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Savage Axis .223 Stainless Review by Indepth WebstaffAdministrator

Savage .223 Stainless Rifle
A review by J.M. Hruby
Can stainless steel durability, good looks , and accuracy really come at such a low price? There’s only one way to find out. Buy the new Savage Axis in stainless steel and head for the range.
If you pay even casual attention to hunting and shooting magazines or online forums, you probably have noticed the buzz generated by a swarm of new model introductions into the entry-level rifle category over the past few years. What makes this trend even more interesting to me is the combination of three factors: very low prices, combined with features that were only available on higher-end rifles, and finally reports that many of these rifles punch above their weight in terms of accuracy given their low price tag.
One of the most talked-about new introductions in this entry-level class is the Savage Axis. Savage introduced the Axis (originally called the Edge) about three years ago and what instantly grabbed my attention was the price. The basic blued version with a black synthetic stock starts at a suggested retail price of just $363 and was often available for less at some retail outlets.
Savage offered serveral variations of the Axis and complete packages. In addition to the blued steel version with a black synthetic stock, they offer a camo-stocked version. There is also a youth version and a special SR version that comes factory-drilled for a noise surpressor. They also offer packages of both blued and camo versions that come complete with rings, a 3x9 scope, and they are bore-sighted and ready for the range. Finally, last year, Savage introduced a stainless version of the Axis with a SRP of $425. The Axis features a detachable box magazine and left handed actions are available. Barrel lengths are between 20 and 22 inches.
The Axis is available in eight calibers and the lineup includes some interesting and not-so-common choices. It’s no surprise that an entry -level rifle would have the .30-06 and 270 as cartridge choices. That’s where many manufacturer’s entry-level choices begin and end.
Savage went way beyond these compulsory chamberings to offer the Axis in .223, .22-250, .243, .25-06, .270, 7MM-08, .308 and .30-06. A very interesting lineup with very broad appeal. What I find intriguing about this broad lineup of chamberings in an entry-level rifle is it opens up a real possibility for hunters to acquire an Axis as a “trip gun” for a specific hunt and still leave them with money left for the hunt itself. For example, here in Minnesota where I live, there are large numbers of deer hunters that hunt with the .30-30 and they do just fine, thank you very much.
But if suddenly they get the hankering for a one-time pronghorn hunt on the Western plains, what are they to do? The King of the Pronghorn calibers is the .25-06, but there were very, very few affordable options in that cartridge. Until now. The Axis puts more specialized calibers like the .22-250 and .25-06 into a package that is affordable even if the gun is for occasional use.
Obviously, the target market for the Axis is broad, but generally this is a hunting rifle and you have to set your expectations accordingly. The rifle and the features are tuned to offer an affordable option for dispatching game.
Of course, the low price and the calibers and features offered set off the “You-get-what-you-pay-for” alarm bells with many people. Can a rifle with so many features and such a low price tag actually deliver at the bench? Or, as many speculated, are there simply too many compromises being made to hit the price point?
I decided to find out for myself. I ordered an Axis Stainless in .223 and put it to the test.


Savage .223 Stainless Action
Testing Hunting Rifles for Hunters
Since this is my first firearms review for this forum, let me offer a little insight into my test methods. I am a hunter and I review hunting rifles. Therefore, I test and review guns as hunter would see and use them.
Upon receiving a new rifle, I disassemble it and give it a good cleaning. Most rifles in all price ranges tend to have their workings coated in liberal amounts of grease and assorted goo, so I remove all this and reapply lubricants to my own preference and in accordance with the anticipated weather conditions. I also clean the barrels thoroughly with solvent and a brush.
I don’t make any other modifications. I leave the trigger set exactly as it is from the factory and I do not disassemble the bolt itself. Since the vast majority of hunters purchasing a sporting rifle will not go through elaborate break-in or tuning processes, neither do I when testing rifles
I do all first tests using readily available brands of factory ammo, but to avoid any “You should have tried Brand X, everyone knows that the brand you tested is junk,” comments, I don’t reveal my specific ammo choices. What I will say about ammo, however, is that I buy my factory test ammo at large discount stores and sporting goods store chains. I do not test with super-premium ammunition that the average hunter is unlikely to use.
On test rifles I mount a scope from my own collection and here’s an area where my tests may vary a little from what the average hunter would probably do. I prefer to test with high magnification scopes, up to 25 power. While this may be an unrealistic choice for some rifles and the type of hunting they tend to be used for, my reason for using these high-power optics in tests is to try to get the best possible accuracy out of each rifle for the purpose of the test. Simply put, I shoot better from the bench with higher-power optics and I want the test to show what each rifle is really capable of without the optics being a limiting factor.
I shoot five shot groups for all test reports and my measurement method is to measure outside to outside of the furthest dispersed shots in the group and then subtract one bullet diameter. I do not use trigger release mechanisms, all shots are fired with my finger on the trigger.


More of the Savage Axis in .223
First Impressions
My Savage Axis Stainless arrived and the out-the-door price was $420, not including sales tax. Let’s take a look at what’s in the box.
All Axis models are built on the same long action, even if the chambering is a short-action cartridge. Therefore, the bolt throw of the .223 is the same as the .30-06. The reason for this is, of course, cost reduction. I don’t own a lot of short action rifles, so it didn’t throw me to suddenly be faced with a .223 action that required a long action stroke, but for some who are used to a true short action this will be noticeably different.
My straight-from-the-box impression was that the Axis Stainless looks sharp. Anyone who has hunted with me or has seen my personal collection of firearms will know that I have a strong preference for traditional rifles. And by “traditional”, I mean rifles with good walnut stocks and high-quality bluing. Now, with that bias exposed, I actually like the looks of the stainless Axis, and in my opinion it does not look like a low-cost rifle. The black stock looks nice with the stainless barrel and receiver, and nothing about the rifle screams “cheap”.
Savage’s claimed weight for the Axis is 6.5 pounds and out of the box. Claimed weight of the rifle is one thing, but of more interest to hunters will be the reality: my rifle complete with scope actually weighs 7 pounds 6 ounces, which would certainly make it a very acceptable hunting companion. Incidentally, my stainless Axis has a 22 inch barrel.
If you’ve read anything at all about the Axis, you’ll already know that the major complaint is the trigger. The Axis does not use Savage’s excellent AccuTrigger, but instead uses a non-adjustable, single-stage trigger designed specifically for the Axis. This is another place where cost was an issue and the non-adjustable trigger was obviously a compromise to make sure the rifle would hit the intended price point.
And it shows. Unsurprisingly, the trigger pull on my rifle averaged well over 6 pounds after 20 test pulls. Obviously, this puts the trigger pull in the “fairly hefty” category. It’s not unmanageable or even terribly unpleasant, but in this day and age of easily-adjustable triggers, many shooters (myself included) are used to triggers dialed down to the sub-2 pound range.
There is also a small, but noticeable amount of creep. The creep is manageable mainly because there’s enough of it such that it is predictable. I’ll talk about this more in the bench results.
I mounted a 6x21 variable power scope using Weaver mounts. I found it a little tricky to find the correct scope mount part number because some catalogs still list the Axis under its previous “Edge” name. Just so you know.
Off to the range we go.

Almost sub 1" group
Range Report
I started by firing 12 shots to zero the scope at 50 yards and six more shots to get the zero where I wanted it at 100. That’s about as much break in as most hunters would ever give a rifle, so on with the test.
At 100 yards, I started with a very modestly priced 45-grain hollow point load. Despite having limited expectations, I was instantly very impressed. The reputation of the Axis is that it might have a poor trigger, and some don’t like the look or feel of the plastic stock, but what it does do is shoot. And it didn’t disappoint.
Recoil was very modest as you would expect in a .223 of any stripe. The bolt’s action is just OK. It is stiffer than I’d like on the up-stroke, but the throw is adequate if kept properly lubed . I think that with some wear over time this may improve.
As I already mentioned, there is some noticeable trigger creep. After about ten rounds, I found myself getting used to it enough that I could easily anticipate the release point. There is no disguising, however, the fact that the trigger pull is heavy and it felt heavier as I fired more and more rounds. How this would impact the average hunter would depend on what type of hunting. A varmint hunter who touches off 100 or more rounds a day, will most likely quickly become annoyed by the heavy pull. A deer hunter who fires just a few shots per season will probably never notice it.
The biggest problem I encountered was that the Savage did not smoothly feed the short hollow point rounds. The best way I can describe this is that the squared-off hollow point nose would hang against the blunt shoulder of the chamber. This may have been just bad luck as far as ammo selection, but it was a serious issue because about every other round of this type would hang up, requiring me to stand up at the bench, take the magazine out, and then hand-feed the next round. However, switching to a 55- grain spire point bullet instantly solved the problem and I had absolutely no feeding issues with any of the other ammo I tested. Conclusion: Avoid short, blunt-nosed rounds with the Axis.
Accuracy was certainly good enough to cause serious gastrointestinal distress to any varmint that happens to find itself in the wrong place at the wrong time. My best 100 yard, five-shot group measured 1.05 inches as shown in the photo and this was with the 55-grain bullet. Clearly, one round in this group has snuck off the right and robbed me of a true sub-1 inch group. My range day featured less-than-ideal conditions, with a variable wind at 5 gusting to 15 and a big crowd on the range with lots of muzzle blast. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. What I think this first-impression test shows is the Axis rifle that is capeable of sub-one-inch groups all day long even in less-than-ideal conditions.
Given my results with factory ammo, my conclusion is that in terms of a rifle that can produce good to excellent groups, the Axis delivers. Even with the heavy trigger, the Axis produces groups that are consistent with those produced by much more expensive rifles.
The ergonomics of the rifle are generally with one exception. When the bolt handle is moved upward, the distance between the bolt handle and the scope eyepiece is just a little tight for my liking. If I work the bolt too quickly, I pinch my thumb between the bolt and the scope’s eyepiece.
The cosmetics and the details like the stock and the trigger are not great, but adjusting my expectations for the price, I will say that they are better than I expected. I can excuse minor issues like the fit of the recoil pad being a little sloppy and one sling attachment needing to be straightened because it was left at a funny angle when installed.
The bottom line is that the Axis is a low cost rifle that shoots very, very well. The value for the money is certainly there, because straight out of the box the gun does more than most hunters would expect. I look forward to testing this rifle on a longer range to see the performance at 200 yards and beyond, but I would certainly not want to be the coyote that strays within shooting distance because to me the Savage has proved that it has all the accuracy (and more) that it needs to put a coyote or fox down for the big sleep.
Recalling that I paid just $420 for the stainless version, I would invite you to compare the Axis to the lowest-priced stainless offering from other makers. In some cases, you would need to almost double what you would spend for an Axis to get the lowest-price stainless offered by other popular makers. And even if you did spend twice as much, it is unlikely to get you much more in terms of accuracy. To do that, you will have to move into much higher priced rifles.
As with any lower-priced rifle, compromises were made with the Axis. Savage, however, seems to have managed to avoid many of the compromises that impact accuracy to a large degree. In my opinion, the Savage Axis is one of those rare instances where you’re getting more than you pay for.
Next, I’m off to the reloading bench to dial in some fodder specifically for the Axis and the heavy trigger is now in the waiting room of the trigger doctor and ready to be put on a strict weight-loss diet. Stay tuned, I think the best is yet to come from my Axis stainless.



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Re: Savage Axis .223 Stainless Review new [Re: Indepth Webstaff]
#705526 - 04/22/12 09:23 PM

Here are a couple more pictures to include in the review.

1335147715_011.JPG1335147764_2012-04-1921.38.03.jpg1335147781_006.JPG
1335147715_011.JPG


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KootyAdministrator
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Re: Savage Axis .223 Stainless Review new [Re: Indepth Webstaff]
#705527 - 04/22/12 09:27 PM

I'd like to give a huge THANKS to Jay, The Famouse Grouse, for writing up this review. This rifle is exactly in my wheelhouse!

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rgoi812
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Re: Savage Axis .223 Stainless Review new [Re: Kooty]
#707461 - 07/31/12 10:56 PM

Thanks Kooty and Jay! This was what I was looking for with the exception I am curios if remington is still a contender.

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John_Steinhauer
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Re: Savage Axis .223 Stainless Review new [Re: rgoi812]
#707591 - 08/05/12 04:47 PM

Awesome review!!

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Stillakid2
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Re: Savage Axis .223 Stainless Review new [Re: John_Steinhauer]
#707830 - 08/12/12 01:39 PM

Well, I can only support the findings of this review. However, I was shooting with the cheap 3x9 Bushnell that comes with the combo and at 100 yds, my shot group was tighter than the one he shows! Trust me, that doesn't make me a better shooter! I'm simply reinforcing the claim that these guns are made to kill!

Riflex offers a replacement trigger kit that will allow you to adjust the trigger pull down to 14oz. and the cost is right there at $100.00. When considering "getting what you pay for", this does diminish your joyous emotions just a bit because that cost elevates the rifle to being much more comparable to the likes of a Thompson Center Venture, which has a better bolt throw to boot!

All things considered, I won't be letting go of my Axis anytime soon. Based on the accuracy alone, I'm willing to accept a few shortcomings vs. the confidence of feeling that I'm never going to need a second shot!

Lastly, Mills Fleet Farm is offering a sale on SS Axis combos this week (sale ends 08/18/12) for only $344.95! Stores in stock all have .223, .22-250, .243, .270, and .30-06. Don't ask me why but MFF has proven to be reluctant in carrying .308's. I know the customer demand is there.....

The blued model combos have been on sale frequently for $284.95, and a youth .243 is usually in the mix. Trigger pull for a youth though..... might be a challenge.

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Re: Savage Axis .223 Stainless Review new [Re: Indepth Webstaff]
#707832 - 08/12/12 01:54 PM

Jay, have you ever tested a Mossberg ATR? I haven't tried their latest version but I have a .243 that I think you should compare the Axis to. I think the ATR's are in the same price point catagory and mine is really close to the same accuracy as my Axis. It has a better bolt and trigger by far than the Axis to boot. Just wondering if you've had the chance to compare ATR's or for that matter, the Marlin XS/XL 7's. I haven't heard boo about the Marlin's.......

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Re: Savage Axis .223 Stainless Review new [Re: Stillakid2]
#711492 - 10/18/12 10:48 AM

Quote:

Jay, have you ever tested a Mossberg ATR? I haven't tried their latest version but I have a .243 that I think you should compare the Axis to. I think the ATR's are in the same price point catagory and mine is really close to the same accuracy as my Axis. It has a better bolt and trigger by far than the Axis to boot. Just wondering if you've had the chance to compare ATR's or for that matter, the Marlin XS/XL 7's. I haven't heard boo about the Marlin's.......




There's a high-grade problem in the area of the $250-$500 rifle price point category right now, Still--There's too many out there!

Now as I said, that's a good problem to have, but these rifles are coming on the market way faster than I can test them. Ruger American, Mossberg ATR, etc, etc, etc.

I would be very interested in doing a test, but I need to secure more rifles for testing. If anyone knows a distributor or company contact that can help, please let me know.

Grouse


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Re: Savage Axis .223 Stainless Review new [Re: TheFamousGrouse]
#711493 - 10/18/12 11:14 AM

In my quick review of several $350.00 or less rifles, the one thing I see different from the Axis vs. most others is the adjustable trigger. But, I also only paid $249.99 vs. $339.00 + at the store. Now, after putting in the Rifle Basix trigger, I'm right there for price point.

So the key is really finding the best shooters in these entry level price point rifles. Right now, I have no concerns about the accuracy of the Axis.

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