June 11, 2021
Bolt-action rifles are an American past time, and a pillar of shooting and sporting culture in the United States. It was shortly after World War I that the lever guns responsible for winning the West began to give way to sporterized service rifles in the hands of hunters, but purpose-built bolt-action rifles followed soon after. For more than a century, these guns have remained our country’s most popular tool for hunting and precision shooting.
A leading American firearms manufacturer, Savage Arms enjoys a place among the country’s most tenured and popular gunmakers. Founded in 1894, the Massachusetts-based firm builds some of the market’s most accurate and financially accessible rifles with its flagship Model 10 and 110 series. Considering Savage’s penchant for innovation, adaptability and safety, it’s small wonder the company has earned the trust and business of so many American sportsmen.
In 2021, Savage is adding a new chapter to its catalog of long-arm history. Meet the Impulse, an American-made straight-pull, bolt-action rifle.
The Straight-Pull Mirage
As an American hunter, the term “straight pull” calls to mind visions of a European jaeger attired in forest green and waiting for the flush of driven boar and deer. In such a vignette, the speed of the rifle’s linear loading mechanism — a rearward pull to eject a spent case and forward push to lock another round into the chamber — pays dividends as the hunter has only seconds to identify and engage multiple targets. The absence of additional up-and-down strokes to unlock and re-lock the action, as required by traditional American-made bolt guns, facilitates the maintenance of cheekweld and sight picture during the loading cycle, which speeds re-engagement and improves the shooter’s ability to spot impacts.
So, why haven’t straight-pull rifles caught on among American sportsmen?
I’d suggest that it’s a matter of perception. Straight pulls are understood to be fast-handling, but informal surveys at local ranges and gun shops reveal they are also perceived to be too expensive, lack in accuracy, and are potentially unsafe. It doesn’t matter if these perceptions are based on data or real experiences, they are believed to be true and treated as fact. Add to these perceptions some of the typical flairs of Euro-centric firearm styling such as Schnabel forends, tightly curved pistol grips, and thumbhole stocks, and it’s easy to see why many American hunters believe such rifles are simply not for them.
Respected arms makers have been building and improving the straight-pull bolt-action concept since the Mannlicher M1886. Modern manufacturers including Blaser, Heym, Merkel, and even Browning, offer different approaches to the linear action, though few companies bother to market to American consumers. (Have you heard of the Browning Maral?) Perhaps the most familiar contemporary is Blaser’s R8 rifle, but with a starting price north of $2,500, it remains the domain of well-heeled huntsmen.
Honestly, I’d be hard pressed to identify a serious effort to sell American rifleman on a straight pull since the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps adopted the 6mm Lee Navy rifle in 1895, and its brief service life from 1895 to 1907. No doubt, it must have influenced the now-ingrained opinion of straight-pull rifles and metric chamberings in our minds. This is the straight-pull mirage, and unfortunately it disregards long years of reliable service in the hands of hunters elsewhere around the world.
Lessons learned abroad have not been lost on the riflemakers at Savage Arms, and the company’s engineers and product managers, many of whom are passionate shooters and outdoorsmen and -women, have determined that the time is right for an American-made straight-pull rifle. With the well-regarded Model 10/110 bolt action atop it’s resume, Savage is also one of the few domestic manufacturers that may actually be able to pull it off.
The challenge for Savage in developing the Impulse was to design a rifle that would not only meet the consumer’s expectations of the brand — accuracy, reliability, safety, price — it also had to compete against entrenched preconceptions of American shooters regarding straight pulls, and improve upon the platform’s perceived shortcomings, be they real or imagined. Accomplishing this resulted in 13 patents filed to support the Impulse, and these improvements join a raft of previously proven Savage innovations.
Without question, the most notable component developed for the Impulse is the bolt itself. It is a full-diameter design which is appropriate to ensure fast, smooth cycling within the aluminum receiver. The removeable bolt head features the Impulse’s headlining innovation: Hexlock. An alternative to traditional multi-lug designs, Hexlock is comprised of six steel ball bearings that, when leveraged outward, function as lugs and secure the bolt into battery. As chamber pressure builds when a round is fired, the bearings actually strengthen their lockup. As pressure subsides, and the bolt is retracted, the bearings relax into recesses in the bolt head and roll smoothly within the receiver as the bolt is cycled.
The rear of the bolt assembly also has some interesting mechanisms to note. First, the bolt handle is unique and possesses three distinct features: a removable knob; full-diameter engagement lugs above the elbow; and a detent pin at the end opposite the knob. Other critical components include a cover plate that is held in place by the pin; a threaded spacing sleeve; and corresponding engagement lugs on the interior of the bolt assembly. Though this sounds like a lot of fuss and bother for a bolt handle, it allows for some easy and interesting user customization. By depressing the pin and removing the cover, the handle can be withdrawn from the bolt and reinserted at the user’s desired angle: straight, raked forward or raked back. Each of those engagement lugs represents a different angle, and because the handle moves about an inch forward and back, and changes angle by about 30 degrees during operation, finding the right starting position can go a long way toward helping a shooter bond with the rifle. Even better, the handle can swap sides with the cover plate and an internal sleeve, allowing the same flexibility and configuration options to left-handed shooters. There’s no need to purchase a left-hand-only rifle; the Impulse is ready for all users from the box. (Ejection remains right-side only.)
Several controls that users will want to be familiar with are also built into the bolt assembly. A logo’d push button at the bolt’s rear serves as a quick release and allows a locked bolt to unlock and be pulled rearward. The only other way to release a locked bolt is by pulling the trigger, which is obviously a safety concern, especially if the gun is loaded. (To completely withdraw the bolt from the receiver, there is a textured lever at the back of the receiver on the left side.) At the front of the bolt, flush with the body is a small spoon-shaped lever. With the bolt handle in the locked position, this can be pressed to release the bolthead and Hexlock assembly, which allow access to the firing pin.
Still a Savage
Although the Impulse is a departure from its Model 10/110 cousins in terms of operation, it still retains the Savage DNA, and all the brand’s hallmarks that consumers have come to expect. Starting from the front, the Impulse actually uses the same barrels as the Model 10/110s, button rifled and threaded (5⁄8-24) to accept suppressors or a muzzle device. The only difference is a barrel extension that accommodates the action’s design and ensures proper headspace. The barrel is connected to the receiver by way of the familiar Savage locknut, and a nice addition to the Impulse is the inclusion of an integrally machined 20-MOA rail at the top of the receiver for mounting optics. There’s no screws to come loose and throw off your zero.
It wouldn’t be a modern Savage without the user-adjustable AccuTrigger. The mechanism allows for light let offs by reducing sear engagement, but it still remains safe to carry and hunt with thanks to the central blade-style safety lever. A separate two-position tang safety also locks and unlocks the trigger. It’s worth noting that the gun’s bottom metal is, indeed, metal, and incorporates the triggerguard and the well, and a release lever for the detachable box magazine. Two screws connect the bottom metal and the receiver to the aluminum chassis embedded within the Savage’s AccuStock. The Impulse includes the full AccuStock spacer and riser kit, which allows users to customize the fit of the rifle by adjusting the comb height and length of pull. Two studs for attaching a sling are also built into the bottom of the stock near the toe of the butt and in the forend.
Three variations of the Impulse are included in the initial introduction. The Hog Hunter wears a green stock, has a shorter, heavier barrel, and feeds from a flush-fitting detachable magazine. The Big Game also uses the flush magazine, but has a longer, fluted barrel, a camouflage stock (KUIU Verde 2.0), and wears a hazel-green Cerkote finish on the barrel and receiver. Finally, the Predator pairs matte-black metal with a Mossy Oak pattern stock (Terra Gila), and is differentiated by its AICS-pattern magazine and bottom metal. Chamberings range from .22-250 Remington to .300 Winchester Magnum, and vary by model. The 6.5mm Creedmoor and .308 Winchester are offered across the board. Finally, pricing for the Impulse is competitive. The Hog Hunter and Predator models wear retail pricing of $1,377, and the Big Game model is only slightly more expensive at $1,447.
Testing for this review of the Impulse took place in two parts. First I visited FTW Ranch in Barksdale, Texas (ftwsaam.com). Savage sponsored a weekend of shooting designed to wring out the Impulse and introduce the new platform to a few firearms media representatives. Following the event, a sample was sent to the Guns & Ammo offices for further inspection and protocol testing.
Though many reading this will be familiar with FTW and its Sportsman’s All-Weather All-Terrain Marksmanship (SAAM) training program, it’s worth reiterating that the ranch provides perhaps the best hunter preparation course that money can buy. Being located in the hill country of Texas, the school’s cadre can challenge a shooter’s abilities in all respects thanks to long-distance ranges, strong and variable winds, steep and broken terrain, and natural “rests” in the form of trees, stumps and boulders on which shooters learn to adapt and build stable firing positions.
Having attended several similar events at FTW, I knew the drill. After an introduction to the product and initial rifle fitting and zero, we’d spend a couple excellent days testing the guns and our trigger control against the elements and challenging targets arrayed throughout the ranch’s various ranges. Savage brought a sampling of the three Impulse models in 6.5mm Creedmoor, .308 Winchester and .300 Winchester Magnum. Each rifle was topped with glass from Zeiss (zeiss.com), and we loaded mags with Hornady ammunition (hornady.com), either Precision Hunter or Match loads, depending on the specific rifle’s preference.
My first surprise came as we confirmed DOPE and walked the rifle out to longer ranges. The exercise begins at 200 yards, and the range increases at intervals of 50 yards. Each known-distance target array has two steel plates, a larger sighting plate and a smaller challenge plate. Putting one shot on each, consecutively, allowed the shooter to advance through the course. For a seasoned rifleman with good equipment, the course offers a challenging but achievable mission. The exercise was familiar to me, but the Impulse Big Game in 6.5mm Creedmoor I was shooting offered some excitement. Not only did I hit the targets out to 700 yards, I was near-perfectly center-punching each — to include the challenge plates! Ultimately, I even put three consecutive shots on a 15-inch target at 1,400 yards while holding off for wind. For reference, 1 minute of angle (MOA) at that distance is equivalent to 14.658 inches. So, right off the bat, the Impulse proved to be a very accurate rifle, even at ranges and under conditions that most hunting rifles will never be subjected to.
In addition to extended-range marksmanship, FTW also offers a robust safari preparation course that focuses on fast shooting from sticks and unsupported positions at moving, and even charging, targets. Here, we were able to test the Impulse and really see the practical benefit and speed of the straight-pull action. Taking on the charging elephant and buffalo simulators along an African-themed stalking trail, the encounters reinforced that a straight pull does offer advantages in speed and sight picture over using a traditional bolt action. Against dangerous game such as bear and buffalo, for example, those advantages could be lifesaving.
Following the foray to Texas, I received an Impulse Hog Hunter in .308 Win. This rifle went through the full suite of accuracy testing, and though not the model or the chambering I would personally prefer, it proved to be quite accurate. (I’ve been an ardent 6.5 enthusiast since before 6.5 was “cool.”) Other members of my local range commented at the slick design, fast action, and then stared in amazement as I completely avoided catastrophic failure and left with zero black eyes — despite the somewhat longer throw of the straight pull’s bolt. Perhaps Savage is on to something here, and opinions can be changed.
If I had to lodge one complaint, it would be with the Impulse’s flush-fitting magazines. Some seemed to bind up the bolt due to poor fit, making it hard to cycle and causing misfeeds. Another issue was a tendency for the follower to stick at the bottom when the magazine was fully loaded, which also prevented a successful reload. These issues cropped up on multiple rifles for multiple shooters at the FTW event. The follower on my sample Hog Hunter was also a bit sticky. The silver lining? At time of writing, the Impulse is still a couple months away from being shipped to retail, and Savage is aware of the magazine issues. I expect them to be resolved before rifles appear in the racks. There were no issues that I know of with the Predator model and its AICS-pattern magazines.
I join a chorus of rifleshooters who are intrigued and excited by the Impulse. Those of us who have shot it realize that many of our preconceptions about straight pulls were well off the mark. The Impulse rifle is still a Savage, through and through, but will the market buy in? Time will tell, but it’s great to have an American-made option.
Savage Arms Impulse Hog Hunter Specs
- Type: Straightpull, bolt action
- Cartridge: 6.5mm Creedmoor, .308 Winchester (tested), .30-’06 Springfield, .300 Winchester Magnum
- Capacity: 4 rds. (.308 Win.)
- Barrel: Carbon steel, heavy contour, threaded muzzle (5⁄8-24); 18 in., 1:10-in. RH-twist rifling (tested)
- Overall Length: 39.75 in.
- Weight: 8 lbs., 6 oz. (tested)
- Stock: Savage AccuStock; molded polymer and aluminum; adjustable comb height and length of pull
- Trigger: Savage AccuTrigger, adjustable; 3 lbs., 9 oz. (tested)
- Sights: None; 20-MOA integral rail
- MSRP: $1,377
- Manufacturer: Savage Arms; savagearms.com
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