Compared: Ruger KM77VT Mark II Target and Savage Model 12 Low Profile Varmint Rifles.

By Chuck Hawks


What we have here are two bolt action, centerfire varmint rifles. Both are built on stainless steel barreled actions with 26" heavy contour barrels and laminated hardwood stocks with pronounced pistol grips and wide beavertail forearms. Neither is supplied with iron sights. They are top of the line models from two respected American firearms manufacturers; both are made in the U.S.A. They even look similar.

Guns and Shooting Online have previously reviewed both of these rifles. You can find those individual reviews on the Product Review Page. And both rifles proved to be excellent choices for smoking pesky varmints at long range.

But, of course, they are not identical. The Ruger is built on the long established M77 action, and the Savage is built on the even longer established Model 110 action. The sample Ruger KM77VT Mark II, owned by Bob Fleck, is chambered for the .220 Swift cartridge. The sample Savage Model 12 Low Profile, owned by yours truly, is chambered for the .223 Remington cartridge. Both rifles wear powerful telescopic sights, but from different manufacturers.

This comparison is not an accuracy test to be decided by differences in group size measured in tenths of an inch. Nor is it concerned with the differences between the .223 and .220 cartridges, or the scopes fitted to the rifles. We are primarily interested in the detail and operational differences between the rifles themselves. For, despite their similarities, there are noteworthy differences that a wise purchaser will consider before choosing between them.

The comparison

As mentioned, both are the top of the line varmint rifles from their respective manufacturers. The 2004 MSRP of the Ruger KM77VT Mk. II is $825, and for the Savage Model 12 Low Profile $752. The Ruger is designed with a built-in scope base and comes with rings, which must be purchased separately for the Savage. This will add about $50 to the price of the Savage. The Savage is still slightly less expensive, which is a point in its favor, although neither rifle is what I would call inexpensive.

The Ruger is available in calibers .204 Ruger, .223 Remington, .22-250 Remington, .220 Swift, .243 Winchester, .25-06 Remington, and .308 Winchester. The Savage is available in calibers .204 Ruger, .223 Remington, and .22-250 Remington. The greater number of calibers available for the Ruger is a point in its favor.

The Ruger is a repeater with a magazine capacity of 4 cartridges. The Savage is available as a repeater with a magazine capacity of 4 cartridges, or as a single shot (the model reviewed).

A single shot bolt action rifle has the advantage of a more rigid receiver, as there is no magazine opening in the bottom of the action. At least theoretically, this can make for a potentially more accurate action. The Savage Low Profile single shot is exceptionally easy to load, and varmint rifles are single loaded a lot. Loading one cartridge at a time prevents damage to the nose of the bullet and can result in better accuracy. Many experienced varmint shooters favor single shot rifles. The shooter who prefers a single shot rifle has that option with the Savage, but not the Ruger.

The Savage Low Profile repeater has a blind magazine, so to unload the magazine unfired cartridges must be cycled through the action. The Ruger incorporates a hinged magazine floorplate for safer and more convenient unloading of the magazine.

The brown, laminated hardwood stocks are similar in finish and configuration. Both have wide forearms that are excellent for shooting from a rest. Both have tight pistol grips for (allegedly) superior trigger control, and straight combs designed to position the eye correctly behind a telescopic sight. The Savage's pistol grip is a little better defined and there is adequate space between the front of the pistol grip and the trigger. I found the Ruger's pistol grip to be too close to the trigger for my medium size hands. A shooter with small hands would probably prefer the Ruger. Neither rifle has a grip cap. Both have rubber butt pads and come with detachable sling swivel studs.

The KM77VT's stainless steel barreled action is finished in Ruger's unique, low glare, "Target Grey," said to be resistant to corrosion. The Model 12 Low Profile's stainless steel barreled action comes with an attractive, natural, matte silver finish. Preference is simply a matter of taste.

Both rifles have heavy contour 26" barrels with target crowns, but the Savage barrel is fluted to increase the surface area for faster cooling. Both barrels are free floated. The rifling in all Ruger M77 barrels is now hammer forged. Savage barrels are button rifled. Both systems can, and do, produce excellent barrels.

The basic Ruger KM77VT Mk. II is 46" long and weighs 9 3/4 pounds (empty and without a scope). The figures for the Savage Low Profile are 46.25" and 10 pounds. Neither rifle could be called compact or lightweight. These are not stalking rifles.

The Low Profile is drilled and tapped for conventional scope bases and rings. The Ruger action incorporates machined scope ring mounting surfaces, and comes with matching Ruger scope rings. This is a stronger, more trouble free method of scope mounting, a definite plus. Unfortunately, the supplied scope rings are too low to accommodate the majority of the high magnification, adjustable objective, variable power scopes typically chosen for long range varmint rifles. So most owners will have to invest in a set of high Ruger rings (list price about $50).

It is in the area of the bolt actions themselves that we discover the most differences between the two rifles. Following are some specifics about the actions.

The Savage Model 12 Low Profile

Savage Model 12 Low Profile
Illustration courtesy of Savage Arms, Inc.

The Savage Arms Model 12 Low Profile varmint rifle is built on the latest version of Savage's Model 110 action. This is a considerably modified Mauser type bolt action with two front locking lugs and a 90-degree bolt lift. The multi-piece bolt design has come in for some criticism over the years, but seems to work satisfactorily. The separate bolt handle casting has a round bolt knob that is smooth and extra large for easy operation.

The Savage 110 action was designed during the early 1960's for (relatively) inexpensive manufacture, given the technology of that time. The action body is machined from bar stock, which is not only cheaper than machining a block of steel, it also produces a rigid action. A drawback to the round receiver is that there can be no integral recoil lug. The recoil lug is essentially a thick washer trapped between the barrel and action, similar to the recoil lug used in the Remington Model 700 action.

Savage eschewed the traditional Mauser pattern full-length extractor; instead there is a smaller claw in the bolt head. This is called a "push feed" action. It is easy to single load by simply inserting a cartridge into the chamber (which should not be done with "controlled feed" actions incorporating full-length extractors), but the extractor does not grip the cartridge as it leaves the magazine and is fed into the chamber. Thus the Savage (or any other push feed action) may not feed reliably if operated in very unusual positions (upside down, for example).

Savage also went with a spring-loaded plunger ejector, located in the bolt face. Such ejectors are the most positive and reliable type, but always eject the case with full force, throwing the brass well clear of the rifle. This is great in a dangerous game rifle, but less convenient in a varmint rifle.

Unlike most bolt action rifles, where a very precisely chambered barrel is simply screwed into the receiver with about 90 ft. lbs. of torque, the Savage 110 action uses a unique outer threaded collar to help secure the barrel. This lowers manufacturing costs because it requires less machining. More importantly, it allows for exceptionally accurate headspacing, precisely adjusted at the factory, which contributes to the rifle's intrinsic accuracy.

The Savage's sliding, three-position safety is located on the action's rear tang. Like other three position safeties (including the Ruger M77 Mark II's), it safes the action and locks the bolt closed when fully rearward. In the intermediate position the rifle is still on "safe," but the bolt can be operated to unload the chamber or magazine. The fully forward position is "fire." I very much appreciate the tang location of this ambidextrous "shotgun" safety, which I regard as the fastest and most natural type. Sliding tang safeties are often included on very expensive, custom built rifles.

Unlike some newer actions designed for simple manufacture, the Savage 110 action has a sufficiently large ejection port to make loading and unloading from the top a simple matter. The single shot model of the Low Profile is particularly easy to load. Just drop a cartridge into the open action and close the bolt; it is as easy as that.

Removing the bolt from the Savage rifle is accomplished by simultaneously pulling the trigger all the way back and holding down a bolt release lever located at the right rear of the action (where the safety is located on many bolt action rifles). This system works, but it is more complicated and less natural than most. I hold the bolt with the left hand while pulling the trigger with the right index finger and depressing the bolt release with the right thumb.

The high point of the latest version of the Savage 110 action is the superb AccuTrigger. This trigger assembly is user adjustable on the Model 12 Low Profile through a pull weight range of 1.5 to 6 pounds. I set the test rifle's trigger to break at 2.25 pounds. It provides the best trigger release of any production rifle and, without a doubt, contributes to the rifle's superlative practical accuracy. The AccuTrigger simply has to be experienced to be believed. It's that good.

The Low Profile rifle's action is dual pillar bedded in its laminated stock. This is widely regarded as one of the best and most accurate bedding systems.

As you can perhaps tell from the information above, the design and features of the Savage 110 action put a premium on accuracy. This is reflected in the current Savage motto, "The Definition of Accuracy."

The Ruger KM77VT Mark II Target

Ruger KM77VT Mk. II
Illustration courtesy of Sturm, Ruger & Co., Inc.

The basic Ruger M77 action was designed in the 1970's to take advantage of Ruger's precision investment casting technology. Investment casting is considerably less expensive than machining a block of steel to create a rifle action. This process allows Ruger to make a sophisticated Mauser type action while controlling production time and costs.

The M77 is basically a conventional, flat bottom, Mauser type bolt action with an integral recoil lug. The one-piece bolt has two front locking lugs. The bolt lift is approximately 90 degrees and the bolt knob itself is smooth and rounded.

Like other traditional Mauser pattern actions (including the Winchester Model 70, with which the Ruger M77 shares many design features), the M77 Mk. II has a generous loading port that makes it easy to push cartridges into the internal box magazine. This large loading port also makes it easy to unload the rifle.

Ruger's M77 Mark II uses a traditional full-length extractor. This makes it a "controlled feed" action. Meaning that the extractor grabs the rim of the cartridge as it is pushed out of the magazine and holds it positively while it is chambered. This extractor takes a very large bite on the rim and is the best type for extracting dirty or stuck cases. The only real drawback to controlled feed actions is that cartridges should not be manually placed in the chamber, as it is difficult for the large extractor to ride over the cartridge's rim when the bolt is closed. The correct way to single load a controlled feed rifle is to first press the cartridge into the magazine, and then close the bolt.

A fixed blade ejector complements the full-length extractor. This type of ejector allows the shooter to throw the fired case well clear of the action by operating the bolt rapidly, but deliver it gently to hand by operating the bolt slowly, a feature appreciated by reloaders.

The Ruger comes with a three-position safety located at the right rear of the action. It is similar in function to the famous Winchester Model 70 safety, and allows unloading with the safety in the middle (on) position. This is a good safety, but not quite as convenient as the Savage's tang mounted safety.

The one-piece bolt is easily removed from the receiver by pulling on a lever at the left rear of the action. This is a simple and foolproof system.

The trigger of the KM77VT was very good as delivered. The trigger itself is steel, wide and smooth. It broke consistently at 2 7/8 pounds with only a little take-up and practically no creep. This trigger is not quite as good as the Savage AccuTrigger, but it is far better than average.

The KM77VT Mk. II action is firmly bedded into its laminated stock by means of Ruger's patented diagonal front bedding screw. This diagonal screw pulls the action forward as well as down against the stock. Ruger claims that this is more effective than other systems.

The Ruger M77 Mk. II action was clearly designed for hunting rifles. It was designed to incorporate the features most desired by experienced hunters.

Shooting trials at the range

Bob Fleck and I did the shooting for this part of the comparison. A number of 100 and 200 yard groups were fired from a bench rest with each rifle by both shooters. This shooting was conducted at an outdoor rifle range. The air was chilly and damp, but the wind was generally negligible. Groups were fired over sandbags as well as from my Caldwell Lead Sled rifle rest. The results were impressive.

Remember that the Savage test rifle is a .223 and the Ruger a .220, and that the Savage wears a Mueller Eraticator 8.5-25x50mm AO scope while the Ruger wears a Simmons AETEC 3.8-12x44mm AO scope. (There are reviews of both of these scopes on the Product Review Page.) So simply measuring group size to determine a "winner" would not only be unfair, but misleading. It would also be foolish, as two different rifles might (and probably would) produce entirely different results.

What we learned is that both rifles were capable of delivering sufficient accuracy to accomplish their intended purpose (varmint shooting) at the maximum point blank range (MPBR) of either cartridge. We shot some Hoppe's GroundHog targets at 200 yards from the bench rest to verify this.

The MPBR (+/- 1.5") of the .223 Rem., as tested with a 60 grain Hornady SP bullet handloaded at a MV of 3000 fps, is about 215 yards. The MPBR (+/- 1.5") of the .220 Swift, as tested with a Remington 50 grain PSP bullet factory loaded at a MV of 3780 fps, is about 245 yards. If the shooter does his or her part, every squeeze of the trigger will produce a dead groundhog at those ranges.

Summary

As we have seen, there are significant differences between these two outwardly similar rifles. The Savage Model 12 Low Profile was judged to have the following advantages:

  • Somewhat lower price
  • Push feed action allows cartridges to be single loaded directly into the chamber
  • Single shot model available--and exceptionally easy to load
  • Very stiff action body, especially in single shot model
  • Fluted barrel
  • Tang mounted safety
  • Ultra-precise headspace system
  • User adjustable AccuTrigger
  • Dual pillar bedding

And the Ruger KM77VT Mk. II has these advantages:

  • More available calibers
  • Hinged magazine floor plate
  • integral scope bases
  • Integral recoil lug
  • full length extractor for controlled feed
  • Fixed ejector allows shooter to control how hard cases are ejected
  • One-piece bolt
  • Convenient bolt release at left rear of receiver
  • Diagonal front bedding screw

Conclusion

There is no real winner in this comparison. Both of these varmint rifles are well suited to the task. The final choice, hopefully taking into consideration the differences outlined above, will ultimately be a matter of personal preference. Bob is as pleased with his Ruger KM77VT Mark II as I am with my Savage Model 12 Low Profile. The only loser is a rodent unfortunate enough to be caught in the crosshairs of either rifle.

Note: Individual, full length reviews of these rifles can be found on the Product Reviews page.




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Copyright 2004, 2013 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.


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