Tim Pilbeam puts the Savage Model 12BTCSS Varminter Thumbhole through its paces at increasingly long ranges
I enjoy most aspects of rifle shooting, but for over 15 years I have reaped the most pleasure from long-range varminting. Ok, some would frown upon the discipline, and understandably so, but to be able to shoot at long range accurately is both fascinating and therapeutic. So when importer Edgar Brothers asked me to review a specialised varminting rifle from Savage, I could not wait.
The Savage Model 12 BVSS Varmint rifle is available in three calibres – .223, .204 and .22-250 – all weighing 10lb with a 26in fluted barrel. With these stats, superb accuracy is expected, maybe 0.5MOA at the most. (Having said that, to consistently shoot to this accuracy relies on a huge amount of trigger time or natural ability.) Further to being a great foxing rifle, I would be looking to be bowl over crows, rabbits and hares out to at least 400 yards. With a price of about £1,800, it is cheaper than most guaranteed custom builds, so this could be an interesting review.
Firstly, the technical details: The rigid stock is made of brown laminated hardwood with vents on the forend to aid ventilation. Other stocks are also available if you are not comfortable with a thumbhole set-up. One can drive a bush through the gap between the barrel and forend, which is great. To aid accuracy, a dual pillar bedding system fits the action as standard and QD mounts are fitted with a pair located on the forend. With a satin finish, it gives the feeling of a high-quality but functional chassis suited to long-range shooters.
The ‘Savage 110’ short action is renowned for its strength and short lock time. The three-position safety catch is easily located to the rear at the top. The bolt assembly is smooth, though it does sport an oversized and slightly cumbersome bolt knob. To the front, two pairs of locking lugs are found, with the most forward ones turning only when locking the round into the breach. For mounts, there are pre-tapped holes that allow bases to be fitted, meaning the rifle can be paired with a variety of optical systems. The sturdy steel magazine holds four rounds with the release mechanism located to the front.
The Savage ‘Accu Trigger’ system is where things get a little interesting. It is easily adjustable from 1.5 to 6lb, thanks to a special tool supplied with the rifle. The trigger has been designed to deal with the various legalities that derive from our friends in the USA, resulting in most American rifles having at least 3lb of pull.
There is also another smaller blade (Accurelease) that sits in front of the main trigger blade. This ‘Accurelease’ has to be pulled first before the main trigger activates the firing mechanism. So you first feel the smaller ‘Accurelease’ blade move towards the main trigger, and once level, it’s ready to go. If the main trigger is pulled accidentally on its own, the mechanism will lock and the bolt has to be cycled again. The final trigger pull is very crisp, with very little creep if any at all – it definitely feels superior to most factory triggers I have tested over the years. Bearing in mind this is a specialised varminting unit, the trigger is essential for long-range accuracy and I can see why so many articles rave about the effectiveness of this assembly.
As for the 26in stainless barrel, it is heavy contoured, fluted and fully floating with a 1-in-12in twist rate. The unusual feature is the visible locking ring that sits to the front of the action, where it meets the barrel. This is relatively unique to Savage, as it apparently achieves very precise head spacing, giving it an edge in terms of accuracy compared to most off the shelf factory models. Most models are screw cut to allow for muzzle breaks or moderators.
For the test, a Weaver 6.5-20×44 Grand Slam scope with a Dual-X reticle was supplied, using Weaver bases and rings. As for ammunition, Edgar Brothers provided Remington 55-grain soft-nosed bullets (3,640fps) and Hornady 50-grain V-Max (4,000fps), both ideal for mid- to long-range varminting. With a zero of 250 yards, the drop at 300 and 400 yards is about 3in and 14in respectively with a rise of roughly 2in at 150 yards. So basically, for anything out to 300 yards, just point and pull.
Once zeroed at 250 yards, I checked accuracy at 100, 250 and 400 yards. For some reason, I could not get the Remington ammo to group under 1.5in at 100 yards, so I decided to stop using it, as the Hornady was achieving 0.8in at 100 yards, 2in at 250 yards and 4in at 400 yards. Bearing in mind this is a specialised varminter, I would hope to achieve a slight improvement on these results in future.
A crow has a three-inch kill zone, so, in my view, a requirement of 0.5MOA accuracy is essential. With a typical varmint shot, say at 350 yards, this Savage is only just achieving a 3-3.5in group, before taking into account any wind variations. As ever, most rifle tests are conducted using new kit and from experience, accuracy seems to tighten up considerably after the first 100 rounds are fired, so I am not too concerned. Obviously, investing into trying different ammunition combinations will also improve accuracy.
Overall, once laden with a scope, bipod and ammo, we have a gun weighing in at over 12lb before adding a moderator. Fitting a mod would make the gun over 50in long – but that’s acceptable for varminting and foxing. It may not be the best rifle to shoot from vehicles, but the person buying this type of rifle will balance this against long-range capability. The way the stock is designed, together with the adjustable trigger, makes this a rifle that can be used for both game and target shooting. I dispatched a few crows at 250-300 yards, which is fine but not a real test for most varminters. Beyond these distances, I was not convinced about the accuracy on live game, but on 5in-wide front fox targets at 500 yards, I did achieve reasonable hit rates.
The Savage Varmint is in the same price range as the varmint Tikka and Sako rifles but comes with a thumbhole stock and arguably a superior trigger. As for accuracy, I have no doubt it has the ability to shoot consistently below 0.5MOA, and with a growing interest in varminting, this rifle should not disappoint. Can other off-the-shelf rifles do this for this price? Some do, but many don’t. Will it compete with the better known brands? If you want accuracy, Savage is renowned for it in the USA, so there is no question of its breeding.
My thanks go to Edgar Brothers for supplying the rifle and scope.