The Savage Custom G&S Online Model 12 Varmint Rifle
By the Guns and Shooting Online Staff
The first week of September 2006 saw the arrival at Guns and Shooting Online of a Savage Custom Model 12 varmint rifle. This eagerly anticipated special was inspired by the observations and suggestions we made in our review of the Savage Model 12 Long Range Precision Varminter and our follow-on article, "Compared: Three .223 Caliber Savage 12 Series Varmint Rifles," both of which you can find on the Product Review Page.
We felt that the 28", no taper, 1" diameter barrel supplied on the Long Range Precision Varminter is just too heavy to be really practical in the field except under special circumstances. The Long Range Precision Varminter is basically a bench rest rifle.
We suggested that the Long Range Precision Varminter could be improved for use in the field by retaining the right hand bolt, left loading/ejecting action but making the rifle shorter and lighter by shortening the barrel. We think that a varmint rifle should have a heavy barrel, but not necessarily an extra long barrel. We recommended a new 12 Series model built on the Long Range Precision Varminter action and stock, but with a 22"-24" fluted barrel of similar contour to that used on the 12BVSS.
After all, the longest barrel used on the .223 (5.56mm) M16/M16A2/M16A4 infantry rifles by the U.S. Army is 20", which is also the barrel length of the Colt AR-15 Match Target Rifles. The Army's M4 Carbine comes with a 14.5" barrel! And most civilian .223 caliber bolt action rifles come with 22"-24" barrels. A 26"-28" barrel is simply not necessary on a rifle chambered for a cartridge with the relatively small powder capacity of the .223 Remington.
We know that the good folks at Savage Arms read, and sometimes respond to, articles involving their products on Guns and Shooting Online. We also know that they pay close attention to feedback from Savage owners. Still, we were somewhat surprised when Savage's Brian Herrick wrote to us suggesting that he have the Savage custom shop build a rifle as per our suggestions for further testing and review on Guns and Shooting Online. Naturally, we jumped at the opportunity! A telephone conversation with Effie Sullivan, High Priestess of Customer Service at Savage finalized the details of the new rifle and the project was a "go."
One of those details was the exact barrel length. When questioned, half of our staff suggested a 24" barrel, while the other half favored a 22" tube. We compromised on a barrel length of 23".
Thus it was that on September 7th we took delivery of what we immediately dubbed the "Savage Custom Guns and Shooting Online Model 12 Varmint Rifle." (Or "G&S Online Model 12" for short.) Yeah, the name's a little long, not to mention pretentious, but how often does a major manufacturer offer to build you a rifle?
Included in the carton with our G&S Online Model 12 varmint rifle was an AccuTrigger adjustment tool, instruction manual, warrantee registration card, small Savage catalog, safety pamphlet, flyer promoting the Hunter's Edge Knife, discount NRA membership application, blank target, gun lock, and a pair of disposable foam earplugs.
There was also a signed test target that showed a 0.20", 3-shot group fired at 100 yards using Federal factory loads with the 69 grain Sierra MatchKing bullet. That was both encouraging and somewhat intimidating, since we were to review the same rifle and doubted that we could equal that performance. Of course, we would be shooting hunting, not match, ammunition in the new rifle.
Here are the basic specifications of the Custom Guns and Shooting Online Model 12:
The G&S Online Model 12 is 3" shorter and about 3 pounds lighter on a digital bathroom scale than the Long Range Precision Varminter by which it was inspired, but it is still a heavy rifle. The weight bias is about 1.25" in front of the receiver. That is not nearly as muzzle heavy as the Long Range Precision Varminter, which balances about 3.5" in front of its receiver. The addition of a scope and mount moved the balance back to a point about 1" in front of the receiver, which is not bad for a varmint rifle.
Speaking of actions, this right bolt/left eject Savage action is a seriously heavy action. I don't know what the receiver alone weighs, but it is considerably more than the conventional right bolt/right eject receiver of the Low Profile, which itself is no lightweight. The left eject action is essentially a heavy, thick walled steel tube with a small, oval ejection port cut into its left side and a heavy washer that serves as a recoil lug trapped between the barrel and the receiver. There is a lot more metal here than in a conventional Savage 110 action. No doubt this contributes to increased action stiffness, which (at least theoretically) contributes to increased intrinsic accuracy. The oversize bolt knobs of the left eject actions are drilled to reduce a tiny bit of weight.
port! Illustration courtesy of Savage Arms.
Being a single shot rifle, the G&S Online Model 12 receiver has no magazine cut-out, which further strengthens and stiffens the massive action. The lack of a magazine and follower also make the action supremely smooth to cycle and ultra reliable. This action is a joy to operate.
The Savage Model 12 action features a fast lock time, an asset to practical accuracy. Another accuracy enhancing feature of all Savage Model 12 actions, right or left eject, is Savage's ultra precise method of attaching and headspacing the barrel to the receiver. This involves threading the barrel into the receiver and securing the assembly with what is essentially a large lock nut.
Savage's superb AccuTrigger is the biggest asset to practical accuracy of all. It is user adjustable from approximately 1.5-6 pounds. The trigger of the G&S Online Model 12 broke at a clean 1 7/8 pounds as measured by an RCBS Precision trigger pull gauge. The Savage AccuTrigger remains the best trigger supplied on any mass produced rifle in the world.
The safety is a three-position slider mounted on the tang where it is most convenient to operate. It is an excellent safety, even if it probably won't see much use on a single shot varmint rifle.
Like all Savage 110 based actions, the Model 12 is a push feed design (any single shot bolt action needs to be a push feed design) using a three-piece bolt, two-piece firing pin, plunger ejector, and sliding claw extractor mounted in the bolt face. This isn't the action I'd choose for a dangerous game rifle, but it has the right stuff for a varmint rifle.
One thing that we have never favored is Savage's rather awkward system for bolt removal. This requires pulling the trigger fully rearward while depressing a tab at the right rear of the receiver and withdrawing the bolt. These three simultaneous actions require some fumbling around that is unnecessary with most bolt action rifles. The clever engineers at Savage Arms need to figure out something more elegant.
The stock is a composite synthetic H-S Precision Varmint stock with a bedding block chassis CNC machined from aircraft quality aluminum alloy for increased rigidity. According to H-S Precision, the outer shell of the stock is a laminate of woven Kevlar, fiberglass cloth, uni-directional carbon fiber epoxy based gel coat and laminating resin. The core of the stock is an injection molded, fiberglass reinforced polyurethane foam. This stock is supplied with detachable sling swivel bases and a black rubber recoil pad. The barreled action is dual pillar bedded.
This stock is much stiffer and far more satisfactory than the black injection molded plastic stocks found on so many rifles today. Its slightly rough surface texture also feels better in the hand and provides an excellent gripping surface. This stock is functionally equivalent to and lighter than a laminated hardwood stock.
The Other Rifles
For comparison to the new G&S Online Model 12 we used three other Savage 12 Series .223 caliber varmint rifles. One was Rocky Hays' personal Low Profile Varminter. Another was Gordon Landers' personal 12BVSS Varminter. The third was the Long Range Precision Varminter consigned from Savage Arms for review. We had test fired all of which rifles at the range the previous month for the article "Compared: Three .223 Caliber Savage 12 Series Varmint Rifles." Individual reviews of all of these rifles may also be found on the Product Review Page. They have proven to be exceedingly accurate varmint rifles.
The new G&S Online Model 12 was fitted with a Sightron SII 4-16x42mm AO Target riflescope. Rocky has his Low Profile Varminter equipped with a Simmons Whitetail Classic 6-18x50mm AO riflescope. This is the same scope that we used on the Savage Model 12 Long Range Precision Varminter for its review. Gordon's 12BVSS is equipped with a Leupold VX-III 3.5-10x40mm scope.
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 early autumn weather was overcast with a high temperature of about 60 degrees F, practically no wind, and light to occasionally heavy rain.
All shooting for record was done at 100 yards from a shooting bench using a Caldwell Lead Sled rifle rest weighted with a 25 pound bag of lead shot. We used Hoppe's "Crosshair" Sighting Targets and fired 3-shot groups, without letting the fluted barrel cool between shot strings. Varmint rifles are, after all, sometimes called upon to fire many shots in the field without time to cool.
During the course of our range time with the G&S Online Model 12, Guns and Shooting Online staffers Chuck Hawks, Jim Fleck, and Rocky Hays did the shooting. We shot groups for record with four types of ammunition. Two of these were Remington / UMC factory loads, one using a 45 grain JHP bullet at a MV of 3550 fps and the other with a 55 grain MC bullet at a MV of 3240 fps. One was the Hornady Varmint Express factory load using a 55 grain V-Max bullet at a MV of 3240 fps. The last test load was a reload that had performed well in other Savage 12 Series rifles. It drives a 50 grain Hornady V-Max bullet at a MV of 3300 fps with 25.1 grains of IMR 3031 powder. These cartridges were loaded in full length resized Remington brass and used CCI 400 primers for ignition.
Here are the shooting results for the G&S Online Model 12:
AVERAGE GROUP SIZE FOR ALL AMMUNITION = 0.75".
It is interesting to compare these results with those in our reviews of the 12 Series Low Profile, Long Range Precision Varminter, and 12BVSS. In our recent comparison "Three .223 Caliber Savage 12 Series Varmint Rifles," these three rifles shot their smallest 100 yard average group size with reloads using the 50 grain Hornady V-Max bullet at a MV of 3300 fps.
The Long Range Precision Varminter averaged 0.60".
The Low Profile Varminter delivered groups averaging 0.68".
The 12BVSS average group size with that bullet was 0.54".
And, as reported above, the G&S Online Model 12 fired groups averaging 0.58" with this load (and an even smaller .42" average with the Hornady 55 grain V-Max factory load).
Besides the obvious conclusion that Hornady V-Max bullets seems to be a good ones, there was only a miniscule 0.14" extreme spread in the average group sizes between all four of our Savage 12 Series test rifles shooting the 50 grain V-Max bullet. Bear in mind that these 12 Series rifles were test fired outdoors by several shooters, subject to the vagaries of wind and weather; not on an indoor range or through a tube. Under these conditions a reasonable person could conclude that there is no practical difference in the accuracy of any of these rifles; that is our conclusion.
When choosing a Savage 12 series varmint rifle, it is not intrinsic accuracy (which is superb across the board) but other factors that should logically determine the model selected. We are undoubtedly biased, but the shorter, more compact Guns and Shooting Online Model 12 has become our favorite. With the convenience of the right bolt, left eject action, a rigid and lightweight stock, and its handy 23" barrel, the G&S Online Model 12 makes both a supremely convenient rifle to shoot at the range and a formidable varmint rifle in the field. It is, in fact, the best all-around varmint rifle that we have ever tested!
Guns and Shooting Online readers who wish to order a Savage G&S Online Model 12 for themselves may do so by telephoning Savage Arms at: (413) 568-7001. Ask for Effie Sullivan, the Customer Service Coordinator, and she will assist you with your order.
Addendum by Chuck Hawks
As I have had additional opportunities to shoot this rifle I have become even more impressed. Its ultra-smooth, left eject action and AccuTrigger make it such a pleasure to shoot! Group sizes have actually decreased, probably as the barrel "shoots in." (As I write this the barrel has had about 200 rounds fired through it.) The last time I had the G&S Online Model 12 at the range, using the reload mentioned above with the Hornady 50 grain V-Max bullet and shooting over sandbags, my largest 100 yard group measured 1/2" and I shot three cloverleaf groups that measured only 1/4".
RIFLE REVIEW SUMMARY
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