For the rifleman primarily interested in hunting, there are a number of inexpensive but useful bolt-action rifles. These include the Mossberg ATR, Ruger American, and the Savage Axis. Some are offered in a package with an affordable rifle scope. I have fired most and find them worth the money—and some worth a little more.
A lot of research and development has gone into the entry-level rifle. The price point isn’t everything, and some of the engineering that went into these rifles is impressive. They are a cut above the trade store rifles once popular. The modern bolt-action rifle with a synthetic stock and affordable price tag is important. Let’s face it, much of the interest in shooting will hinge upon access and entry cost. Family hunts are not diminished by using an affordable rifle.
In the past, store brands such as Revelation and Ted Williams offered good value. Today, the Savage Axis fits the same niche, but the Savage is a better rifle. The Savage Axis seems if not the best buy, among the best buys on the market. I have observed excellent accuracy from the Savage Axis rifle, and it seems that my experience isn’t out of the norm. At the Axis price point you can afford a good scope and plenty of practice ammunition. Let’s look at the Savage as an affordable rifle with good performance.
When examining the Savage rifle the ejection port was generous, offering plenty of room for loading and unloading cartridges. The stock fits the action well. I think the wrist is a bit thin, but in practice, handling was good and the rifle—a .30-06 example—was never uncomfortable to fire. The bolt action is smooth in operation.
These rifles feature a detachable box magazine—something modern shooters seem to prefer. The stock and integral locking lugs of the Savage rifle get good ratings. The stock isn’t pretty but the molding is adequate, it is after all a modern black stock. I fitted a Vanguard scope to the rifle and tightened every nut and bolt down before range work. I made several observations during my range work. The rifle comes to the shoulder quickly, balances well, and isn’t a burden during a long day in the field. I first sighted the rifle properly using the box method and my own handloads.
These handloads use IMR 3031 powder and the Hornady 150-grain JSP. With a minimum amount of firing, the rifle was properly sighted for my preferred hold, striking an inch high at 100 yards. The Vanguard scope was easily adjusted and offers a crisp, clear sight picture with nothing to be desired.
With this handload, the rifle grouped three shots into 1.5 inches at 100 yards. Next, I moved to factory ammunition. I used the Hornady 150-grain Interlock American Whitetail loading. Settling down into a carefully rhythm, I was able to register an excellent 1.2 inches at 100 yards.
The best group of the day was a singular effort with the Hornady 150-grain SST Superformance, at .9-inch. The average for this load was 1.2 inches. These Hornady loads offer custom grade accuracy. The SST bullet is highly developed for not only accuracy but effect on game. These loads are among the finest available for outdoors use.
The results were excellent by any standard. I also fired a handload using the Hornady 168-grain A Max, wishing to test a heavy bullet load. I used Varget powder in this combination. This loading is my favorite M1 Garand load, and it proved suitable for the Savage rifle, cutting a nice 1.25 inches for three shots. This rifle will shoot!
For heavier game, the 168-grain load offers excellent penetration; in some ways, this load maximizes the .30-06 Springfield cartridge. Recoil was there, but so was accuracy. At this point, I could easily see how a shooter might sight the rifle in and retire the piece until hunting season. Excellent results were had with each loading tested. I left the rifle sighted for the 150-grain loads, and the 150-grain Interbond load will be the hunting load.
While benchrest accuracy is excellent, off-hand work and firing from field positions demands practice. I have worked up a practice load that is sensibly below factory standards with the Hornady 150-grain JSP and enough 4064 for meaningful practice. The Savage Axis rifle is accurate, reliable, smooth in operation, and offers good performance at a fair price. The .30-06 cartridge offers enough power for anything on the North American continent. This is a great combination.
Are you in the market for a new hunting rifle? How does the Savage Axis fare in your opinion? Share your thoughts in the comment section.
Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooters Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.
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