Straight-pull rifles. Depending on which side of the pond you reside, the phrase generally conjures drastically different reactions, and levels of familiarity. While long popular among our European brethren, the American market has remained generally disinterested in them. To be fair, this could be due largely to price points—straight pulls, usually boasting gorgeous, select-grade wood and elaborate metalwork, don’t exactly have an affordable reputation—but culture has quite a bit to do with it as well.
As hunters, we seem almost naturally predisposed to the traditional. If a standard bolt- or lever-gun was good enough for Grandpa, it's good enough for us. Every now and then, however, a design comes along that is just too good to pass up, making us reconsider these long-held preferences.
Savage Arms knew it had a gargantuan task ahead when it first considered an American-made straight-pull. With a well-earned reputation for affordable accuracy however, Savage is far and away the right company for the job, and its debut offering, the Impulse, is the proper design to bring straight-pulls into the American mainstream.
The magic of the Impulse centers around two factors: the unique action (no surprise there), and how well Savage has incorporated this into its standard AccuTrigger/AccuStock/AccuFit combination. This fusion contributes not only to the rifle’s shootability, but also to its incredibly reasonable price. The MSRP sits between $1,387 and $1,449 at the time of this writing, comparing favorably to its several-thousand-dollar competitors. Indeed, the rifle seems a natural extension of the company’s overall rifle lineup, despite its drastically different design.
Of course, that is where the fun really begins. The heart of the action is the patented Hexlock system, which has allowed Savage to retain the safety and accuracy of its traditional bolt actions despite taking advantage of the straight-pull’s speed. Utilizing six ball bearings on the bolt head, the Hexlock mechanism locks all six balls into a machined recess in the barrel extension when the action is charged. When a round is fired, the pressure increase actually tightens the bearings for a more robust lockup than under static conditions. This allows the action to handle even magnum and high-pressure rounds.
The Hexlock itself is actuated by the bolt handle. When closed, a plunger seats forward inside the cylindrical bolt body, which pushes and locks out the six balls, initiating the process above. Once fired, a swift pull of the bolt handle releases the plunger, unlocking the bolt bearings and allowing another round to chamber. As an additional safety measure, this operation cannot occur with a cocked bolt. To eject an unfired cartridge, a button must be depressed at the back of the bolt to allow the handle to rotate slightly, to unlock the bolt and thus open the action.
This system is vastly different from the majority currently on the market, which use either rotating or tilting bolt systems (some exceptions would be the Blaser R8 and Heym SR30, which use similar designs but don’t play in the same league price-wise). It allows for an incredibly consistent lockup and, interestingly enough, an easily removable bolt head. Indeed, not only are the bolt head and the button-rifled barrel removable, they are fully interchangeable with other calibers. This means a short-action Impulse can be converted to any other short-action caliber available (.22-250 Rem., 6.5 Creedmoor, .243 Win., .308 Win. and .300 WSM), while a long-action (.30-06 and .300 Win. Mag.) can be converted to any other (available) caliber. Though aftermarket parts to accomplish these sorts of swaps were not available at the time of the gun’s launch, I’ve heard rumors they may be coming within the year.
Optics are similarly easy to exchange and mount thanks to an integral 20 MOA (Picatinny) AccuRail, which has been milled into the aluminum receiver. On this front, depending on application, I would recommend either a red-dot or a lightweight offering from Leupold like a VX-Freedom. I say this specifically because of the gun’s slight weight disadvantage. Our test model, a Hog Hunter chambered in .308 Win., tipped the scales at a sturdy 8.4 pounds, and I can say definitively that lightweight glass makes all the difference between a nimble, balanced feel and a rifle that seems a tad on the hefty end of the spectrum.
Before I stray too far from the action, another thing to note is the barrel extension, which moves the gun’s potential failure point forward. To be sure, it would take an astronomically unlikely amount of pressure to cause the gun’s lockup to fail at all, but in the improbable event it happened, the bolt wouldn’t explode rearward—a common fear with straight-pulls. Instead, the pressure would burst through the barrel extension, sparing the shooter. Let me emphasize, again, this is purely theoretical—it is not a situation anyone should ever encounter. I simply note it here, as paranoia surrounding such a horrifying scenario has lingered ever since the problem was encountered during World War I by Canadians toting improperly assembled Ross rifles.
Finally, while the ejection port is only on the right-hand side on current models, the Impulse bolt handle can be easily removed and its angle changed, or even reversed entirely, for a left-handed shooter. While you may have to deal with some brass arcing over your support arm (the port is designed to throw brass more up than out), this makes the gun fully accessible for left-handed hunters.
From here we must make certain distinctions, as the Impulse is available in three different models—the Predator, the Big Game and the Hog Hunter, our specific test model. All three are fitted with Savage’s AccuFit system, making length of pull adjustable from 12.75 to 13.75 inches and comb height fully customizable to the shooter—and the AccuTrigger—user-adjustable from 2.5 to 6 pounds. Barrel lengths, however, vary wildly. Our Hog Hunter, chambered in .308 Win., sported an 18-inch barrel, though it is available with up to a 24-inch barrel when chambered in .300 Win. Mag. Its synthetic stock is OD green.
After two separate experiences testing various configurations of the Impulse, I can confidently say the gun is designed with hunters in mind. All controls and ergonomic features blend seamlessly together in the field, for a rifle in which accuracy is rivaled only by speed. After adjusting the bolt handle to a slight forward sweep to really lock in my hold, follow-up shots became effortlessly quick, with the bolt seeming to naturally drop my hand back to the grip once the action is charged. The simplified motion also makes it easier to stay in the scope as compared to using a conventional bolt action, as there is no lateral force attempting to twist it out of view upon every lock and unlock. The two-position, tang-mounted safety is perfectly positioned to go from safe to fire in a hurry, and the flush-fit magazine of the Hog Hunter drops free easily with a pull of the forward latch, then slams back in with a resounding click. While I did ring some steel with a 6.5 Creedmoor-chambered Big Game Impulse at ludicrous distances to prove its accuracy (15-inch plates at 1,400 yards), the Hog Hunter was far and away my favorite model.
Please don’t misinterpret this distinction—I took the .308 Win.-chambered Hog Hunter consistentlyto 1,200 yards using 178-grain Hornady Precision Hunter ammo; it is not inaccurate. However, that shortened, 18-inch barrel does make for a decent velocity drop. Despite this, I find the Hog Hunter to be the purest form of the Impulse. Its shortened barrel makes for effortlessly quick maneuverability at the sorts of ranges most hunters will encounter in the deer woods, and the combination of easy handling and lightning-quick follow up shots make the rifle a true danger to anything potentially closing distance on you. After all, driven boar hunts are exactly what have long endeared straight-pulls to our friends across the Atlantic, and it’s not hard to see why. On a moving hog, the Impulse’s simplified straight-pull action would be a boon when attempting to stay on target, be it in Georgia or Germany.
The bottom line? This is more than just a good first attempt at an American-made straight-pull. The Savage Impulse is a rifle that can take long-range precision shots with ease, yet is in its element stacking lead in rapid fashion. It would make an excellent addition to any serious hunter’s arsenal. It will likely spend far more time in the field than in any gun safe.