August 05, 2020
We are a nation that claims to prize up-by-your-bootstraps social mobility and making good through hard work and innovation. When it comes to familiar brand names, however, we can turn into stuffy, straitlaced dowagers from a Thackeray novel, determined to keep companies in lanes we apparently regard as divinely ordained.
Business school case studies are full of firms that attempted to raise their standing through better and more advanced products only to be regarded by the buying public as getting “above their raisin.” We are always happy to see a prestigious maker offer well-priced guns to the masses, but it is a tough chore to go the other direction. Savage is stepping up to that challenge with its new Renegauge semiauto.
Younger readers are probably prone to think of Savage as a rifle maker, but in its history Savage has made all sorts of guns, from autoloading pistols to the Thompson submachine gun. Shotguns and combination guns have been a part of the puzzle for many of those years, especially in the golden age between World War II and 1968 when Savage, along with now-defunct manufacturers like H&R, High Standard and Noble, supplied Sears, Roebuck & Co., and other department stores.
It would be easy enough to put together yet another autoloader from the parts bins of Turkey, but Savage, which has a long, sad history of conglomerate ownership, is now parted from Vista Outdoors. It wanted to mark its return to independence by offering an American-made product, which implies a higher price. It has ditched the bottom-feeding reputation with its extensive and accurate line of centerfire bolt-actions and wants to step firmly into the medium-priced shotgun market where Benelli, Beretta and Browning now occupy.
Facing off with Benelli has led many competitors to take up its inertia operating system. There’s no denying its flexibility and reliability, but snappy recoil is a non-negotiable part of the bargain. This makes many shotgunners prefer a gas gun, especially for turkey and waterfowl hunting where heavy loads are the norm.
Reliable operation with all 2¾-inch and 3inch loads was at the top of the Savage requirement list, and the result was the Dual Regulating Inline Valve (DRIV) system. Note that Savage pronounces this “drive” to rhyme with “strive,” not “driv,” rhyming with “shiv.” It’s a short-stroke piston system, which is simple enough, but with the addition of two regulating valves on either side of the barrel and vent excess exhaust through radial ports 1⅛ inches from their tips.
On firing, propellant gas passes out ports in the bore, pressing on the piston, which travels up to ¾inch rearward, and transfers energy to the bolt and carrier assembly. That part then travels toward the butt, ejecting the empty. As it returns forward, the bolt picks up a shell from the magazine and loads it. As it returns to battery, the piston is pressed back into position in the cylinder below the barrel. Note that the piston is the only part of the system that should require routine maintenance. It’s chromeplated and grooved inside to scrape fouling off the magazine tube, so going all season before cleaning should be no problem.
The interesting part of the DRIV system is the gas regulating feature. The dual regulators, one on either side, means the cylinder assembly is quite massive at 1⁵⁄₁₆ inches wide and 1½ inches deep. The forend has a noticeable bulge at the top front to accommodate it. The regulating valves may not even move with subsonic ammo, but as more powerful ammo is used, they move forward, allowing excess gas to exit into the synthetic forend.
A mandate to keep the Renegauge at 8 pounds led to one of its most distinctive features: barrel fluting. I’m not going to say there’s never been a fluted shotgun barrel before, but it certainly hasn’t happened much. Seven flutes are milled from 6 inches in front of the receiver to 2 inches behind the muzzle. Savage is not making fanciful claims about the benefits of the fluting, “it just saves weight,” they say.
Unusually, the barrel of the Renegauge is made from solid stock, gun drilled, and reamed and polished. This is a slow and expensive way to make a shotgun barrel in comparison to hammer-forging, since so much material must be removed from the bore as opposed to, say, a .223caliber rifle barrel. A .25inch stepped rib is laser-welded to it. At the front is a .085-inch red fiber optic that’s screwed to the rib, and there’s no midbead.
The Renegauge choke tubes are made by Trulock on the Mobilchoke pattern used in Benelli and Beretta guns, so there are plenty of aftermarket tubes available to supplement the Improved Cylinder (.715 inch), Modified (.705 inch) and Full (.695 inch) tubes provided. The IC and Modified tubes are cleared for steel shot; you’ll want tungsten or lead ammo with the full tube.
While most Italian and Turkish shotguns have chrome-plated bores, Savage chose Melonite, which has similar corrosion resistance properties, and did so without affecting the inside .726-inch diameter of the bore. Note that Melonite is not, despite what you may read some places, a coating. It is a ferritic nitrocarburizing process requiring hellishly hot salt baths. (No, you can’t do this at home.)
Savage did choose chrome plating for the carrier and bolt assembly, which is unusual for a one-piece. This in contrast to most autoloaders where several components interlock to form the assembly. I assume welding it together makes final assembly at the factory go quicker, and it certainly is easier for the consumer; this can be the fiddly part of assembling some gas guns. Whether it holds up to years of shooting will have to be seen.
The bolt head is a two-lugged rotary unit with an impressively large hook extractor on the right, and the carrier is fluted at the top, presumably for weight reduction. The aluminum receiver is interestingly contoured in a way that’s hard to see in the camouflaged models, but visible enough in the all-black field version. The area above the trigger assembly is dished on either side, making it easier to reach the controls if you don’t have fingers like an orangutan. This feature coordinates nicely with the shape of the triggerguard, which like most these days, is plastic and retained by a single pin. Purists will sniff, but the current crop of very large molded triggerguards is a lot more practical than the trim polished steel units of yore.
The safety button is at the rear of the triggerguard and is comfortably contoured and ridged for use with gloved fingers. The bolt release is a bold 3⁄16-inch by ⁷∕₁₆-inch rectangle that’s equally easy to find when wearing gloves. The operating handle is a knurled cylinder, raising the question in some minds of whether Savage plans a 3-Gun version. (That’s quite a conceptual leap.) External shell stop controls are a European staple that most U.S. shooters ignored for years, but enough Benelli shotguns have been sold here that they’ve come to be accepted. The Renegauge unit is at the right front of the triggerguard and stands out boldly for easy use when wearing gloves. If you retract the bolt in a loaded gun (which should be done only after applying the safety), the chambered shell will be ejected, but the shell stop will hold the remaining ammo in the magazine tube. The bolt will not lock back. You can then cross a fence or board a boat with the magazine loaded, and the shotgun will be completely safe. Once over the fence, pull rearward on the tab to release a shell onto the lifter, and retract and release the bolt to load it.
You can, of course, completely ignore the system if you leave the bolt open on an empty gun since the last shot of a magazine leaves the bolt locked back. But it’s not really all that hard to learn.
Speaking of the magazine, it comes with the usual plug to restrict capacity. It’s in three segments and you can select one-, two-, or three-round capacity by cutting some off. Remove it by pressing down on the magazine tube’s end cap and pressing left or right on the white retaining pin to push it out in either direction. (I found that a ballpoint pen is a perfect tool for this.) Be careful not to let the pin fly out to parts unknown.
Loading the Renegauge magazine is made easier by the design of the loading port, which is raised ¼ inch or so over the bottom line of the receiver to give extra room for your thumb. The surfaces around the port are smooth and flat, a big advantage when shooting and loading are fast and furious. A red follower helps you check that the magazine is empty.
The stock and forend have a rakish design that’s both modern and suitable for rough-weather hunting. The forend is stippled on the sides, and has .073-inch-deep grooves on the bottom surface for a secure grip with gloved hands.
The grip has a similar surface treatment and is quite generously sized. Palm swells on both sides accommodate right-handers and southpaws alike. There’s a small, but easily felt hand-stop at the base. This configuration should fit all hand sizes and those wearing gloves.
Italian makers popularized the notion of adjustable buttstocks, and even very economical Turkish guns have them these days. Savage chose to make customized fit a leading feature of the Reneguage, and it is unusually well-equipped in that department. Early press accounts equated these features with the AccuFit system used in Savage bolt-actions, but the Renegauge system is different. While the AccuFit uses cheekpieces that slide into the buttstock and are retained by the recoil pad, the Renegauge cheekpieces pop into a recess in the buttstock and are retained by the buttstock.
Three cheekpieces are supplied with the gun and measure at the thickest point 1½, 2 and 2¼ inches. They are quite soft on the top and more rigid on the sides. No installation instructions were included with Guns & Ammo’s sample, but examination showed that while the cheekpiece sides were rigid, they’re not completely rigid. By applying a wrestler’s grip to either side and pulling up on the pad, with some reluctance it’ll pop out of the stock. Reinstallation is done in the opposite direction. With some wiggling and cursing, the pad snaps into the slot.
Likewise, there were no instructions available for the shim kit, so I went to work on stock adjustments using the dead reckoning technique. (By the time you read this, there should be a YouTube video explaining the process). The Renegauge comes with five shims: A wedge that supplies cast-on or -off, one marked “standard” and three more marked +1, +2 and +3. These correspond with spacers that fit over the throughbolt inside the stock and are marked with zero, one, two or three holes to match the corresponding shim.
The Standard shim and spacer provide a 2 inch drop at heel. Install the +1 and it’s 2¼ inches. The +2 combo gives you 2 3⁄8 inches, while the +3 ensemble yields 2½. The cast wedge gives about 3⁄16-inch displacement to left or right. The throughbolt extends rearward from a short buffer at the rear of the receiver and is quite short itself, with its end 6 inches inside the buttstock.
Removing its nut is easy enough. Use the same 13mm deep-hole socket and flex extension you’d select for any Italian shotgun. (Getting the spacer and nut back on can cause rage unless you use this handy trick.) Hold the buttstock with the toe up. Slide the spacer over a common wooden pencil. The spacer’s stem will face down to engage its recess in the stock. Put the point of the pencil in the hollow end of the throughbolt and let the spacer slide over it. Next, screw the nut a quarter turn onto the pencil. Use the pencil as a guide to align the throughbolt and nut, then use your extension to tap the nut in position. Now you’re ready to turn it home.
Once you’ve adjusted comb height and drop and cast, you can adjust pull length. Our sample Renegauge came with three identical recoil pads and three spacers. At their widest points, the spacers measured .805 inch, 1.21 inches and a full 1.55 inches, presumably for the person who needs the handstop. Each of these come with their own set of stock screws, which are 1½, 2 and 2¼ inches long. Savage says that this pull length arrangement goes from 14¼ inches to more than 15 with all the requisite parts provided with the gun.
I pattern-tested the Renegauge with results shown in the accompanying table. It was function-fired with a wide variety of ammo, ranging from Federal Shorty to 3-inch magnums, including shot and slugs. I was surprised that the Renegauge would feed and fire Federal Shorty ammo about half the time, but that is strictly a party trick. More importantly, it fired light target loads flawlessly.
If Savage intended mild recoil as the headline feature of the Renegauge, it succeeded. Now, an 8-pound gun is always going to be a soft kicker, but there’s no question the elaborate gas system gives the impression of a long, progressive push. It’s an immediate contrast to a certain Italian competitor.
The Renegauge gas system also succeeds in keeping the forend cool, even when long strings of 3-inch ammo were fired. I set the buttstock up with castoff and maximum drop for flat shooting, and broke clay targets monotonously with zero familiarization. Misses did come eventually, but that was from fatigue. The Renegauge is a chunk, and my arms got tired. It wouldn’t be my choice for full days of shooting hundreds of rounds of doves in Argentina, but for a full day of shooting dozens of 3-inch magnums at snow geese, it would be just the thing. Clearly, Savage believes the same, because the Renegauge line has two turkey guns, one intended for waterfowl and the other an all-black field gun.
I strongly suspect that there’s a 3½-inch Renegauge in the works because the competitive set in turkey and waterfowl guns is full of 3½inch models. An 8-plus pound 3½-inch gun would cause no great complaint, though it would still be a pound heavier than the current benchmark: Benelli’s Super Black Eagle.
Some observers have sniffed that many shotguns in this price range offer five choke tubes, by comparison to the Renegauge’s three. Skeet and Improved Modified tubes are primarily of use in competition, not hunting, and Savage makes no claim that the Renegauge is a competition gun. So, I’m not buying that, especially when the unusually complete provisions for stock fitting are considered.
One thing that did surprise me was the lack of a tip-off rail on the receiver, a feature of most Italian and even Turkish guns. A red dot sight is just the thing for turkey hunting, and the taller cheekpieces make it easy to align one’s head behind it.
Does the Renegauge have what it needs to take on the Benelli M2 and Beretta A400 Xplor? If you don’t mind or prefer a heavier gun, I’d say yes. G&A’s sample Renegauge with 28-inch barrel and in waterfowl dress is priced against a similary configured M2 ($1,560), but is more affordable than the Beretta Xplor ($1,600), and a bit higher than the Benelli Vinci ($1,450). I’d say the Renegauge is an American-made gun that offers value quite in line with its foreign competitors.
The Renegauge is an important gun for Savage. If it’s a success, it will help bury the notion of the firm as strictly a purveyor of modestly priced guns for the working class. It will also let Savage retake the place it had when beautifully made Model 99s were at the top of the tree. People have aspirations, and gunmakers should have them, too. If you really believe in upward mobility, you should give the Renegauge a look.
Savage Renegauge Waterfowl
- Type: Gas operated, semiautomatic
- Gauge: 12
- Capacity: 4
- Overall Length: 49½ in.
- Barrel Length: 28 in.
- Weight: 8 lbs.
- Length of pull: 14¼ in.
- Drop at heel: 2 in.
- Drop at comb: 1½ in.
- Trigger pull: 4 lbs., 12 oz. (tested)
- Accessories: Hard case; shim and spacer kit; three recoil pads and butt spacers; Full (.695-in.); Modified (.705-in.); Improved Cylinder (.715-in.) chokes; key lock; ear plugs
- Price: $1,550
- Manufacturer: Savage Arms, 413-568-7001, savagearms.com
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