February 05, 2013
Years ago, a "varmint gun" meant anything with which you could kill a varmint. A 12-gauge pump would work if you could get close enough. And while in my youth a few specialists had .223s, .22-250s and the barrel-melting .220 Swift, my varmint gun of choice back then was a battered Ruger 10/22, a gun I carried through briar patches, creek bottoms and crop fields in search of game. Groundhogs were a mainstay if you could slip within range, and taking a good red fox with your .22 was as esteemed an accomplishment among Midwestern grade school hunters as shooting a trophy markhor is among the mountain hunting crowd.
Sometimes I think about that five-pound 10/22 as I'm dragging my 12-pound coyote gun through cornfields and blackberry thickets. Today's varmint gun is a rifle dedicated to the task of taking out quarry at long, long ranges. Heavy, fluted barrels are the norm, and the walnut stock has given way to dipped synthetics and Kevlar models. Scopes are big, and their reticles are crowded with mil dots. Bipods are commonplace, and the average varmint gun weighs more than many of the animals they are built to hunt. My favorite .22-250 weighs a couple pounds more than my .416 Remington Magnum.
These heavy rifles makes long-range shooting easier, but they don't lend themselves well to the hunter who likes to move, and there are times (usually in the midst of a long, cold sit) when I long for the days of my youth.
For those of us who still enjoy mobile pursuit, Savage has developed a gun built for the mobile hunter. The Savage Model 25 Walking Varminter incorporates the Model 25 action with a modern stock and the superb AccuTrigger. It is a rifle that challenges many conventional attitudes about varmint gun design, from its long bolt and narrow pistol grip to the slightly paunchy detachable magazine and the gradually narrowing finger groove that runs the length of the fore-end.
In short, the Savage looks like very little else on the market. Traditionalists may look at the Walking Varminter with disdain, shaking their heads at the avant-garde styling and perhaps saying something about Savage's radical styling. Just another plastic gun.
If you scoff at synthetic stocks, plastic magazine boxes and unconventional designs then this may not be the rifle for you. Then again, neither are the Ruger American, the Sako A7, the Browning X-Bolt, Savage Axis and the Tikka T3, all fantastically accurate rifles with edgy, modern styling.
It's hard to pick up the Walking Varminter without appreciating the way it points and handles. The textured pistol grip is narrow, but the hand naturally comes to position. The finger groove on the fore-end makes it easy to grip and steady the rifle, and the 22-inch, heavy sporter barrel gives this rifle a natural, between-the-hands balance.
Bolt function was smooth and steady, and the AccuTrigger is fantastic, breaking cleanly at just under three pounds. The two-position safety is located on the right side of the bolt, and although it functioned flawlessly, it requires a long shove to move it into the Fire position.
The receiver is drilled and tapped, though the screw holes are placed pretty far apart; the body tube on the Bushnell Elite 4200 3-9X scope I mounted on the rifle was long enough to fit on the Weaver rings but only just barely. The barrel has a dull, non-glare finish, and the crown is recessed to prevent damage to the rifling.
The detachable, four-round box magazine is lightweight and easy to load, but it was sometimes difficult to get the magazine secured in the rifle. On two occasions I pressed the magazine into place, shoved the bolt forward, and the magazine promptly fell onto the bench. Interestingly, there was never a problem getting the magazine to lock into place with the bolt shut. After about two boxes of ammo were fired through the rifle, the problem seemed to go away.
There's a lot to like about the Varmint Hunter, but the absolute best reason to buy this rifle is the way it shoots. The gun is very accurate, producing a sub-m.o.a. group right out of the box with 40-grain Hornady V-Max ammunition, and all three types of ammo tested went under an inch. The best group was a .40-inch cluster courtesy of Nosler's 55-grain Varmageddon ammunition, but even the worst (relative term) average group was under an inch. Those results are hard to argue with.
The Walking Varminter is a likable gun. It's easy to carry, fun to shoot and extremely accurate. And for the hunter who grew up hunting on foot, the Model 25 begs you to lace up your boots, dump a handful of cartridges into your pockets and head out to the woods in search of game.