Firearms

Range Report: Savage Axis II XP Rifle

Savage Axis II rifle with Bushnell riflescope and a box of Federal Non-Typical Whitetail ammunition

Buying a high-end hunting rifle has never been in the cards for me, but the Savage Axis II XP sure was. I hunted deer with slugs in my 16-gauge Winchester Model 12 when I was a kid. The men in my family hunted birds and small game, but not deer.

My deer hunting buddies were a couple of friends, one who had a hand-me-down Winchester Model 92 in .32-20. The other had a sporterized surplus .303 Enfield. You could buy one in those days for around $20, but I never did. My shotgun worked because we hunted deer in the thick woods of the Holly Springs National Forest where it would be rare to spot a deer more than 40–50 yards away.

Savage Axis II .243 Rem rifle with Bushnell scope, left, profile
The Axis II designation is the result of an ergonomic redesign of the stock that makes the Savage Axis one of the most comfortable deer rifles to shoot.

After I moved to Texas, I hooked up with a friend who had a deer lease and several high-end rifles, one of which he loaned me. We hunted in the Texas Hill Country under feeders. I picked my best shot and dropped a doe weighing 60 lbs. with a clean shot to the heart.

The game warden looked at her teeth and said she was seven years old. She looked like a fawn to me. If that was deer hunting, I had no interest in it. Still, I liked the guns and wanted a decent bolt-action deer rifle in a medium caliber. Savage Arms excels at providing just what guys like me are looking for—an accurate, dependable rifle at a price we can afford, with performance that won’t disappoint us when going after deer or coyotes.

Savage Axis II Features

I was most attracted to the Axis II XP lineup and picked one in .243. Why .243? I have rifles in .30-30, .30-06, and .308, and I have an MSR .223/5.56, but nothing in between. The deer around here are small, and the coyotes are big. The .243 Win. seemed just the right caliber for bagging either.

An XP package is one that has extra accessories added. For the Axis II XP rifle, those extras include a user-adjustable AccuTrigger and a bore-sighted Bushnell Banner 3–9x40mm scope. Accuracy potential is aided by the inclusion of a headspace gauge threaded into the receiver with a lock nut securing the barrel against the recoil lug for perfect head spacing. The Axis II XP combo features a floating bolt head design where the head and body of the bolt are two separate pieces. The resulting float allows for perfect lug engagement and cartridge engagement.

The .243 barrel is 22 inches long with a 1 in 9.25-inch twist rate. The overall length of the rifle is 44 inches, and it weighs 6.5 pounds. This is a lot of rifle for that kind of price.

paper target under a Savage Axis II .243 rifle and multiple boxes of ammunition
The rifle handled different loadings quite well but seemed to prefer the heavier loads.

The package was redesigned from the original a couple of years ago with a new ergonomically-designed stock, hence the Axis II designation. Not having an earlier model around to compare, I can only make observations about this one. I am a right-handed person who shoots long guns left-handed because of a very strong left-eye dominance.

I don’t need or want left-handed guns, but I shoulder a rifle or shotgun to my left shoulder. That being the case, the stock on the Axis II rifle is more accommodating than any I can remember. I know, that’s such a unique situation that it, by itself, doesn’t necessarily mean much, but what it should tell you is that the stock is well-designed ergonomically. Length of pull, cheek weld, eye relief — it’s all there.

I couldn’t wait to shoot it, but I wondered about the adjustable trigger. Honestly, I found myself thinking, “What’s there to adjust?” There’s no take-up, and it’s a clean break at 3 pounds. Even though it appears to be an easy adjustment, I like it the way it came out of the box so much I didn’t want to mess with it.

multiple diamond sight in target with various bullet hole groups
This first sighting-in session with the Axis II in .243 Winchester gave the author confidence in the rifle for hunting deer or eliminating troublesome coyotes at up to 100 yards.

The Bushnell Banner scope is not an expensive option, but it is more than enough scope for most lowland hunting situations here in the U.S. This family of scopes featuring dusk and dawn optics is designed to give you the advantage on those early morning and late evening hunts when available light is low but game activity is at its highest.

I found getting to know the Savage Axis II intuitive. It is fed through a box magazine that pops in and out easily, held in place by a spring-loaded tab at the front. The two-position tang safety operates smoothly and goes on and off with an audible click when operated by your thumb. There is a bolt release high on the right side of the action.

With the trigger pulled and the bolt release depressed, the bolt slides smoothly to the rear and out of the action. Cleaning is a simple matter of running a cleaning rod through the barrel, starting from the chamber end. First, you’ll want to use a bronze brush soaked in bore cleaner. This will be followed by cleaning patches with the last one being lightly soaked in oil. Wipe the bolt and add a touch of oil. Viola! The rifle is ready to go take game or eliminate varmints.

Savage Axis II .243 Rem rifle with Bushnell scope, right, quartering away
The Axis II package shipped with a Bushnell Banner 3–9x40mm scope that is more than adequate for most low country hunting needs. The scope was zeroed at the factory for 25 yards.

At the Range

To sight the rifle in and get acquainted with its shooting characteristics, I choose three different Federal loads plus some from Hornady and Black Hills that gave me a range of loads from 58–100 grains. Before going to the range, I checked the factory bore-sighting.

I found the sights were a couple of ticks low at 25 yards. I smiled at that knowing the person who did this bore-sighting was definitely familiar with the total sighting in process. Typically, a rifle in deer-hunting calibers that is zeroed in at 25 yards will be 2–3 inches high at 100 yards.

I started with the heaviest load on the 100-yard range. The first shot fired with Federal 100-grain Soft Whitetail was ½-inch high and right, in line with the bullseye. I couldn’t ask for more than that. Next, it was on to trying different rounds to see what the rifle liked best.

The heavier bullets grouped tighter. All loads could put 5 rounds in a 5-inch circle at 100 yards. This included Federal’s 100-grain Whitetail load, its 95-grain Berger Hybrid Hunter round, and 90-grain Nosler bulleted Medium Game round.

David Freemen shooting the Savage Axis II rifle chambered in .243 Remington from a wooden shooting bench
The author shoots the Axis II left-handed and finds it easy to shoulder naturally.

The two lighter loads — 85 grains from Black Hills and 58 grains from Hornady — grouped in 3 inches. However, both loadings shot a couple inches high. This was an easy adjustment, when shooting the lighter loads at 100 yards.

Throughout my shooting, I found the 3-pound trigger to be a delight. It certainly won’t get in the way of you making a choice shot. Savage hit the mark with this rifle and scope combo. You can take it out of the box, add ammo, and you’re ready for hunting season — at an almost unbelievable price!

The Savage AccuTrigger has reached near legendary status among shooters and hunters. Couple that with the Axis II platform and a Bushnell scope, and you’ll have a helluva hunter! Have you fired the Savage Axis II? What;s your favorite hunting caliber? Share your answers or review in the comment section.

  • Savage Axis II .243 Rem rifle with Bushnell scope, right, quartering to
  • Savage Axis II .243 Rem rifle with Bushnell scope, left, profile
  • David Freemen shooting the Savage Axis II rifle chambered in .243 Remington from a wooden shooting bench
  • Savage Axis II .243 Rem rifle with Bushnell scope, right, quartering away
  • Young man shooting a Savage Axis II .243 Rem. rifle from an elevated stand
  • Savage Axis II rifle with Bushnell riflescope and a box of Federal Non-Typical Whitetail ammunition
  • paper target under a Savage Axis II .243 rifle and multiple boxes of ammunition
  • multiple diamond sight in target with various bullet hole groups
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Comments (13)

  1. 5” groups at 100 yards? That is terrible.
    I don’t know how that could be considered acceptable.
    My 12 year old son had an Axis and could shoot far better than that with it.

  2. Purchased from Bass Pro in Tulsa, Oklahoma, being in Law Enforcement for 25 yrs. I am very aware of “Good” firearms, will let you folks know when I take it to range/field, Thanks.

  3. I have this gun in 223 and it is my goto for coyote and groundhogs. When benched it shoots <1” groups at 125 yards. Have had this gun for a few years and love it. It is a working gun not a showpiece. It stays in the barn at the ready for whenever I need to channel Bill Murray.

  4. During a rainy deer week, the cheap wood stock, stamp checkered, covered with an abundance of clear polymer, from the factory, on a Remington 7600, soaked up water, warped and even without that, it was always just a cheap, ugly looking wood stock. So I caught a sale one day for a black polymer replacement stock, which included the “jell” filled recoil pad, all for like $40. Now not only is it a pleasure to shoot with the jell-pad, it looks, well pretty mean in all black, and I have no regrets having a polymer stock on a deer rifle. Also like the author, being correct handed, a right handed bolt action actually works better for me IF: It has a tang safety. Check. If the “pistol grip” is of the more vertical style, where working the bolt, with my right hand, doesn’t remove the top portion of my left hand, I am interested. Looks like not only Savage, but other manufactures as well, may want to consider the more vertical grip (precision rifle) style as it makes them more appealing to us left-handers when considering. I actually prefer working the bolt with my off-hand (when it doesn’t destroy my left hand), and wonder why more right-handers wouldn’t want that advantage too? Hum? Maybe a design that can easily be reversed, and the ejection side be optional? Like shooting correct handed, working the bolt right handed, and ejecting out the left side.

  5. The composite stocks are obviously a money saver for the manufacturers, but they also have two advantages for serious hunters: 1) lighter weight, 2) impervious to damage from rainwater or banging them against things when in the woods. Those are just my thoughts. I love wood stocks and have replace composite ones with wood on more than one rifle.

  6. That is not good accuracy. I have 2 Savage Axis rifles (30-06/7MM08) and both group under 1″ at 100 yards. I would suggest developing handloads in order to get the accuracy that is capable with the Savage Axis rifles. I also changed scopes to a Vortex Diamondback.

  7. I’ve got the original Axis with the dorky stock and crappy trigger. I bought it because I wanted a threaded muzzle. The Axis II appears to have fixed these earlier issues, but is it available with a threaded muzzle?

  8. Why don’t the rifle manufacturers make rifles with wood stocks? Polymer stocks look so cheap but wood stocks make the rifle look like a piece of artwork.

  9. I have this rifle in 6.5 Creedmoor. I got my first Buck at 165 yards and he dropped dead. I have shot the 147 gr. Hornady round and it has zero drop up to 300 yards so it is very easy to shoot anything with crosshair aiming. Very easy to shoot and clean. I love this so much I also pick up the exact rifle in .223 for small prey or just practice with a cheap cheap round today.

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