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Savage Beauty

Savage Beauty

The Model 110, an ingenious but largely unsung bolt action, turns 50 years old.

Ask a shooter to name the greatest bolt actions of all time and you will hear two or three names: Mauser 98, Winchester Model 70, maybe the Remington 700. Rarely if ever will the Savage 110 be included, and that is an injustice because the 110--now America's oldest bolt action rifle in continuous production--is an unsung hero.

The Savage 110, introduced in 1958 and celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, has proven over its lifetime that it not only has the positive qualities its designers wanted but a few unexpected ones as well.

The 110 was designed by Nicholas Brewer, an engineer for Savage Arms in the 1950s. In the postwar years, great attention was paid to simplifying manufacturing processes, reducing costs and lowering the retail price of all guns to make them more competitive. The greatest knock on the Mauser 98 and the Model 70 were the hundreds of machining operations required to make them, so Savage Arms gave Nicholas Brewer a set of guidelines: He was to design an action that would be both strong and safe, yet easy and inexpensive to manufacture, and ultimately cost less than its competitors.

The result was the Savage 110, one of few actions from that era that owes almost nothing to the Mauser 98. In fact, except for its dual opposing locking lugs on the front of the bolt, the 110 has little in common with the Mauser.

Brewer solved the problem of multiple, complex machining cuts on a single part by making the bolt an assembly of individual parts, each of which was easy to manufacture. Some were investment castings, others machined parts.

The main beneficiary of this approach was the bolt, which consists of about a half-dozen major parts fastened together. Unlike the Mauser or Model 70, the bolt shaft, bolt handle and bolt head with its locking lugs are separate pieces.


Savage and Brewer also took an entirely new approach to safety. To guard against gas escape back through the bolt in the event of a pierced or blown primer, the Mauser 98 incorporates a large flange on the bolt shroud to deflect gas that escapes back through the action. For this to have the desired effect, of course, the gas has already invaded the action where it can wreak havoc in any parts it penetrates.

Brewer solved this problem by placing what looks like a second set of locking lugs behind the lugs themselves. When the bolt is closed, the actual lugs rotate into the lug recesses, but the rear set remains in the lug raceways, effectively sealing them off to escaping gas. Should any gas escape from the chamber, it is directed out of the action through two holes for that purpose.

The bolt handle, which turns down into a substantial notch in the receiver, acts as a third safety lug. As an added safeguard, Brewer placed a collar on the rear of the bolt in approximately the same place Paul Mauser placed the flange on his shroud. This collar is manufactured separately and installed at less expense than the cost of milling a flange onto a shroud.

Inside the bolt, Brewer developed a completely new approach to adjusting firing-pin protrusion. He positioned an adjustable nut on the striker that comes in contact with the rear of the bolt face, allowing protrusion of the striker to be determined exactly and then set immovably in place.

Savage took a similar approach with the issue of headspace, barrel positioning and the recoil lug.

To celebrate the anniversary of the Model 110, Savage has produced

a limited-edition run of 1,000 rifles with high-grade wood, gold inlays, a gold-plated trigger and high-gloss blueing. Fittingly, it's chambered to .300 Savage.

Photo by Mustafa Bilal

On traditional bolt actions, headspace is adjusted (and headspace problems corrected) by turning the threaded barrel in or out. In the case of excess headspace, the barrel needs to be turned another complete rotation and the chamber re-cut.

Brewer designed the 110's barrel to be locked in position by a threaded collet. With the bolt in the action and closed, and a no-go headspace gauge in the chamber, the barrel is screwed on until it can go no further, ensuring minimum headspace, and the collet is then tightened down, locking the barrel in place.

A rifle's recoil lug is the steel extension on the front of the receiver. It is embedded in the stock and absorbs the force of recoil rather than stressing the guard screws or less durable parts of the action. On the Mauser 98, it is an integral part of the receiver, machined to shape.

Brewer's approach was to manufacture the recoil lug as a separate piece of steel that is positioned between the receiver and the barrel, slipping on like a ring. It is locked in place when the collet on the barrel is tightened.

The Model 110 was not Savage Arms' first bolt action, but it was by far its most successful in terms of both design and sales. It burst onto the scene at a transitional period in U.S. firearms history. Bolt actions were shouldering aside the old American favorite, the lever action, including Savage's own star, the 99.

Within a year or two of its introduction, Savage began bringing out variations on the Model 110. From the beginning, the 110 had a claim to fame that no other bolt action had: It was available in both right- and left-handed actions. Brewer's principle of assembling a bolt from individual parts lent itself admirably to manufacturing a mirror-image action that worked from the other side.

So, too, it could be made in different lengths, and from the beginning Savage offered a short, long and "long magnum" action. In truth, there were only two lengths, the magnum action being merely a slightly altered version.

It is well-known today that having all the parts of an action exactly aligned--barrel, bolt and receiver--is the secret of good accuracy. This is best achieved by turning as many parts as possible on a lathe to get concentricity. By a happy coincidence, fashioning parts on a lathe from bar stock is also an extremely cost-effective method of manufacturing, and so the twin desires for great accuracy and low cost come together.

The Savage 110 was one of the earliest bolt-action designs to incorporate these benefits of

lathe turning, and from the beginning, the 110 established a reputation for accuracy that belied its low price and, to some, rather proletarian appearance.

One complaint about the 110 was its original trigger mechanism which, while adequate, was difficult to adjust. In 1966, when Savage introduced the Model 110C with its detachable magazine, it also brought out an improved trigger. This remained the standard trigger on the 110-series rifles until almost 40 years later when, in 2005, Savage introduced the AccuTrigger.

The AccuTrigger incorporates, in effect, an integral safety that allows the trigger to be adjusted to very light, crisp pulls yet ensures there is no accidental discharge by the trigger "jarring off" through a fall or the bolt being closed violently.

Over its lifetime, the Savage 110 has appeared in so many guises, so many iterations, that several pages would be required merely to list them all.

The 110 (here in Model 12 F Class guise) can be built into anything from a light hunting rifle to a high-tech, long-range target gun.

The initial approach of adding letters after the numbers (110C, 110F) was expanded to include variations on the numbers themselves. Today we have the 112 (called the 12 when chambered to short-action cartridges), 114/14, 116/16 and so on. All are variations on the 110.

With the exception of the largest magnum calibers, such as the .375 H&H and .458 Lott, there is not a single category of rifle that Savage does not supply with a variation on the 110.

Having hung its hat on the concept of excellent accuracy at a low price, every modification to the 110 has furthered that strategy. This dedication paid off in 2007, when Darrell Buell walked onto the line at the Fullbore National Championships with a stock Savage Model 12 F-T/R rifle to win the match against custom rifles costing thousands of dollars more.

To celebrate the 110's golden anniversary, Savage has brought out a special limited-edition rifle. This rifle, marked Savage Model 10, is in the American "1 of 1,000" tradition. Stocked in pretty walnut--with the short action and barrel discreetly inlaid in gold and chambered for Savage's own .300 Savage--the rifle is a throwback to the days of fine craftsmanship and elegance.

But every rifleman's question is the same: How does it shoot?

To find out, I installed a Zeiss Conquest 4X scope appropriate to both rifle and caliber, set it in a Conetrol's Gunnur rings and bases, acquired a supply of factory ammunition and headed for the range. Out of the box, it delivered a four-shot group with Federal Power-Shok 150-grain that measured .86 inch--including the first shot out of a cold, clean bore.

At a list price of $1,724, the Savage anniversary rifle is out of range of most of us, and most of us wouldn't even shoot a limited-edition gun, but it is a rifle that is both attractive and extremely accurate.

From technical advances such as the Model 99's solid receiver to ground-breaking cartridges such as the .250-3000, Savage is a company that was always looking ahead. With the 50-year-old Model 110, that policy has resulted in a line of rifles that span every mainstream shooting discipline, are competitive in all of them and beat other people's prices in most of them.

A guy today could be a serious rifle shooter and hunter, own a dozen different rifles to accommodate each pursuit, and have every one of them a Savage 110. No other rifle company in the world can make that claim.

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