May 19, 2022
Previously, only European gun-makers marketed straight-pull centerfire hunting rifles. Blaser paved the way, and others like Strasser and Merkel took up the torch. Such rifles commonly offer some unique features, including switch-barrel capability, caliber convertibility, and right-hand/left-hand adaptability. The Euro rifles are uncommon in the United States and are uncommonly expensive. Savage’s new straight-pull rifle offers many of those features—innovative engineering, superb versatility, extraordinary speed—and traditional Savage accuracy. Plus, it costs (MSRP is $1,449) about a quarter of what an entry-level European rifle costs.
Unlike a traditional turnbolt action, the Impulse’s bolt locks into battery via six ball-bearing-type “Hexlock” lugs. Rather than turning, the bolt handle rocks forward into battery. As the bolt rocks forward, it drives an inner shaft forward, which cams the Hexlock ball bearings out into the locking-lug recesses. Pulled back, the handle rocks rearward about an inch to unlock the bolt, then pulls the entire bolt assembly back.
A sturdy, 0.26-inch-wide extractor draws the empty case from the chamber, and a fixed, blade-type ejector heaves it out the ejection port. Depending on how briskly you work the bolt back, you can fling the empty well clear of the rifle or just dribble it out the ejection port and onto the shooting bench.
Like Savage’s other bolt actions, the bolthead is a separate part and is pinned to the bolt body, enabling it to “float.” This enables all the locking lugs to find equal bearing equilibrium. When pulled rearward, the bolt handle cams the firing pin spring to the compressed position. In essence, it’s a “cock-on-opening” design. When run forward, a small lug on the bottom of the cocking piece engages with the trigger assembly. The trigger is Savage’s adjustable AccuTrigger. According to my Lyman digital trigger gauge, my rifle’s AccuTrigger breaks right at 3.0 pounds—nice and crisp—as set at the factory.
At the rear of the action, the Impulse’s bolt shroud is attractive, with sort of a space-age industrial look. At the left rear is the bolt release button. Press it and pull directly rearward to remove the bolt. It’s a quantum leap forward for Savage and eliminates the gymnastics required to get a bolt out of the company’s turnbolt actions.
There’s no need to press the button to replace the bolt. Just remember to orient the handle down in its proper position, rather than up as on a turnbolt design, and push straight in. The bolt will slide easily into place.
A couple of times I managed to inadvertently rotate the bolt handle into its forward position while the bolt was out of the action. No worries—just grip the bolt body with your support hand and crank the bolt back to the rear. It’s much easier to do than rotating the cocking piece on a traditional bolt action.
When forward in battery, the bolt locks in position, whether the safety is on or off. A button conveniently placed on the rear of the bolt shroud enables the shooter to unlock the bolt and pull it rearward. It’s a nice feature that allows you to clear an unfired round from the chamber with the safety still engaged.
Now here’s the coolest thing about the Impulse action: You can swap the bolt handle from right to left. Yep, it’s adaptable for southpaws. And because the safety is located on the tang, it’s ambidextrous, too. The only thing that isn’t ambidextrous is the ejection port, but as lefty shooters have proved for decades, a right-hand ejection port just isn’t much to worry about.
Follow the instructions in the manual to learn how to swap the bolt from one side to the other or watch Savage’s introductory video on the Impulse. It’s easy. The side-swap can be done in less than a minute, with no tools, aside from the tip of a bullet. I like that kind of engineering. Also, you can change the angle of the bolt handle to suit your reach and preferred feel.
Savage really got the Impulse action right. After the straight-pull design, of foremost interest is the fact that the receiver is made of machined aluminum, with a steel barrel extension imbedded for the Hexlock system to interface with. Weight is light, and manufacturing cost is low.
Up top is a 1913-spec Picatinny-type rail for mounting scope rings, machined integral as part of the receiver. It’s strong and concentric. Catering to long-range shooters, it has 20 MOA of elevation built in.
Although Savage designates the Impulse’s carbon steel barrel as a medium contour, it’s a straight-taper tube that looks and feels more like a heavy sporter to me, at least on the .308 Win. “Big Game” version I tested. On the outside it’s fluted, threaded 5/8-24 at the muzzle, and nicely finished in Hazel Green Cerakote. Inside, it’s button rifled, and it’s hand-straightened in the classic Savage way.
From what I can tell, the magazine is a traditional Savage detachable box. Capacity is four rounds in .308 Win., .243 Win., 6.5 Creedmoor, and .30-06; three rounds in .300 Win. Mag.; and two rounds in .300 WSM. The bottom metal appears to be cast.
The magazine release lever is located in a protective pocket forward of the magazine and is easy to reach and activate. A rakish angle and profile lend distinction to the good-looking trigger guard.
To provide maximum accuracy and stock configurability without breaking the bank, Savage utilized its AccuStock. On this Big Game version of the Impulse, it’s painted in KUIU Verde 2.0 camo, and it looks great. The AccuFit AccuStock includes an assortment of different-height comb risers, enabling the shooter to finesse cheek-weld to perfection, and stock length spacers so you can make the length of pull fit you perfectly. A full-length machined aluminum bedding block provides a solid, consistent bed for the Impulse action.
In addition to the Big Game variation tested for this article, the Impulse was introduced in two other versions: the Hog Hunter, which sports a matte black receiver and barrel and OD Green stock (6.5 Creedmoor, .308, .30-06, and .300 Win. Mag.; MSRP: $1,379) and the Predator, which has matte black metal parts and Mossy Oak Terra Gila camo stock (.22-250, .243, 6.5 Creedmoor, and .308; MSRP: $1,379).
To wring out the Impulse and see just how reliable and accurate it is, I mounted a Sightmark 3-18X 50mm Citadel series scope. It has a six-times zoom ratio, a front-focal-plane illuminated MOA reticle, and low-profile locking turrets. It’s built on a 30mm main tube, and it offers many of the desirable features of today’s cutting-edge long-range optics. At $480 suggested retail, it is more affordable than most.
I had not worked with Sightmark’s Citadel line of scopes until now, and I found myself impressed. Clarity was good right up to 18X, and little distortion was visible until right at max power. Even then, it was minimal. The parallax focus knob was marked in yards, and a brief parallax elimination exercise demonstrated that the graduations are right on the money.
For a hunter, however, the front-focal-plane reticle perhaps isn’t the best choice. My son William (age 10) glanced through the scope with the magnification set on 3X, and remarked, “I’d hate to try and shoot a black bear with this reticle. I can hardly see it!”
He’s right. For use in low light in brushy terrain on a black animal, the reticle would be very hard to see when set on minimum magnification—which is, of course, where you’d need it in that situation. “Good thing you can turn the illuminated reticle on,” I responded, and grinned as his face lit up. “However, in some states illuminated reticles aren’t legal,” I hastened to add.
Because it’s the civilized thing to do, I mounted a suppressor on the Impulse, picking my Gunwerks 6IX can for the task. It’s nice and compact and very effective. At the shooting bench, with a Harris bipod up front and a bunny-ear sandbag beneath the toe of the Impulse’s stock, I fired a series of 100-yard groups with each of several different types of ammunition. Since the Impulse is a rifle designed for speed, and it has a fairly large-diameter barrel that should stand up to hot-barrel shooting, I ran the rifle through an aggressive test protocol I usually reserve for match rifles, firing three consecutive three-shot groups for average without allowing the barrel to cool between. This enables me to evaluate hot-barrel accuracy, as well as track any point-of-impact shifts as the barrel heats.
Right from the start the Impulse printed nice, tidy groups. In fact, three of the five factory loads I tested averaged less than 3/4 MOA. That’s darned good for any well-built traditional bolt-action rifle with a good stiff barrel. It was good to see the straight-pull design, with its unique lockup system, holding up to serious accuracy testing and to hot-barrel testing. Equally impressive, point of impact shifted not a whit, even when I ran the Impulse to the scorching point.
Formal accuracy testing complete, I put the Impulse through a series of informal rapid-fire drills, attempting to assess how fast it really is. I’ve tested most of the very good European straight-pull rifles, and although it’s fast, the Savage is different.
First, it feels more vault-like when it closes. That’s a good thing, inspiring confidence, which is necessary when marketing a new type of action. It also feels vault-like when opening the action, requiring a brisk, I-mean-it kinda tug on the bolt handle to get it moving. Candidly, it slowed me down a bit and made it difficult to watch my target through my scope as I functioned the action.
However, like anything mechanical, the Impulse benefits from familiarity, and the more I worked it, the faster and more sure I became with it. With practice, it would almost surely be faster than most traditional turnbolt rifles.
In my opinion, the Impulse stands with the European straight-pull Blaser and Strasser rifles in the realms of accuracy and reliability and nearly so in adaptability. It’s not as effortless to function, but then, it’s not as expensive, either.
In addition to evaluating speed, my rapid-fire tests enabled me to work the Impulse out hot and heavy, with all the fumbles and foibles caused by attempting to shoot at extreme speed, in order to evaluate its reliability. As long as I worked it briskly, it felt easy. Even when run tentatively, although it felt rougher and as if it required considerable effort, the Impulse still functioned with flawless reliability. As a side note, you can single-feed your empty Impulse by tossing a fresh cartridge into the ejection port and slamming the bolt home. Yep, I tried it.
Weight, with the Sightmark riflescope and Harris bipod aboard, is 11 pounds, 7 ounces. With the 12-ounce suppressor installed, it’s well over 12 pounds. This is no extreme backcountry rig. However, balance is good, with a forward-weighted feel that helps me point naturally and swing consistently. Plus, the inherent weight dampens recoil and makes the rifle nice and stable from improvised shooting positions in the field.
The Impulse is not just another Savage bolt rifle. It shows the company is relevant on today’s cutting-edge rifle scene, and I think it is very possibly a look into the future of firearm design.
I consider the Impulse to be the most innovative, useful design Savage has come out with since its 1899 lever action—a big-game rifle that permanently stamped the Savage name on the hearts of American hunters across the nation.
- Manufacturer: Savage Arms; savagearms.com
- Type: Straight-pull bolt-action repeater
- Caliber: .308 Win.
- Magazine Capacity: 4 rounds
- Barrel Length: 22 in.
- Overall Length: 43.5 in.
- Weight, Empty: 8.8 lbs.
- Stock: AccuStock
- Length Of Pull: 12.75 to 13.75 in.
- Finish: Hazel Green Cerakote barreled action, KUIU Verde 2.0 camo stock
- Sights: None; integral Picatinny rail
- Trigger: Single-stage AccuTrigger, 3-lb. pull (as tested)
- Safety: Two position
- MSRP: $1,449