The truly “lightweight,” center-fire, bolt-action hunting rifle is a limited-demand arm; with the exception of backcountry hunters, shooters of small physical stature (i.e. women and youth) or disabilities, and the elderly, a rifle’s heft is largely irrelevant. But, to the aforementioned individuals, undue fatigue can affect enjoyment and, ultimately, success, when afield. As such, heaviness is a criterion when he or she selects a rifle; however, precision and, for all but the prosperous, reasonable pricing, are desirable qualities, too.
For firearm companies, though, creating an affordable, accurate, lightweight, center-fire bolt-action rifle is akin to an acrobat walking a tightrope—a balancing act with consequences for losing focus or missteps. It’s a daunting feat that few accomplish. With its Lightweight Hunter-series rifles, Savage Arms has brought its considerable experience to bear on exactly that challenge.
“Lightweight rifles have long been luxury rifles,” explained Bill Dermody, marketing manager for Savage Arms. “Our goal was to bring the luxury rifle to the regular guy.”
Lessening The Burden
Because cost isn’t as important to the clientele of low-volume custom and semi-custom gunmakers, said companies make use of a disproportionate percentage of high-tech materials in an effort to minimize weight. Potentially out-pricing the consumer base dissuades the mass producer from doing the same, so the solution is simple: additional machining time, castings and plastic. But, removing material and the use of polymer can “add” to a rifle’s aesthetics, and that’s exactly what Savage did. The company did not go the “castings” route.
“Weight reduction for any product is an art and a science; one must reduce weight but also maintain an aesthetic appeal and product integrity,” explained Dan Borecki, design engineer for Savage Arms. “A product must have the ability to grab your eye, force you to investigate and review, and make you decide whether or not you’d own it. The theme created by the receiver, bolt and stock [of the Model 11/111 Lightweight Hunter-series rifles] grabs your eye and makes you say ‘wow!’ That being said, safety is always a concern, and testing was done to validate the design intent and maintain the criteria established for our products.”
“It wasn’t enough to be light; it needed to look light, too,” said Dermody. Nowhere is “lightness” more apparent than in the receiver and the bolt. Concerning the former, a cylindrical, carbon steel billet is CNC-machined with flat sides—for an outside-to-outside dimension of 1¼ inches—and upper quadrants, while the very top and bottom are left round. “The bedding portion is consistent with our standard receiver with a full-round bottom for bedding, and that also holds true at the top for scope mount mounting,” explained Borecki. Weaver-style scope bases come pre-attached. Adorning the left, outside receiver wall are four, milled lightening slots that diminish in length nearing the receiver’s front. The rearmost slot size is duplicated on the receiver’s right rear side wall and upper quadrant. The slots displace excess material and do so in an appealing manner that invites investigation—a design goal. To prevent debris from entering the receiver, they are not bored-through. The savings in weight in the Model 11 is 1.6 ounces.
Consistent with the “paring-down” theme, even the bolt didn’t escape Borecki’s attention, though the approach and result was unusual for Savage. “The bolt body needed some fat removed,” commented Bordecki, “so the decision was made to enhance the look from a plain vanilla body to one that is a departure from our products by adding the spiral fluting.”
Each flute measures 0.200 inches in width and is finished with black oxide, contrasting with the remaining material, which is left in the white, and resulting in significant visual appeal. The flutes remove 0.8 ounces of steel from the Model 11 Lightweight Hunter—a seemingly insignificant amount, but important nontheless. With the exception of the fluting, the bolt follows suit with those of other Model 10/110-based rifles, having dual-opposed locking lugs for a 90-degree bolt lift, a sliding-plate extractor and a plunger ejector. The rear bolt baffle and handle, the latter of which has checkering on the knob to enhance purchase, has the same finish as the receiver and the barrel.
Measuring 1.75-inches tall, 1.25-inches wide and 0.195-inches thick, the recoil lug, which is secured between the newer, smooth barrel locking nut and receiver, has a small tab that corresponds to a like-sized notch at the receiver’s front. As for the 20-inch button-rifled, carbon steel barrel, it’s of the “ultra-light” contour—a first for Savage. “The contour was based on a sporter barrel,” explained Bordecki, “but for ease carry without snagging, a more slender version was chosen. It also predicated the 20-inch length.” At the locking nut the barrel measures 1.035 inches in diameter, but slims to 0.540 inches at the muzzle, where it ends in a radiused crown.
Shooters familiar with the controls of other current Savage Model 110-based rifles will also be versed in the use of those of the Lightweight Hunter’s. The three-position safety is located on the rifle’s tang, and the bolt-release button is immediately forward of the trigger guard. Standard on all but a few of its rifles, the AccuTrigger is also used on the Lightweight Hunter. The trigger is user-adjustable from 2 pounds, 8 ounces to 6 pounds, though the test rifle’s 3-pound, 2.1-ounce pull was about perfect.
With the resilience and consistency of synthetic stocks, the latter an important consideration in hostile weather conditions, I found myself asking: Is there a synthetic stock version in the works? “We are exploring it, but it’s tricky,” explained Dermody. “At this price, we will not sell the huge numbers that we do in other models. A mold for a synthetic stock can cost as much as a modest home in some areas of the country. So we are probably going to have to make some kind of engineering breakthrough to make it feasible.”
“The Axis rifle opened the door for opportunities to incorporate more engineered materials and variations in styling, as well as served as an engineering test bed to gain confidence for component utilization in other Savage products,” said Bordecki. “[The Axis] utilized components that reduce weight and provide durability.” Such experience with light, yet lasting, parts proved invaluable in not only reducing heft, but also cost, in the Lightweight Hunter-series rifles. How? The new rifle uses the same four-round, polymer-and-sheet-metal detachable box magazine as the Axis, thus no new mold. The Lightweight Hunter’s bottom unit and separate trigger guard are also made from polymer for weight savings. “The synthetic trigger guard used on the Lightweight Hunter is also used on other Savage products,” noted Bordecki. “Testing and many years of use in the field have proven them durable.”