Stuart Wilson feeds his small-bore obsession by assessing the all-round appeal of the Savage MkII BTVS .22LR laminate thumbhole rifle
The Savage Mk II BTVS test model made an immediate impression when it arrived – in .22LR, a pleasing stainless barrel and action fitted into a nicely finished brown laminate thumbhole stock. It is fair to say that the unboxing ticked all the, er, boxes, and after a few cycles of the action and a general look over the gun, I happily scoped the rifle ready for the first time I could make an excuse to get out for a zeroing session and see how the Savage would perform.
The stock was the first item that sucked me in. I do like thumbhole laminates. They seem to fit well and shoot well. Good laminates are very strong and provide one of the best options for holding a rifle’s barrel and action. Thumbholes aren’t everyone’s cup of tea – I think the main reason for this is the effect they have on the speed of reloading a bolt-action rifle. A secondary point is that it usually makes a rifle extremely uncomfortable, if not impossible, to shoot off the wrong shoulder if the situation dictates. Those things aside, this one was very nicely proportioned.
The laminate is very much like a Boyd. It has the same vents along the forend of the barrel channel, and the overall satin lacquered finish puts the icing on the cake. I hope it fares well out in the field and doesn’t suffer too badly with scratches – I’ll be gentle, I promise…
The forend mates nicely to the standard Harris bipod, and the double stud allows for two positions for the bipod – or one of the studs can be used to keep a sling in place regardless of whether a bipod is installed. It’s just a small thing, but it bodes well when a rifle is furnished with these little extras. The butt pad is a standard rubber item – the .22LR won’t be launched rearwards with any real force – but it simply and securely locates and holds the butt of the rifle in your shoulder. I usually just get the rifle into the field for zeroing before I make any of my own measurements, and I can always tell when a dimension feels wrong; the Savage was spot-on. I later measured it at 14in. The stock’s rollover cheekpiece offered good cheek weld for scoped shooting. The pistol grip is pleasing too – though my own build (sausage fingers) made it feel a touch slender for my hands. Overall the stock is well proportioned, well finished and handled extremely well, which is all you can ask.
Barrel and action
The barrel and action and both stainless steel, with the action being a basic tubular design. A bit of grease and a few hundred shot would see the action bed in nicely as the shooter slowly works the action smoother. After a quick wipe over the bolt and the inside of the action, I applied a small quantity of moly grease to the bolt contact points and cam surfaces, and a little to the muzzle thread (this seals the thread surfaces nicely and stops any powder fouling on a .22LR creeping in).
The action is drilled and tapped, and comes with two weaver bases pre-installed to take plenty of mounts options. I would like to see rimfire manufacturers produce full-length rails, high enough to clear the ejection port and with a further option of having the rail come back slightly so night vision can be mounted more easily – but this is perhaps more the responsibility of the night vision manufacturers. Perhaps a collaboration is in order? The barrel is varmint weight, coming in at 21in, pre-threaded with the standard 1⁄2×20 UNF so moderators are easily installed after unscrewing the knurled thread protector.
Trigger, safety, magazine
The trigger is Savage’s patented AccuTrigger, which incorporates a central blade inside the main trigger blade. First impressions would lead you to think Savage has tried to create a two-stage trigger pull, but while this is a feature, the main advantage is an extremely safe trigger mechanism that makes it impossible for the trigger to release without this first blade, which is a trigger safety sear, being pulled.
The trigger is adjustable down to a very light weight – this can now remain much safer thanks to the safety sear of the AccuTrigger design. The weight of the trigger out of the box was just over 2lb, which was fine for my hunting needs, so it was left as was.
Moving on to the safety catch, this is found just behind the bolt handle locking recess. It’s a simple affair: forward fire with red indicator dot, and rearward safe, quiet in operation and smoothly operating with just the right amount of tension behind it. A lot of my hunting is a solo operation, but when I have company the safety catch comes into play a lot more – even more so when shooting from vehicles. Successful hunting of rabbits with supercharged hearing would be considerably harder with noisy safety catches.
The magazine is a simple curved five-shot job, very easy to load. In this case it matched the action and barrel, with a stainless silver look. Whether it is actually stainless or electro- plated mild steel wasn’t immediately apparent. The magazine pops in and out of the rifle very easily, removal is facilitated by pressing a sprung catch to the rear of the magazine well, pulling back away from the magazine to drop it out. Reinsertion is a simple case of locate and push in. While the gun comes as standard with one five-shot magazine, you can easily obtain extra magazines in both five- and ten-shot capacities. The latter would suit my needs better, though the five-shot does offer a smoother bottom profile for vehicular shooting. The choice is yours.
After slipping a scope on to the Savage Mk II BTVS and finding an excuse to shut my computer down and head out for a zeroing session, I pulled in to a quiet corner of one of my permissions, a stubble field sheltered behind a wood with just a hint of left-to-right wind. With the target board set out at 60 yards, the first five shots saw me adjust the bore-sighted scope on to perfect aim. The last three shots printed around the inch mark, just a smidge high. A final adjust down and I was ready for the first serious five-shot group, grouping around 1.5in, and a couple of cases failed to extract; five more rounds produced a group around the inch mark with only one round sticking on extraction.
Two lightly oiled cleaning patches pushed through the bore, which was then wiped through till dry with clean patches, made a noticeable difference. Some rifles do take a few shots to bed in properly – in the case of the Savage, the fourth group of five, after the quick pull through, saw things settle into a tighter pattern. The average group had shrunk to a pleasing 3⁄4in at 60 yards.
The Savage seemed to be capable on target and comfortable to shoot, with stock dimensions that I found helped me get on target quickly. The fit in my shoulder and the cheek weld placed my eye perfectly for picking up the crosshairs. The forend is solid and profiled nicely to fit in my usual shooting sticks, which will help for any shots when I can’t get prone. It was also handy to be able to leave the bipod attached and still be able to use my sticks.
We all enjoy different things for different reasons. The Savage MkII BTVS will certainly have a good following with those who favour the stainless action and barrel for its weatherproof low maintenance. Perhaps its strongest following will come from the wonderful stock. The accuracy delivered was good and I think after a few thousand rounds would settle into a real screamer, but even shooting groups tight enough for rabbit at 60 yards will please varmint hunters the world over. Given a longer-term test I could see the Savage being put to devastating use with a target turret scope and rangefinder for some serious rabbit sniping out to 100 yards – I just hope I find the time for this. For now, I have thoroughly enjoyed using this little varmint rifle.
The Savage Mk II BTVS retails at a suggested £863. Thanks to John Rothery for the loan of the test rifle.