The Savage Model 12BVSS Varmint Rifle

By Chuck Hawks with Gordon Landers

Savage Model 12BVSS
Illustration courtesy of Savage Arms

Guns and Shooting Online Technical Advisor Gordon Landers purchased this Savage Model 12BVSS varmint rifle at his own expense for his personal rifle battery. Naturally, since we had previously reviewed the similar 12 Series Low Profile Varminter and were in the process of reviewing the new 12 Series Long Range Precision Varminter, we could not resist the opportunity to review Gordon's rifle. We also included the 12BVSS in a three rifle, 12 Series comparison article, which you will find on the Product Review Page.

The Savage 12 Series varmint rifles share certain common features, including a Savage 110 short action, dual pillar bedding, heavy button rifled barrels, free floating barrels, 3-position tang safeties, oversize bolt knobs, quick detachable sling swivel bases, rubber butt pads, and Savage's marvelous AccuTrigger.

We have described the Model 12 (Savage 110) bolt action in previous reviews of Savage rifles, so we will be repeating ourselves here. The 12BVSS reviewed for this article uses a single shot version of this action. This makes the operation exceptionally smooth, since there is no cartridge or magazine follower to drag on the underside of the bolt as it is closed. Operation is incredibly simple: just drop a cartridge into the chamber and close the bolt. The cartridge will be fed smoothly into the chamber every time.

The basic Savage 110 action is a cylindrical, push feed design with a sliding claw extractor in the bolt face and a plunger ejector. The multi-piece bolt contains a two-piece firing pin and uses two large front locking lugs. Bolt rotation is approximately 90 degrees and the firing pin is cocked on opening the bolt. Series 12 varmint rifles come with oversize bolt handles for easy operation. The recoil lug takes the form of a heavy washer trapped between the barrel and the receiver, on the Remington 700 pattern.

Bolt removal is one of the weak points of the action. What should be a simple act requires simultaneously pulling the trigger all the way back, depressing a lever at the right rear of the receiver, and withdrawing the bolt. A simpler system should be devised that only requires two hands to accomplish.

We at Guns and Shooting Online have lavishly praised the AccuTrigger system in the past. It might seem repetitive, but we feel that every opportunity should be taken to commend the brilliance of Savage's AccuTrigger system. The AccuTrigger is simply the best trigger mechanism available in a factory built rifle. The AccuTrigger installed in the 12BVSS and other 12 Series Varmint rifles is user adjustable (an adjustment tool and instructions are provided with every rifle) for a pull weight of 1.5 to 6 pounds. The test rifle's trigger was adjusted for a crisp 2.5 pound release.

Another unique feature is Savage's barrel attachment/headspacing arrangement. 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. This easily achieves very precise headspacing, and we are convinced that it contributes to the outstanding accuracy of Savage 110 rifles.

Also worthy of comment is the top tang mounted, three position safety slider. The top tang is the most convenient location for a safety. It is often the safety location chosen for installation on expensive custom built rifles, but rarely seen on production rifles.

Here are the basic specifications of the Savage Model 12BVSS as reviewed:

  • Action - Savage 110 short bolt action, single shot (repeating model also available)
  • Caliber - .223 Remington (.22-250, .243 Win, .308 Win, .300 WSM also available)
  • Capacity - 1
  • 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
  • 2006 MSRP - $746

It is the 12 Series varmint rifles, more than any other single model line, that established Savage's reputation for top flight varmint rifles and put the ring of truth in their advertising slogan, "The Definition of Accuracy." The Model 12BVSS was chosen as the "Rifle of the Year" by the Shooting Industry Academy of Excellence when it was introduced in 2003, and Savage has never looked back.

The 12BVSS is built around a stainless steel barreled action and a brown laminated hardwood stock. The latter has a very sharply curved pistol grip, a beavertail forend with a black tip, and a black rubber butt pad. The heavy, varmint contour, fluted barrel is 26" long. Barrel diameter at the muzzle is approximately 3/4". Anyone who knows rifles can tell at a glance that this is a serious heavy varmint rifle, the kind of rifle that is the scourge of rock chucks in the west and wood chucks in the east.

Gordon equipped his 12BVSS with a top quality optical sight in the form of a Leupold VX-III 3.5-10x40mm variable power riflescope in a 1-piece Leupold base and Leupold rings. This scope is equipped with Leupold's justly famous Duplex reticle, whose fine central crosshair makes aiming at small or distant targets relatively easy. The scope's optics are, of course, first class. There are articles about Leupold VX-III scopes on both the Product Review and Scopes and Optics pages.

Guns and Shooting Online staffers Chuck Hawks, Bob Fleck and Gordon Landers did the shooting chores with the 12BVSS. The venue was 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 were probably not much of a factor. The high temperature was about 80 degrees F.

For the record we fired 3-shot groups at Hoppe's "Crosshair" targets at a range of 100 yards from a bench rest. The rifle was cradled in a Caldwell Lead Sled rest weighted with a 25 pound bag of lead shot. We let the barrel cool down between shooters, but not between individual shot strings.

Two reloads and two factory loads were used in testing the 12BVSS. One reload 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 in front of 23.0 grains of H335 powder for a MV of 3000 fps. Both reloads used Remington brass and CCI 400 primers.

The factory loads were both from Remington/UMC. One drives a 45 grain JHP bullet at a MV of 3550 fps, while the other is the original .223 load, launching a 55 grain FMJ bullet at a MV of 3240 fps. Each shooter fired groups with all four of these loads.

Here are the shooting results:

  • 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 55 grain - Smallest group 7/8"; largest group 1 15/16"; average group size 1.28"
  • Factory, Rem./UMC 45 grain - Smallest group 1 1/16"; largest group 2"; average group size 1.44"

Needless to say, these are outstanding accuracy results. Significantly, the only other rifles we have ever tested that shot such tiny groups at 100 yards were also Savage 12 Series varmint rifles. The 12 Series truly is the definition of accuracy!

The Savage Models 12FVSS, 12BVSS, and 12 Varminter Low Profile are all built on the same stainless steel barreled action. The 12FVSS is the least expensive of the trio and uses a black synthetic stock. The 12BVSS and 12 Varminter Low Profile use brown laminated hardwood stocks that, although heavier, are also stiffer and contribute to superior accuracy. The 12 Low Profile's stock is, well, lower in profile with a flattened beavertail forend and slightly less pistol grip curve. The 12BVSS, reviewed here, is the most traditional varmint rifle configuration. Its stock is "taller" through the forend, with a very tight (approximately 90 degree) pistol grip.

Whichever Savage 12 Series Varmint rifle you choose, you will not go wrong. Particularly if it is one of the models with a laminated hardwood stock!


  • Make and Model: Savage Model 12BVSS
  • Type: Heavy varmint rifle
  • Action: Bolt, single shot
  • Stock: Brown laminated hardwood
  • Caliber Reviewed: .223 Remington
  • Best Features: Very smooth feeding action; Large loading/ejection port; AccuTrigger; Fluted barrel; Tang safety; Precise headspacing; Extreme accuracy
  • Worst Features: 3-piece bolt; Bolt removal system; Thick stock
  • Overall Grade: B+ (Very Good)

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Copyright 2006 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.