February 09, 2022
By coincidence, the very day our March/April issue containing Jon Sundra’s article on straight-pull rifles—in which he bemoaned the lack of an American-made straight pull—went to press, we learned of Savage’s plans to build just such a gun. The new Impulse, available in three different configurations, was big news, especially in a year when few truly new introductions hit the big game rifle market.
The three configurations include Predator, four chamberings from .22-250 Rem. to 6.5 Creedmoor; Hog Hunter, four chamberings from .308 to .300 Win. Mag.; and Big Game, six chamberings from .243 Win. to .300 Win. Mag. For testing I chose the Big Game in .300 Win. Mag.
Famous for its Model 110 turnbolt action, Savage needed to develop a whole new action for the Impulse. The company’s engineering team decided to build it around a bolt featuring six stainless steel ball bearings in the bolt head. This is not a unique design, because, as Sundra wrote in the article I just mentioned, the Heym SR 30 also uses a six-bearing arrangement.
Savage calls its version the Hexlock, and it employs a plunger that forces the ball bearings into a recess machined into the barrel extension when the bolt is closed. When the trigger has been pulled or the “quick-release” bolt button has been pushed, the ball bearings retract and allow the bolt to be cycled.
Aside from the ball-bearing head, the bolt itself is an interesting critter. To remove the bolt, push in on the top of the quick-release button, which is located at the rear of the bolt. Draw back the bolt, push fully forward on the bolt release on the left side of the receiver and slide the bolt out of the gun.
The bolt handle has two cool features. One, if you’re a lefty, you can swap it to the other side—although you still have to contend with the right-side ejection port. Two, depending on how the bolt operation feels to you, you can choose to modify the handle angle to one of five positions.
For a full-length cartridge like the .300 Win. Mag., I found the farthest-forward position offered the best leverage and surest operation, but I would imagine that with smaller, short-action cartridges a more neutral or even rearward position might feel better.
To adjust or swap the handle, if the bolt is cocked, you need to relieve pressure on the extraction plunger. While holding the bolt handle slightly rearward, push down on the extraction plunger located top-dead center, allowing the handle to go forward.
Push the small button in the center of the bolt handle cap—I used the plain end of a wood cleaning swab—and slide the cap upward. Now you can pull the bolt and switch it to the left side and/or move it to a different position.
The handle is keyed and will fit only in certain positions. If it doesn’t go in easily, don’t force it; just rotate it slightly in one direction or another until it snaps in with gentle pressure.
The bolt head is designed for easy replacement and cleaning. With the bolt uncocked, press down on the bolt head lock plunger with your finger and give the bolt head a twist. It comes right out. Reassembly is in reverse order.
To install the bolt, grab the bolt body in one hand and pull the handle to the rear. Insert the bolt head into the receiver and push the bolt release forward. A little wiggle or two and the bolt will slide in.
Don’t like the bolt handle? It’s threaded 5/16x24 and is a half-inch long, and it will take most replacement knobs based on that pattern. To remove it, place a 1/4-inch hex wrench into the socket in the end of the knob and turn it out.
While the Impulse’s barrel retains the barrel nut design Savage has long used to control headspace, for the Impulse engineers added a steel barrel extension. This extension is held within the receiver by a four-bolt clamp.
To remove the barrel, loosen the three rearward screws. The forward screw, which on my sample had the same Hazel Green Cerakote finish as the barrel and receiver, threads into a barrel locking lug that must be removed. I found it worked best to turn out this screw until the last thread or two, and then tap on it with a non-marring gunsmith hammer to push the lug out of its slot. Finish unthreading the screw and take out the lug. The barrel will slide right out.
In addition to a groove in the barrel extension where the locking lug fits, there’s also a small projection on the recoil lug that corresponds with a recess in the receiver, so you can’t install the barrel incorrectly. You do need to ensure the barrel is pushed firmly into the receiver so the locking lug will go into its recess. Finish the job by tightening all the screws.
The fluted barrel on the Big Game is a medium contour. It’s 1.04 inches in diameter at the barrel nut, 0.93 inch at the fore-end tip and 0.75 inch right behind the threaded muzzle’s protector cap. Thread pattern is 5/28x24. Barrel length is 24 inches on the .300 Win. Mag. and .300 WSM and 22 inches for other chamberings.
Because of the steel barrel extension, the receiver can be aluminum to reduce weight, although the rear of the receiver tube has a steel insert for strength. A 20-m.o.a. Picatinny rail is machined into the receiver.
The Big Game and the Hog Hunter feed from a Savage Model 110-style magazine, while the Predator uses AICS mags. Capacity on the Big Game is three rounds for the .300, four for the non-magnums and two for the WSM. The magazine releases via a lever at the front.
The Savage AccuTrigger comes standard and is easily adjustable. Mine broke at two pounds, 10 ounces right from the factory, so, as usual, I left it alone.
The Impulse Big Game also features the AccuStock with AccuFit, and it’s treated to a Kuiu Verde 2.0 camo pattern. The AccuStock is a system of interchangeable comb and length-of-pull inserts allowing shooters to customize stock fit easily—accommodating scope heights, arm length and changes in length of pull due to clothing changes such as the addition of heavy winter hunting coats. It provides this versatility without adding weight like internal stock-adjustment mechanisms can bring.
The AccuStock itself has an aluminum chassis to provide support for the action on three sides along its entire length, and a steel block engages the recoil lug. It virtually eliminates the flex found in standard synthetic stocks, promoting accuracy, again without adding a lot of weight.
Until the Impulse arrived, my experience with straight pulls began and ended with Blaser’s R93, the forerunner to the current R8. I loved the Blaser, and over the course of a couple seasons, I used it on hunts from Alaska caribou to Missouri whitetails. It was a .30-06, and it was light, accurate and fast as hell.
Advocates of straight pulls immediately point out how much faster the straight pull is than the standard turnbolt. It makes total sense. A straight-line pull/push action has to be inherently faster than an up/back, forward/down motion series.
I ran the Impulse against a Savage Model 116 .300 Win. Mag. I own. For live fire the test was a three three-shot series at 50 yards offhand. According to my shot timer, I was a full 0.65 second faster on average with the Impulse. I’m not the fastest gun in the West running a bolt action, but I’m pretty fast, and that’s a 13 percent decrease in live-fire time.
I also ran both guns in dry-fire, three three-shot series from prone on a bipod. Here I was 0.8 second faster on average with the Impulse, a 24 percent decrease. Yes, it was dry-fire, so there was no recoil to contend with, but between the gun’s weight and weight-forward balance—due to its long, fairly thick barrel and light aluminum receiver—working that straight-pull action was like lightning.
From the bench, the Impulse delivered all the accuracy you expect from Savage, and then some. As you can see in the accompanying chart, the rifle produced sub-m.o.a. 100-yard accuracy with all four loads I tested.
Champ of the day was a 0.3-inch group at 100 yards with Hornady’s Precision Hunter. Maybe even more impressive was the five-shot, 200-yard group I got with the Winchester Expedition AccuBond load (you can see a photo of it on page 11).
It was actually a six-shot group because it was at the end of the day, and I was getting tired and a little flinchy from shooting two different .300s and a couple of other rifles. I called one shot out that I was pretty sure I’d shouldered and refired. The result was a 0.72-inch five-shot group plus a flier that made the whole shebang 1.76 inches. So 0.36 m.o.a. without the likely shooter-caused flier, 0.88 m.o.a. with. Hard to argue with that kind of performance at 200 yards.
The action ran smoothly, although you need to run it sharply. I short-stroked it on a couple of occasions, which, of course, you can do with a standard turnbolt as well. I spent a lot more time with the Blaser I mentioned earlier, and I have to say the Impulse does not work quite as easily—at least from what I remember—but it is sure and fast.
Overall, the only quibble I have with the Impulse Big Game is the weight, and in some shooting situations its weight-forward balance wouldn’t suit me. Fully loaded with a Hawke Optics Sidewinder 4-16X scope—not a lightweight but in line with a lot of typical scopes today—the Impulse tipped the scale at 11 pounds.
That’s two full pounds heavier than my Savage 116 .300 with a lighter Zeiss aboard. Therefore, the Impulse Big Game—at least in this configuration—is not a gun I’d want to carry on long days of hiking in hard country, but otherwise it’s a super-capable rig. And who knows, it could get even more capable.
Obviously, with its easily changeable bolt heads and barrels, this is set up to be a switch-barrel gun. In fact, the left side of the receiver is even stamped “Multi Cal.” But at press time, Savage was not offering additional barrels or bolt heads for the Impulse.
I contacted the company to find out what its plans are, but I didn’t hear back in time to make this issue. I’m not sure it matters, since unlike in Europe, where switch-barrel guns are popular, Americans tend to buy a new rifle when they want a different caliber or configuration.
The Impulse is an excellent rifle just as it comes from the factory. It’s incredibly accurate, dependable and faster than a standard turnbolt. And if a straight-pull rifle has been on your wish list, you can get the Savage Impluse at a tiny fraction of what you’d pay for a European make.
Savage Impulse Big Game Specifications
- Type: Straight-pull bolt action
- Caliber: .243 Win., 6.5 Creedmoor, .308, .30-06, .300 WSM, .300 Win. Mag. (tested)
- Capacity: 3+1 (as tested); Savage 110 flush-fit detachable mag
- Barrel: 24 in. fluted carbon steel (as tested); threaded 5/8x24 w/thread cap
- Receiver: Aluminum
- Finish: Hazel Green Cerakote
- Stock: AccuStock w/AccuFit; Kuiu Verde 2.0 camo finish
- Safety: Non-bolt locking two- position sliding tang
- Trigger: AccuTrigger adjustable; 2 lb., 10 oz. pull (measured, as received)
- Sights: None; integral 20-m.o.a. Picatinny rail
- Price: $1,449
- Manufacturer: Savage Arms, SavageArms.com