October 09, 2023
If you’ve been reading gun magazines over the last three decades, the message about straight-pull rifles has remained largely the same. Even though straight pulls have been popular in Europe for generations, the American market simply has no interest in these guns. That opinion has softened over time, and straight pulls from Blaser, Strasser, Heym and others have slowly crept into gun stores and hunters’ hands over years.
But the odds of an American manufacturer offering a dedicated straight-pull centerfire hunting rifle seemed slim until Savage released its Impulse straight-pull a couple of years ago. This all-American gun manufacturer has rolled out several new firearm designs in recent years, but the Impulse is by far the most radical of the bunch.
The Impulse is a good gun, and it offers all the niceties of a traditional European straight pull without the high cost of its rivals from across the Atlantic. Shooters have been impressed with the high-tech design and lightning-fast action speed. If there is one drawback to the Impulse, it’s weight. Depending upon caliber and model, these guns weigh just shy of nine pounds.
Enter the new Impulse Mountain Hunter, which offers the same cutting-edge design and fast follow-ups but with 1.5 pounds less mass. It offers hunters all the advantages of a straight-pull rifle without breaking the bank—or your back.
Like the standard Impulse, the Mountain Hunter version uses Savage’s Hexlock bolt system. Six ball bearings are positioned around the removable bolt face, and when the cartridge is chambered and the bolt handle is moved to the forward position, the bearings extend into recesses within the barrel, locking it in position.
As pressure builds, the lockup becomes tighter and not looser. The fear with straight-pull rifles is that, unlike bolt actions that rotate into position and are held in place by locking lugs, a straight-pull bolt could fly rearward in the event of an overpressure round. The Hexlock design eliminates the risk of this, making it much safer for the shooter. It also allows the Impulse Mountain Hunter to be chambered for magnum rounds without the fear that the bolt will be forced backward under pressure.
The bolt handle itself is designed with maximum versatility in mind. Not only can the shooter adjust the bolt angle, but the bolt can also be removed to change orientation from right-hand to left-hand. It’s simple and easy to remove or reposition the bolt handle, swap it and secure it in position. What’s more, the bolt head is easy to remove for cleaning, requiring no tools.
Noticeably absent on the Impulse rifle is Savage’s traditional three-position tang safety. The aesthetics and position of the safety remain the same, but there are only two safety positions.
Why ditch the three-position model? Because the Impulse uses a push-button bolt release conveniently located on the rear of the shroud, and that allows the operator to open the action with the safety engaged. Positioning the bolt release on the rear of the shroud makes it easy to find in the field and eliminates any fumbling for small buttons. Plus, the safety works equally well for right- and left-handed shooters.
The cylindrical Hexlock bolt runs smoothly through the aluminum receiver, and there’s an ejection port large enough for single feeding yet small enough to preserve the structural rigidity that lends itself to accuracy. Atop the receiver there’s a 20-m.o.a. Picatinny rail that allows you to securely mount an optic to the gun without having to buy separate rings and bases.
Removing the Impulse’s bolt is a fast and simple process. Simply pull the magazine, orient the bolt handle to the rear and release it using the shroud-mounted bolt release. There’s a bolt release on the left side of the receiver that can be depressed to release the bolt from the action.
To reinstall the bolt, simply line it up in the raceway with the handle oriented rearward and press forward. The bolt slides into position, and the handle locks the bearings in place. If you find it difficult to install the bolt, odds are the bolt handle is in the forward position and the bearings will remain extended and will not fit into the receiver. If this happens, simply grab the bolt body and torque the bolt handle to the rearward position. The bearings will retract, allowing the bolt to slide into position with minimal effort.
The Savage Impulse Big Game rifle comes with a fluted steel barrel, but the Mountain Hunter version is equipped with a Proof Research carbon-fiber-wrapped barrel. This obviously cuts considerable weight, and the Impulse Mountain Hunter weighs just 7.3 pounds.
The test rifle, which was chambered in 6.5 PRC, came with a 24-inch barrel with a 1:8 twist. The muzzle is threaded 5/8x24, so it will fit a variety of muzzle devices without an adapter. All Impulse Mountain Hunter rifles come with a removable radial muzzle brake.
All the Impulse rifles are loaded with new high-tech innovations—there are 13 newly patented parts on this gun—but they also include some excellent features originally found on Savage bolt rifles. Chief among these is the AccuTrigger, which this year celebrates its 20th anniversary. When it made its debut, it set a new standard for crisp, clean factory triggers. It’s user-adjustable from 1.5 to four pounds and can be adjusted externally without having to remove the barreled action.
Another important Savage Arms feature included with the Impulse Mountain Hunter is the AccuStock, which incorporates a rigid aluminum chassis that has been bedded into the stock. Pressure is applied to the action vertically and horizontally, and a steel block secures the rifle’s recoil lug and eliminates forward and rearward travel.
Savage calls it 3-D bedding, which is a good way to describe the design. It’s a highly effective bedding system that promotes accuracy, and it’s one reason today’s Savage rifles are tack-drivers.
Rifle fit is also very important, and Savage has that covered, too. The Impulse Mountain Hunter’s lightweight gray polymer stock features Savage’s AccuFit system. Interchangeable comb risers allow the shooter to adjust comb height in 1/8-inch increments, and stock spacers allow for 1/4-inch adjustments from 12.75 to 13.75 inches. Everything you need to adjust length of pull and comb height is included with the gun.
The detachable magazine is metal, and there’s a release located in a recess just ahead of the mag well. Depending upon caliber, the Impulse Mountain Hunter holds from two to four rounds.
Topped with a Leupold VX-3HD 4.5-14x40mm, the 6.5 PRC Mountain Hunter test rifle weighed right at 8.5 pounds and produced groups well under an inch. The best group of the day measured 0.53 inch for three shots, and it came courtesy of Hornady’s 143-grain Precision Hunter ELD-X load. That was followed closely by the Gunwerks 140-grain VLD, which produced a best group of 0.56 inch for three shots.
Even though Savage is a relative newcomer to the straight-pull market, the company knows a thing or two about building accurate rifles. Sub-m.o.a. groups were the standard, not the exception, and every one of the three loads tested averaged under an inch. In short, this gun shoots exceptionally well.
The straight-pull action is sleek and requires minimal effort to operate, and it can be very fast. If you’re a lifelong bolt-gun shooter, it may not initially seem so, and that’s probably because those of us who cut our teeth on turnbolts have been trained since youth that we must manipulate the bolt handle with substantial effort.
Doing so is a hindrance when cycling a straight-pull, and I’ve noticed myself doing the same thing with other straight pull rifles like the Blaser R8. You don’t force the action on a straight pull with the same authority as you do a traditional bolt gun, so my recommendation is to shoot at least a box of ammo through a straight pull before passing judgment.
The secret to harnessing the speed potential of the Savage is simply to tilt the bolt handle back and, applying that same rearward force, run the bolt rearward until it hits the buffer pad. Once that happens, you must train yourself to push straight forward and lock the bolt in place.
The most common issue—and I’ve done this myself—is applying lateral pressure to the bolt. It’s a simple push/pull, and once you master the action little more than a flick of the wrist is required to cycle the gun. It’s faster than a bolt gun, but it’s like shifting gears on a manual transmission. You’ll grind a few at first, but with some practice you’ll be cycling the Impulse Mountain Hunter like Michael Schumacher running the gears in a Formula One racecar.
Thanks to the AccuStock’s versatile design, there’s no reason why the Impulse Mountain Hunter should not perfectly fit the shooter. One reason straight pulls are so popular with hunters on driven hunts is that they allow you to shoot moving targets quickly, but that’s true only if the gun fits properly.
It’s easy to adjust the comb and length of pull of this gun, but remember that all the parts should fit easily in place, and if they don’t, there’s probably something out of sorts. Forcing the components together usually means you’ve misaligned something, and if that happens, it’s time to stop and assess.
The L-shaped feet on the comb inserts slide down into a channel and then forward and should do so without excess resistance. Changing length of pull requires a Phillips head screwdriver, and the rifle includes various spacers and screw lengths for doing this.
The gray polymer stock is not particularly fancy for a rifle in this price range, but it’s functional, offering front and rear sling studs and a rather thin wrist. The magazine well and trigger guard also are made of polymer, and there’s ample room for a gloved finger inside the trigger guard.
The metal magazine worked without issue. In the case of the 6.5 PRC, it holds only two rounds and just barely accommodates the Gunwerks VLD bullets. But there were no feeding problems, and the magazine locks securely in place. It’s also easy to remove thanks to the large lever in the front of the mag well.
Soft-grip panels in the fore-end and the wrist of the stock offer a comfortable and secure hold, and there is minimal channel space between the barrel and the stock, which reduces the odds of brush and debris hanging up there. Though it’s not the most aesthetically inspired stock I’ve seen, the Impulse Mountain Hunter’s stock is functional and well-thought-out.
The trigger broke at 3.9 pounds without creep or overtravel. Combine that with the radial brake and the Impulse Mountain Hunter’s weight—light enough to carry into the high country, not so light as to be abusive—and this gun is a smooth-shooting rifle that manages recoil effectively.
The 6.5 PRC isn’t a particularly hard-kicking gun, but with the brake and a stock that was fit to me, I could remain flat on the rifle and run the action quickly. By adding some comb height, I could see through the scope while maintaining a cheek weld on the rifle to better control the gun.
The Impulse is the only American straight-pull centerfire rifle currently in production, and it’s put together very well. The action is smooth, the trigger is very good, reliability is excellent and accuracy is outstanding.
For years Savage has been yoked with the reputation of building good guns “for the money.” The Impulse Mountain Hunter, like so many of its recent firearms, is simply a good gun. Suggested retail is set at $2,437, which may seem a bit high until you begin comparing the Mountain Hunter against European straight-pull rifles that sell for $4,000 and up.
It may be less expensive than European straight pulls, but this is a premium rifle and still commands a premium price. I doubt the Impulse Mountain Hunter will prompt every American hunter to buy a straight pull, but those who do will be satisfied with what they get.
SAVAGE IMPULSE MOUNTAIN HUNTER SPECIFICATIONS
- TYPE: Straight-pull centerfire
- CALIBER: 6.5 Creedmoor, 6.5 PRC (tested), 7mm Rem. Mag., 7mm PRC, .28 Nosler, .308 Win, .300 WSM, .300 Win. Mag.
- CAPACITY: 2 (as tested)
- BARREL: 24 in. Proof Research carbon-fiber-wrapped stainless barrel w/radial brake; 1:8 twist; threaded 5/8x24
- OVERALL LENGTH: 46.75 in.
- WEIGHT: 7 lb., 5 oz.
- STOCK: Gray AccuStock
- FINISH: Matte black receiver, black carbon-fiber barrel
- TRIGGER: AccuTrigger adjustable; 3 lb., 14 oz. (measured, as received)
- SIGHTS: None; integral 20-m.o.a. rail
- PRICE: $2,437
- MANUFACTURER: Savage Arms, SavageArms.com