Savage Model 110 Apex Hunter XP Rifle with Vortex Crossfire 3-9x40mm Riflescope
By the Guns and Shooting Online Staff
We originally requested a Savage American Classic rifle in .243 Winchester caliber for this review. Unfortunately, we were informed the upscale American Classic rifles with walnut stocks and deluxe features, such as straight comb ("American") stocks, black fore end tips, pistol grip caps, polished and blued metal finish and hinged magazine floor plates were being discontinued. Savage is no longer offering a walnut (or even laminated walnut) stocked rifle with a polished and blued barreled action, which is a shame.
Consequently, we decided to go in the other direction and review a new Model 110 Apex Hunter XP combo, also in .243 Win., which comes packaged with a Vortex Crossfire 3-9x40mm riflescope. Unlike the American Classic, although it is built on the same basic action, this is a stripped down rifle without deluxe features and refinements.
Note that we are not using the term "entry level rifle" here, although many beginning hunters might buy this combo. The Axis line is Savage's bargain basement offering. The 110 Apex Hunter rifle is merely the lowest priced version of Savage's standard Model 110 rifle.
The Apex Hunter is available in a wide range of cartridges. For 2018, these include .204 Ruger, .223 Remington, .22-250, .243 Winchester, .25-06, 6.5 Creedmoor, .260 Remington, 6.5x284 Norma, .270 Winchester, .270 WSM, 7mm-08, 7mm Rem. Magnum, .308 Winchester, .30-06, .300 Win. Magnum and .338 Win. Magnum.
The Savage 110 is a push feed action. Its round receiver is drilled from bar stock and there are gas escape ports drilled into each side of the front receiver ring. The recoil lug is a thick washer type, trapped between the barrel and receiver. The receiver is pillar bedded in the stock.
This is an open top receiver, making it easier to single load, or to clear a jam in the field than budget receivers like the Savage Axis. The latter offer only an oval cut as an ejection port and to provide access to the chamber.
The Model 110 Apex Hunter XP is supplied with an injection molded plastic stock with a visible mold line for its entire length, a plastic trigger guard (there is no "bottom metal" at all), cheap detachable magazine with an integral plastic latch, matte bluing (basically unpolished--you can feel the barrel is not smooth) and not even a glued-on plastic grip cap to simulate a finished look.
However, the rifle comes with an excellent Savage AccuTrigger and conventional steel sling swivel studs, not just plastic loops for sling swivels molded into the stock. The bolt body is lightly engine-turned.
The convenient top tang safety is the three position type. Fully forward is the FIRE position and a large red dot is revealed. Fully rearward is the FULL SAFE position, which also locks the bolt closed and completely covers the red dot. The MID SAFE position unlocks the bolt so it can be operated, but the trigger cannot be pulled; about half of the red dot shows in this position.
The Model 110 assembled bolt body is about as far as one can get from a one-piece, machined bolt. From front to back there is a two-piece bolt head pinned to the bolt body. This looks like two conventional two-lug bolt heads stacked on top of each other, but only the front pair of lugs actually rotate with the bolt to lock it closed. The rear half of this bolt head assembly serves as a bolt guide. Savage calls this a "floating bolt head." Then there is the round center section of the bolt body. (This is the part that is jeweled.) A collar (called the Rear Baffle Assembly) is pinned to the rear section of the bolt body directly behind a Cocking Piece Pin (which controls the forward movement of the firing pin), followed by the bolt handle. At the very rear of the bolt body is a threaded collar called the Bolt Assembly Screw.
These are just the major external parts of the bolt body. This assembled bolt slides back and forth in a bolt raceway from which the tool marks have not been polished, which is typical of low and medium priced bolt action rifles these days. This roughness is apparent when the bolt is operated. Bolt rotation is 90-degrees.
The bolt knob has a small, circular area of cast (or possibly laser cut) checkering that has never looked (or felt) particularly good to us. Savage would do well to delete this ersatz checkering in favor of a plain, round bolt knob.
The extractor is the usual small Savage sliding type mounted in the face of the bottom locking lug. It takes a very small bite on the cartridge case rim and does not look particularly robust compared to a Weatherby bolt head claw, or a Winchester Model 70 full length claw. However, it has proven to be sufficient in normal use over some 50+ years of Model 110 production and is probably superior to the Remington circlip in the bolt face extractor. The ejector is the spring loaded plunger type that provides efficient and reliable ejection regardless of the speed with which the bolt is cycled.
Savage 110 actions have long had awkward to use bolt releases, located at the upper right rear of the receiver, that must be operated while holding the trigger back to remove the bolt from the receiver. However, Savage has made things much worse on this latest 110 action.
Instead of a bolt release at the right rear of the receiver, the Savage 110 now has a plastic bolt release button in front of the trigger guard on the bottom of the stock, where a magazine release might be expected. Needless to say, this location makes the bolt release harder to reach.
To remove the bolt, first remove the magazine and set it aside. Then, open the bolt. Gripping the stock normally with your right hand, use your index finger to pull the trigger and hold it all the way back. With your left hand beneath the stock, use your left index finger to fully depress the bolt release button all the way into the front of the trigger guard and hold it there. Grip the bolt handle with your third hand and withdraw the bolt from the receiver.
Oh, you don't have a third hand? Well, in that case you can elevate the muzzle and simply let the bolt fall from the receiver onto whatever surface is available, preferably not the ground. To replace the bolt the trigger must also be held all the way back while the bolt release button is fully depressed. The justification for this complicated procedure escapes us.
The flush mount, detachable box magazine holds four cartridges. The magazine body is sheet metal with a plastic bottom that incorporates an integral "U" shaped, molded plastic latch at the front. The magazine follower is plastic, which we prefer, as we find plastic followers drag less on the last cartridge as it is fed into the chamber.
The following is the correct procedure for removing the magazine for loading, per the Instruction Manual:
To replace the magazine, insert the rear of the magazine into the magazine well first, then press upward on the front until the integral plastic latch clicks into place. It takes unusual force to fully seat the magazine in the rifle's magazine well. Make sure the latch is fully engaged, or the magazine will pop out of the rifle at the merest touch.
The standard AccuTrigger is user adjustable down to 2.5 pounds. Our test rifle came out of the box with its trigger set to 3.5 pounds per our Lyman digital scale. The release is commendably crisp and clean.
We have previously adjusted AccuTriggers and it is a simple process, although the barreled action must be removed from the stock to get at the adjustment spring. In the case of the 110 Axis Hunter, stock removal and replacement (like many things) is different from the norm. However, detailed instructions for stock removal and trigger adjustment are included in the useful Instruction Manual packaged with the rifle, as is a small trigger adjustment tool. Follow the instructions and all will be well. We needed to remove the stock for this review to see what is under there, so we took the opportunity to adjust the trigger to its minimum 2.5 pound pull weight at the same time.
The round 22 inch, sporter contour, tapered barrel is button rifled and wears a field crown, which is appropriate to protect the rifling at the muzzle of a hunting rifle. The barrel measures 0.579 inch diameter at the muzzle.
The barrel is attached to the open top 110 receiver using Savage's thread-in headspacing and secured by an external collar. This is a very precise method of headspacing and we think it contributes to Savage's reputation for excellent accuracy.
The barreled action is bedded in the stock at the receiver only. The barrel is free floating for its entire length to reduce production costs.
We find it interesting that rifle manufacturers' have long promoted bolt action rifles as more accurate than other types. This is said to be partly due to the one-piece stock and forearm that is supposed to support the entire barreled action, not just the receiver (as is the case with a single shot or lever action rifle). However, most manufacturers' now free float the entire barrel forward of the receiver to cut production costs, bedding the barreled action only at the receiver and nullifying the advantage of the one-piece stock. Go figure!
As is typical with injection molded synthetic stocks, it is easy to bend the fore end upward to touch the barrel. Do not attempt to use any sort of shooting sling, even a hasty sling, with this rifle. The tension on the sling will warp the stock against the barrel, changing the point of impact. The sling swivel studs are for a carrying strap only.
The 110 Hunter's synthetic stock drew the most criticism from the Guns and Shooting Online staff. To be sure, there are even worse looking black plastic stocks with more exaggerated lines, but this stock is no thing of beauty.
It has what is essentially a Monte Carlo type comb that slopes gently downward from rear to front, a shape that tends to move the comb away from the cheek under recoil. This is a good thing, although the Monte Carlo comb is not readily apparent, because the rear of the comb does not drop abruptly like an ordinary Monte Carlo. Instead, it gradually slopes all the way to a thick and very soft recoil pad. (See a Weatherby stock for comparison.)
Between the recoil pad and the end of the butt stock are spacers to adjust the length of pull (LOP). Out of the box our test rifle was shimmed for a 13.75 inch LOP. Included with the rifle are three additional spacers measuring 0.2355, 0.4675 and 0.698 inches in thickness. These spacers can be stacked in any combination to adjust the length of pull.
We did not find it necessary to adjust the length of pull to accommodate our three average size staff members who participated in this review. Guns and Shooting Online's Owner and Managing Editor, Chuck Hawks, was the first to remove the Model 110 from its box. When he threw the rifle to his shoulder the stock fit perfectly, with his eye correctly aligned with the axis of the scope. Despite its clunky shape, the stock feels good in the hands and at the shoulder.
Inside of the fore end there is molded, triangulated bracing to increase stiffness. This serves to reduce flexing, particularly laterally.
Although the test rifle has a right hand action and a right hand stock, palm swells are built into both sides of the pistol grip. Since Savage also offers Model 110s with left hand actions and left hand stocks, the double palm swells are counter productive.
The grip itself flares in an exaggerated manner at the bottom, something like the shape of a Colt Peacemaker grip. However, this is a rifle, not a .45 caliber revolver and it is not going to fly out of the shooter's hand during recoil.
There is molded-in checkering at the fore end and grip to provide a non-slip hold. There are also unnecessary hash marks molded below the fore end checkering and around the front of the pistol grip. These serve only to make the stock look more bizarre.
The front of the comb has oversize flutes. Rather than blend smoothly into the shape of the stock, the fluting is bounded by angular lines. A fluted comb is a good thing, but this is intentional overkill, only adding to the unconventional appearance of the stock.
Like many contemporary plastic stocks, flat planes and unnecessary angles (see photo at top of page) are incorporated into its shape for no reason, replacing more comfortable, smoothly rounded contours. The trigger guard has an angular, trapezoidal shape, instead of a graceful curve. This is apparently "modern ergonomics," according to Savage advertising.
The Vortex Crossfire II 3-9x40mm is a better scope than we expected to be packaged with a bottom of the line rifle. (For $55 dollars less you can get the same rifle, the 110 Engage Hunter XP, with a Bushnell Engage scope.) Apparently, "XP" signifies a combo rifle and scope package in the new Savage line. 3-9x is an appropriate magnification range for a high velocity, flat shooting cartridge like the .243 Winchester.
The scope is mounted using a one-piece EGW Weaver type base and Vortex Hunter medium height rings. Both the scope itself and the Vortex rings are made in the People's Republic of China. We weighed the rifle and scope combination and our digital scale read 7 pounds 11.6 ounces (empty), just as advertised.
A one-piece scope base is a bit stronger and more rigid than a two-piece base and allows more mounting latitude, but it restricts access to the receiver's ejection port. Cartridge jams or failures to eject are always a possibility in the field. If they cannot be promptly cleared they take the rifle out of service, particularly in a push feed action. For this reason, we prefer two-piece scope bases that allow maximum ejection port access.
The reticle is a Duplex type with the addition of Bullet Drop Compensating marks. These are three little hashmarks on each side of the fine part of the horizontal crosshair and three more hashmarks on the fine part of the vertical crosshair, below the intersection of the crosshairs. These are supposed to allow the shooter to correct for windage and bullet drop at various ranges. Instructions for proper use of these hashmarks with various loads are provided with the riflescope.
Since we zero all of our hunting rifles for the maximum point blank range (+/- 3 inches) of the chosen cartridge and load and recommend our readers do the same, we routinely ignore BDC hashmarks. The MPBR of most full power 90-100 grain .243 loads is about 300 yards, so for shooting Class 2 animals within that range we need only to align the crosshair where we want the bullet to go and squeeze the trigger. No calculation or hold over is required.
As with the previous Vortex riflescopes we have reviewed, the optics of this Crossfire II 3-9x40 are good. The windage and elevation adjustments click in 1/4 MOA increments and are adequately accurate for a hunting scope. The large zoom ring is easy to turn, but not so easy that it will be changed inadvertently. There is a European style fast focus ring at the rear of the ocular bell, which we always appreciate.
Savage states the scope of our .243 was bore-sighted using Federal 70 grain Ballistic Tip factory loads and "ready to go." Please remember, this means ready to go to the range to be sighted-in, not ready to go hunting! Bore sighting should get the bullets somewhere on the paper at 25 yards, nothing more. Other loads and bullet weights will shoot to different points of impact. This is a varmint load and the 110 Apex hunter is a hunting, not a varmint, rifle. Deer and pronghorn hunters will need to zero the rifle with 90-105 grain bullets intended for hunting medium game.
We had hoped to get a Savage 110 test rifle in the Summer, and then at least by the early Fall (before the cold and wet rainy season begins in western Oregon). Alas, multiple delays resulted in its arrival in November, 2018. As this is written in February, 2019 we have been unable to take the test rifle to our usual outdoor shooting range, due to inclement weather.
After two months of waiting in vain, G&S Online Managing Editor, Chuck Hawks, decided to publish the article you are now reading "as is." Hopefully, it will also help to reassure the good folks at Savage that we have not taken off for parts unknown with their rifle.
For this we apologize. We can only reaffirm that Savage centerfire rifles, built on the famous 110 action for some 60 years now, have earned an excellent reputation for accuracy and it is practically unheard of to encounter one that is not sufficiently accurate for big game hunting.
Hunting Rifle Accuracy
It is rare to find a modern bolt action rifle with an accuracy problem. They may be embarrassingly ugly, feed poorly, jam constantly, come with easily lost magazines and be filled with plastic parts that break, are too flexible and wear poorly, but they usually shoot more than adequately for big game hunting. Offhand, we can remember only one individual bolt action rifle among all those we have tested in recent years that we would call consistently deficient in accuracy with every load tried. (Of course, all rifles are individuals and favor some loads over others; this must be expected.)
Hunting rifle accuracy is very over emphasized. The vital heart/lung area of even small Class 2 animals is a large target.
Many other characteristics are more important in a hunting rifle than shooting tiny groups from a bench rest. These include such things as action design, quality of materials, construction, reliability, durability, trigger pull, ergonomics, handling and carrying in the field, ease of manipulating the controls and especially the amount and severity of the cost cutting measures employed. (The latter are inevitable these days in any rifle built to a moderate price point). Such things affect a hunting rifle's overall performance in the field far more than whether is shoots sub-MOA groups, or two MOA groups, at the rifle range.
No one will ever mistake the Model 110 Apex Hunter for anything but what it is, the economy end of the Savage 110 line. It is unlikely to last for a lifetime of use in the field, or to be handed down to subsequent generations of owners. Its "modern ergonomic" stock shape will simply look foolish to future generations, as obsolete as the foolish tail fins on 1950s automobiles look today. Fads seldom endure the test of time.
The 110's detachable magazine is probably the weakest part of the rifle's design. It is awkward to remove and replace and the molded plastic latch is practically guaranteed to wear.
However, the Apex hunter is an adequate hunting rifle. It is comfortable in the hand. It handles as well as most other bolt action rifles of similar weight and barrel length and the stock handles recoil well. Due to the plethora of supplied stock spacers the length of pull can be altered to accommodate practically any shooter.
It has an excellent trigger and, like the many other bolt action Savage rifles we have reviewed, we are sure it will prove to be an accurate rifle. During static testing the rifle feeds fresh cartridges reliably, the extractor extracts and the ejector ejects, as advertised. The Vortex Crossfire II scope also works as advertised and provides a clear view of the target.
Note: This review, including a graded rifle review summary, is duplicated on the Member Side Product Reviews index page.
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