Compared: Four .223 Caliber Savage 12 Series Varmint Rifles

By the Guns and Shooting Online Staff


In 2003, 2004, 2006 and 2008 Savage successively introduced a quartet of top of the line, bolt action varmint rifles. These are the Model 12BVSS, Varminter Low Profile, Long Range Precision Varminter and Varminter Thumbhole. In 2003 the 12BVSS, the first of the series, was awarded the Shooting Industry Academy of Excellence Rifle of the Year award.

What Savage calls the "12 Series Varmint" rifles, probably more than any others, have earned Savage rifles the right to be called, "The Definition of Accuracy." It is with the 12 Series Varmint rifles that Savage initially made the leap from building excellent, low cost sporting rifles to building specialized rifles second to none. The four 12 Series Varmint rifles compared here can hold their own in any company and their price tags, while not exorbitant, reflect that fact.

All four are built on versions of the basic Savage short bolt action. In 2006 Savage added a long action (Model 112) version of the Low Profile. There is also a left-handed version of the Low Profile available.

The action used in the Long Range Precision Varminter deserves special mention. It is the latest single shot version of the Savage short bolt action. It does not have the open top and right hand ejection of the other 12 Series Varmint rifles, although the bolt is operated with the right hand. Instead, the tubular receiver has a small port on its left side through which cartridges and loaded and ejected. This right bolt, left ejection design makes the rifle easier and more convenient to load and unload at a bench rest.

The operation is simplicity itself. You just take a cartridge out of the box with your left hand and drop it into the loading port. Slide the bolt forward with your right hand to effortlessly chamber the cartridge. After firing, open the bolt with your right hand and the empty case pops out of the ejection port into your waiting left hand to be put back into the box.

The four rifles share certain common features, including rigid stocks, dual pillar bedding, heavy button rifled barrels, free floating barrels, convenient tang safeties, oversize bolt knobs, quick detachable sling swivel bases, rubber butt pads and either the varmint or target versions of Savage's marvelous AccuTrigger.

We at Guns and Shooting Online have praised the AccuTrigger system 'til we're blue in the face. So much praise might be seen as excessive, but in this era of lawyer-adjusted trigger pull weight every opportunity must be taken to announce the success of Savage's trigger system. AccuTrigger is simply the best trigger available in a factory built rifle. It is user adjustable and an adjustment tool and instructions are provided with every rifle. The standard AccuTrigger is installed in the Model 12 Low Profile and 12BVSS rifles, while the Long Range Precision Varminter and Varminter Thumbhole models get the Target AccuTrigger that features an even lighter adjustment range. The Target AccuTrigger is sort of guilding the lily, as the standard AccuTrigger is perfectly adequate for shooting varmints.

Another common feature is Savage's unique barrel attachment/headspacing arrangement. This achieves very precise headspacing and we are convinced that it contributes to the outstanding accuracy of Savage rifles.

Savage cuts extra threads on the barrel and adds a lock nut before threading the barrel into the receiver. This allows them to turn the barrel into the receiver to exactly the right distance for proper headspace and then tighten the lock nut. Is this not precision with less fiddling? I don't expect anyone to soon need barrel replacement on a .223, but should the need arise this system would facilitate the job.

Here are the basic specifications for the Savage Model 12 Long Range Precision Varminter:

Savage Model 12 Precision Varminter
Savage Model 12 Precision Varminter. Illustration courtesy of Savage Arms
  • Action - Savage short bolt action, single shot; right hand bolt with left side loading/ejection port
  • Caliber - .223 Remington (also .204 Ruger and .22-250)
  • Capacity - 1 round
  • Trigger - Target AccuTrigger
  • Safety - Tang mounted, 3-position
  • Stock - H-S Precision Varmint black composite, dual pillar bedding, swivel studs
  • Barrel - 28", extra heavy contour (1" diameter), free floating
  • Rifling twist - 1 in 9", button rifled (.223 Rem.)
  • Sights - None, drilled and tapped for scope mounts
  • Metal finish - Stainless steel
  • Overall Length - 46.25"
  • Weight - 11.25 pounds

Here are the basic specifications of the Model 12 Varminter Low Profile:

Savage 12 Low Profile
Varminter Low Profile. Illustration courtesy of Savage Arms
  • Action - Savage 110 short bolt action, single shot (long action and repeating models available; also a left handed repeater)
  • Caliber - .223 Remington (.204 Ruger, .22-250, .25-06, and .300 Win. Mag. also available)
  • Capacity - 1; repeating model with internal box magazine, 4 rounds (.223)
  • Trigger - Savage AccuTrigger
  • Safety - Tang mounted, 3-position
  • Stock - Brown hardwood laminate, low profile with wide beavertail forend, satin finish, dual pillar bedding, swivel studs
  • Barrel - 26 inches, heavy contour, fluted, free floating
  • Rifling twist - 1 in 9", button rifled (.223 Rem.)
  • Sights - None; drilled and tapped for scope mounts
  • Metal finish - Stainless steel
  • Overall length - 46.25 inches
  • Weight - 10 pounds

Here are the basic specifications for the Varmint Rifle Model 12BVSS:

Savage Model 12BVSS
Savage Model 12BVSS. Illustration courtesy of Savage Arms
  • Action - Savage 110 short bolt action repeater
  • Caliber - .223 Remington (.22-250 also available)
  • Capacity - 4 rounds (.223) in internal magazine
  • Trigger - Savage AccuTrigger
  • Safety - Tang mounted, 3-position
  • Stock - Brown hardwood laminate, target style prone with ambidextrous Wundhammer palm swell, satin finish, dual pillar bedding, swivel studs
  • Barrel - 26 inches, heavy contour, fluted, free floating
  • Rifling twist - 1 in 9", button rifled (.223 Rem.)
  • Sights - None; drilled and tapped for scope mounts
  • Metal finish - Stainless steel
  • Overall length - 46.25 inches
  • Weight - 10 pounds

Here are the basic specifications for the Varminter Thumbhole Model 12BTCSS:

Savage 12 Thumbhole
Varminter Thumbhole Model 12BTCSS. Illustration courtesy of Savage Arms
  • Action - Savage 110 short bolt action repeater
  • Magazine - Detachable box magazine
  • Caliber - .223 Remington (.204 Ruger and .22-250 also available)
  • Capacity - 4 rounds (.223)
  • Trigger - Target AccuTrigger
  • Safety - Tang mounted, 3-position
  • Stock - Brown hardwood laminate thumbhole, ventilated forend, satin finish, dual pillar bedding, dual front swivel studs
  • Barrel - 26 inches, heavy contour, fluted, free floating
  • Rifling twist - 1 in 9", button rifled (.223 Rem.)
  • Sights - None; drilled and tapped for scope mounts
  • Metal finish - Stainless steel
  • Overall length - 46.25 inches
  • Weight - 10 pounds

Scopes

Naturally, all of our Savage 12 Series Varmint rifles wear telescopic sights. The 12BVSS is Gordon Landers' personal rifle and he chose to equip it with a Leupold VX-III 3.5-10x40mm scope. The Low Profile is Chuck Hawks' personal rifle and wears a Sightron SII 4-16x42mm AO Target model scope. The Varminter Thumbhole is Jack Seeling's personal rifle and wears a Nitrex TR-one 6-20x50mm AO varmint scope. The Long Range Precision Varminter was provided for review by Savage Arms and we mounted a Simmons Whitetail Classic 6-18x50mm AO scope. All of these optics are entirely suitable for a .223 varmint rifle and provided sharp, clear views of our 100 yard targets.

Test Firing

These four .223 Savage varmint rifles are similar in many ways, but there are also differences that optimize each for particular applications and that will appeal to different users. We took each to the range for a workout so that we could compare them under live fire conditions.

During the course of our time at the range with the four Savage rifles, Guns and Shooting Online staffers Chuck Hawks, Bob Fleck, Jack Seeling and Gordon Landers did the bulk of the shooting.

Our test shooting was done at the Izaak Walton outdoor gun range south of Eugene, Oregon. This facility offers covered bench rest shooting positions and target stands at 25, 50, 100 and 200 yards. The light and variable winds we encountered on our range days were probably not much of a factor.

All shooting for record was done at 100 yards from a bench rest. We used Hoppe's "Crosshair" and Champion "Scorekeeper" targets and fired 3-shot groups, letting the barrel cool between shooters, but not between individual shot strings. Varmint rifles are sometimes called upon to fire several shots in succession in the field, so barrel heating is a factor that must be reckoned with.

We shot groups for record with several types of ammunition. All four rifles were tested with the Remington/UMC factory load using a 45 grain JHP bullet at a MV of 3550 fps. This popular varmint load was chosen for its availability and low price. In addition, factory loads with 55 grain bullets were also tried. Three of our Savages shot the Remington/UMC factory load using a 55 grain Metal Case bullet at a MV of 3240 fps and the Varminter Thumbhole was tested with the Hornady Varmint Express factory load using a 55 grain V-Max bullet, also at a MV of 3240 fps.

The other test loads were reloads All reloads used Remington brass and CCI 400 primers. Bullets and powder charges varied as we sought to find a load acceptable to each rifle from our personal stock on hand. Bullet choices included the Sierra 50 grain Blitz, Hornady 50 grain V-Max and Hornady 60 grain Spire Point. Two powders that we have found to be acceptable in most .223 rifles were used, Hodgdon 335 and IMR 3031. Following are the shooting results obtained with our Savage 12 Series Varmint rifles.

Model 12 Long Range Precision Varminter

The two reloads fired in the Long Range Precision Varminter used a 50 grain Sierra Blitz bullet in front of 26.6 grains of H335 powder for a MV of 3300 fps and a 50 grain Hornady V-Max bullet in front of 25.7 grains of H335, also for a MV of 3300 fps.

  • Reload, Hornady V-Max 50 grain - Smallest group 1/4"; largest group 13/16"; average group size 0.60"
  • Reload, Sierra Blitz 50 grain - Smallest group 7/8"; largest group 1 1/8"; average group size 0.96"
  • Factory, Rem. / UMC 45 grain - Smallest group 1 1/8"; largest group 1 3/4"; average group size 1.46"
  • Factory, Rem. / UMC 55 grain - Smallest group 3/8"; largest group 2"; average group size 1.25"

Model 12 Varminter Low Profile

The first reload selected for the Low Profile used the same 50 grain Hornady V-Max bullet as used in reloads for the other two Savage rifles, but this time in front of 25.1 grains of IMR 3031 powder to achieve the same MV of 3300 fps. This is the standard varmint hunting load for this rifle. The second reload used the Hornady Spire Point 60 grain bullet in front of 22.8 grains of IMR 3031 for a MV of 3000 fps. This rifle prefers IMR 3031 powder to the other powders that we have tried.

  • Reload, Hornady 50 grain V-Max - Smallest group 1/4"; largest group 1"; average group size 0.68"
  • Reload, Hornady 60 grain SP - Smallest group 9/16"; largest group 1"; average group size 0.81"
  • Factory, Rem. / UMC 45 grain - Smallest group 1 1/8"; largest group 1 5/16"; average group size 1.22"
  • Factory, Rem. / UMC 55 grain - Smallest group 3/4"; largest group 1 3/4"; average group size 1.25"

Model 12BVSS

One of the two reloads tested the 12BVSS was the same as was selected for the Long Range Precision Varminter. This load used the 50 grain Hornady V-Max bullet in front of 25.7 grains of H335 (MV of 3300 fps). The other used the 60 grain Hornady Spire Point bullet (the same bullet used in the Low Profile), but in front of 23.0 grains of H335 powder for the same MV of 3000 fps.

  • Reload, Hornady 50 grain V-Max - Smallest group 5/16"; largest group 7/8"; average group size 0.54"
  • Reload, Hornady 60 grain SP - Smallest group 1/4"; largest group 1 3/4"; average group size 0.85"
  • Factory, Rem./UMC 45 grain - Smallest group 1 1/16"; largest group 2"; average group size 1.44"
  • Factory, Rem./UMC 55 grain - Smallest group 7/8"; largest group 1 15/16"; average group size 1.28"

Varminter Thumbhole

By the time we got to the Varminter Thumbhole we were running low on some varieties of ammunition. Our shooting with the Thumbhole was accomplished using the ubiquitous Remington/UMC factory load that launches a 45 grain Jacketed Hollow Point bullet and the Hornady Varmint Express factory load using the 55 grain V-Max bullet. The remaining reload was Chuck's favorite, which drives a 50 grain Hornady V-MAX bullet with 25.1 grains of IMR 3031 powder for a MV of 3300 fps.

  • Reload, Hornady 50 grain V-Max - smallest group 5/16"; largest group 1"; mean average group = 0.73"
  • Factory, Rem./UMC 45 grain - smallest group 7/8"; largest group 1-5/16"; mean average group = 1.15"
  • Factory, Hornady 55 grain V-Max - smallest group 5/16"; largest group 7/8"; mean average group = 0.61"

After the powder smoke blows away

Analyzing these results leads to the conclusion that (1) all four Savage rifles are accurate in the extreme, and (2) you might as well pick the style you prefer because there is no practical difference in accuracy. These four rifles shot average groups of 0.60", 0.68", 0.54" and 0.61" with their favored ammunition and we were only able to try a limited number of loads in each rifle. Those tiny variations between rifles are well within the margin of shooter error. You really can't ask more than that.

However, there are differences from the user's standpoint. The most obvious difference is the stocks. If you insist on a synthetic stock, you will buy the Long Range Precision Varminter, end of story. Beyond the fact that the Long Range Precision Varminter has a composite synthetic stock and the other three have laminated hardwood stocks, each stock has a different shape. Choose the one that fits you best.

The actions are also different. The Long Range Precision Varminter has an unusual right hand bolt, left hand eject action while the 12BVSS, Thumbhole and Low Profile are based on the same (conventional) action. The Thumbhole and 12BVSS are only available as a repeaters in 2008, while the Long Range Precision Varminter is a single shot rifle. The Low Profile can be had either way. If you are a "lefty," you'll probably favor the left handed version of the Low Profile. The other three models are intended for right handed shooters.

Here are some comments from our shooting staff about our three 12 Series Varmint rifles.

Long Range Precision Varminter

This is a very heavy, and very muzzle heavy, rifle. It is the best of the three for shooting from a bench rest, but due to its weight and extreme weight forward balance it would almost have to be fired from a bipod in the field. It is really too heavy to do much hiking with, and attaching a bipod merely increases the weight and balance problem. The Long Range Precision Varminter is probably the most specialized and least practical of the three as an all-around varmint rifle, although in shape its stock is similar to the more field oriented Low Profile and less extreme than the 12BVSS target stock. It is supplied with the very light Target AccuTrigger.

We just have to slobber all over the loading/ejection port on the left side of the receiver. Shooting from a rest you need only work the action once or twice to stop, slap yourself on the forehead, and say," Why didn't I think of that?" Loading and ejection ports in other places are fine and appropriate for other firearms and applications, but on this single-shot bolt rifle the left-side port is perfect.

We suggest that the weight of the rifle could be decreased and the balance dramatically shifted rearward by shortening the barrel. (Somewhere between 22" and 24" ought to do it.) The resulting rifle would be just as accurate for bench rest shooting and considerably handier in the field. A talented gunsmith, such as our own Rocky Hays, could step the outside diameter of the barrel down from 1" to 3/4" (the approximate OD of the other heavy barreled 12 Series Varmint rifles) just in front of the forend to further reduce weight and improve balance for use in the field. The cost of such modifications in ballistic performance and accuracy in .223 caliber should be negligible, and the end result might be the most versatile of all Savage 12 Series rifles.

Savage Arms could probably achieve a similar result by shortening the barrel, reducing the OD to 7/8" in front of the forend (still larger than the other 12 Series Varmint rifles), and fluting the barrel. This is something that they should look into. In that case, a second front sling swivel stud would be appreciated so that a sling and a bipod could be attached at the same time.

Varminter Low Profile

I can imagine, after the very successful introduction of the 12BVSS, the good folks responsible for Savage product development were getting letters from users requesting a 12BVSS type rifle with a more "sporter" oriented stock. Thus, about a year later, the Low Profile was introduced and it has become the most popular of the 12 series varmint rifles.

The Low Profile is lighter than the Long Range Precision Varminter, but the same weight as the 12BVSS and Thumbhole, so it's no lightweight. It is, however, slimmer than the 12BVSS and perhaps that makes it a little handier and easier to carry. The full pistol grip does not have as tight a curve as the grip of the 12BVSS, the butt pad is slightly contoured and the angle of pitch is adjusted to make the Low Profile a little easier to shoulder and to shoot from a variety of positions. If I were Savage, I'd reduce the barrel length to 24" to further optimize the Low Profile for field use by making the rifle handier and somewhat lighter.

The wide forend spreads the weight of the barrel and makes it relatively easy to take advantage of impromptu rests in the field. Like most varmint rifles, the Low Profile will usually be fired from some sort of rest or bipod, so a forend adapted to the purpose makes sense. Supplied with the Savage AccuTrigger.

While a repeating version of this rifle is available, the smoothness and reliability of the single shot version make it a real pleasure to use. While a varmint rifle may be shot a lot in the course of a day's hunting, it is seldom necessary to shoot particularly quickly. The single shot is really seems to be the best way to go if your choice is a Low Profile and you're not addicted to rapid fire shooting.

Model 12BVSS

The Model 12BVSS, Thumbhole and Low Profile use the same barreled actions; it is the stocks that are different in shape if not material. The 12BVSS is immediately recognizable by its black forend tip. Being something of a fan of the aesthetics of black forend tips, I wish that particular feature had been carried over to the Low Profile.

This is a target style stock intended for shooting from the prone position. The curve of the essentially vertical pistol grip is very abrupt and the ambidextrous palm swells make the grip fatter than the other two models compared here. The point of balance is beneath the front of the reciever, which is about optimum. The 12BVSS comes with the standard Savage AccuTrigger. If you do your varmint shooting laying on the ground, and many varmint shooters do, the 12BVSS is probably the right choice.

Varminter Thumbhole

The Model 12BVSS, Low Profile and Thumbhole use the same barreled actions, although the Thumbhole comes with the ultra-light Target AccuTrigger. This model is primarily distinguished by its thumbhole type stock and ruler flat comb and is intended for shooting from a rest or bipod. A second sling swivel stud is provided on the forend for bipod attachment. The pistol grip has a sharp curve and a flared bottom. The forend of this model is unique among the Model 12 varmint rifles, being ventilated for faster barrel cooling. Together with its fluted barrel and detachable magazine, this seems to be the model most applicable to rapid fire shooting.

Conclusion

We have sung the praises of these Savage 12 Series Varmint rifles because they perfectly fit the niche for which they were intended. If you seek advanced features and outstanding accuracy from a factory built, heavy barreled varmint rifle, take a real close look at these Savage rifles.

Note: Complete reviews of the Savage 12 Series Varminter Thumbhole, Varminter Low Profile, Long Range Precision Varminter and 12 BVSS rifles can be found on the Product Reviews page.




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