Firearms

Range Report: Savage Impulse — Straight-Pull Bolt Gun

Bob Campbell shooting the Savage Impulse .308 Win rifle offhand

I have used bolt-action rifles for decades. The only straight pull I have owned was a vintage Schmidt Rubin. I am aware of the Mannlicher, Blaser, and a few others. When one of my favorite makers introduced a straight-pull action with modern features. I was intrigued to say the least.

The bolt-action rifle offers a strong lock-up. It is reliable and more accurate than any other type of rifle action on average. A straight pull would have to have commanding advantages — and good design — just to remain on par with the bolt action.

Savage Impulse rifle with camo AccuStock, left profile
The Impulse rifle features modern lines.

The Savage Impulse does that and offers notable advantages in some areas. These advantages include speed of follow-up shots and the ability to mount a scope low, without concern for bolt throw and angle. Not only that, but the Impulse also offers the ability to change the bolt handle from right to left-hand operation without any drawbacks.

Massachusetts-based Savage offered the famous Savage 99, and today it offers the Model 110, Model 10, Model 12, and Model 14 among its centerfires, Savage also commands host of rimfire rifles and the affordable Savage Axis centerfire rifle.

Straight-Pull Rifles

A straight-pull rifle is similar in design and lockup to a turn-bolt rifle. The difference is that the action of the bolt is linear. The bolt is pulled to the rear in a fast, smooth motion without bolt rotation. The rifle operates quickly with this rapid straight to the rear movement. An equally fast, forward push or slap chambers a fresh round and seats the cartridge in the chamber.

You have far less motion with a straight-pull rifle. It is possible to keep your eye on the target and maintain cheek weld much more easily when using a straight-pull rifle.

For many years, quality straight-pull rifles have been quite a bit more expensive than comparable bolt-action rifles. A quick survey of my most knowledgeable rifleman friends reveals that some don’t believe a straight-pull rifle can be as strong, or as accurate, as a standard bolt-action rifle. These are hard opinions to go up against.

integral scope mounting rail on the Savage Impulse Hog Hunter rifle
An integral scope-mounting rail makes for rock solid optics mounting.

A competitive straight pull would have to be relatively affordable, reliable, accurate, strong, and have traditional styling rather than European styling, to be successful in the American hunting market. Not surprisingly, the Savage Impulse straight-pull rifle came to the market with 13 patents as part of the package.

The massive bolt is among the most noticeable features. This is a strong bolt designed for fast action in an aluminum receiver. The main feature of the bolt is the locking head known as the HexLock. The Hexlock locking bolt head features six stainless-steel ball bearings that operate in the manner of locking lugs. They extend outward to lock the Hexlock bolt in place.

The Hexlock bearings respond to chamber pressure and lock more securely as the rifle is fired. As pressure drops after firing, the Hexlock ball bearings drop back into place and allow the straight pull bolt to move smoothly to the rear and then forward again. This makes for a sturdy, strong action but also a fast-handling action.

Straight-pull bolt from the Savage Impulse
The bolt locks up with steel ball bearings.

Savage Impulse

Savage offers a good number of rifles designed for lefties. In the case of the Impulse, there is no need for a separate rifle designed for left-handed operation. The Savage Impulse rifle may be adjusted for bolt throw and angle, and it may be changed from right to left-side pull without difficulty.

While the rifle is well made and interesting, it’s the bolt design that pulls you to the rifle. To make all this work, the rifle bolt required a great deal of engineering. The bolt features engagement knobs and a removable bolt handle. The cover plate and a spacing sleeve are important features. The bolt handle may be modified by about 30 degrees during the process. When the rifle is actuated, the bolt is locked until the trigger is fired. However, for administrative handling, the bolt may be released by depressing a quick-release button.

While there are many features, the bolt isn’t complicated — it is simple enough and sleek in configuration. A lever mounted on the left of the receiver allows the bolt to be removed easily for cleaning and inspection. But there is more… Go to the front of the bolt, and you will see a small lever. This lever may be pressed to unlock the Hexlock bolt head. This also opens access to the firing pin.

Magnification adjustment knob on the SIG Buckmasters rifle scope
Easy adjustment and affordability are hallmarks of the Buckmasters rifle scope.

The Savage lineup includes the 110 — a long action chambered for the .30-06 Springfield and similar cartridges. The Model 10 is a short-action 110, chambered in .308 Winchester and other cartridges. There is a lot of history and hard use behind these rifles.

The barrel of the Impulse is the same button-rifled barrel used in other Savage rifles. These barrels are threaded for a suppressor or muzzle break. The barrel extension is specific to the Impulse. I have always felt the Savage locknut design is among the strongest of rifle designs with plenty of accuracy potential. There isn’t a separate optics rail but a tough integral optic mounting rail.

The Impulse would not be a modern Savage rifle without the AccuTrigger. The AccuTrigger is so good that it has been copied by about everyone in the business. The AccuTrigger operates by lightening sear engagement. It is safe even at light trigger weights because the AccuTrigger also features a blade-type safety lever set into the trigger face. The trigger cannot be pressed to the rear unless the blade-type trigger lever is fully engaged. There is a manual safety for locking the action and trigger. The trigger assembly housing is metal — a feature that fits this rifle.

Next, we come to the famous AccuStock. Well, not as famous as the AccuTrigger but a solid addition to the Savage rifle line. The AccuStock features both riser and spacer inserts. The length of pull is easily set. This stock makes the rifle useful for tall, short, and medium-size shooters or those with long or short arms.

Savage Impulse rifle with the detachable magazine removed
A detachable box magazine makes for easy loading.

My personal rifle is the Hog Hunter. While hog hunting is a head long pursuit at times, and the rifle is well suited to this type of action, the Hog Hunter is accurate enough for long-range shooting. The Hog Hunter features an 18-inch heavy barrel. All models use a flush fit magazine. My rifle is chambered in my favorite rifle caliber — .308 Winchester. 6.5 Creedmoor, .30-06 Springfield, and a few others are coming as well.

Let’s look at a few of the specifications of the Impulse Hog Hunter.

Type: Straight­-pull, bolt-action
Cartridge: .308 Winchester
Capacity: 4 rounds
Barrel: Carbon steel, heavy contour, threaded muzzle (5⁄8-24); 18 in., 1:10-in. RH-twist rifling
Overall Length: 39.75 inches
Weight: 8 pounds, 6 ounces
Stock: Savage AccuStock; molded polymer and aluminum; adjustable comb height and length of pull
Trigger: Savage AccuTrigger, adjustable; 3 pounds (tested)
Sights: 20-MOA integral rail SIG Buckmaster scope, fitted

Optics

The rifle needed a good glass for evaluation. I did not splurge at first but added one of the more economical scopes. SIG Sauer is best recognized for firearms but also offers a good number of optics. It rebranded several types of red dot and optical sights. I elected to mount the SIG Buckmaster scope on this rifle. A 3x12x40 version seemed ideal for the Hog Hunter.

The scope is suitable for quite a few applications. Next, came ammunition selection. I have a favorite .308 rifle. The Savage Model 10 carbine is simply the most friendly, easy to use, and reliable .308 Winchester-caliber rifle I have used in some time.

Bob Campbell shooting the Savage Impulse .308 Win rifle with a Buckmasters scope
Firing offhand at longer ranges, the SIG Buckmaster scope gave good results.

A longtime companion, I find this rifle ideally suited to my needs. It takes a lot to impress me. I thought this rifle was the greatest thing until I broke in the Impulse — and the Model 10 isn’t going anywhere! As a result of experience with the Model 10, I have on hand quite a few handloads. These range in weight from 125–220 grains. Most were loaded just for enjoyment while the 150–168-grain loads are for hunting use. I like the Hornady 150-grain SST for .308 rifles.

These handloads were used in evaluating the Impulse. I cannot recall test firing a bolt-action rifle in a scenario in which I evaluated the speed of loading and unloading, and in which follow-up shots were so closely anticipated. Most bolt-action rifles are what they are. While, of course, the Axis isn’t as smooth as the 110 rifle, a bolt action is only so fast.

The first few shots were fired to sight the rifle in at 25 yards. This was easily accomplished, and I needed minor adjustment to properly center the rifle at 100 yards. The Impulse is a comfortable rifle to fire with modest recoil and a good balance. Accuracy ranged from credible to exceptional.

Performance: 100 Yards, 3-Shot Groups

Loads

Velocity (FPS)

Group (inches)

Handloads
Sierra Matchking 178-grain IMR 30312,6351.0
Berger 125-grain TAC H3223,1001.5
Hornady 150-grain SST Varget2,8001.25
Hornady 168-grain A Max IMR 30312,6011.1
Sierra 180-grain Pro Hunter IMR 30312,5991.4
Factory Loads
Black Hills 175-grain SMK2,5901.4
Winchester 168-grain BTHP2,5621.5
Winchester USA 147-grain FMJ2,5902.0
Federal 180-grain Partition2,4551.2
Hornady 155-grain Critical Defense2,6771.25
Wolf 150-grain FMJ2,6072.4

When working the bolt, get in a rhythm, and don’t give yourself a black eye. Seriously, if you scrunch up close — as some do — it is entirely possible to damage your eye if you don’t move out of the way of the bolt. None of my friends and fellow shooters even came close to this problem — but always wear shooting glasses.

After the initial range work, I got up and began firing offhand. The Impulse offers fast operating systems. Many shooters never really learn to properly use a bolt action in speed shooting. The Savage Impulse is fast, after you begin to warm up to it, and even faster as you learn the rifle.

7-shot group on a paper bullseye target with 6 loose rounds of .308 Winchester rifle cartridges
With a minimum amount of ammunition expended, the author had the rifle properly sighted for 100 yards.

Fire, use your open palm to bring the bolt to the rear, and let the ejected case fly as you use the heel of the hand to quickly press the bolt forward. You don’t have to smash it in place. Instead, firmly, and quickly press the bolt forward. This makes for fast shooting. In short, the robustness and solid lockup of a bolt-action rifle are combined with real speed. I like the Savage Impulse a great deal. Sure, it isn’t for everyone but what rifle is? The Savage Impulse is a formidable rifle in the marketplace and the field.

Do you use a Savage rifle? What do you think of the Savage Impulse? Let us know in the comments.

  • ZipLoc bags of .308 Win. handloads
  • integral scope mounting rail on the Savage Impulse Hog Hunter rifle
  • Straight-pull bolt from the Savage Impulse
  • Savage Impulse rifle with camo AccuStock, right quartering toprofile
  • Bob Campbell operating the straight pull bolt of the Savage Impulse .308 Winchester rifle
  • 7-shot group on a paper bullseye target with 6 loose rounds of .308 Winchester rifle cartridges
  • SAvage Impulse chambered in .308 Win. with a Buckmasters rifle scope mounted, right profile, black
  • Magnification adjustment knob on the SIG Buckmasters rifle scope
  • Bob Campbell shooting the Savage Impulse .308 Win rifle with a Buckmasters scope
  • Savage Impulse rifle with camo AccuStock, left profile
  • Savage AccuTrigger on a rifle
  • Man aiming through a rifle scope
  • Bob Campbell shooting the Savage Impulse .308 Win rifle offhand
  • Hog Hunter configuration of the Savage Impulse
  • Savage Impulse bolt ready to be changed between right and left hand operation
  • disassembled Savage Impulse bolt
  • Savage Impulse rifle with the detachable magazine removed
  • threaded rifle barrel

About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.


Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Handloader
Rifle Magazine
Handguns
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns



Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (10)

  1. Steve

    Thanks for reading!
    Left the tickers on cause perhaps I wont keep this rifle, may trade it.

    Kept it new.

    Been firing it more and I think it will hang around a while.

    Bob

  2. I could never trust this action with dangerous game. The possibility of the balls failing to retract, due to dirt, debris, whatever, may be remote but cannot be ruled out completely. This would lock the action closed.

  3. Purchased the Savage Impulse Predator In 308, last fall prior to white tail season. I adjusted the rifle to fit like a glove. Close detail pertaining to scope placement/eye relief and cheek placement. In order to prevent inadvertently pulling the bolt into my eye. Final touches included a suppressor.
    After a few scope adjustments, all rounds were touching.
    Federal 150 gr. at 100 yards.
    My only negative opinion, little heavy. Maybe Savage can improve this issue by using an ultra-lite barrel?

  4. David
    Thanks for reading!

    I believe the rifle may be more accurate with more shots fired and perhaps trying different handloads. A one inch 100 yard group is elusive for many of us but seems just over the cusp of the hill!

    Bob

  5. How’s the gas seal on the Impulse? I test that by handling the shell casing after a shot. On a bolt rifle with a good gas seal, the casing will be barely warm to the touch (as opposed to one from a semi-auto where it comes out burning hot from the unsealed gas washing over it), and means all the powder burn went towards pushing the bullet out. No view of the chamber mouth to be sure, but that bolt head design looks like it could let some gas out.

  6. I’ve wanted one since they were first announced, but they aren’t cheap. I’ve never seen a straight-pull center-fire hunting rifle that was, which makes it hard for them to compete with anything but high grade bolt-action rifles.

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