By Ralph M. Lermayer
To some, a rifle is a rifle is a rifle. If it hits generally where it’s looking and delivers ample power to put the target in the freezer, it’s good enough.
For the majority of big game hunters, that’s pretty much true, but to a fast-growing segment of the hunting community, using just any rifle will eventually cost them results.
To the hardcore predator hunter who calls his targets in-your-face close, every factor in a rifle’s design is critical. If the barrel is too long, it will cost him targets that require a fast swing in tight brush. If accuracy is so-so, he won’t connect on the stubborn customers that hang way out there. Any glint or shine will give away his position, and to score on the double targets that frequently answer his call, the rifle must cycle, eject and re-chamber a round lightning-fast with no hang-ups.
Yes, any rifle can kill a predator, but the serious predator hunter needs a gun that addresses all those needs. Until January 2007, the perfect predator rifle didn’t exist, but it does today.
Savage has introduced what to my mind is not just the ideal predator hunter’s design, but a design that will find a lot of followers in the big game arena as well. The rifle is the brainchild of two individuals: Ron Coburn, owner of Savage Arms, and Gary Roberson, owner of Burnham Brothers Game Calls. Ron picked the brains of Gary and other world-class predator callers, listened and, most importantly, delivered.
Savage introduced its bolt-action Model 110 in 1958. Radically different from most of the Mauser clones on the market, the 110 was designed to be a working man’s rifle that would shoot well and not break the budget. Designer Nicholas Brewer was granted several patents dealing with the unique bolt, its superior gas-block baffles and a host of other internal designs, all geared toward cutting manufacturing costs. If they could build a good rifle for less money, they would own the “lunch bucket” end of the market while the others fought over the higher end.
It worked. To this day, the Savage 110 and its offspring, the 111, 112, 112V, 114 and 116, are considered exceptionally good values, but price alone isn’t the driving force behind the success of the 110 series. What makes a lot of hunters move to these rifles is their incredible out-of-the-box accuracy. From the very beginning, the Savage 110 Series shot far better than the price tag reflected. The receiver design, the barrel lockup, a great firing-pin design, Mauser-claw-style extractor and what many consider to be one of the best factory barrels ever made, all added up to deliver accuracy rarely found in any other bolt gun, regardless of the cost.
There was one drawback, however. Although the rifle had the makings to deliver Ferrari performance, its trigger was a Model T clunker, and there wasn’t much you could do to tune it. Rob Cobern’s first order of business when he took over Savage was to fix that problem. Fix it he did, with the design and introduction of the radical AccuTrigger, and today nothing holds back the 110’s potential.
Everything starts with the basic Model 110 action and all the goodies: a carbon-steel receiver considered one of the strongest and smoothest in the industry; an easy-access, ultra-quiet, three-position, tang-mounted safety; an oversized, swept-back bolt knob that slams into play with hard and fast palm pressure; and an ultra-precise version of the AccuTrigger, easily adjusted by the user from 1.5 to 6 pounds. Unlike the standard AccuTrigger that runs from a low of 2.5 to 6 pounds, the Predator Hunter version gets down to a snappy 1.5. Be warned: At 1.5 pounds, it can get away from you, especially with fast action when wearing gloves. I keep my varmint triggers set at about 2.5 pounds, and if they’re crisp and creep-free, it’s never a problem.
Prior to engaging the AccuTrigger, you must first take up a pre-trigger. It’s called the AccuRelease, and without depressing it fully, the sear remains blocked. The rifle cannot fire. I like that feature, first, for its safety factor, but more because the act of depressing it forces me into an accuracy mindset. You don’t “jerk” this trigger. It is quite fast, if needed, but the pre-loading feature makes my shots more focused and deliberate. It is not a “set” trigger, but you can go through a set trigger procedure if you choose.
Here, a word of caution is in order for those who tend to stroke the trigger with side pressure (a benchrest technique some hunters have adopted). Instead of putting a full finger in front of the trigger, they exert more of a side pressure. If you do this with the Accu-Trigger, pressing it without engaging the AccuRelease, you will hear a click, but the sear will not disengage and the rifle won’t fire. You’ll swear it’s a misfire. On a recent New Mexico hunt, one of the participants did this three times until we finally figured it out.
I once asked Bo Clark, one of the country’s finest custom barrel makers, which factory rifle offered the best barrel. Without hesitation, he said, “Savage. They’re better than a lot of custom tubes.” I have to concur. Savage barrels are button-rifled, held to tight tolerances, then polished smooth. Many shooters consider them the most accurate out-of-the-box rifles available.
The Predator Hunter’s AK (heavy sporter) contour 22-inch barrel has no sights or flutes. It’s a good dimensional choice, not thin and whippy, which would react excessively to extreme weather conditions. Nor is it overly heavy to pack for hours, as a bull-barrel contour is. I would prefer a 20-inch barrel for predator hunting, or better yet, an 18-inch barrel with a Savage muzzle brake. Out to 300 yards, my practical limit for song dogs with a .223 rifle, velocity loss isn’t a factor. Such a rig would maneuver easy in the tight brush; and with the brake, there would be no muzzle jump, and I could watch the impact through the scope. Mine will be so modified, but unfortunately, the market gurus don’t think my setup would sell well.
The barrel twist is 1-in-9 for the .223 and 1-in-12 for the .22-250. The former should allow fur-sensitive handloaders to move up to 64-grain bullets and shoot the longer all-copper options with no loss in accuracy, yet still drop down to 50- and 55-grainers when speed’s the goal. On the lighter end, for those who like their rifles deadly, fast and quiet, is a .204 Ruger with a 1-in-12 twist.
The barreled action is dropped in the Model 10 composite stock, and dual-pillar-bedded so there are no weather-shifting worries. Add a recoil pad, ample checkering, front and rear swivels, and a blind magazine (later models will have a removable magazine), and the package is almost complete.
Plans are to include a Zeiss scope and bases, installed, as part of the Predator package-rifle offering. That is huge. Most package setups move to the economy end with low-priced and low-quality optics. This rifle deserves the best glass, and Savage has chosen Zeiss. Economics may demand that a second package be made available with a lower-end scope, but if the package price is under $800, I’d grab the Zeiss.
Of course, the rifle will be available without the scope and rings installed, and if you go that route, I’d recommend sending your scope and rings off to an aftermarket camo shop. This package really needs total camo for maximum effectiveness.
Top off the package with Weaver-style scope bases, and cover the whole enchilada in a Mossy Oak camo pattern and a protective, water-shedding “raincoat,” and you have the Savage Predator Hunter. It may not be what a purist calls elegant, but in the eyes of this dedicated predator hunter, it is perfection.
Off the Sticks
My Predator Hunter is an early prototype in .223, but it wears the Zeiss 3-9x scope and is fully camouflaged with a blind magazine (no floorplate). At the bench, it shows a definite preference for Winchester white box bulk 40-grain loads, shooting just under 1/2-inch clusters with regularity. Winchester Supreme Ballistic Tips and Black Hills bulk 500-round box-loaded with 40-grain Barnes were consistent 1/2- to 3/4-inch performers. Winchester’s 64-grain load held to about an inch. Everything else tested hovered from 1 1/4 to 1 3/4 inches. It is hard to find a load this rifle won’t shoot well. It even digested a load of 62-grain Extreme Shock frangible bullets I was testing for use as a self-defense load. They held to 1 1/2 inches. As with all of the current Savage options, this rifle shoots extremely well right out of the box, and the clarity and brightness of the Zeiss glass sure doesn’t hurt.
In the Field
The Predator Hunter immediately became my first option, my first go-to rifle, for calling cats and coyotes. Several good-shooting predator rigs are already in my safe, but all are destined for some serious face-lifting once I discovered the benefits of head-to-toe camo. Sitting still in the brush with a blued barrel, I’ve accounted for scores of coyotes, many at rock-throwing distance, but with a totally camouflaged rig, including the scope and rings, you truly fade away. All my of calling rifles are headed for a camo dunk.
As is, the rifle is a near-perfect hunter’s tool. I will shorten the barrel and add a brake to better accommodate my close-cover calling style. Beyond that, I can’t suggest a single change to improve this rifle. Once it has been out in the field for a while, I suspect you’ll see a lot of other manufacturers copying it. If it appears I am somewhat impressed by this rifle, that is the case. Many in the writing community have spent decades asking the manufacturers for specific changes, only to have their recommendations fall on deaf ears. Manufacturers continue to bring out close-cover calling rifles with stainless, glaring white tubes or highly polished metal and high-gloss woodwork, or 26-inch unwieldy, thin and whippy barrels. Clunky triggers or rough bolts are all too common. Hunters know what they need. I’m glad Savage listened.
Aftermarket Camo Dunkers
Color & Camo Graphics Inc. (270) 534-8220 www.colorandcamo.com
Active Camo Products (713) 725-1987 www.activecamo.com
Bell & Carlson (620) 225-6688 www.bellandcarlson.com
This article was published in the September 2007 edition of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine. Subscribe today to have GunHunter delivered to your home.