new stylized Savage logo laser engraved on both sides.
The stock also has a hard plastic buttplate, and sling-swivel studs are installed fore and aft. The tubular action and barrel are made of carbon steel, and the rifle comes with Savage’s delightful AccuTrigger, which is user-adjustable from 2.5 to 6 pounds with the special tool provided. The trigger pulls of my rifles were 3 pounds, 2.1 ounces for the .22 LR version and 2 pounds, 15.3 ounces for the .22 WMR. Both triggers were nice and crisp.
The barrel is button-rifled, 18 inches long, and comes threaded 1/2-28, should you want to add a muzzle brake or a suppressor. When I examined the bore of each rifle with my Hawkeye borescope, I noticed they looked a little rough. However, I was to find out later both rifles shot great and did not foul badly.
The barrel and action are finished in flat matte black, and a 10-round, single-stack removable box magazine is provided. The .22 LR magazine is curved and reminds me of an AK-47 magazine. The .22 WMR magazine is straight. Be advised that the magazine releases and the bottoms of the magazines are sharp, and you could scratch or cut your support hand on them if you don’t pay attention.
The two-position safety lever is located at the right rear of the action, and forward is the “Fire” position. When engaged, the safety does not lock the bolt, so the gun can be unloaded with the safety “On.” The bolt handle is 2.25 inches long, and it and the smooth knob make working the action easy. The root of the bolt handle serves as the locking lug, and the action cocks on opening.
The action does not have the typical 3/8-inch grooves like a lot of .22 rimfire rifles. Instead, the Minimalist comes with two Weaver-type bases installed. (Be sure to check the tightness of the base screws before you install your scope.) One of the scopes I used for this report is the miniature Gru-Bee 4X 24mm after a little jury-rigging to make a base (see the accompanying sidebar), and I think it makes for a nice little scope for a rimfire rifle.
Small Game’s Worst Nightmare
As I’ve stated often, about the only disadvantage of rimfire cartridges is that you can’t reload the darn things. Other than that, a bevy of rimfires is a staple of most riflemen’s batteries. I had lots of different .22 LR and .22 WMR ammo on hand, so I gave both guns a serious workout. I fired five-shot groups at 50 yards from a Caldwell DTF Lead Sled. In a nutshell, both rifles shot very well—as well, or better, than other rimfires I have tested.
The average accuracy for the 23 loads fired in the .22 LR rifle was 1.02 inches, and the range in group sizes was 1.38 inches. Some of the velocity standard deviations (SD) were rather large, but in my experience, this is not uncommon with .22 rimfires. It did not appear to hurt accuracy, however, as such loads produced some of the better groups. The Lapua Center-X and Biathlon Xtreme had impressive SDs of 5 fps and 4 fps respectively, and the CCI Sub Sonic and the SK Rifle Match loads also were quite uniform.
Top honors in accuracy for the .22 LR went to the Lapua Center-X, with an average of 0.51 inch. Very close behind were the Winchester 45-grain Super Suppressed load (0.55 inch) and CCI’s Velocitor 40-grain HP (0.58 inch). Excellent groups also were supplied by Winchester’s 40-grain Power-Point (0.83 inch) and 40-grain Super-X Super Speed (0.85 inch).
The .22 WMR is one of my favorite cartridges, and the little Minimalist really shined with it. Overall, the .22 WMR version slightly outshot its .22 LR littermate, but only slightly, and either would be the worst nightmare of a tree squirrel or a cottontail. The average accuracy of the 14 .22 WMR loads I tested was exactly one inch, the range was only 0.87 inch, and seven loads averaged under one inch. The CCI Maxi-Mag 40-grain HP averaged 0.59 inch, at a velocity of 1,764 fps.
With the .22 WMR, I favor bullets heavier than the 40-grain bullets common in almost all .22 LR ammo, as they have quite an edge in power over the .22 LR, with energy levels of the 45- and 50-grain bullets of 212 ft-lbs and 236 ft-lbs respectively. A real sleeper is the Speer 40-grain Gold Dot load that clocked a sizzling 1,877 fps, produced a whopping 313 ft-lbs of muzzle energy, and averaged 0.93 inch, making the little rifle serious turkey medicine, indeed.
For years Federal has made a 50-grain JHP .22 WMR load and has recently added it to the “Bring your Own Bottle” (BYOB) line. This load registered 1,431 fps and averaged 0.71 inch. In the states where rifles are legal for turkeys, it is a terrific load. All my shooting results are shown in the accompanying chart.
Both of the new Minimalist bolt guns shot very well, and there were no gun malfunctions over the course of shooting many hundreds of rounds. There were, however, two ammo-related issues. I had one “dud” round with the Federal BYOB .22 LR ammo. I’m sure it wasn’t the gun’s fault, as the Minimalist’s rectangular firing pin put a serious dent in the cartridge rim. In the .22 WMR, the relatively blunt point on the Hornady Critical Defense 45-grain FTX bullet sometimes hung up a little on its way to the chamber, but all eventually chambered. This is a great load and is the ammo I use in my .22 WMR “DCR” (dedicated coon rifle). It is deadly.
Both Minimalist rifles are the definition of a good ol’ plinking fun gun. In fact, that led to my only impediment in testing the guns. During testing, I let my wife shoot the .22 LR Minimalist while I was cleaning the .22 WMR rifle. Big mistake, as she quickly claimed it as her very own, confiscated several boxes of my ammo, and proceeded to perforate a bunch of my crow and prairie dog targets. She says we have to keep it.
It can be safely assumed that the popularity of .22 rimfire cartridges will continue unabated for the foreseeable future. Kids of all ages dote on .22s, and ammo companies offer a vast array of loads for just about any shooting activity. The availability of attractive, functional, and economical rifles like the Savage Minimalists will certainly contribute to the continuation of this legacy.
Savage Arms Minimalist Rifle Specs
- Manufacturer: Savage Arms, savagearms.com
- Type: Bolt-action repeater
- Caliber: .22 LR, .22 WMR
- Magazine Capacity: 10 rounds
- Barrel: 18 in.
- Overall Length: 37 in.
- Weight, Empty: 5.7 lbs.
- Stock: Laminated hardwood
- Length of Pull: 13.75 in.
- Finish: Matte black barrel and action, semigloss stock
- Sights: None; scope mount bases installed
- Trigger: 3.13-lb. pull .22 LR; 2.96-lb. pull .22 WMR (as tested)
- Safety: Two position
- MSRP: $359
Savage Arms Minimalist Accuracy & Velocity