Mike Powell tests a Savage semi-auto the best way he knows how: By expending large amounts of .22LR ammo
Semi-automatic .22LR rifles have always had a big following; this is quite understandable as there is a certain attraction in being able to send more than one bullet in quick succession at your chosen target, be it live quarry that requires a follow-up or just some fast-shooting fun on the range.
This does have a downside in that shooters generally find their ammunition bills increase substantially. Plus, I learned long ago that there is a trade off between absolute accuracy and sheer fun!
I believe I have either owned or reviewed virtually every semi-automatic .22 rimfire that has been available over the last 20 years or so. Some have been top-of-the-range models, others have been tricked out with substantial quantities of aftermarket products, others have been bog standard, but with one exception, none have been as accurate as a good quality bolt-action rifle. Having said that, I have always really enjoyed using them. They really are quite addictive…
But I did manage to find one model that was entirely new to me. Though I have used others from the famous American firm of Savage, one I’d never personally encountered was the Savage A22 semi-auto. Until now, that is.
This is not an altogether new model, but the latest version has had some changes made to bring it right up to date. I always say that as a general rule, American-built rifles are made to be practical, long-lasting units more than works of art. However, this has changed over the last few years as the appearance aspect of many rifles has clearly been addressed. The A22 is no exception to this.
Edgar Brothers, the importer of Savage products, sent me an A22 along with one of their Sirocco moderators. I have used Sirocco mods myself over the years and have always found them to be highly effective; they are lightweight and really do the job they were designed for.
The first impression I got when seeing the rifle for the first time was of a well-designed and functional rifle. On picking it up you realise it is not lightweight – it weighs in at 7.5lb unscoped, but it is well balanced and the weight when in use certainly is no problem.
In fact, for a semi-auto a little extra weight is probably an advantage rather than a disadvantage, giving the rifle more stability when in use.
The muzzle is screw cut ½x28UNEF, which means the usual ½UNF moderators won’t fit. Interestingly the first two inches of the barrel are plain – then comes 11 inches of fluting. Why this has been done I don’t know – possibly for some weight loss or for purely aesthetic purposes.
It does certainly give an appearance boost to an otherwise plain barrel. The heat dissipation aspect doesn’t come into play as even with a semi-auto’s potential for a lot of rounds to be fired quickly, the barrel won’t heat up to any degree.
The all-steel receiver is made to last and a nice touch was the addition of a full-length Picatinny rail. This really is a step up from the old twin mounting block. Also, as many users will be using add-on NV units, a long rail is a big advantage.
The action is blowback, which is simple and virtually guarantees trouble-free performance. The receiver is quite long and accentuated by the plastic rear section that houses the trigger unit. A single claw extractor working in conjunction with a conventional ejector pin ensures faultless extraction and ejection.
The original A22 stock was a hollow synthetic type; the latest Boyd model has been completely upgraded and is now hard wood with a black textured finish, which goes perfectly with the matt barrel. The new stock feels really solid with no flex at all.
I particularly liked the textured finish, which gave a secure grip under all conditions. The stock itself has quite a high comb and a length of pull of a fraction over 13.5in.
This is about an average LOP and will suit virtually any user. The butt itself is finished with a black rubber pad. The pistol grip is almost vertical and affords a really good grip. Three QD studs are fitted to enable not only a sling but a bipod to be fitted.
The trigger is the renowned Accutrigger. I know some shooters are not too keen on this unit, but I really like it. While it isn’t a standard two-stage unit, when in use it gives the impression that it is.
It is adjustable for weight via a hole in the trigger guard, which makes the whole affair simple as no components need to be removed. One feature where the trigger is concerned is that when setting the trigger weight it cannot be set too low.
Moving to the magazine, this is a rotary mag and usefully holds 10 shots. This makes it ideal for rabbit shooting at night, when a five-shot magazine system is a real pain (if you are fortunate enough to have some rabbits to shoot). I did find filling the magazine was a bit of a fiddle at first, as at this point everything was quite stiff. However, after several fillings it noticeably eased off and no doubt would continue to do so.
There is an integral catch on the mag and it was really easy to remove the magazine. In appearance, the magazine looks very much like the Ruger 10/22 mag. In practice, it performed perfectly during the test with no problems whatsoever. I would suggest that anyone who buys an A22 gets a spare magazine, especially if you are night shooting.
In front of the trigger guard is the manual bolt hold open catch. To operate this function you pull the bolt fully to the rear, push the catch upwards and release the bolt, which will be held in the open position. All you have to do to release the bolt is pull it to the rear, which immediately frees it.
Overall I liked the look and feel of the rifle and the next thing was to test it on the range. I have a collection of various brands of .22LR ammunition, all subsonic, and for the test I used Fiocchi, Eley, Winchester and Sellier & Bellot. As the A22 is a semi-auto I felt I had to give it a quickfire test – after all that’s what you do with a semi-auto. A full magazine was used for each brand and the A22 went through them all without a hitch.
From an accuracy point of view there was, as would be expected, a difference between the various makes. Somewhat surprisingly, the rifle showed a preference for the Sellier & Bellot ammo, though each one of the other makes performed perfectly well and for rabbit use all would do the job well enough.
As I mentioned earlier, I have used a fair number of different makes of semi-auto .22s in my time, and one thing they all have in common is that they are not quite as accurate as a bolt-action rifle.
They will perform well enough to ensure you will get most of the rabbits you shoot at – but pinpoint accuracy and bullet-on-bullet hits on paper are the exception rather than the rule. I suspect that some of the accuracy issues on semis are more down to the user than the rifle, with speed taking over from deliberation and precision when a string of shots is fired on the range.
It’s certainly good fun but it’s not the best way to achieve perfect accuracy! Speaking for myself, I can honestly say that in the days when we had a lot of rabbits hereabouts, taking my Anschütz 1710 bolt-action rifle would always result in more rabbits shot with far less ammunition than when out with a semi-auto, but I never had as much fun.
Certainly, I have no doubt the manufacturers of .22LR ammo would much prefer that all .22s were of the semi-auto persuasion.
The Savage A22 semi-auto impressed me as being a well built, practical rifle that the manufacturers have put some considerable effort into, improving on the original concept and making good design changes that they felt necessary.
The result is a rifle that is accurate, reliable and will give many years of service, and I thoroughly enjoyed having a semi-auto to use again, albeit for only a short while.
Are there any downsides with the rifle? It is a little on the weighty side, but not enough to be a problem. To be honest, the only real criticism I could make is the one I could make of all semi-autos: you have to be prepared to buy more ammunition than usual as no matter how strong-willed you may be, the temptation to take just one (or possibly more) shots when the first is missed is difficult to resist.
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