The Savage Arms Company has reputation for innovative and accurate factory rifles. Their model 11 FCNS in 223 Remington is a good example of that and it is ideally suited to Australian hunting.
The Savage 11 FCNS is one of two models in their Hunter series and comes in a range of sixteen standard calibres spanning from the 204 Ruger to the 7mm Remington Magnum. I chose to review one chambered for the very versatile 223 Remington. The rifle, fitted with Leupold mounts and a Leupold VXIII 3.5-10×40 scope was provided by Nioa Trading along with a generous selection of Federal factory ammunition for testing purposes.
The 223 Remington is arguably an ideal Australian hunting calibre and I am an unabashed fan. The 223 Rem is a popular calibre for a number of reasons; some of the main ones being that it is very mild to shoot, and there is a wealth of factory ammunition choices at quite reasonable pricing. In recent years the established versatility and appeal of the 223 Rem has been further enhanced by the offering of sporting rifles with a faster twist to allow the use of heavy projectiles.
Since its inception the 223 Rem has been seen as a varmint calibre. This view has been reflected in the offerings of the various rifle manufacturers who traditionally have offered sporting 223 Rem rifles with a barrel twist in the range of 1:14 to 1:12 inches, with 1:13 being the most common. This typical barrel twist limits the 223 Rem to a maximum bullet weight of 55 grains. The majority of bullets in .224 inch calibre, in weights up to 55 grain, tend to be varmint oriented. That is, those projectiles are designed for the explosive expansion required to pop varmints.
The availability of sporting rifles in 223 Rem with fast twist barrels capable of shooting heavier, controlled-expansion projectiles makes the 223 Rem a real proposition for hunting medium game, rather than just varmints.
The test rifle, chambered for the 223 Remington, had a 22 inch carbon steel, sporter profile barrel with a hot blued, satin finish. The barrel has a 1:9” twist rate which can stabilise projectiles in the 55 to 70 grain range, making it a real proposition for medium game hunting.
The muzzle features the older style concave crown rather than the sharp, machined crown seen more often now days. However, that older style crown is clearly effective, given the results of range testing.
Savage barrels are button rifled. This method is generally considered the better method for producing the absolute consistency in bore diameter, barrel wall thickness and rate of spin that is essential for best possible accuracy. Many precision rifle manufactures choose the button rifling method for this reason. Savage inspect and hand straighten each and every barrel in order to ensure total product quality control.
Any slight variations in rate of twist, bore diameter and wall thickness will lead to larger groups and “walking” of impact points as the barrel heats up. Certainly, button rifling is one of the reasons that Savage rifles enjoy a reputation for good out-of-the-box accuracy.
Chamber headspace is critical to delivering accuracy. The chambered cartridge must be held in perfect alignment with the bore of the barrel and headspace must be controlled to a uniform and tight tolerance.
The Savage 11 FCNS achieves this in the use of a locking nut to secure the barrel to the receiver. Unlike conventional chambering in other rifles, which delivers headspace to a nominal length with some variational tolerance, Savage employ the lock nut and a chamber gauge to absolutely set the head space to the industry standard minimum with zero tolerance variation.
Receiver and Bolt
The Savage bolt has two locking lugs, a plunger ejector and a claw extractor. Unlike most bolt action rifles which have a one piece bolt, the Savage has a floating bolt head. The floating bolt head is not rigidly fixed to the bolt but has some minor allowance for movement relative to the bolt. This tolerance in the floating bolt face means that there is full engagement of the locking lugs into their recesses in the chamber when the bolt is closed on a round. Ensuring such a precise and full engagement of the locking lug faces is another significant contribution to rifle accuracy.
Bolt lift is not specified but by my measurement appears to be about 80 degrees. The firing pin cocks on opening and the bolt lift is crisp, smooth and easy. I could not find any information on, or personally measure the lock time. My impression on multiple dry firings was that it appears to be quite quick, as you would expect. Savage are said to have paid a lot of attention to that as part of the development of their AccuTrigger. A fast lock time is another essential in an accurate rifle.
Gas shrouding and venting of both the receiver and bolt appears to be on a par with other makers and more than adequate in the event of a mishap.
The top of the receiver is drilled and tapped for scope mounting.
The Trigger and Safety
The trigger on the Savage 11 FCNS is one of the rifle’s main features. Savage’s patented AccuTrigger provides the adjustable, light, crisp trigger that is another essential for accurate shooting. This innovation avoids the heavy, creepy triggers found on many other factory rifles in response to fears of litigation – the type of trigger designed by lawyers rather than engineers. There is no need to consider after market replacement triggers on the Savage 11 FCNS.
The AccuTrigger is adjustable over a range of 1.5 to 6 pounds weight of pull. In order to change the trigger pull, which the factory naturally set to maximum, requires the action to be removed from the stock. A small tool is provided for engaging the screw which sets the trigger pull. Clear instructions and illustrations are provided for this, relatively simple, operation.
I adjusted the trigger to its minimum and checked that setting with my trigger pull scale. I found an average weight of pull of 2.2 pounds. Trigger release was crisp with no significant creep. While not the listed 1.5 pound, which is still a nice light trigger pull for a hunting rifle.
To achieve a crisp, light trigger pull a trigger mechanism must have minimal sear engagement. However, that comes with the risk that a solid bump, such as dropping a loaded rifle, can easily cause it to discharge. After much development effort Savage produced their integrated AccuRelease feature, what looks like a trigger within the trigger itself. The initial trigger pull depresses this lever which unblocks the sear at the point at which the trigger itself is pulled. The rifle cannot be fired unless the AccuRelease lever is fully depressed. It is a clever and neat design that allows light, crisp trigger pull to be provided as standard on the rifle.
The actual safety catch is a three position one. Full safety locks both the bolt and trigger. Half safety allows the bolt to be removed while still blocking the trigger.
The Savage 11 FCNS has a pressed metal, detachable, four round magazine. More importantly, the rifle can be top fed with the magazine in place, a particularly useful feature. A detachable magazine offers a number of benefits, such as quick reloading with a ready charged spare magazine, and the ability to carry different cartridge loadings in different magazines. Dropping a detachable magazine from a rifle is an inherently neater, and safer, method than dropping the rounds out from a hinged floor plate, or worse, having to feed them out from a blind magazine well.
The model 11 FCNS comes with Savage’s in-house synthetic AccuStock which has an integral embedded alloy rigid block and rail which extends right down the fore end of the stock.
When the action screws are tightened, the action is pulled into the pre-stressed rails of the bedding cradle which extend the full length of the action. The action recoil lug is a tight fit into a machined slot in the aluminium rail. Together, this intimately and rigidly mates the action with the bedding system over an extended area of contact with no chance of rocking or any other movement. The barrel is free floating, clear of both the alloy bedding system and the stock itself, which is another major requirement for inherent accuracy in any rifle.
The stock has a length of pull of 345mm, or 13.8 inches. The stock style is classical straight sporter with minimal drop at heel and no cheek piece or monte carlo. That style of stock just happens to be my personal preference on hunting rifles anyway, so I was happy with that. I found the pistol grip comfortable and the fore end length quite adequate without being overly long.
The synthetic material appears to be some type of plastic with a matte black finish. The pistol grip and fore end have good sized areas of well-defined, sharp, pressed checkering which gives a good grip and gave no signs of being slippery when wet. There is a thick rubber recoil pad which I reckon would be more than sufficient to tame heavier calibres and, of course, essentially decorative on the mild little 223 Remington.
The fore end and butt have factory QD sling swivels fitted.
Over the Bench
Given the theme of the review was to explore the capability of a fast twist 223 Remington on medium game, then I concentrated on heavier, game projectiles rather than on the lighter varmint loadings. I had a good selection of quality factory loads to test in the Savage 11 FCNS.
At my local SSAA range I set up the chronograph and a batch of targets at the 100 metre mark. Starting with a clean barrel my approach was to fire one off-target fouling shot followed by a five shot group of each cartridge type, cleaning the rifle after each six shot lot.
The chronograph readings were close to the velocities listed by the ammunition manufacturers, albeit a bit lower, with the 22” barrel responsible for most of that.
With a batch of once-fired factory cases I set about testing some handloads. I prepared a variety of loads in both 55 Nosler Ballistic Tips and 60 grain Partitions, over AR2208 and CCI BR4 primers, which duplicated the measured factory velocities. Some promising sub-MOA groups were achieved, indicating that handloaders have the potential to extract some fine accuracy from this factory rifle, straight out of the box.
In the Field
Out west I set off in search of some medium game feral animals. After comprehensively tidying up some small pigs I tried in vain for some bigger specimens. A big mob of feral goats then came to my rescue. Over the next few days I stalked the mob and carefully picked off a number of the big billies. A fully grown billy goat is a very tough animal and a good test for any calibre and projectile.
In my culling of the biggest billies I used a number of different factory loadings. I was most happy with the Federal loadings of the 62 grain Fusion and 60 grain Nosler Partitions. The 55 grain Barnes TSX also performed well. I did not use the 55 grain Nosler Ballistic Tips on any of the big billies, but did use them to pick off a couple of smaller specimens for meat.
I thought the rifle was well balanced, light and pointy. Bare and unloaded it weighs 6.9 pounds, or 3.1 kilograms. Overall length is 1060 millimetres. The rifle is made only in right hand configuration – sorry lefties! I liked the matte finish on both the blued metal and the black stock which minimises the chance of any reflections – the nemesis of the predator hunter.
The action and magazine fed and cycled smoothly. The trigger was everything I would want in a hunting rifle trigger – light and crisp. The 1:9” twist barrel stabilised the heavier projectiles needed for hunting medium sized game. The 60 and 62 grain premium soft points were accurate and hard hitting.
For landholders or recreational hunters chasing pigs, goats and dogs, factory ammunition loaded with heavier, controlled expansion projectiles certainly perform with authority and effectiveness. The rifle proved to be capable of delivering sub-MOA groups with handloads.