Santa really stepped up over Christmas, delivering a box with the latest addition to Savage’s Model 110 Series. Flicking open the supplied hard case revealed a factory rifle with some serious custom-shop features that truly set this model apart from most of the competition.
Savage Arms dates back to 1894; they introduced one of the first lever-action rifles – the Model 1895. The famous Model 99 lever action followed and, with its unique rotary magazine, set a whole new standard for 100 years. The Model 110 – the oldest continuously manufactured bolt-action rifle in North America – was the first bolt-action rifle with an integrated ‘floating bolt head’ and barrel nut. This transformed both accuracy and assembly techniques across the industry. The ability to swap out a barrel and adjust headspace quickly via the Savage nut was a home gunsmith’s dream.
Savage have built a serious reputation for delivering accuracy with phenomenal value – a combination most other manufacturers have long aspired to achieve. They continue to be at the forefront of innovation and product design, and their latest catalogue showcases an almost overwhelming array of models to suit the most discerning buyer.
From the diminutive .22 Rascal – many NZ hunters’ first introduction to rifle shooting – right through to the dedicated F Class, tactical and long-range hunting models including the latest straight-pull design, Savage have covered every base. They even sell their famous single-shot and repeater actions for those wanting to build their own custom dream.
Savage is now under new ownership, but this hasn’t slowed their momentum. They have an uncanny ability to know exactly what their clients want – or should that be ‘need’?
Savage 110 Ultralite
Hot off the assembly line is the 110 Ultralite, a new rifle in Savage’s Backcountry Extreme Series. The name gives it away – this latest model has a host of features that demand serious attention from NZ hunters.
Not just any Model 110, the Ultralite is stacked with the latest in lightweight concepts that would normally only be found at the top end of semi-custom manufacturers’ catalogues. At 2.63 kgs (5.8 lbs) this is a true lightweight contender without the full custom price tag.
Featuring a textured, lightweight stock in the brand-new KUIU Verde 2.0 camo, this rifle is truly striking. Savage put out a new camo colour each year and the KUIU Verde 2.0 colour pattern on the test rifle is outstanding for both bush and tops hunters alike. A matte granite/grey version is also available to NZ hunters.
Savage have built the Ultralite stock with full modular functionality. They call their adjustable stock system AccuFit, which allows shooters to adjust the comb height and length of pull quickly and precisely. A wide range of recoil spacers and replacement comb inserts are included for a bespoke fit. This saves weight (compared to a fully adjustable stock with moving parts) and keep costs trimmed.
The stock features polymer inserts with pronounced checkering to help you keep your grip in the wet. The soft-touch stock won’t grab your cheek under recoil and importantly, doesn’t have any of that dreaded hollow whack resonating through the bush when you accidentally thump it against a tree – well done, Savage.
Savage have removed any potential for manufacturing variables by blueprinting every Ultralite action. This generally involves machining the receiver face, threads and bolt face to ensure they’re square to the centre line of the receiver, truing locking lugs and polishing the action until it functions smoothly. This improves the alignment and fit of the action’s components, reduces friction, and minimises a major potential source of inaccuracy.
The Ultralite bolt is fluted, reducing some weight and helping to clear dirt, grit and anything unwanted that may find its way into the action.
Additionally, Savage have skeletonised the Ultralite action – machining the profile of the action sides to remove as much material as practically possible to further reduce weight. Savage use a Melonite thermochemical treatment (not to be confused with Cerakote, which is baked on) for enhanced corrosion protection on the metalwork, and equally, it reduces glare. This is a seriously tough finish.
Having eliminated any excess weight across the stock and action, Savage looked to add a premium barrel with the greatest weight-saving advantages. A carbon-wrapped barrel is the perfect match for the Ultralite, and Savage have wisely chosen to partner with PROOF Research to supply those barrels. PROOF Research are widely recognised as a global leader in composite technology and will be a name well known to many readers as a manufacturer of premium rifles, stocks and carbon-wrapped barrels.
PROOF manufacture their own 416R stainless barrel blanks. These are turned down to minimum profile to reduce weight, then filament wrapped in aerospace-grade carbon fibre using their own proprietary resin. The result is a very lightweight barrel with superior thermal and stability properties. PROOF Research’s carbon-wrapped barrels are much stiffer, stronger and up to 64% lighter than the equivalent all-steel barrel. This dampens barrel whip, increasing shot-to-shot consistency. Carbon-wrapped barrels will extend accuracy and barrel life through much greater heat dissipation (they have a much larger profile than the equivalent steel barrel), and PROOF proprietary helical wrapping enhances the longitudinal thermal dissipation much more efficiently. This means barrels cool much faster, maintaining greater levels of accuracy over prolonged shooting sessions.
I own plenty of rifles with ‘soda straw’ barrels, and yes, they get very hot after the third shot, often throwing the dreaded flyer without warning. Carbon wrapping eliminates all of these issues – in fact the helical wrap was so good at dissipation that I struggled to get it to heat up at all despite some serious volume shooting on the steel plates.
PRS and Varmint shooters should take serious note. Weight-conscious hunters now have the best of all worlds with the Savage Ultralite.
PROOF barrels are threaded with a quality stainless thread protector – not the el cheapos so commonly seen.
At the Range
NIOA are the new distributors for Savage, Federal, Caldwell, Remington and many other well-known brands. NIOA thoughtfully included the Caldwell Accumax M-Lok (Modular Lock) Carbon Bipod. This ultralight model is offered in varying sizes and options. This particular Accumax model extended from 13-30″ –
ideal for the big Otago high tussock country that most standard bipods struggle in.
The latest ZeroTech Thrive HD 2.5-15×50 PHR 11 illuminated scope sat atop Weaver rings. ZeroTech are an exciting new name in optics with an impressive array of mid- and high-end magnification models covering first and second focal planes and multiple reticle options.
Positioning the rifle on the bench showed a floating dot surrounded by an interrupted post-style reticle. Most pleasing were the simple subtension aiming marks below the crosshair – not the complex Xmas tree reticles becoming all too common. The illuminated floating dot was outstanding on my usual 100m benchrest-style targets and allowed pin-point shooting. Holdover points are at 1.1, 2.5, 5, 10, 15 and 20 MOA allowing fast holdovers in the field.
Savage wisely uses a three-position tang safety – the smartest and most user-friendly system for bush hunting. The bolt-release button is located on the front of the trigger guard and must be depressed along with the trigger to remove the bolt. A bit of practice and this is easily mastered.
The three-round steel magazine box was typically Savage. Solid, but a bit agricultural/stiff to seat home. The spring was very tight in this magazine and the third round took a bit of effort to load. I’m sure it’ll free up with use.
Savage invented the modern ‘lawyer proof’ trigger that many others have now copied. A simple two-part trigger shoe ensures the forward blade must be depressed before the rear trigger shoe engages and fires. This cleverly prevents a lot of accidental discharge possibilities. The AccuTrigger was set at 3.5lbs with some slight creep – I made some tweaks and had the trigger down to a very crisp 2lbs.
NIOA generously supplied four different .308 loads to test: Federal Power-Shok 150gr, Federal Fusion 150gr, Federal Premium Berger Hybrid Hunter 168gr, and the brand-new Remington 150gr Core-Lokt Tipped.
The Fed Prem and Core-Lokt Tipped are exciting new projectile options providing genuine long-range capability for serious high-country and alpine hunting situations.
I was using the latest Hardy Gen 6 suppressor which made group shooting a real breeze.
Despite its light weight, the Savage Ultralite is reasonable to shoot off the bench unsuppressed – a real tribute to the AccuFit system. The Federal Premium Hybrid Hunter 168gr Bergers printed into nice 20mm groups, with the new Remington Core-Lokt Tipped close behind with 24mm. Both of these loads should be the first choice of hunters looking to extend the range of their .308s.
Federal Power-Shok 150gr and Federal Fusion each shot into 40mm groups. Both these loads are ideal bush and ‘up close and personal’ rounds for big red stags coming in to your roaring horn.
In the Field
“Two hinds with yearlings on the far face, Rob.”
“Yep, got them,” was the reply.
“Nothing else that I can see up the gully.”
“Five stags in the river …”
I’d just glassed the river edges and hadn’t seen a thing. Sure enough, five fat young stags had emerged out of the rosehip, mowing down the thick clover on the riverbanks. It’d been an unseasonably wet spring and the big Otago high-country feed quality was off the scale for January. We were scouting for pre-Roar trophy opportunities as well as fat, young stags for the summer BBQ.
“672 metres,” was the reading. “We’ll slip down to the bench in front of that gut.”
With the wind behaving and the element of surprise, we had everything in our favour. I was conscious that we were in the confluence of two gullies, and that the wind could switch direction at any time. We shimmied down the hill to the first real vantage point. Rob set up over the nearest large tussock while I extended the Accumax bipod to full length clearing the high tussock.
“Looks like that stag on the left is a taker, Rob.”
“Yep, those uneven antlers need to be taken out of the gene pool.”
“I’ll line up on the spiker and will follow your shot.”
I flicked the illumination on, centred the floating dot on the spiker’s front-facing chest and took up the slack on the AccuTrigger blade in anticipation. At Rob’s shot, I squeezed off and the spiker collapsed into the matagouri. I could see the stag stepping ungainly – the sound of Rob’s hit had been clearly audible. I instinctively chambered another round and squeezed off into the front shoulder. The stag dropped forward, then slipped down the hill into the river, dead.
Rob’s stag had two bullet holes within centimetres of each other – his shot was perfectly placed so the stag was dead on its feet. It was great to have the insurance of the Federal Premium Hybrid Hunter 168gr Berger as backup.
Two stags down and the day was starting to heat up. We left Rob’s stag in the river to cool while we butchered the spiker.
We had a serious amount of meat to haul out of the bottom of the steep gully and a big hike back to the hut. I was very thankful for the Savage 110 Ultralite and the 22″ carbon-wrapped barrel on the way home – this is a classic example of every ounce of rifle weight saving being quite critical, especially in the slippery, steep stuff and over big distances.
The Savage 110 Ultralite, with its stunning Verde 2.0 camo, fully adjustable stock, incredibly accurate PROOF carbon barrel and skeletonised, blueprinted, Melanite-coated action really does tick so many boxes for today’s demanding high-country hunter who also wants great handling in the bush.
The Savage Ultralite is available in 6.5CM, 6.5PRC, .308, 30-06, the hot-rod 28 Nosler and the exciting new 7mm PRC.
One of the most versatile and accurate rifles to ever hit NZ shelves? You bet it is.