Let’s say you’ve just gotten a call from a friend who wants to go hunting with you. Tomorrow. He wants to go tomorrow, but he doesn’t have a rifle. You know you’ll be able to put him on a deer, or a hog, or whatever it is he wants to hunt, but you don’t have extra rifles lying about, set up and ready to go. What would you suggest?
There’s a lot to presume about the hypothetical above. Let’s pretend the friend knows his ass from his elbow and is aware of basic firearms safety and function. There’s a big-box retailer right around the corner. We can assume he or she can legally buy a gun, and can get a license (and that you will be hunting, not poaching). This friend needs a gun, one in a common caliber, and an optic (preferably one that’s already attached and sighted in). What he need is a rifle that’s turnkey, ready to go out of the box.
You need a Savage Axis II, the complete package.
The scenario above isn’t all that far-fetched. As I’m often asked for firearms advice, I find myself playing these games frequently. Not two weeks ago, a friend of mine called with a very similar situation. He’s a hippy farmer who sells organic heirloom vegetables to the yippies up in Richmond, and his farm has been overrun by whitetail that really appreciate the cervine buffet he’s planted in nice clean rows. He likes to live in harmony with nature but realizes that we’ve created a world in which the whitetail have no natural predators (at least none that aren’t powered by gasoline). My friend is ready to kill to defend his livelihood, and he just got a Kill Permit from the state that allows him to knock off the critters out of season.
“What do I need?” he asked.
“Easy,” I said. “You need a Savage Axis II.” And then I went out for more charcoal.
The Savage Axis II is, at its core, an introductory package. There isn’t anything inherently introductory about it, though. It would still make a fine rifle for someone wanting reliable performance, simplicity and affordability.
The rifle is an introductory line for Savage. It comes in 22-250, .223 Rem, .243 Win, 25-06 Win, 270 Win, 30-06 and 308, 7mm-08 Rem. The polymer stock is a no-frills, indestructible stock that offers good ergonomics. The carbon steel barrel is 22 inches long, which makes the whole rifle 43.875 inches. It weighs in at 6.5 pounds, empty, and won’t weigh much more loaded, as the detachable box holds just four rounds.
The barrel on this 308 has a 1/10 twist, which no brand new shooter will understand. Still, they’ll appreciate it. The slow twist rate is a solid option for a stabilizing a wide variety of ammunition, especially heavier bullets over long distances. Since we’re talking specifically about a .308, there will always be a wide variety of ammo available. More on that in a bit.
Let’s get back to the package. There are two upgrades that make this more special. The first is the Weaver scope. When you take the gun out of the box, the scope is already installed. And the rifle has been bore-sighted. This gives you an immediacy that is very useful, more so for novices. The Weaver Kaspa 3-9×40 isn’t the fanciest scope available. It is made in China, for starters. The glass, though, is clear enough, and the reticle is easy to understand. It is a simple design—just cross-hairs and a couple of notches for calculating bullet drop over distance.
In the end, it is what you need to get started. And it has a couple of extras. The Savage AccuTrigger is adjustable and the industry leader for safety. The one on this rifle, out of the box, breaks at 2.8 pounds.
Shooting the Axis
Everything is relative. I took the Savage Axis to the range and shot it with a bunch of guys who prefer scopes that cost more than five times what this entire package sells for. These are guys who shoot out barrels on rifles and hand load their own rounds. They’re not the target market for the Axis line, to be sure, though all of them own a Savage or two. They’re not impressed by much of anything, really, so many of their reactions were decidedly bland. I had to remind them what it was.
The accuracy out of the box was well within minute-of-deer. The blue circle on the left is 4 inches across. The first shot was less than 2 inches off of the bulls-eye. This is amazingly reliable out-of-the-box performance, with the least expensive .308 we could find. It is somewhat amazing to me to imagine this gun coming off the factory floor, getting boxed and shiped to a distributor who then sent it to my FFL, and making it all the way to the range with this type of zero intact. Not bad, Savage.
Once we stepped up to better quality, Nosler’s Match Grade .308, the groups tightened a bit. Yet not so much that it would matter for hunting big North American game. Both worked reliably well and shot decent groups for a rifle in this price range, and that’s all that really matters. Once I got a group under an inch at 100 yards, I put away the Nosler and went back to cheap stuff.
As for the other features. The bolt on the Axis is a bit rougher than I’d like. On the up stroke, there is a hang up, right before it unlocks, that requires a bit of muscle. You have to cycle like you mean it. Once it is open, it glides back and in with no problem. The bolt is easy enough to cycle from the shoulder, though I can’t keep my eyes on the target through the scope while cycling (only because of the jarring needed to get it through the upstroke).
The trigger is an AccuTrigger, so it rocks. The plunger (which they call the AccuRelease) in the trigger may seem off-putting to some novices who expect the trigger to be a simple curved piece of metal, but it is a great upgrade to the basic Axis rifle. The AccuTrigger blocks the sear, so it is the safest trigger around, and it’s adjustable. If you want a 1.5 pound pull, you can dial it down. Because the seer is blocked, fully blocked, until you pull back the AccuRelease, there’s no chance that a drop or jarring of the stock will cause the rifle to fire.
The safety on the Axis is easy to see and to use. It is right behind the bolt at the top of the tang. It has a large slider and a clear red F when it is ready to go. Just beyond that point, a simple lever allows for the bolt to be removed. And that’s basically it. There are typical sling attachment points on the stock. There’s a functional rubber pad at the butt end to help with recoil absorption. All told, it is a solid, working rifle that comes in at the bottom end of the price spectrum while providing a good entry-level functionality with reliable performance. It isn’t going to feel like the more expensive rifles in the Savage line, yet it can hold its own.
If this gun had been available when I was a teenager, I probably would have started hunting much earlier. That’s what this is. It is a rifle meant for the new shooter. It is a place to start for those on a budget. It is a complete package that works well for those who don’t want the hassle of matching a scope to a rifle.
MSRP on the gun is $489, but they’re selling for as little as $350. At that price, this is a formidable package. In the time it takes for you to fill out the documentation for Uncle Sam, you can be on the range or in the field with functional firepower. I have a feeling that this will be a starter rifle for many, kind of a gateway drug. And once you get a bit more serious, you’ll know your way around the Savage line.