Nik reviews Savage Arms’ latest hunting rifle...
Lightweight rifles are all the rage these days – most hunters are looking at ways to reduce the amount of weight they carry. A kilo here or there can make a measurable difference to how your body copes on an extended trip, or even a day hunt.
When it comes to rifle weight this kilo can equate to around 25% of the total weight you are carrying on your body. Throughout my hunting career, my primary hunting rifles have generally been on the heavier side, weighing anywhere from 7lbs to 9lbs. While I have always preferred a heavier rifle, I have in recent years been given the opportunity to handle and hunt with some new rifles that are lighter than what I am used to. That being said, let’s introduce the Savage Model 16 Lightweight Hunter.
The Lightweight Hunter is an attractive rifle with a real workhouse feel, Nik treated it as his own on the hill and found it both a pleasure to shoot and carry.
In its simplest form the Model 16 is your basic stainless/synthetic bolt action rifle. Heading back to the drawing board, Savage rewrote a few rules in modern firearm design in an effort to produce a truly lightweight rifle from the ground up. Here is what they did.
RECEIVER, BOLT & BARREL
The easiest and most effective way to lighten a rifle is to remove metal. Machining out sections of the receiver in the lesser load-bearing areas, spiral-fluting the bolt, and using a light-contour, shorter than average barrel, resulted in major savings. These reductions bring the rifle in at 5.65lbs/2.56kgs bare (up to 5.8lbs depending on calibre), roughly 1-1.5lbs less than your standard hunting rifle.
A NEW BOLT HEAD
Throughout the process, Savage kept their eye on maintaining accuracy. Adopting a new self-adjusting, floating bolt head system helped to ensure a secure engagement of both locking lugs in the recess of the chamber. The floating system also works to maintain the bolt head’s full contact with the base of the cartridge. Basically, it’s almost like having a trued and squared rifle from the factory.
The twin lug-bolt head, with its single claw ectraction, utilises a floating bolt head system to ensure correct contact and alignment with the cartridge.
Fluting the bolt and machining away sections of metal from the receiver have aided in the overall weight reduction.
TRIGGER & SAFETY
Savage’s AccuTrigger has garnered a reputation for its innovation, functionality and safety. Fully adjustable from 6lbs down to 1.5, it is adjusted by removing the stock and simply tightening or loosening the trigger return spring. I left my review model as supplied and found the pull to be crisp and creep free, like all AccuTrigger fitted rifles I have shot with.
The trigger assembly showing the AccuRelease and trigger blade safety system.
On the safety aspect, the AccuRelease lever, positioned inside the main trigger blade, shares the same pivot point inside the housing and prevents the sear from being tripped accidentally. The tang safety itself is positioned for ambidextrous use and has deep thumb serrations.
The AccuTrigger features the AccuRelease which has a central blade incorporated into the trigger for improved safety; when firing, the blade must be depressed to engage the sear.
A discretely positioned 3-position (See text) tang safety. The deep serrations on the pad provide good thumb grip.
The stock is another piece of design mastery. Constructed from your usual polymer, what is special about the AccuStock is the embedding of an aluminium rail that the receiver engages with. This rail system, much like your typical fibre-glass bedding job, increases stability and overall accuracy. The recoil lug also slots into the rail, providing metal to metal contact.
What I really liked about the AccuStock was how quiet it was compared to other synthetic stocks I have handled. There was very little of that hollow sound you get when you tap a stock while you’re pushing through scrub etc. The pistol grip and fore end texturing provide good grip in the wet and the thick rubber butt pad offered plenty of cushioning under recoil. Also notable was the lack of flex in the fore stock even when applying a fair amount of torsion.
Deep texturing in the both the pistol grip and fore-end improve grip when handling the rifle.
ON THE RANGE
Supplied with the rifle was a Weaver 3-12x42 scope and some Federal Power-Shok 150 grain Soft Point, Federal Fusion 140 grain Soft Point and Federal Premium 140gr Trophy Bonded® Tip ammunition. With the rifle and ammo loaded into the truck I promptly headed up to the range for an afternoon sighting-in session.
The detachable steel box magazine holds 4 rounds and fits flush in the stock. The magazine release is incorporated into the magazines plastic floor plate.
Once on paper at 25 metres, I moved out to 100 metres. Achieving MOA groups was pretty straightforward but it was the Federal Premium 140gr Trophy Bonded® Tip that shot best with groups measuring around 3/4”. During the shooting however, what became apparent was the noticeable reduction in accuracy once the barrel warmed up, with groups opening up to around 2-3”. In my opinion, this dip in accuracy is largely irrelevant, the Model 16 is a pure hunting rifle and under most circumstances one, or maybe two shots at most, should be all you need.
Three types of Federal ammo were fired through the Model 16; Federal Power-Shok 150gr Soft Point, Federal Fusion 140gr Soft Point and Federal Premium 140gr Trophy Bonded® Tip ammunition.
ON THE HILL
With the rifle ready to go, it was time for some hunting and the timing couldn’t have been better as the 2016 rut period was just beginning. My plan this year was to spend some time in the Kaimais chasing the reds, as well as at my usual Te Puke fallow spot. The particular area I have been hunting in the Kaimais is fairly rugged with heavy bush and steep sided gullies. It is demanding terrain that offers challenging deer stalking. Over the course of about four weeks I spent several days hunting a large valley and managed to get on to a few animals, including an exciting couple of hours listening and roaring up multiple stags, great fun! Unfortunately, I may have been a little too eager, as my roaring efforts only pushed one of the stags further into the rough stuff, no doubt he had hinds with him and wasn’t about to risk losing one! Towards the end of April I turned my attention to the fallow and spent a few days in the Otawa Block. Although I did put up several animals in my time up there, the 2016 rut in this neck of the woods was in a sad state of affairs with little activity and no croaking – well, I didn’t hear any... My trail cameras proved that bucks were in the area but once again they were just too elusive for me. And then, before I knew it, the rut was over.
One of the many boulder strewn creeks found throughout the Kaimai ranges.
A red hind and yearling enjoy the sun on a clear morning in the Kaimai Ranges.
Next mission, South Island. The primary objective was too hunt reds, however, chamois frequent the area I was heading to, so another chance to hunt them was sounding pretty good as well. Prior to the trip I went up to the farm to zero the rig in at 200 metres, which with the 7mm-08 chambering gave me a very useable MPBR of 350 metres. Shooting the Federal Premium 140gr Trophy Bonded® Tip ammo I was pleased to be achieving, with minimal effort, sub-MOA groups at 200m from the little Model 16. Feeling confident in my setup, I looked forward to heading south. Making the trip down with me was my wife Amanda and baby daughter Ruby, our boy Nathan was staying with his Nana and Pop so that he could carry on with his daycare, which he is very enthusiastic about! Heading out from Christchurch Airport mid-morning I made my way towards Arthur’s Pass en route to the Waimakariri River. This area was a plan B option as there had been a recent snowfall rendering my first option a write-off!
Waimakariri River during early winter...
From the carpark I began the walk up the river. The scenery was fantastic and it was a bit of a thrill to be hunting such an iconic area. Carrying on past the Anti Crow Hut, I picked a likely looking tributary and slowly made my way up the creek bed. There was a fair dusting of snow around and the rocks were pretty slippery in places. The thought of getting onto some red deer in the creek had all but left my mind so I turned my attention to picking up a chamois. I’ve had little experience hunting these animals but the terrain looked ideal. An hour up the creek and I spotted one, a young animal moving across a large scree slope. Although bigger than my first chamois and this time a buck, I decided to capture some photos and film, then leave him to it.
Spotted on a massive scree face, this young chamois buck was the first sighting for the author and was left to grow some more.
The next day was a cracker, clear blue skies and no wind, awesome! Making my way back to the same creek I decide to bush hunt my way up and around to see if I could drop into the upper section of the valley. The bush was great to stalk through and there was a bit of deer sign around, including a few rubs from this year’s rut. I reached the bush edge about 10am and found a nice little spot to have a bite to eat and do some glassing from. After an hour or so I hadn’t spotted anything and after enjoying the bush stalk so much I changed plans and instead hunted my way back to the Waimakariri. About half way down I spooked a young red hind at about 30 metres. A freezer filler would have been handy but she was too quick for me... At the main river I took a decent lunch break before heading off again. From my vantage point that morning I had seen some tidy looking country in the head of the valley so I decided to race up there for an evening stalk.
Early afternoon on the hill – Nik checks out the surrounding terrain before deciding in which area to hunt.
This proved to be a good decision. At around 4pm I spotted two chamois high up on a snow face. One of them moved off into the beech, however the second one, which looked to be a buck, began making its way down the slope. A first range through the Bushnell ARC 1200 range-finder had him at just over 280 metres and closing. As he continued down the hill I quickly set up for a possible shot, fortunately there was a handy boulder nearby that provided an ideal shooting position – all I had to do was wait. At 200 metres he slowed up and spent a few moments looking back up towards where he’d left the first chamois. I managed to take a few pics before settling in behind the Savage. A little closer and a broadside shot was all I needed. He was 180 metres away now and heading for a small gut.
The chamois buck stops to look back as he makes his way down the snow covered slope....
Through the scope his horns looked pretty good, certainly a lot better than my first chamois. As he turned broadside I placed the Weaver’s reticle directly on his shoulder and squeezed off the shot. The sound of the hit echoed back to me and he dropped instantly, mint! With darkness about an hour off, I wasted no time retrieving him. He was smaller in body than I expected but his horns had great length with a decent hook, I was stoked!
Nik secured this mid winter chamois buck during an evening hunt in a tributary of the Waimakakiriri River. A single 180m uphill shot using the Federal Premium 140gr Trophy Bonded® Tip ammunition was all that was required.
The following morning I made my way up another tributary of the river to check out a gorge system that on paper had looked promising. Although it was a beautiful area, it was a little tight to hunt and I ended up dropping back down the creek and then heading up onto a large bush-clad face to do some stalking. The forest interior was awesome, reminding of areas in the Kaimanawas where you could hunt for miles without breaking a sweat. The sun was beaming directly onto the face and it wasn’t long until I came across some fresh sign. About half way down I popped out onto a small rocky outcrop above a steep ravine to check out the surrounding terrain. Then, pushing my way through the scrub back into the bush I immediately spooked an animal – a stag at that. He didn’t hang around long and took off downhill, I managed a quick glimpse at him as departed – a 6-8 point animal. Reaching the valley floor and not far from the hut I made the decision to head out a day early. Amanda and Ruby were staying with friends in Rangiora and I thought it would be a nice surprise to sneak back and spend the night with them.
What’s not to like! The Savage Model 16 Lightweight Hunter is a fine rifle and I was very impressed with its performance both on the hill and at the range. It’s supremely light, shoots extremely well and in my opinion looks pretty good also. The Model 16 is a pleasure to carry in hand, and at the end of a long day you really get to appreciate its light weight. During my time in the hills with the Model 16, it received a reasonable amount of knocks, scrapes and abuse. This is the kind of rifle I appreciate, a true workhorse type firearm. One question that was asked by a couple of other fellow hunters was; is it a Tikka T3/T3X beater?! Time will tell, the T3 has a firm stranglehold within the hunting community and plenty of loyal followers. However, there are a few that prefer to step away from the crowd and for them the Savage Model 16 Lightweight Hunter might just be the rifle for them.