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Savage’s New Lightweight Hunter… Less Is Really More

November 18, 2011
By Bill Waugaman , Ohio Valley Outdoors

Starting in December '08 and every deer season thereafter, I made the suggestion to Savage of producing a light weight centerfire rifle. In January '11, my friends at Savage let me know that they will be introducing a light hunting rifle. At the NRA Convention in Pittsburgh earlier this year, I saw the new Savage Lightweight Hunter had become a reality.

For the people who attended the Savage Range Day at Hidden Valley Sportsmen's Club (West Middlesex, PA), they had the unique opportunity to shoot the new Lightweight Hunter with Nikon scope in 6.5 Creedmoor. Everyone attending the Gun and Sporting Goods Show at Hidden Valley in September 2011 also had an opportunity to hold the rifle in 7mm-08 sent for evaluation. Positive feedback at both events point to one conclusion... this rifle will be a winner for Savage.

--- Metal Finish

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Savage Arms has recently updated their production facility with new bead blasting equipment. Bead blasting is a process where extremely small and perfectly round metal shot is used to remove a gloss finish and enhance durability. On the Lightweight Hunter, the black oxide finish on the barrel and receiver are bead blasted to give an extremely nice appearance.

--- Barrel

The carbon steel barrel on the Lightweight Hunter is 20" long and has the lightest taper of any barrel made by Savage. The short barrel and light taper both contribute substantially to the weight savings. However, a short barrel may reduce muzzle velocity depending on the cartridge and powder. Cartridges utilizing fast burn power perform better in short barrels; slow burn powder will not build up adequate pressure in a short barrel, resulting in the loss of velocity.

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Savage Lightweight Hunter

Accuracy is a priority at Savage Arms. With the Lightweight Hunter, Savage did not jeopardize the accuracy potential in their goal to reduce weight. For starters, the barrel screws into the receiver setting the headspace to zero; each rifle is individually head spaced. Once in position, a barrel nut is used to secure and lock the barrel down. The barrel is free floated, another technique use to produce shot-after-shot consistency. The bore at the muzzle is protected with a rounded crown.

--- Bolt/Action/Receiver

The designers and engineers at Savage did an excellent job with the carbon steel receiver keeping with the objective of reducing weight without going to expensive, high priced materials as other firearms manufacturers have done. The receiver has six areas machined out (four on the left, two on the right) in such a way to give an aesthetically clean look without compromising strength. The recoil lug is actually a separate piece secured in place between the barrel nut and the receiver. The combined weight of the barrel/receiver/action is only 2.7 pounds.

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"Savage's commitment to 'out of the box accuracy' holds true for the Lightweight Hunter.

The receiver is pillar bedded with steel inserts in the stock for metal to metal contact. Pillar bedding reinforces the receiver/stock contact making it more rigid and resulting in improved accuracy and consistency.

The bolt is aggressively spiral fluted reducing its weight to .75 pounds. Why spiral fluting versus straight fluting? The spiral fluting is designed to allow the bolt to slide and turn more smoothly in the rear of the receiver. The left lug on the bolt head is the usual square shape and slides in a channel on the inside of the receiver. The right lug has a notch that rides on a rail from the front to back in the receiver.

The Lightweight Hunter does have a detachable box magazine with the retaining latch on the front of the magazine. The magazine is easily removed by pushing the latch rearward with the index finger and letting it drop into your hand. The sides of the magazine are metal with the bottom plate made from fiber reinforced nylon for strength and durability; weight is less than three ounces. The trigger guard and magazine guide are also made from the same fiber reinforced nylon and weigh less than two ounces.

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The three-position safety is in the rifle's tang at the back of the receiver and smoothly moves back and forth with the thumb. The safety slide button is knurled making it easy to move even with gloved or cold hands. In the fire position (fully forward), a red dot can be seen with peripheral vision while looking through the scope. The middle position is a safe/unload position that allows the bolt to work; the rear position is a safe/lock position that locks the bolt down preventing any movement.

The bolt release is located in front of the trigger guard.

--- Stock

The stock on the Lightweight Hunter is made out of American walnut and has a matte, oil finish; it is beautiful. The walnut stock/swivel studs/recoil pad only weighs 1.8 pounds (that's not a typo). Much of the weight reduction comes from the forearm that is aggressively tapered and has been slightly shortened to reduce weight. This keeps the aesthetic appearance proportional with a short barrel. The forearm is hollowed out from the bottom to further reduce weightand it looks good. Put a Savage Lightweight Hunter on display in a gun shop with other rifles and it will be the first to get attention because of the forearm.

At the other end of the stock, Savage has equipped the Lightweight Hunter with a Decelerator recoil pad. The stock has been hollowed out for additional weight savings under the recoil pad. With a rifle this light, the recoil from a .308 or .30-06 could be pretty stiff making a good recoil pad a necessity. The stock is equipped with metal swivel studs installed at the factory.

It was a surprise not to see the Lightweight Hunter offered with a light weight synthetic or composite stock.

--- Trigger

The Lightweight Hunter is equipped with an Accu-trigger. On the evaluation rifle from the factory, the sear broke at 2 lbs., 12 oz. I can't say anything about the Accu-trigger that probably hasn't been stated hundreds of times. It's good.

While the Accu-trigger may not directly enhance the accuracy of a rifle, it does elevate the ability of the person shooting the rifle.

--- Caliber Choices

The Lightweight Hunter Model 11 (short action) comes in .223, .243, .260, 6.5 Creedmoor, 7mm-08 and .308. For short actions, the overall weight is only 5.5 pounds and overall length is 40 1/4". The Model 111 (long action) comes in 6.5x284 Norma, .270 and .30-06. The weight is still only six pounds and overall length is slightly longer at 41 1/2".

--- Range Results

To say I was excited about shooting the Lightweight Hunter is an understatement. Fortunately, I had to burn up some ammo to zero the scope after bore sighting; this gave me a chance to put on my game face for actual test firing. The 7mm-08 cartridge selection was: Federal Premium 140 gr. Nosler Ballistic Tip, Winchester Supreme 140 gr. Ballistic Silvertip, Hornady Superformance 139 gr. GMX and Barnes VOR-TX 120 gr. Tipped TSX-BT.

Starting with the Federal and Winchester cartridges, both performed equally well. The Lightweight Hunter is quite capable of consistently shooting 1" to 1.5" groups with either cartridge. The target sent with the rifle from Savage was a 1" group using the same Winchester 140 gr. Ballistic Silvertip. During the sighting-in process, the Winchester cartridge did produce a nice .6" 3-shot group at 75 yards while sighting in.

The Hornady Superformance was next. The Hornady 139 gr. GMX was shooting 2.5" higher than the Federal and Winchester cartridges. With the necessary scope adjustments, the Lightweight Hunter was back in the black with consistent 1" to 1.25" groups.

Next was the Barnes VOR-TX 120 gr. Tipped TSX-BT; it was hitting 1.5" higher than the Hornady. After the needed adjustment, the Barnes VOR-TX produced the best grouping of .9", with 1" to 1.2" groups being the norm.

Savage's commitment to 'out of the box accuracy' holds true for the Lightweight Hunter. While it may not shoot under 1" groups every time, it is still quite accurate and can be a sub-MOA performer. Since this rifle shot quite differently with various cartridges, it would be best to zero the rifle with one specific cartridge, and then stick with it. If you change cartridge, be sure to sight it in again.

--- Observations

* The balance point is for the Lightweight Hunter Model 11 is about 3" in front of the trigger guard. When you shoulder this rifle, it does not take a lot of strength to hold the forearm steady. It feels really good.

* In the evaluation rifle, the bolt did not slide as smoothly as I would have expected and sounded raspy. After working the bolt back and forth during this review, it did smooth out and became quieter.

* Bolt removal seems a little awkward having to use one finger on the trigger, one on the bolt release, squeeze both simultaneously and use the other hand to slide the bolt out. Installing the bolt requires the same action.

* Putting cartridges in the magazine had a minor idiosyncrasy. The follower in the magazine is designed for the first cartridge to go down and left. If this does not happen (the first cartridge goes down and right), the third cartridge will not load into the magazine.

* While a light weight rifle does have definite appeal (regardless of the manufacturer), a light rifle also translates into more recoil than a heavier rifle. For me, the light weight is a bigger benefit than extra recoil is a detriment; I never notice the recoil when shooting at a deer.

* As tested with scope mounts, rings and Burris Fullfield E1 3-9x40, the total weight is only 6.8 pounds.

* The Lightweight Hunter is made by Savage Arms in Westfield, Massachusetts USA.

I'll admit that I like Savage firearms. I have previously evaluated four firearms from Savage, a rimfire, a muzzleloader and two centerfire rifles. They all shot well, the quality has been very good, and they were all priced to be affordable. The new Lightweight Hunter is no exception. The MSRP for the Model 11 or 111 Lightweight Hunter is $875. The actual selling price can vary from dealer to dealer.

For more information on the Burris Fullfield E1 Ballistic Plex scope, the link is:



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